Tag Archives: Belinda Starling

Vicariously Through The Victorians…

As I mentioned a few weeks ago I really do love the autumn, especially for reading. I have been going through my TBR pile on and off over the last week and with certain worrying matters going on off the blog I have been looking for thrilling yet comforting books which will keep me reading. I tend to get readers block when lots of things are going on, I am sure this happens to all of us, and so these reads should combat this. However my version of thrilling yet comforting might not be the same as yours, as mine tend to involve the foggy, mysterious and dark streets of Victorian London, as the hoard I pulled down shows.

Now because I was being all arty-farty by having them on my ever-so suitable Victorian reading chair in the lounge you might not be able to make them all out. Well, it is quite a mixture. First up we have the fiction from the time in the form of ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I think sums up Victorian London at that time wonderfully, along with ‘The Odd Women’ by George Gissing which I have to admit I really bought (ages ago) because of the title, it just sounds quite me. I am also planning, through my new venture ‘Classically Challenged’, on finally reading two of the authors that many say are the literary greats, Anthony Trollope and the Charles Dickens.

I have thrown in some non-fiction into the mix too. I really struggle with non-fiction, it has to have a narrative and drive or I just get bored. In the case of ‘Beautiful Forever’ by Helen Rappaport (which I think my mother bought me two maybe three Christmas’ ago, oops) there should be no worry at all as it is the tale of Madame Rachel of Bond Street who ‘peddled products which claimed almost magical powers’ ripped people off and blackmailed them. I cannot wait for this, why have I left it so long. The same goes for Mary S. Hartman’s ‘Victorian Murderesses’ which I found in a book swap cafe last year. I don’t tend to mention that I like true crime writing, well I do, and this one looks great. Finally, non-fiction wise, I have ‘Wilkie Collins’ by Peter Ackroyd (I should have read this in the spring) which I am hoping if isn’t a narrative based non-fiction book will hook me in because I am such a big fan of Wilkie, full stop.

Finally I have thrown in three neo-Victorian novels, interestingly all by female authors about fictional women who stood up to Victorian ethics by all accounts, ‘The Journal of Dora Damage’ by Belinda Starling, ‘Little Bones’ by Janette Jenkins and ‘Beautiful Lies’ by Clare Clark. So there is some really exciting reading to look forward to. Yet before I start all these I am going to be meeting some very special ladies who I will be asking for more recommendations from as I will be discussing Victorian books, why they are so tempting to read and to write with them on Tuesday at Manchester Literature Festival

 

Yes, Jane Harris of one-of-my-all-time-favourite-ever-novels ‘Gillespie and I’ fame, who has also rather luckily become a lovely friend and the lovely Essie Fox, who did a special Victorian episode of The Readers and has written ‘The Somnambulist’ and has ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ coming out soon (which I have read in advance and cannot wait to tell you all about at the start of November. I will be asking them for recommendations from the period, about the period and set in the period – and reporting back of course.

Now… do you have any recommendations of books about/set in the times of/written by Victorians and if so what? Oh and if you have any questions for Jane and Essie let me know and I will ask them especially.

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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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What Makes A Modern Sensation?

When I first set out to originally have a ‘Sensation September’ one of the reasons it swiftly became a ‘Sensation Season’ instead was that there were not only too many sensation novels from the original era that I wanted to read, but also too many what I would deem ‘modern sensation’ novels too. But what on earth makes a modern sensation novel, I hear you cry. 

Well as I am not Wikipedia I can’t give you the official definition of a modern sensation novel because there isn’t one… as yet! However I can happily make one up instead, maybe the Savidge Reads guide for modern sensation fiction could catch on? So here are what I deem the rules for modern sensation fiction… 

  • It must be set in the Victorian era or if modern be set in a spooky old house (preferable a manor or bigger and also maybe with a spooky old wood near by).
  • There must be much secrets and intrigue.
  • There must be plenty of plot twists and quite a few red herrings.
  • There need to be a lot of coincidences.
  • It needs to contain adultery, theft, bigamy, kidnapping, insanity, forgery, abduction or murder. Or even better all of these ingredients.
  • It can have a ghost or two in it… at a push!

Now taking all this into account I think that you could actually have quite a lot of ‘modern sensation’ novels. Half of the current (and past classics, such as Agatha Christie) crime fiction could be linked back to sensation fiction with just the murder part! I think the modern sensations need to have all of the above and a little ‘sensation magic’ which isn’t easy to describe, so instead here are the first five books I could think of that have all of these elements but were written recently. I have read one, am going to re-read another and read the other three for the first time over the next few weeks…

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters – ‘We were all more or less thieves at Lant Street. But we were that kind of thief that rather eased the dodgy deed along, than did it. We could pass anything, anything at all, at speeds which would astonish you. There was only one thing, in fact, that had come and got stuck – one thing that had somehow withstood the tremendous pull of that passage – one thing that never had a price put to it. I mean of course, Me.’ Sue Trinder, orphaned at birth, is born among petty thieves – fingersmiths – in London’s Borough. From the moment she draws breath, her fate is linked to another orphan, growing up in a gloomy mansion not too many miles away.

The Observations by Jane Harris – So there I was with two pens, my two titties, Charles Dickens, two slice of bread and a blank book at the end of my first day in the middle of nowhere. Except as it turned out it wasn’t quite the end …Scotland, 1863. In an attempt to escape her not-so-innocent past in Glasgow, Bessy Buckley – the wide-eyed Irish heroine of “The Observations” – takes a job as a maid in a big house outside Edinburgh working for the beautiful Arabella. Bessy is intrigued by her new employer, but puzzled by her increasingly strange requests and her insistence that Bessy keep a journal of her most intimate thoughts. And it seems that Arabella has a few secrets of her own – including her near-obsessive affection for Nora, a former maid who died in mysterious circumstances. Then, a childish prank has drastic consequences, which throw into jeopardy all that Bessy has come to hold dear. Caught up in a tangle of madness, ghosts, sex and lies, she remains devoted to Arabella. But who is really responsible for what happened to her predecessor Nora? As her past threatens to catch up with her and complicate matters even further, Bessy begins to realise that she has not quite landed on her feet.

The Séance by John Harwood – ‘Sell the Hall unseen; burn it to the ground and plough the earth with salt, if you will; but never live there…’ London, the 1880s. A young girl grows up in a household marked by death, her father distant, her mother in perpetual mourning for the child she lost. Desperate to coax her mother back to health, Constance Langton takes her to a seance. Perhaps they will find comfort from beyond the grave. But that seance has tragic consequences.Constance is left alone, her only legacy a mysterious bequest will blight her life. So begins “The Seance”, John Harwood’s brilliant second novel, a gripping, dark mystery set in late Victorian England. It is a world of apparitions, of disappearances and unnatural phenomena, of betrayal and blackmail and black-hearted villains – and murder. For Constance’s bequest comes in two parts: a house, and a mystery. Years before a family disappeared at Wraxford Hall, a terrifying stately home near the Suffolk coast. Now Constance must find the truth behind the mystery, even at the cost of her life. Because without the truth, she is lost.

The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams – From her lookout on the first floor, Ginny watches and waits for her adored younger sister to return to the crumbling mansion that was once their idyllic childhood home. Vivien has not stepped foot in the house since she left, forty seven years ago; Ginny, the reclusive lepidopterist, has rarely ventured outside it. The remembrance of their youth, of loss, and of old rivalries plays across Ginny’s mind. Why is Vivi coming home? Ginny has been selling off the family furniture over the years, gradually shutting off each wing of the house and retreating into the precise routines and isolation that define her days. Only the attic remains untouched. There, collected over several generations, are walls lined with pinned and preserved Bordered Beauties and Rusty Waves, Feathered Footmen and Great Brocades, Purple Cloud, Angle Shades, the Gothic and the Stranger …

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling – This work is set in Lambeth, London, in the year 1859. By the time Dora Damage discovers that there is something wrong with her husband, Peter, it is too late. His arthritic hands are crippled, putting his book-binding business into huge debt and his family in danger of entering the poorhouse. Summoning her courage, Dora proves that she is more than just a housewife and mother. Taking to the streets, she resolves to rescue her family at any price – and finds herself illegally binding expensive volumes of pornography commissioned by aristocrats. Then, when a mysterious fugitive slave arrives at her door, Dora realizes she’s entangled in a web of sex, money, deceit and the law. Now the very family she fought so hard for is under threat from a host of new, more dangerous foes. Belinda Starling’s debut novel is a startling vision of Victorian London, juxtaposing its filth and poverty with its affluence. In “Dora Damage” we meet a daring young heroine, struggling in a very modern way against the constraints of the day, and whose resourcefulness and bravery have us rooting for her all the way.

What do you think… about all of it?

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A Few More Aquisitions

So last weekend when I wasn’t ill in bed with the delights of pig flu and had finally gotten around to unpacking most of my things Novel Insights came round and we went to my favourite ‘5 Books for £2’ store and I went a bit crazy, as did she. However I then went back again the next day… and on Monday, whoops. I love seeing the treasures that you have brought back when you have been shopping and so once again I thought I would share mine.

New Books... And More New Books 

Portrait of a Marriage by Nigel Nicholson – This is an account of one of the most famous literary marriages and quite an unconventional one. “Vita Sackville-West, novelist, poet, and biographer, is best known as the friend of Virginia Woolf, who transformed her into an androgynous time-traveler in Orlando. The story of Sackville-West’s marriage to Harold Nicolson is one of intrigue and bewilderment. In Portrait of a Marriage, their son Nigel combines his mother’s memoir with his own explanations and what he learned from their many letters. Even during her various love affairs with women, Vita maintained a loving marriage with Harold. Portrait of a Marriage presents an often misunderstood but always fascinating couple.”

The Sun King by Nancy Mitford – I am a slight Mitford addict and that’s after having only read their letters to each other and the first of Nancy Mitford’s novels ‘The Pursuit of Love’ but believe me that is enough. Now finding this very rare and out of print copy of one her non fiction novels I was completely overjoyed.  

Martha Peake by Patrick McGrath – A gothic mansion and a mystery tale, which kind of sold it for me, plus it’s in almost brand spanking new condition. I haven’t read any McGrath yet but have ‘The Asylum’ in my TBR too. This was a slightly random purchase.  

Tales from the Town of Widows by James Canon – I liked the title, I won’t pretend it was anything more than that because it wasn’t. Well… I liked the blurb too, a town of widows and how they cope with war as well as each other.

Bleeding Heart Square by Andrew Taylor – I have seen a few very good reviews of this and though I have STILL not read ‘The American Boy’ when I saw this in mint condition I couldn’t say no. There must have been a book group which this was the choice of as there were about six brand new copies in the store.

Sophie’s Choice by William Styron – I have a vague notion of what this cult classic is about and feel I may cry my eyes out when reading it (please don’t anyone give me any spoilers) this has been on my radar in previous visits to the shop and finally gave in. 

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold – I have been sent a review copy of Glen David Gold’s latest novel ‘Sunnyside’ and I wanted to give what has become some sort of modern cult classic first.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil by John Berendt – I want to try my hand at more non fiction and have heard some people say that this is as good as, if not better, than ‘In Cold Blood’ which I think is absolutely fantastic so this had to be purchased. 

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt – Actually I bought this on a quick dash into the store on Monday after I had heard the sad news that Frank McCourt had sadly past away. After hearing from so many of you how wonderful this book is I decided I really needed to read this.

Playing With The Grown Up’s by Sophie Dahl – When I was young Roald Dahl was one of my favourite, if not favourite, author’s and I have been intrigued by the fact his now famous Granddaughter Sophie becoming a writer. I wouldn’t have bought this if it wasn’t for the fact that one of my friends who doesn’t read very often has raved about this endlessly so I hope they are right.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith – At book group Claire brought this in as her favourite read. I have always quite fancied giving it a go anyway however this made it a future must read. The books that Claire has reviewed and that I have read and she has loved I have also loved so her recommendations are ones I always hanker after.

This Charming Man by Marian Keyes – I hope that Savidge Reads isn’t a snobbish book blog and accepts all different sorts of literature or at least has a go at them. This is undoubtedly one of the biggest selling books of the year and I gave Twilight a go so why shouldn’t I give this one a try. Two people who I like very much have also raved about her writing.

Passion by Jude Morgan – I have just started ‘Taste of Sorrow’ and my mother has been raving about ‘Indiscretion’ which I bought her (and I own) so I have a feeling that Jude could become an author that I like a lot. If not it was only 50p. I know little about Mary Shelley and the idea of reading a fictional account of her excites me, I loved Frankenstein.   

Devoted Ladies by Molly Keane – I have heard of ‘Time After Time’ but not this one. I admit I bought it for the cover and the fact that the blurb sounded so art deco and fabulous. Two female friends who aren’t actually as friendly as they might appear sounds like a recipe for 1930’s fun.

The Journal of Dora Damage by Belinda Starling – I saw a review of this on Bath Books and have been hankering after it ever since. Gothic late Victorian London, a book-binding business gone bust and Dora Damage must go to any lengths to save herself and her family. It has been compared to some of Sarah Waters earlier work… I cannot wait.

Do you own any of these? Have you been hankering after any of these? What books are you itching to get your hands on? What have you bought recently?

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