Tag Archives: Andrea Levy

The Bailey’s Prize; Best of the Best from the Second Decade

Tonight in the Piccadilly Theatre in London, something very exciting is going to be happening… The folk behind the Bailey’s Prize will be announcing their Best of the Best from the second decade of the wonder that is the women’s prize for fiction. The question is of course which of these wonderful ten novels (if like me you thought they had chosen ten books from all time and were worried about some of the older ones not getting a shout fear not) will win the prize tonight?

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I will be there, so will be live tweeting over @SavidgeReads throughout and then filling you all in on the evening tomorrow, however in the interim the lovely team at the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction asked me if I would share with you which book I thought deserving of the title. This initially seemed like the most delightful thing to be asked, then when the selection above arrived I realised it was actually a potential nightmare. I have read nine of the books (sorry Barbara Kingsolver, I will get to you) and I can genuinely say that six of them have been absolute corkers (Homes, McBride, Tremain, Adichie, Miller, Smith) and out of those two of them have become some of my favourite books of all time. Step forward Madeline Miller’s The Song of Achilles (which I was sure I wouldn’t like after having a classicist mother who dragged me round Pompeii for 8 hours put me off all things Greek and Roman for quite some time, it’s okay Mum I forgive you) and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Half of a Yellow Sun (which I read for a book group knowing nothing about and completely blew me away) which are both corkers!

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But before I choose which of these would be my best of, and it changes minute by minute, I want to just take some time out to say how brilliant the prize is full stop and mention how much I wish they would let a male judge on the panel called Simon just once and all the brilliant fiction that it highlights be they longlisted, shortlisted or the final winners. Because it is brilliant! Without the prize I wouldn’t have read any of the above novels when I did, nor would I have known about Andrea Levy’s winning Small Island, or shortlisted titles like Esi Edugyan’s Half Blood Blues, Kathleen Winter’s Annabel or Emma Henderson’s Grace Williams Says It Loud. I could go on, and I haven’t even started on the longlisted titles that I have read and loved each year, or the fun I have every spring trying to guess the twenty books that might make it on that list. It has really informed my reading, more than I realised until I looked at all the titles – which then set me off wanting to read all the short and long listed titles I haven’t got to yet. Blimey!

So which would be my overall winner for the book of the last decade? Well after much torment, wailing, hair pulling and other vexation I have to say for me it has to be Half of a Yellow Sun. It is a book that stole my heart, broke it a few times and has left me thinking about it (and all the characters) ever since. It is also a book that I have bought for all the important people in my life who haven’t read it yet – and they have all been blown away by it too.

Right I need to get ready for tonight’s event, which there are still some tickets for, so over to you? Who would be your best of the best from the second decade be and what about the first? Which short and longlisted books have you read and loved.

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The Book Tingle (#BookTingle)

When I was sat with my lovely fellow judges at the first proper Fiction Uncovered meeting, the subject of what we were all looking for in winning books came up. As it went around the table with the judges and the Fiction Uncovered team things like the prose and writing style, something different that stands out, great stories etc all come up. When everyone looked at me for my response the words that came out of my mouth were ‘I want the book tingle’ and they all looked at me like they might have someone unhinged (or living up to the Simple Simon namesake) sat with them. And so I explained…

For me a book tingle is a rare and elusive phenomenon. You would initially think that for a book to give me all the tingles it would simply need to be an amazingly written book that ticks all my literary likes. Well yes, but you see there is more to it and I bet you have all had them too. You can have books that start amazingly and then, for various reasons, go off on a tangent, these ones don’t. From start to finish they have you.

The first time I had this sensation was with Catherine Hall’s The Proof of Love*.  I should hear add that since then Catherine and I have become firm friends, down to the book actually, yet when I picked it up I hadn’t heard of her before and had no knowledge of the book. Oh, expect that on the cover it said ‘Sarah Waters meets Daphne Du Maurier’ which piqued my interest and also made me wary all at once. In fact, cheeky little scamp that I am I actually thought ‘compared to Du Maurier eh? Go on then, impress me…’ and it did taking me completely by delightful surprise. You see from two or three paragraphs in I just knew this was a book for me. It is often the sense of surprise when this happens that adds to the experience.

These books are rare gems; you don’t get them often. There is an almost unexplainable feeling from the start which lasts until the final full stop. Not for a single moment does the book let you down, or indeed out of its grasp, you are effectively spell bound by it. It feels like all the rest of the world goes completely out of your mind and all that is left is you, the book and the author’s words. It is the prose, the characters, the atmosphere, everything! You almost feel, without it sounding arrogant, that this book was written just for you.

This has happened again very recently, if I may be so bold, with Jessie Burton’s The Miniaturist, review coming soon. Four pages in and I knew we were off. I was in an effortless zone of book reading bliss. This book has nothing in common with The Proof of Love, well actually maybe something in hindsight but I wouldn’t have known from the start. They are set in different times, completely different places, yet somehow I just knew. And it is the same with some other books which gave me that same sensation (have I said tingle too often now making it sound even weirder than it did at the start?) like Gillespie and I, The Hunger Trace, Small Island, The Narrow Road to the Deep North, My Policeman etc ** from the very beginning I just knew. They all just got me, or did I just get them, either way it was a perfect match.

So what I am saying really, and what I think I am not looking for in just Fiction Uncovered judging but also in my reading life in general, is that the reason I keep reading is to hunt for that next kick and those extra special books. The books that you more than simply just love, the ones that give you that magic feeling, don’t let you go and afterwards become both part a landmark in your reading history and a part of your psyche.

To hear me talking about it slightly more eloquently, yet with more giggles, listen to the latest episode of The Readers. I would love to know (in the comments below) which books you’ve read that have given you the book tingle, or whatever you would like to call it, from the very start and held you throughout, plus how it feels when you just know a book is going to be just your sort of book. Which books do you feel were really written just for you? Do also share them on Twitter with #BookTingle, let’s get it trending!

*You may have noticed I have not mentioned Rebecca. This is in part because it is the book that got me reading again, so is a whole separate stratosphere and also in part because I wouldn’t have known what a book tingle was if it had hit me square between the eyes.
**These with Catherine Hall are the books, prior to my last tingle with Ms Burton, that I thought of when I was thinking of books where the feeling hit me within a few pages or a chapter. I just knew.

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Dorothy Savidge; The Woman Books Built

On Wednesday this week we all said our final goodbyes to Granny Savidge Reads, aka Dorothy Savidge. I thought I would share the speech I gave as part of her eulogy with you all as it is fitting and also because it does show the importance of books in people’s lives. You can also hear Gran talking about books in an episode of The Readers that I recorded with three generations of the reading Savidge’s here. Thank you all so, so, so, so much for your comments, emails and tweets about Gran, the support has meant so much to me and my family. Savidge Reads will be back properly on August the 1st, I will leave this as a fitting interim post until then…

To say that my Gran, Dorothy, quite liked a book would be something of an understatement. She loved books. Gran once said that “one of the wonderful things about books is that despite reading being a solitary activity, in the main they can bring you together with other people”. Gran proved this often, with family, friends, neighbours, people in libraries younger than her whom she then founded book groups with, potential son in laws who liked Philip Kerr and random strangers on her travels. You name them, Gran could talk books with them.

The other thing she said recently was that “books can have the power to educate people and make you walk in their footsteps”. She would often read veraciously about places she was going to before she went and sometimes read a guide book so closely you would have to remind her she was actually in the place she was reading about. Yet Gran didn’t come from a bookish background, she was predominately a self taught reader.

Gran grew up in a house that only had three books, though a saving grace was that one of those was ‘Gone With The Wind’. Her father was away at war, her mum busy with all Gran’s siblings and so it was her eldest brother Derrick who would read Rupert Bear adventures to her and her younger brother Gordon from the Daily Express. However on his return from the war her father took Gran to the library often, it was there that she discovered the page turning addiction that is Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Famous Five.

From the library Gran progressed to Broadhurst’s book shop, which is still running, in Southport. Gran said “I couldn’t afford the books but I could sit in the corner and read, hopefully hidden”. She wasn’t as well hidden as she thought, thanks to a kindly bookshop owner though Gran was allowed to sit and read as she pleased from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ onwards.

I don’t know much about Gran’s reading life when she was courting my Grandfather, Bongy, and had moved away from home to the suburbs of London. I do know that he influenced her reading, partly with his love of Anthony Trollope and how often he re-read ‘Barchester Towers’ which Gran soon caught. I also know that a discussion with Bongy made Gran read Hardy as, for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned there was a book in which a man sold his wife at a market like she was cattle’. Make of that what you will but it certainly made Gran read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ even if out of incredulity.

Reading to her children Louise, Caroline, Alice and Matthew and helping them learn to read was something which gave Gran a great amount of joy. My mother, Louise, can remember hours with Peter and Jane and ‘This is Pat. Meet Pat the dog. Watch Pat run’ a little too well. It was the same with her grandchildren. I remember many an occasion cuddling up to Gran with a good story, even until quite recently. I still get that same feeling of excitement walking into a Waterstones as I did as a child. Trips to Scarthin Books with Gran have been a highlight of the last twenty years, or more, of my life.

Gran and I bonded over lots of things, books were a particularly constant source of conversation. She could be a book snob on occasion, only months ago asking if I had thought of reading ‘anything of any actual worth’ this year, scary. She often broke this snobbery though, sometimes by force like when she had to read all Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ trilogy as Bongy had done the awful thing of only allowing Gran to pack four books for a whole four weeks away… she unashamedly cried her way through the final book by the pool, secretly loving every moment of it.

Mainly her love of reading was infectious. I’ve Gran to thank for my love of Kate Atkinson, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood and many, many others. Sometimes her enthusiasm could also be overzealous. For example when I was about halfway through the aforementioned Margaret Atwood’s complex and lengthy tome, ‘The Blind Assassin’, Gran suddenly said ‘Oh that is the book where **** happens at the end isn’t it?’ Then the awkward silence followed before an ‘oops’.

No matter what was going on in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we could talk books and did so several times a week. She was always up for recommending something or have something recommended to her. Though I have recently noticed that a copy of a Barbara Cartland novel I bought her as a slight joke over a decade ago is still looking rather pristine.
It was the challenge of wanting to try new books and her love of discussion and bookish debate that led Gran to book groups. Some might say that joining three was slightly excessive, not for Gran. It seems she was a popular member of the groups whether she co-founded them or simply joined them. “Her opinion on a book was always looked forward to, even if sometimes with baited breath” her fellow member Jim told me. She was often seen as something of a book encyclopaedia, often called upon to name an author or book title that had slipped someone else’s mind. Invariably Gran would know exactly what they meant.

In the last few months I know it was hard with Gran not being able to read so much. I tried reading her new favourite series to her, unlike her big brother Derrick I didn’t do the voices and so in the end we had to settle with the audio book or episodes of The Archers.

Books still brought her joy in other ways during this time. Be it talking with friends and family about books or recommending them. We had marvellous discussions with nurses at various hospitals about books including a lengthy one at the Whitworth where we discussed what happened to the books in our heads. Did we just see the words, hear voices or watch a film playing in front of our eyes? There were also all the friends who visited who she had made through books and via book groups and all the laughter and smiles that they brought with them.

Gran’s reading legacy will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when they arrive one day. Also through all the friendships that she made through books and reading and the book groups she started and joined. She loved getting any book recommendation, so on behalf of Gran, when you can, go and pick up one of her favourite authors, Graham Greene.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A New TV Book Show…

A very quick post between lots of pre-scheduled posts (which are proving invaluable between doctors appointments, hospital visits and generally feeling rather rubbish) as I wanted to share a link with you that made me feel very happy when reading the paper earlier today as there is a new TV show coming soon which is apparently rather like the wonderful ‘Desert Island Discs’… but with books!

‘My Life in Books’ will be on BBC2 and will be hosted by Anne Robinson who will interview the likes of Deborah Devonshire, PD James etc on which five books have proved the most influential, loved or both in their lives, and it will be DAILY! It’s also the start of a year of programming devoted to the written word. Have a look at the link below for further details…

http://www.guardian.co.uk/tv-and-radio/2011/jan/23/anne-robinson-bbc2-books

I have to say after having just watched The TV Book Show/Club/Thing barely managing to discuss Andrea Levy’s ‘The Long Song’ (which I loved) and being really rather let down by it all I couldn’t be more pleased that this show, and hopefully many more are coming… Now who do I send a pitch to for a book show I have been thinking about? Can you tell I am a little over excited about this?

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Books of 2010 Part Two…

So in my second list of books that I loved in 2010 I decided to go for books that were published in hardback or paperback for the first time in 2010. There are some exceptions though and I have not included any of The Green Carnation Prize long or shortlisted books as I don’t know if I could rate them in the same way I do the books I read randomly and pop on the blog, is that fair of me? I will have to think about that more going forward in 2011 maybe? Right anyway, as Miranda Hart would say, let’s get on with the show…

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks – Rebecca Skloot (Pan Books)

“…there is so much in this book that it’s really, really hard to do it justice in any kind of way. It’s book that will open your eyes to some of the most important times in modern science, the not that distant injustice of racial segregation was still going on (Henrietta was on a coloured only ward) and a real life family drama that you couldn’t possibly believe isn’t fiction, but it’s all very real and makes for an incredibly emotional and utterly brilliant book. I cannot recommend this enough; it’s definitely one of my books of the year, if not the book of the year so far for me. It’s emotional, angering, thought provoking and mind expanding; it’s also incredibly readable and an important book too.”

Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)

“Sofia Oksanen has written something quite amazing. It is a rare book that takes me on such an emotional journey and to such dark places and yet leaves me almost unable to put the book down. Her prose is absolutely stunning (and here I should credit Lola Rogers on a fantastic translation) and without ever being too graphic she manages to drop in enough information to let the reader work out what’s going on and yet leave enough unsaid that we create the scenes in our own minds which is often the more disturbing and effective than spelling everything out.”

One Day – David Nicholls (Hodder)

“I am well aware that this book won’t be for everyone but anyone who is looking at it and thinking ‘chick-lit by a man with no literary merit’ (and I have heard that said) would be wrong. The prose is incredibly readable without being throw-away. I laughed and cried whilst reading this book in one sitting, it was rather like spending a day on an emotional rollercoaster I have to say and yet once I had put it down I really just wanted to start all over again and I don’t say that too often. It’s not a modern masterpiece but I hope it becomes a contemporary classic… A book that will leave you an emotional wreck, make you want to hug it and also start all over again all at once possibly.”

Beside The Sea – Veronique Olmi (Peirene Press)

“I know there are some people out there who think that if you don’t have children then you can’t relate to tales about mother’s (or father’s) feelings for their child or children. I think that’s a load of rubbish, I believe that a wonderful author can take you absolutely anywhere, into any mind or situation, that’s the wonder of books. Olmi is just such a writer who put me into the mind of a mother thinking of her and her children’s lives and left me rather an emotional wreck and not any books can leave me almost feeling physically winded.”

The Long Song – Andrea Levy (Headline Review)

Slavery is always going to be a tough subject and yet the way Levy writes it both hits home the horrors of what took place, sometimes in quite graphic detail, and yet through her wonderful narrators voice there is a humour there… If you haven’t read any Levy then this is a great book to start with. If you have already had the pleasure then this book continues to show that Levy is a wonderful author who can take you to faraway places with wonderful characters and make it all look effortless… This is a truly wonderful book that haunts you in both its humour and its horrors.”

A Life Apart – Neel Mukherjee (Corsair)

“It is hard to believe that this is a debut novel as to read it feels so accomplished. Unlike other books that could have made you feel almost too much is going on everything is measured and paced, themes are explored but not overly so. No puddings are overegged by Mr Mukherjee here where some authors might have gone into melodrama or overkill. The prose is both lush and stark in parts and has a wonderful flow to it. The only slight tiny niggle I had was that Maud Gilby’s tale is all in bold which played a bit with my eyes, as I said a small niggle though…  Not only, as I mentioned above, is it a book that leaves you feeling a little differently about life, not on a grand scale but in subtle ways and haunts you after you finish the last sentence.”

Room – Emma Donoghue (Picador)

“Emma Donoghue does something incredibly special with ‘Room’. By putting us in the mind of 5 year old Jack she makes us see things from both the innocence of the child narrating and the cynical knowledge the reader has as an adult and rather than play it for a schmaltzy tale of woe, or a calculated tear fest, though the book is emotional in parts. It’s also very funny in parts too and that’s all down to the child eye observance of Jack and his voice. Child narrators can sometimes really grate on me, let alone books that are written in a slightly childish dialect, yet I could have listened to Jack describing his life for pages and pages more.”

Started Early, Took My Dog – Kate Atkinson (Black Swan)

“Not only do you have a mystery or two in the book to work out, you have this overall mystery of just how on earth everything interlinks and with ‘Started Early, Took My Dog’ she draws out the process by introducing each character and bringing their circumstances and personalities to the fore. No one dimensional characters here, not even if they are merely in the book for a page or two. All the main characters are marvelous, readable and real. In doing so she also gets to voice her thoughts on both issues from the past (in this case the serial killings in the seventies which gripped the nation and left many women in fear) and in the present (prostitution, child welfare, the recession, dementia) through their back stories which makes it even a fuller read.”

The Hand That First Held Mine – Maggie O’Farrell (Headline Review)

“I should say it will be hard to do this book justice full stop, it will also be hard to say too much without giving everything away and spoiling it for the reader… For me the star of the whole book was the writing. Every single sentence was a real joy to read and seemed to have been crafted with care as if every word counted and that is a rare find I think. In some ways it reminded me of the way Brooklyn was crafted though the stories are nothing a like at all. The fact that on top of this atmospheric and beautiful writing are two such interesting women, a whole cast of wonderful crafted characters and a plot makes this a wonderful book for the reader, you won’t want to rush it rather savour every line page by page.”

The Clay Dreaming – Ed Hillyer (Myriad Editions)

If I said to you that ‘The Clay Dreaming’ was a book about an aboriginal cricket team arriving in London in 1868 it might not sound like the type of book you would instantly rush down to your nearest book shop to grab… The prose is masterly, the characters are full drawn – apart from the mysterious ones of course and I could easily imagine this having been published in installments in the papers/magazines of the late 1800’s… It’s not a book to be read quickly, nor an easy read by any means (ideally it’s one to be read slowly with no great rush and allowed to unfold in front of the readers eyes – perfect for on your holidays) but it is one that I don’t think people should miss out on.”

You can find the rest of my top books of the year here. Which of the books above have you read and what did you think? Have any of these books been on your must read lists? What were your favourite reads of 2010?

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The Prose Practice – Books for Book Groups

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

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

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

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

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

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

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And The Man Booker Prize 2010 Winner is…

…Well we don’t know yet but we will do later tonight. If you are bored of all things booker, and I admit I have gone off it a little this year, then fear not there is another BIG thank you post coming later on today. As I mentioned I have been a little ‘meh’ about the Man Booker this year, maybe reading everything in the longlist last year put me off for a couple of years, or maybe being a judge on another book prize had me book prized out. However a book award is a book award and I do love a good guessing game so I thought I would put forward who I want to win and who I think will win.

Of the whole shortlist I have only read half of them so I am not 100% qualified to really make a decision; hey ho this is only for fun. I actually have a sneaking suspicion that a book that I haven’t yet read will win this year and that is the bookies favourite ‘C’ by Tom McCarthy. I actually wanted to read this one the most out of the short listed books I hadn’t touched yet, however, I never seemed to have the time and I think it’s a book you need a good hour or two with before you can get a hold on it and read it commuting or stealing an hour with it here and there. I decided to give that free time to ‘Jane Eyre’ instead which wasn’t hard to get onto but needed quite a chunk of time and ‘Crime and Punishment’ will be getting the devotion time next. If ‘C’ wins I will undoubtedly read it, though possibly not for six months or more as the hype will quite possibly put me off for a while… but you never know.

So that’s who I think will win but who do I want to win? Well as I type this it’s a real tie with me and it’s between these two books, both which I have read and loved for completely different reasons…

‘Room’ By Emma Donoghue was a book that I was instantly blown away by because it seemed so different from anything I had read in ages. ‘The Long Song’ by Andrea Levy was a book that I loved when I read it and has stayed with me long after, especially the voice of its narrator Miss July. So I am torn really on which of these two should win. I should say I think Damon Galgut’s book is very interesting too. That’s so hedging my bets isn’t it. Ok, ok…

If you had to push me on which of those I would choose then it would have to be ‘The Long Song’ it’s had less publicity and sales than ‘Room’ and I think it deserves an equal amount. It’s also a proper story and I think its time book prizes went back to that. Maybe I should have popped a bet on Levy as she’s not the favourite and my gut instinct wants her to win. What do you all think about it all this Man Booker business this year?

*Well, blimey, it was Howard Jacobson for ‘The Finkler Question’. I haven’t read it, I am not sure I will… but I might, maybe, eventually! I know this shouldnt count but he sounds lovely on the radio and was very funny when I saw him at the Foyles ‘Vintage Day’ when he was very entertainingly discussing sex in books!!! 

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The Man Booker Shortlist 2010

How did I forget that this was being announced today?? I have missed taking part in my guessing games! Anyways, a big well done to Andrea Levy and Emma Donoghue on being short listed for their books ‘The Long Song’ and ‘Room’. I can’t comment on Damon Galgut (as he is on The Green Carnation Longlist) but I think I can congratulate him though without it looking like favouritism or some such? Though I am aware I don’t want to open another can of worms. I will talk about ‘In A Strange Room’ at some point just not quite yet.

  

Will I read the other three?

  

I would like to try one of Howard Jacobson’s books after hearing him talk earlier in the year and laughing rather a lot and Peter Carey is another author I have lots of books of and yet haven’t read a word of. I am not sure though with Carey if this book would be where I would want to start? However I don’t have their two listed books. I do have ‘C’ by Tom McCarthy though and have heard some rather intriguing things (its already favourite to win according to the bookies) so maybe that’s one to take on the long trains up north and back this weekend. What do you think?

Oh and speaking of recommending books, can you please post some recommendations below just here. I know I am on strike (mind you three posts in one day isn’t a strike, in fact I should stop) like London Transport – but your not allowed to be ha! Thanks in advance.

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The Man Booker Longlist 2010

So it’s been announced and I will probably just be repeating what is already old news but here are the thirteen books the judges have picked (if you are already bored of the Man Booker or just not interested have a gander at the Mum Booker Longlist I popped up earlier here)…

  • Parrot and Oliver in America by Peter Carey (Faber and Faber)
  • Room by Emma Donoghue (Picador)
  • The Betrayal by Helen Dunmore (Fig Tree)
  • In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut (Atlantic Books)
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson (Bloomsbury)
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline Review)
  • C by Tom McCarthy (Jonathan Cape)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Zacob de Zoet by David Mitchell (Sceptre)
  • February by Lisa Moore (Chatto & Windus)
  • Skippy Dies by Paul Murray (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Trespass by Rose Tremain (Chatto & Windus)
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Atlantic)
  • The Stars in the Bright Sky by Alan Warner (Jonathan Cape)

How many did I get right, well you can compare today’s list with my list here and see!!!

I have marked the one, yes one, that I have read in bold and the ones that I own in italics (some of which have been saved from the ‘for the charity shop’ pile as we speak – I won’t say which ones). The latter part of that statement suggests I might be thinking of reading the whole longlist. Am I? I don’t think I will be; in part because I don’t have all the books (which isn’t me being bitter) but in the main because I did it last year in a full on way and it became a chore. There are some titles on there that I would like to give a whirl though but if I don’t own it (though I know one of the titles I don’t own yet is on the way) its very unlikely to be read. I have a feeling ‘Skippy Dies’ and ‘The Slap’ might get devoured fairly soon though!! Athe moment though, as its the only one I have read, I have everything crossed for Levy hahaha! I did really like that book though.

It is an interesting list, and one that I don’t think anyone could have predicted the whole of – which is a good thing, I think. I was slightly surprised that Ian McEwan didn’t make it and feel slightly smug I predicted Amis wouldn’t be on there.Why do I have a small vendetta against that man after quite liking the last book I read by him? I am rather chuffed for Andrea Levy and sad to see Maggie O’Farrell wasn’t on there but most of all annoyed Neel Mukherjee didn’t make the cut as that’s one of my favourites of the year and one that feels truly worthy of winning. I kind of think its a forgone conclusion that Mitchell will win which is a bit boring, but I could be wrong.

So what do you make of the list? Any surprises or shocks for you? Any you are really annoyed were missed out or even included?

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The Man Booker Prize 2010

I know it’s rather in advance but on the Tuesday when the Man Booker Longlist is announced I will be posting the first of two ‘mother of all posts’ for the week. I actually really ummed and ahhed about doing a post on the Man Booker Longlist, short list or even anything at all this year but I do love a guessing game and in creating my own guesses and hopes for the Man Booker Longlist  I couldn’t really not discuss the prize a little.

I don’t think, as it stands right now, I will be reading the Longlist this year – mind you if I have read a few and have the rest on the TBR who knows. It was the TBR and the shelves of ‘books I have read’ in the lounge that inspired my final ‘Savidge Reads Booker Dozen’ because every book that I have popped on the list is one I have read or one I own and am rather keen to read. Hence why you won’t see one of the books many people say will be on there – ‘The Pregnant Widow’ by Martin Amis. So without further ado here they are, with a nice picture of the doodles and scribbles that took place in guessing (also proof I thought of some if they sneakily turn up, ha)…

  • Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson (Sceptre)
  • The Clay Dreaming by Ed Hillyer (Myriad Editions)
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy (Headline)
  • And This is True by Emily Mackie (Sceptre)
  • Solar by Ian McEwan (Jonathan Cape)
  • Even The Dogs by Jon McGregor (Bloomsbury)
  • The Thousand Autumns of Jacob De Zoet by David Mitchell (Sceptre)
  • A Life Apart by Neel Mukherjee (Constable)
  • Ghost Light by Joseph O’Connor (Harvill Secker)
  • The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O’Farrell (Headline)
  •  The Life and Opinions of Maf the Dog, and of His Friend Marilyn Monroe by Andrew O’Hagan (Faber)
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Atlantic)
  • As The Earth Turns Silver by Alison Wong (Picador)

I mulled over ‘The Blasphemer’ by Nigel Farndale but as I didn’t really love it I couldn’t pop it on, I have a feeling that might show its face, maybe! So maybe in that case of all my choices being picked I could end up reading the whole lot if I’ve guessed all thirteen right – which I very much doubt! At the moment though its not in my plans because it took so much time last year and became a bit more of a chore despite some of the marvellous books on the list that I adored, ‘Brooklyn’ and the winner ‘Wolf Hall’, and wouldn’t have read without that extra push. I just got narked with the schedule and I tried earlier this year with The Orange Prize and it all went a bit wrong.

So what would your thirteen be? Or which certain books would you like to see in the Longlist? What do you make of my choice; I am sure they are well out. What are your thoughts on the Man Booker Prize in general?

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The Help – Kathryn Stockett

Oh how the best laid plans and intentions can go awry. You may have heard me mentioning that in order to egg Polly of Novel Insights and myself to read Kathryn Stockett’s ‘The Help’ a little sooner (as we had both been meaning to for ages) we arranged to have a rogue book group of just the two of us on Monday night. Well by that point Polly was only a third of the way through and I had barely started. So instead we had dinner and watch the movie of Peyton Place which we both rather enjoyed. The next day I picked up ‘The Help’ properly, I know I am very late to this book people have been raving about it for ages and it’s been a choice on a TV Book Club here in the UK, and simply couldn’t put it down.

‘The Help’ is a tale of three women in Jackson, Mississippi in 1962. Two of the women, Aibileen and Minny, are black maids looking after the houses and children of white women who spend their times organising benefits and spending their husbands money. Skeeter (or Miss Skeeter/Miss Phelan as she can be known) is a white woman in the area with a difference as though she mingles with the other white ladies she doesn’t really feel like one of them and not just because she is the only single one left (hilarious scene with her mother about this are plentiful) but because she sees things differently. In fact as her closest friends Hilly and Elizabeth discuss having separate toilets fitted in their houses for the black maids Skeeter almost falls out with them as she questions the need. You see while these ladies are happy to have home help looking after their children and cooking their food they don’t actually want to be ‘contaminated’ by them.

As the novel moves on Skeeter looks back at her childhood and her beloved maid Constantine who vanished while she was at college and decides she wants to know what happened to her and in doing so wants to know what it’s really like for these women and how they are really treated, she also wants to write a book about them (I will admit I inwardly groaned at this slightly predictable cliché but it did work and moved the story on). Minny meanwhile after a rather rogue incident has to find a new job with a rather reclusive and strange mistress and Aibileen is getting more and more attached to the child in her care who’s mother doesn’t seem to care for at all. All strands merge and create a wonderful tale of three rather marvellous women. The outcome of course you will have to read yourself but be prepared for much laughter and some tears and anger along the way.

I have to hand it to Stockett as for a debut novel this is something really rather special. The era is drawn out for you warts and all and yet never to the point where every single thing is described, she’s clearly researched everything but isn’t going to show off about it all as some authors tend to do. There are those fiction books that read like a text book every other paragraph, this isn’t one of them. The three main characters are drawn wonderfully; Skeeter being quite a character gives you an insight, through her friend and family and occasionally herself, into the minds of the white woman at the time. Minny and Aibileen, though in similar circumstances, are completely different personalities with their stories to tell and each ones voice rings loud and true; the brashness of Minny and the cheek in contrast to the more demure and often emotional Aibileen.   

I found Stockett’s set up of Skeeter’s family an interesting one as living on a cotton plantation her family made masses of money from slavery, the author reminds us of this now and again and so it contrasts with Skeeter as a person. I also really admired that Stockett doesn’t preach, and that could be very easy in a book like this. Instead she creates a tale that looks at both sides (the villains are truly villainous) from both view points. It serves as a great reminder just how recently all of this actually happened, and reading Kathryn Stockett’s non fictional addition at the end you see just what impact it has all had on her and why she needed to write this book. A marvellous tale from a debut author who I think we can expect great things from. I would suggest you pick this up when you have lots of spare time as you might not be able to put it down.

A book that will: make you angry and hopeful, laugh and cry, and leave you missing the three main characters long after you have closed the book and popped it on your shelf.  9/10

Savidge suggests some perfect prose partners;

The Long Song by Andrea Levy – A tale of the plantations of Jamaica and its people in the last years of slavery with a narrator you will not forget. A wonderful book.
Mudbound by Hillary Jordan – Tales of the cotton farms in the Mississippi Delta in the 1940’s as war rages and people of both colours have to come together despite their differences to fight for freedom.

So who has read ‘The Help’ and what did you think, I suspect there are lots of you. In fact maybe I should ask who hasn’t read this yet.

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Filed under Books of 2010, Fig Tree, Kathryn Stockett, Penguin Books, Review

The Orange Prize Shortlist 2010…

…Well it hasn’t been announced yet but I think it’s probably going to be the thing everyone is talking about today so I thought I would do a quick post on it (a non Orange related post is coming later, if it hasn’t already – I am doing this before the shortlist is announced purposefully) and as I love a good guessing game I thought I would give you the Savidge Reads guess of the short list.

I think that it will be/would like it to be…

  • Andrea Levy – The Long Song (Headline Review)
  • Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)*
  • Kathryn Stockett – The Help (Fig Tree)
  • Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
  • M.J. Hyland – This is How (Canongate)

I am sure I will be miles off the mark but there we go! I am wondering if I should have stopped one of the top two with Amanda Craig? Oh I could chop and change forever couldn’t I? I will update the post with what actually makes the cut after its announced at 9.30am!

**UPDATE**

So here are the actual shortlist contenders…

  • Attica Locke – Black Water Rising (Serpent’s Tail)
  • Barbara Kingsolver – The Lacuna (Faber and Faber)
  • Hilary Mantel – Wolf Hall (Fourth Estate)
  • Lorrie Moore – A Gate at the Stairs (Faber and Faber)
  • Monique Roffey – The White Woman on the Green Bicycle (Simon and Schuster)
  • Rosie Alison – The Very Thought of You (Alma Books)

Three out of six isn’t bad though it shows I know nothing, which I was already quite certain of, as I have read two of the books, though not written on here about them yet (my new rule of letting books sit with me somewhat before I post – I also noticed I still haven’t put my thoughts of some of the Man Booker long list from last year up!!!) that made the short list so you will see my thoughts on those in the next few days/weeks when I have digested them all. Well apart from the one I wasn’t a fan of. What do you all make of the list? Are you thrilled, annoyed or not bothered?

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