Tag Archives: Alexander McCall Smith

The Prose Practice – Books for Book Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Filed under Book Group, The Prose Practise

Summer Read Suggestions – The Bloggers (Part One)

In the first instalment of my final set of vox pops (this runs over two days) for the Savidge Reads ‘Summer Reads Week’ that I have left scheduled and running while I had both a real holiday and a little blogging holiday I decided that after the publishers and the authors I would ask some bloggers what they were thinking of. Especially after my NTTVBG blogging co-hosts and I announced our Summer Selection this week, sadly we aren’t doing anything more than suggesting titles this summer. So I thought what about some other bloggers? Which summer reads have they loved and what are they looking forward to devouring over the summer?

Annabel, Gaskella

I do find it harder to concentrate on reading in the summer, with the long daylight hours I’m always more tired by the time I go to bed, but then I am up with the lark and read in the early morning a lot instead. On holiday I read even less. As to what I read, crime and thrillers often take over from lit fiction – books that are more plot driven and not so meditative work best at this time for me. James Bond, Michael Connelly and Henning Mankell for instance.

This summer I was thinking of starting to read Charlie Higson’s young James Bond series!  But also have had my eye on Robert Wilson’s Inspector Javier books and the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo for a while.

Rachel, Book Snob

Something that’s very gentle, atmospheric, and reminiscent of tea parties under parasols in English country gardens; light, witty, fresh and cheering to the soul after a long, hard winter. My favourite summery read? Can I have two? I would have to say The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim and Illyrian Spring by Ann Bridge. Both perfect examples of what I’ve described, filled with the natural, evocative imagery of summer and the hope and fresh promise it brings.

This summer I really want to get Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim read.

Thomas, My Porch

Since I read all year, I don’t really believe in the whole notion of summer reads. But if I think about what I like to read while on vacation I can say that I am more prone to pick up something that would fall into the category of popular fiction. Like on my last trip I stumbled across Her Fearful Symmetry which I would never have picked up otherwise, and ended up totally enjoying it. The Potato Peel book would be another perfect example even though I didn’t read it on vacation.

If I follow the notion set forth above, I would have to say that I am probably most interested in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson. It looks fun and easy and I liked the feel of the writing when I glanced at the first page.

Elaine, Random Jottings

I am not sure why I feel this way, but when the sun is shining and the sky is blue I have no desire to read a book that requires a huge amount of mental effort.  Almost as if the lazy, hazy days of summer affect my concentration and it has always been this way for me.  So toss the Margaret Atwood and the AS Byatt onto the to be read pile, ditch Ulysses and Recherché le Temps Perdu (for the umpteenth time) and turn to a more relaxed read, one that requires no flexing of the little grey cells, one that you can sink into and simply enjoy.

So into that category, oddly enough comes murder and detection but only of the so called ‘cosy’ variety.  In the last few months I have read the detective novels of Georgette Heyer, revisited those two redoubtable Dames, Agatha and Ngaio and have thoroughly enjoyed reading these stories with which I am so familiar.    Even knowing the books backwards and the identity of each murderer in each title does not lessen my enjoyment and relish with which I reacquaint myself with Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, Inspector Alleyn and also Lord Peter Wimsey as I have  just reread Gaudy Night.

In the last fortnight I have read two of my favourite summer reads and I don’t think it is a coincidence that these books are always published at this time of year.  First up,  Perfect Proposal by Katie Fforde which I have had on pre-order at Amazon for months.  Love her books, witty and amusing and, yes formulaic, but written with such lightness and joi de vivre they are a joy.   Read this one through in a straight two hours one afternoon last week as the sun shone. The other was The Wings of the Sphinx by Camilleri the latest Inspector Montalbano story.  I love, love, love these books and Montalba no’s attitude to life, love and food and they are the perfect summer read.  I also read the latest Donna Leon set in Venice a month or so ago and now all my summer delights are done and dusted.

I am sure I can find some more though if I look hard enough….

Rob, Rob Around Books

Like many readers I get a lot more mobile in the summer. I’m never in the same place for too long, and there’s so many other non-bookish activities screaming for my attention that I can’t seem to find the time I need to get through as many full-length novels that I’d like to. So in the summer months I prefer to keep my reading choices short and simple – choosing instead to read short stories and novellas – just so I can keep myself free from any long-term reading commitments. As for a favourite ‘summery read’? Well, I don’t tend to schedule my reading around the seasons but one particular favourite title that sticks firmly in mind partly because of its summery theme, is Niccolò Ammaniti’s ‘I’m Not Scared’ (Canongate).

Bearing in mind my preference for choosing to read shorter works in the summer months, there are a myriad of titles in my TBR that I’m looking forward to reading this summer. But picking just one – well two actually – there’s that wonderful duo of translated titles from Peirene Press that every blogger seems to be talking about right now, ‘Beside the Sea’ by Véronique Olmi and ‘Stones in a Landslide’ by Maria Barbal.

Verity, Cardigan Girl Verity

The most summery book I have read is The go-between by L.P.Hartley; partly because it is set over a long hot summer, but mainly because I remember reading it in my teens lying in the back garden over a very hot Bank Holiday weekend.  But perfect summery reads for me are generally either books which I have been saving for my holidays (and thus hugely anticipating) and/or books which are lighter in feel, whether this is in terms of plot, style of writing or target market.  Generally nothing too literary and dense!

Over the summer months I am most eager to read The Wavespotter’s Guide; I have a huge TBR of fiction but this new non-fiction book by the author of the Cloud-spotters guide is hugely appealing to someone who loves to spend their time at the seaside and who likes nothing better than to sit on the beach and watch the surf and the tide coming in and out.

Marcia, Lizzy’s Literary Life

Summery reading is something that I avoid.  Reading about hot places when it’s invariably pouring down in Scotland is not good for my psyche!  If I’m travelling, I like to read something associated with my destination.  Invariably I spend the second half of August in Edinburgh at the Edinburgh Book Festival and so somewhere along the line, I’ll read something set there.  Perhaps this year, I’ll allow myself to read the final novel in Alexander McCall-Smith’s 44 Scotland Street Series, “The Unbearable Lightness of Scones”.  I just love that title!   I’ve been saving it as I don’t want the series to end.

My reading list during July and August is dominated by the events I’ll be attending at the Edinburgh Book Festival.  The program was published last week and my first pass wish list amounted to 48 events!  At £10 a ticket, I don’t think so.  I will definitely be attending David Mitchell’s event and so,  even though the title contains the wrong season for the purpose of your feature,  “The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet” is top of this summer’s TBR.

So what do you reckon to these recommendations? Which books of the list today have tempted you? Which ones have you read and agree make the perfect summer read?

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The Girl Who Married A Lion – Alexander McCall Smith

If you mention the name Alexander McCall Smith I have noticed that two things seem to happen. Either people utterly love him/really like him or, simply put, they really don’t. I am in the really like him camp… for some books! I really like to turn to Mma Precious Ramotswe and ‘The No.1 Ladies Detective Agency’ series when I am in need of some comfort and a jolly read. I am not such a fan of either the ‘44 Scotland Street’ or ‘Corduroy Mansions’ though living in London adds a certain something to the latter. Anyway I decided to try something completely different with my latest McCall Smith and went for his retelling of African folktales (which I originally thought was part of the Canongate Myths Series); I do like a good folk tale after all.

Originally entitled ‘The Children of Wax’ when it was first published in 1989‘The Girl Who Married A Lion’ is a collection of over 30 folk tales from Zimbabwe and Botswana that McCall spent a lot of time researching and being told from the people to who these stories had been handed down to through the generations. Some people may say ‘Well these aren’t McCall Smiths tales then are they?’ but they he has edited and changed somewhat to carry the McCall Smith feel and are his way, so he states in the introduction, designed to introduce readers to the wonderful tales of those regions and letting them live out in the world.

The tales themselves are really quite wonderful. I won’t give you a synopsis of each of the 34 tales because that would a) take forever and b) take the enjoyment out of the book for any of you who go on to read it. However I will try and give you an overview. In this collection we have cannibals, a woman who gives birth to children who are made of wax, a man who has a tree growing out of his head, a girl who marries a lion and several stories of how different breeds of animals learnt to mistrust each other through various escapades plus many more tales. Of course why all these situations came to be you would have to read the book to find out.

The whole collection does wonderfully evoke Africa (I went to Kenya when I was much younger and this brought it all back) even though each tale is a maximum of around four pages each. I love the idea of days from the past where animals and humans communicated and you are really carried away with your imagination. You can feel that they all have the history, landscape and heat of the country embedded in them. I loved the simplicity of them even though in many ways they are all magically surreal some more so than others, and you can see why this was re-issued as a book in both adult and child editions. These tales also carry a moral at the end of the story and I am sure all of us whatever age we may be could gain something from this book as well as thoroughly enjoying reading it. 7/10

This collection has made me want to read the folklore and fairytales from all over the world. I read Perrault’s tales not too long ago (am still enjoying Angela Carter’s retellings sparingly to savour them) and have Hans Christian Anderson and the Brothers Grimm’s collections in the TBR as well as a collection of Amazonian folk lore but which ones am I missing? Do you know of any? Or of any wonderful modern re-tellings?

(P.S Sorry for the late post, it’s my wedding anniversary today and so a second day of surprises has been lined up for both parties.)

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Filed under Alexander McCall Smith, Canongate Publishing, Review, Short Stories

A Sensational Sort Out… And Some Fresh In

Now you may remember the other week I mentioned that I was going to have one of my book sort outs and I did. I actually, and it amazed me and everyone who knows me, managed to donate a quite impressive 76 book to charity! So now the books I have had for well over a year and just dont really think I will read have all gone to lovely new homes and will be raising some money for charity. I thought the process would be painful and though in parts it was tough it has also left me feeling much better with a slightly less bookish weight on my shoulders.

Not only was I wanting to sort out what I was going to pass on, I was also looking at what I was keeping and rearranging my priorities in terms of reading. One of which was to hunt down all of the books that I as yet have not read and I thought fell into the ‘Modern Sensation’ catagory for my Sensation Season. I found I had quite a few some of which you had recommended to me.

Modern Sensations

  • The Widow’s Secret – Brian Thompson
  • The Journal of Dora Damage – Belinda Starling
  • The Tiger in the Well – Philip Pullman
  • Kept – D.J Taylor
  • Misfortune – Wesley Stace
  • Classic Victorian Ghost Stories – Various
  • The Evil Seed – Joanna Harris
  • Martha Peake – Patrick McGrath
  • The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday
  • The Mist in the Mirror – Susan Hill
  • Portrait of a Killer – Patricia Cornwell
  • Ghost Stories – M.R. James
  • The Apple – Michael Faber
  • Underground London – Stephen Smith
  • The Magician – W. Somerset Maugham
  • Fixing Shadows – Susan Barrett
  • Fingersmith – Sarah Waters
  • Silent in the Grave – Deanna Raybourn
  • The Meaning of Night – Michael Cox
  • The Glass of Time – Michael Cox
  • Instruments of Darkness – Michael Cox

Phew there was quite a few. I should maybe mention that some of these books arent technically ‘Modern Sensation’ reads but are either set in that period or in the case of a few of them are non-fiction which will set the atmosphere even more so for me. I think I may get so lost in the 1880’s I may never return, I am loving it though. So which ones of thses have you delved into? Am I still missing any?

Of course the sort out was now about two weeks ago. I did impose a ban on book buying on myself. I must mention before I go further that I could happily have taen all 76 books and bought another 76 from my favourite charity shop however both times I went they were closed for lunch though let me in to drop my bags off (it took three trips in one weekend) and so I couldnt buy anymore. I have since though somewhat fallen off the wagon, though not as badly as I could have and now, and this is very true, I only buy books if I have a very valid reason. Such as…

Books That Pushed Me Off The Book Ban Bandwagon

  • Twilight – William Gay (because have a) been meaning to read it for ages and b) it fits into the Modern Sensation reads perfectly what with grave robbing and swapping, mayhem and mystery)
  • Miss Garnet’s Angel – Salley Vickers (a favourite of Kimbofo’s and an author I have been meaning to read, I have just swapped to reading this instead of Cover Her Face which I started and know I will love but not just now, if I love this will be kicking myself I missed her at Wimbledon Bookfest)
  • Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen (a book I kept seeing everywhere in Tel Aviv for some random reason and then Jackie recommended it and so thought why not?)
  • The Other Side of You – Salley Vickers (for the same reason as Miss Garnett’s Angel)
  • Marley & Me – John Grogan (have always secretly wanted to read it and thought it was possibly trash, but so many of you recommended it after my sad reads post I had to get it)
  • The Unbearable Lightness of Scones – Alexander McCall Smith (I am very, very keen to read all of his work and though this is in the Scotland Street series I struggled with am hoping this gives me the umph to read more of that series)
  • Three Cups of Tea – Greg Mortenson & David Oliver Pelin (simply because Amazon has been recommending this as my top recommendation for three months – have they got me spot on?)
  • The Lost Book of Salem – Katherine Howe (a rash buy I wont deny but one about Salem and the witches, I think I will love this)
  • The Beacon – Susan Hill (a favourite author and a book I have been meaning to get for ages and ages and then got from £10 to £2 bargain, I will be buying her new book instantly full price just so you know)
  • White Is For Witching – Helen Oyeyemi (have wanted it since it came out and an author have been meaning to read, matches the Sensation Season just and was in a half price charity shop that called me the other day… was the only book I bought in that shop and on that day… I was impressed)

So thats the latest books. Which of these have you read and which ones would you like to give a whirl? Do you like posts where readers share there latest hauls of books? I know I love reading them, its a mixture of book addict, desiring recommendations, sharing thoughts and just being a plain nosey parker! If you do like these posts you may want to pop here as this is the secret stash I bought over a week or so (and have even had to hide the post) leading up to the great autum arranging and modern sensation hunt! Can’t wait for all your thoughts on these and my modern sensation reading.

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts

The Secret Stash

Now this blog post has been hidden away because I am ashamed of the amount of books that had been bought since I last told you I had got quite an excessive amount and before I did the great Autumn Clearout. You will probably be aware of this as I have sent you here from another more recent post and will have explained there. So what on earth have I recently bought and brought into Savidge Towers to add to the never ending supply of books? Well…

Recently Aquired Part I

  • Diary of a Provincial Lady – E.M Delafield (I blame Elaine for this purchase completely after she raved about it)
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day – Winifred Watson (which I was awarded from Paperback Reader)
  • Shalimar the Clown – Salman Rushdie
  • Dear Everybody – Michael Kimball (Lizzy this one is your fault for making me buy)
  • The American Way of Death Revisited – Jessica Mitford
  • Diary of an Ordinary Woman – Margaret Forster
  • English Passengers – Matthew Kneale (I blame my Gran for this one)
  • The Far Cry – Emma Smith
  • The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas (Jackie this one is all down to you and you are to blame)
  • Vanishing Point – Patricia Wentworth
  • At Risk – Patricia Cornwell (free from the office)
  • Nightingale Wood – Stella Gibbons
  • The Widow and Her Hero – Thomas Keneally (Juxtabook this one is all your fault)
  • Foreign Affairs – Alison Lurie
  • The Colour – Rose Tremain
  • The 2.5 Pillars of Wisdom – Alexander McCall Smith
  • Moral Disorder – Margaret Atwood
  • The Robber Bride – Margaret Atwood (a book I lent and never got back)

You can also see I have passed on blame to those who deserve it and thanks to those who sent me books etc. And if that wasnt enough there is also…

Recently Aquired Part II

  • Equator – Miguel Sousa Tavares (from Bloomsbury)
  • Pretty Monsters – Kelly Link (from Canongate and Kimbofo has raved about)
  • The People’s Train – Thomas Keneally (from the people at Sceptre)
  • Sunset Oasis – Bahaa Taher (from Sceptre)
  • Serena – Ron Rash (from Canongate)
  • The Death of Bunny Munro – Nick Cave (from Canongate also raved about by Kimbofo)
  • Falling Slowly – Anita Brookner
  • The Beckoning Lady – Margery Allingham
  • The Bay of Angels – Anita Brookner
  • From Doon With Death – Ruth Rendell (her first as must read in order)
  • Late Comers – Anita Brookner
  • The Life of Charlotte Bronte – Elizabeth Gaskell

I can’t justify it and I shan’t it just is what it is ha! At least I didnt buy all of them and I do blame some of you out there fully for some of the oens I did buy!  Which of these delights have you read or have been meaning to read?

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Corduroy Mansions – Alexander McCall Smith

I was delightfully recently asked to take part in the ‘online blogger book group’ for the new Alexander McCall Series (and sequel to Corduroy Mansions) in The Telegraph. Now you all know me well enough by now that I cant read a series of books a few along. I have to start with the first one. This is being delivered in the post by the lovely people who asked me to join but I needed to be up to date before Monday and so I couldn’t wait. What emerged was a slightly crazy charity shop dash (which involved buying some books that weren’t Corduroy Mansions) through South West London, people doubted I could get such a new book at a bargain price but I did! The only problem was that in said shop this was t he window display, I think its best I don’t mention what else I walked out with…

Not a good sign

So was all the chaos worth it? Would the book be any good, if not would I be able to cope with following the new series ‘The Dog Who Came in From the Cold’? Also bare in mind that I had already tried McCall’s ‘Scotland Street’ series and wasn’t too sure about it even though I loved the No.1 Ladies Detective Agency series and still do, which category would this one fall into?

Corduroy Mansions is the tale of the inhabitants of…well Corduroy Mansions, and those they interact with outside of the building they reside. William lives at the top of the building with his son Eddie, though he wants Eddie out going as far as getting a vegetarian cat loving dog (the wonderful Freddie de la Hay) and then moving in the besotted Marcia as a flatmate, perfect situation for some wonderful comedy. One the floor below lives a group of flat sharing girls. Jo an Aussie fresh to the UK but loving it and possibly one of her housemates, Dee who works in vitamins and pharmaceuticals and wants to give her assistant a colonic, Caroline an Art Student who once featured in Rural Life Magazine and is now sort of infatuated with James who is worried he might be straight and the bookish Jenny who works for the odious Oedipus Snark (brilliant name) the nastiest Liberal Democrat MP you could ever wish to meet.

Not only do we get to follow these colourful characters lives we also get to meet and in some cases follow the people that they have in their lives such as Oedipus through whom we also get to follow his mother Berthea, who is writing her sons biography, and her wonderful ‘spiritual’ brother Terence Moongrove. There is also Oedipus’s long suffering girlfriend Barbara Ragg who runs a publishing company and is about to have quite a change in life. These characters are also wonderful and make you want to read more; it’s almost like wonderful character overload.

Now if you are wondering why I haven’t mentioned plot… well there isn’t a huge plot to it. It’s much more subtle than that. There are small storylines for all the characters as McCall Smith himself puts it “these stories are character-based: what interests me is what makes the characters tick rather than intricate and potentially confusing plots” and with this many characters it could get confusing but it never does. I really, really enjoyed this book and would recommend it for anyone who loved Armistead Maupin’s ‘Tales of the City’ series though it’s somewhat gentler, though there is more adult humour in this one than in 44 Scotland Street as I recall it. I would also recommend it for anyone who likes a good old nosey peep into normal characters lives, their little quirks and how they all interact. Delightful reading!

Has anyone else read this? Is anyone a fan of McCall Smith? If not could you be converted by this book? Can anyone recommend why I should try and read more of the Scotland Street series, should I start again? Are you following the new series? Does serialization work for you?

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What Our Furniture Says About Us

Just a very quick reminder that the new sequel to ‘Corduroy Mansions’ Alexander McCall Smith series starts today. You can read the first chapter of the book right here.

I won’t be reading it today,even though I was lucky enough to get this weeks advance chapters, but will be properly from tomorrow (I have to be honest about these things).

I have very fortunately managed to get my mitts on a copy of the first series which I am devouring and will easily finish on the tube back home tonight, I know we are getting sent one but by now you guys know me and I have to read things in the right order. It also means will be able to give one copy away in the not too distant future.  Plus . Anyway a small reminder today for you.

There will be another “non McCall Smith related” post later today that includes a give away so do make sure you pop back then!!!

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