Tag Archives: Charlotte Bronte

The Third Miss Symons – F.M. Mayor

And so here is the first review of the year and aptly it is for the first book read in 2013, even if I have got a small backlog of books to tell you about from last year. I have mentioned before that I am very superstitious about the first book of the year as it seems to me it will reflect, or predict, the reading experience that I will have in the year ahead. Odd I know, yet true. Aptly I have whim (my main reading resolution of 2013) to thank for my first read being F.M. Mayor’s ‘The Third Miss Symons’ as I had started a few books and not been quite taken with any of them. However on a trip to Shrewsbury last week I spotted this in the Oxfam bookshop, bought it and then spent a few hours in a cafe not long after, while waiting for The Beard to finish a meeting, reading it from cover to cover – before you think I am some super reader it is only 144 pages of rather large print.

**** Virago Modern Classics, paperback, 1913 (1980 edition), fiction, 144 pages, from my personal TBR

Henrietta, or Etta, Symons is the ‘Third Miss Symons’ of the title and this book is really the tale of her life. As the third daughter, and fifth child, of seven she becomes the ‘middle child’, true at a yojng age she does have her time as everyone’s favourite, yet from then onwards she becomes a rather plain and unremarkable woman and we see how this unintentionally effects the rest of her life and her circumstances.

 It is also F.M. Mayors way of talking about a large amount of women who found themselves in a very similar situation at the end of the Victorian era leading into the suffragette movement. A group of women who seemed to somehow be out of kilter with the world though for no fault of their own, even if it might have made them bitter towards the ends of their lives. We still know some people like this I am sure, as youngsters I am sure we were all aware of a ‘local witch’ or ‘crazy cat lady’ somewhere down the road or in the area that we lived. Did we ever try and understand them? No, yet here in ‘The Third Miss Symons’ Flora MacDonald Mayor tries to do just that and explain it all in the life of Henrietta.

“It was clear she was to be lonely at school and lonely at home. Where was she to find relief? There was a supply of innocuous story-books for the perusal of Mrs. Marston’s pupils on Saturday half-holidays, innocuous, that is to say, but the fact that they gave a completely erroneous view of life, and from them Henrietta discovered that heroines after their sixteenth birthday are likely to be pestered with adorers. The heroines, it is true, were exquisitely beautiful, which Henrietta knew she was not, but form a study of ‘Jane Eyre’ and ‘Villette’ in the holidays, Charlotte Bronte was forbidden at school owing to her excess of passion, Henrietta realized that the plain may e adored too, so she had a modest hope that when the magic season of young ladyhood arrived, a Prince Charming would come and fall in love with her. This hope filled more and more of her thoughts, and all her last term, when other girls were crying at the thought of leaving, she was counting her days to her departure.”

It is not the easiest of reads in part because Henrietta is going to be a victim of circumstance, you pretty much know this from the start, and also because she is never really that likeable mainly as the product of her situation. Often there is a tone to the novel which is rather melancholy, which made me wonder if was the reason for the fact it verges on a novella in terms of length. I should add here that I didn’t find the book depressing in itself, more the society of the time and how it treated women who did end up as spinsters and how this even reflected the way a family might choose to interact with one in their own midst. I make single women sound like lepers here but in some ways that is how families seemed to feel about them, unless of course they could be good for money or should the lady of the house day and a replacement be needed or someone to use for their own gains or motives as they got older, otherwise they were really seen rather as a burden.

“Her aunt’s life was the sweetest and happiest for old age, but could she at twenty settle down to devising treats for other people’s children, or sewing garments for the poor? It made her feel sick and dismal to think of it. Besides, there circumstances were not similar. Her aunt, fortified by the spirit of self-sacrifice, had resigned what she loved, but she had the reward of being the most necessary member of her circle. Henrietta had no scope for self-sacrifice, for she had never had anything to give up.”

I found ‘The Third Miss Symons’ an utterly fascinating and rather different read. Partly this was because of the insight into that period of British history and how women were treated, or ill treated, in that time and partly because of the character of Henrietta which Mayor has created. I am hard pushed to think of another female character I have encountered quite like her. I was thinking of Harriet in ‘Gillespie and I’, Mrs Danvers in ‘Rebecca’ or Miss Havisham in ‘Great Expectations’ yet Harriet is not as unreliable, bitter, warped or feisty as any of them she is ordinary, yet that is what makes her tale all the more extraordinary. It’s an unusual perspective and an unusual read yet brilliantly so. I was also impressed with how Mayor wrote a whole life, and its ups and downs, in such a short book. If my reading year is to be filled with quirky, unusual and such vividly character filled and prose lead as this book then I am in for a very good reading year.

This shows the joys of whim reading, and turning to more golden oldies, instantly doesn’t it? I hope that the rest of my reading year carries on like this. Anyway, who else has read this book and what did you think? I know Susan Hill loves it as she wrote the introduction in my Virago edition, she is also a huge fan of F.M. Mayors ‘The Rectors Daughter’ which is somewhere in my TBR, have any of you read that one at all and if so what did you think of it?

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Filed under F.M. Mayor, Review, Virago Books, Virago Modern Classics

Other People’s Bookshelves #2 – Marina Sofia

Normally this new series of Other People’s Bookshelves will go live on Thursdays, however I have done a little swap around of posts this week and so it is here a day early. This week we have the lovely Marina Sofia, who regularly comments on Savidge Reads (for which I am hugely grateful as I am to anyone who does). Marina Sofia is a serial expat, currently living in the French Alps near Geneva. She loves reading books of any kind, with a particular weakness for Japanese and German literature, and crime fiction from any country.  She is currently writing her own crime novel and blogs about poetry, the books she reads and the joys and pains of finding time to write.  Marina is also a regular reviewer for the website www.crimefictionlover.com. She also has the blog http://findingtimetowrite.wordpress.com Do give them both a visit.

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

In an ideal world, I would have all of my books up on the shelves.  However, I currently have books in 3 countries. We are temporarily living in rented accommodation in France, so I have a few old favourites and new purchases here (hence the limited number of bookshelves).  In the attic of our house in the UK I have boxes and boxes of books, which I had to clear out of my beloved bookcases for our tenants. And I still have quite a pile of books waiting to be reunited with me at my parents’ house in Romania.  However, I do have big clear-outs and give away books to charity or local libraries a few times a year.

Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

I used to be really anal about organising books by topic, alphabetical order, colour, size etc.  I’ve mellowed a little over the years and only organize them by topic.  So, all my crime fiction is in one place.  All my books in foreign languages are in another place.  My professional books are in one corner, with my ancient teddy bear to keep them company. And so on.  I can usually find any book in just a few seconds, so there is some kind of system there which works for me.

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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now?

I wasn’t given pocket money as a child, so I didn’t buy books with my own money!  Although, to be fair, my parents were very good about buying me books, because they thought it was educational. Hmmm, not so sure all those Secret Seven, Mallory Towers and Chalet School books really qualified as educational, but I adored them all!

Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

No, I don’t feel guilty about any of my reading choices. But I do have a tendency to push out my husband’s books out from ‘my’ shelves and hide them somewhere. Luckily, he has taken to using his Kindle now, so I can claim full possession of the study now!

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

It would be painful, but I think any books can be replaced.  I would be more likely to try and save my manuscripts and old diaries.

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What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

Back in the 1970s or 1980s, parents had bought a Pan Classics collection of all of Austen’s novels, all the Brontë novels, most of Dickens, some Thackeray and ‘Moll Flanders’ for some reason.  I am not sure that they actually read them (they are not native speakers of English), but they had probably been told it would be a good investment for me in the future.  So I started dipping into them from the age of 10 or thereabouts.  My parents never censored me, but I had the sensation they were a bit of a forbidden fruit nevertheless, so I enjoyed them and probably became far too precocious for my own good.

If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I borrow a lot of books from the library; otherwise my house would soon overflow with books completely! However, if it’s an absolutely brilliant book that I can’t live without, I will buy it after reading a copy of it. The most recent example of that is a collected edition of Simenon’s noir fiction (the so-called ‘romans durs’).

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What was the last book that you added to your bookshelves?

A hardback edition of ‘Burying the Typewriter’ signed by the author, Carmen Bugan. It’s a beautifully written, very poignant memoir of an idyllic childhood in the Romanian countryside which comes to an abrupt end when the author’s father decides to protest against the Communist regime in Romania in the 1980s.

Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you don’t currently?

I do like collected or complete works of my favourite authors.  I would love to own the whole set of Michael Dibdin’s Aurelio Zen crime novels. And I am still searching for that perfect edition of Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’.

What do you think someone perusing your shelves would think of your reading taste, or what would you like them to think?

I hope they would think I am a very open-minded reader, ready to try all genres, all kinds of writing.  What my friends and family usually think, however, is: ‘How are you going to take them all back to England again?’

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A big thank you to Marina for letting me grill her. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Marina’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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As Good As Jane Eyre?

I have had the utter joy, amongst several children’s parties this weekend where I think I had as much fun as the children, in watching the latest film adaptation of ‘Jane Eyre’ which came out in cinemas last year. Adaptations are a tricky beast, in fact Gavin and I were discussing this on The Readers earlier in the week, and I have to say that I think that this latest version of Jane Eyre is utterly superb.

Director Cary Joji Fukunaga manages to perfectly capture the brooding atmosphere (it made me jump a lot), its dark mysterious aspects and secrets and the wonders of the Yorkshire countryside and also the gothic nature of it all. It does help that Michael Fassbender is a little bit brilliant as Mr Rochester and that Judi Dench is superb in it as Mrs Fairfax and most importantly Mia Wasikowska is a very understated, subtle and powerful Jane Eyre too. It might have missed a few set pieces I love from the book but no adaptation can ever be as perfect as the film version in your head can it. It actually made me want to re-read ‘Jane Eyre’ all over again.

I really do love the book so wasn’t expecting much from the film but I do recommend it, I could also do with some recommendations from you. As I mentioned it has made me ponder a re-read of ‘Jane Eyre’, however it is not long since I have read it and there are so many other classics I really should read (I bet a few of you have just muttered ‘Dickens’ or ‘Austen’ under your breath haven’t you?) and I would like to know which you would recommend for when the dark autumnal nights* draw in? They need to have a brooding atmosphere, some mystery and characters that will walk off the page and hold me through a good few hundred pages. I already have ‘Anna Karenina’ and ‘Villette’ as possibilities, do they fit the bill? What else would you recommend?

*I am not wishing the autumnal night upon us by the way, I just won’t be able to start on these until October/November when Green Carnation reading dies down.

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Filthy Lucre – Beryl Bainbridge

I always find it fascinating to read the earlier works of authors that I love as, in my head, it is a way of looking at their writing in the raw and how they went on to develop it. So when I saw that Annabel of Gaskella was doing Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, and it was Annabel that made me read Beryl, I knew just which book I was going to read to take part. ‘Filthy Lucre’ was not Beryl Bainbridge’s debut novel in the published sense (that was ‘A Weekend with Claude’) yet it was a book she wrote at the tender age of thirteen. My mother had a copy and so I pilfered it from her shelves on my last visit, oops, sorry Mum.

Fontana Books, paperback, 1986, fiction, 144 pages, pilfered from my mothers shelves

‘Filthy Lucre’ is a tale of cheating and deception all around money.  We meet Martin Andromikey on his death bed in 1851, right until his last breath Martin believes that he was cheated of his inheritance by the Ledwhistle family. Asking his friend Richard Soleway to impersonate him, and keep his death a secret, he requests that Richard wreak revenge on them through the thing they love most, business and a business that he is set to be a partner of and so our story starts. What follows though is not unlike many Victorian melodrama’s and sensation novels that have gone before with twists and turns, murders, deceptions, love affairs and even treasure islands.

Initially I did think that because Beryl Bainbridge wrote this when she was so young it was quite possibly going to be a precocious rather annoying book, that’s the cynic in me. This is not the case. The only time I could sense it was the fact that almost every chapter ended with ‘ruin’, ‘disaster’ or ‘forever’ but this in a way is because it is also a Victorian melodrama. Here you can see an author and her influences. The Victorian sections of the novel are rather Dickensian, with the darker and occasionally other worldly elements of Wilkie Collins. There is also a real flavour of Robert Louis Stevenson and Arthur Conan Doyle when the book sets sail to distant shores, and ‘dear reader’ there is also a flavour of Charlotte Bronte in the very prose.

“We will leave now, dear readers, the bright Ledwhistle parlour, and, like a bird, pass out into the November night. We will journey down to a wharf where the slimy Thames moves like some loathsome adder, and the houses huddle together in squalid patterns. Here the lamplight falls on wasted limbs and shaking hands. It lights up sin and filth, all aware, the cruel river twists its reptile course.”

Yet this is more than just a homage though, it is a book where the characters live and breathe and where the atmosphere of London really comes off the pages. The prose is tight and what I should mention here, because it impressed me so much, was that for a book with some legal elements that reminded me of the case in ‘Bleak House’ (while I haven’t read the books I have seen the TV series) this novel is 144 pages long, not 500 plus and I found that quite incredible.

I wasn’t really sure what to expect from ‘Filthy Lucre’ when I opened it, especially with the young age at which it was written and the fact that it is no longer in print. What I got was a tale of intrigue and deception that took me on a real escapist adventure and entertained me for a good hour or two as I read it in a single sitting. Like all Beryl Bainbridge’s books that I have read so far I would highly recommend you give this book a whirl.

Do pop and visit Gaskella to see Annabel raving about more of Beryl’s books, if you haven’t read her you really should. I will be doing another post which features Beryl and a new Savidge Reads project (not a read-a-thon, I am now in Green Carnation submission mode reading wise) tomorrow and then another Beryl review on Sunday as I finished this one and wanted to read more. I also wanted to read a Dickens novel after finishing this but that opens a whole can of reading worms I am not quite ready for. If you have read any Beryl, including this one, do let me know what you thought and what books I should read next, as always.

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My Top Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part One

Yesterday on the blog I was discussing my latest desire/reading whim seems to be for Victorian books be they written at the time or contemporary novels set in the period. (I also said that I would have another review of a book set in the era, thing is they are so full of twists and turns its hard to do anything without spoilers, it will appear honest.) This was in part, as I mentioned yesterday, thanks to reading Essie Fox’s debut novel The Somnambulist’ and I had an idea. With her blog Virtual Victorian who would be better than to give her suggestions for just these types of books? Essie of course, and so here is the first of her selection of novels from the time, tomorrow she will be giving us her recommendations of modern novels set in the period…

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

Said to be one of the earliest examples of English detective crime fiction, Wilkie Collins’ thrilling sensation novel is full of unnerving gothic twists – not to mention one of the most hideous anti-heroes that you will ever chance to ‘meet’ in the obese personage of Count Fosco. Once you start reading, you will be gripped.

Note from Simon – “this is one of the best books ever written and if you haven’t read it then you must, or else.”

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

From Wilkie’s good friend Mr Dickens. Such a wonderfuly ‘human’ psychological drama which really has it all – love, lust and deception, class and wealth, not to mention one of the finest gothic heroines in the tragic yet dangerous form of Miss Havisham. And then, there is the house in which Miss Havisham lives, a brilliant realisation of materialised decay and corruption: Satis House, where every clock has been stopped, Satis House, where Satis means ‘Enough’. And it is, in every sense of the word.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte

I had to think very hard about my favourite Bronte novel, and although I might prefer to read Charlotte’s ‘Jane Eyre’ these days, if only for the beauty of the novel’s style and construction, in my heart Emily still has me enslaved, just as she did when I was seventeen, when I first read the story and wept for days at the doomed love of Healthcliff and Catherine. But, for those who may not have read Wuthering Heights, it is so much more than a simmering tale of thwarted love…think more warped passions and violent revenge, the twisted ambitions that result from desire for inheritance and wealth that seed like a canker in the flesh of those who live on after Catherine’s death.  It also has a very interesting structure – with varying levels of narration opening up like magic boxes to reveal the truth at the novel’s heart.

Dracula by Bram Stoker

Oh, this was so hard – and again I had to really think to choose between Bram Stoker’s work and other supernatural tales such as Stevenson’s Doctor Jeckyll and Mr Hyde, or Wilde’s The Portrait of Dorian Gray. But ultimately Dracula wins out for sheer gut wrenching terror imbued with a dark sensuality that still has the power to draw one in to such a compellingly dangerous world. And my, what fan fiction it has produced!

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert

Flaubert’s debut, and his masterpiece. How a male writer so convincingly enters the mind of his passionate ‘heroine’ Emma Bovary is in itself a wonder. This is a far more ‘realistic’ novel than any of my other choices. It shows, with enormous psychological awareness, the unravelling of a woman’s mind – a woman who sees her life as if a romantic novel. But dreams and ideals are soon to be dashed in the mire of adultery and social ambition. A devastating cautionary tale. A woman born before her time.

NB: I realised too late that I’ve not included any Thomas Hardy, which is terrible omission. Perhaps ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’, or ‘Jude the Obscure’, of the tragic ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’ should replace my ‘Madame Bovary’ – but why not read and decide for yourself?

What a great selection of books Essie has chosen, and she is another person to recommend ‘Great Expectations’ by Dickens who as you know I have somewhat struggled with in the past. Maybe it’s time to just give him another whirl? Which books have you read from Essie’s list? Which Victorian novels would you add?

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Books of 2010 Part One…

I do like a nice top ten list of some kind and here is the first of two that cover my favourite reads of the year. 2010 has been a fairly vintage year for reading both with discovering some wonderful new books along with some older classics and so I thought what I would do is one list which is the top ten book I read in 2010 which were published before the year started and another list which covers all the books published in 2010 be it in hardback or paperback. So let us start with the top ten books I read in 2010 but published before it, links to the full review can be found by clicking on the titles…

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

“I will simply say that ‘Jane Eyre’ has instantly become one of my all time favourite novels. I have even given ‘Villette’ a few enquiring sideways glances since I finished this yesterday. I would give ‘Jane Eyre’ an eleven out of ten only that would be breaking the rules. I shall simply have to give it a ten out of ten in bold… a simply MUST read book, it’s even made me think about the way I read – and it takes the most special of books to do that to us I think personally.”

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

“I cannot pretend that I didn’t originally want to read this book in part because it sounded like a wonderfully shocking and slightly trashy romp of a tale. Yet to label the book trashy is unfair on ‘Peyton Place’ because Grace Metalious (possibly the best name for an author ever?) writes wonderfully and as a piece of fiction it’s really rather complex, as there are so many characters and undercurrents, and also has a lot to say. Fear not though never once does the author baffle you or over complicate things.”

Never Let Me Go – Kazuo Ishiguro (Faber & Faber)

“If I gave anything away I would be so cross with myself because knowing nothing about this book is probably the best way to let the emotional impact hit you as it unfolds. I will say that Ishiguro creates such a realistic story and scenario that rather than thinking ‘Never Let Me Go’ is set in an ‘alternative England’ in the 1990’s I could very well believe that all that happens in the novel could have really happened and still be happening and you would never know. You might find yourself looking at people you pass in the street a little bit differently. I know I did after finishing the book and to me that shows how real and engrossing a modern masterpiece Ishiguro has created.”

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

“I think this has almost instantly become my favourite Spark yet. In comparison to some of the other works of hers I have read this has the darkest undertone despite its bright cover and flamboyant lead character. It also packed one of the hardest punches yet, and I will say I thought The Girls of Slender Means had a dark twist; this one hits you early on.  It also see’s Muriel dabble in a genre that I wouldn’t have seen her try and yet she does brilliantly in her own Sparkish way. I realise I sound vague but I do so hate to spoil things and this is a book that should not be spoiled in any way at all and in fact if you haven’t read must be read immediately.”

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

“It is incredibly hard to try and encapsulate ‘Birdsong’ in a mere few paragraphs and I am sure I haven’t done it justice. The writing is incredible, as I mentioned above I don’t think I have ever had war depicted to me – especially life in the trenches themselves – with such realism. By turns dramatic yet never melodramatic you find you heart racing as much as you do feel the longing of a love affair that seems doomed from the start in the first section. I did initially get thrown by the addition of the modern narration through Elizabeth, Stephen’s granddaughter; however Faulks uses this to add a further dimension to the journey we are already on whilst adding a further tale of the effects of war. The only word for it really is epic, ‘Birdsong’ is a book you’ll want to get lost in for hours and yet be unable to put down.”

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

“I laughed out loud a lot with this book and I wasn’t expecting it (though maybe with a dedication ‘to Nancy Mitford’ inside I should have guessed) it charmed me. I loved the irony, comical cynical attitude of the author and random plot developed and it entertained me and took me away from everything for the two hours that I couldn’t put it down. Ten out of ten! This is a lesser known work of Waugh’s that has left me looking forward to reading many, many more of his books in the future… It’s wickedly entertaining and a real riot to read, if in some slightly dubious taste, I bet this caused quite the stir when it was published in 1948.”

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

“I will admit it left me a bit of a wreck (am not doing spoilers but feel free to in the comments), it was all utterly worth it for a reading experience like this as they don’t come around all that often… I could go on and on raving about this book, the other wonderful characters that Bartlett creates (Mrs Kesselman is a wonderfully drawn formidable yet secretly caring middle aged woman who works with Mr. F), the descriptions of London in 1967 with its living and breathing atmosphere, the parallels with the much mentioned and alluded to ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the role of a victim as a tormentor, sexuality… the list is endless.”

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

“It might not be a subject that you would think you would want to read about but death is really the only guarantee that we have in life, and though we might not openly admit it aren’t we all a little bit fascinated (in a morbidly inquisitive or scientific way) by it? Well in ‘Stiff’ Mary Roach is very intrigued by just that and meets all the people who have dealings with us when we die and asks all the questions that we would if we honestly could… You get history, you get insight, you get emotion and laughter – yes I was in hysterics at some points – and you get reassurance in a strange way. All the while in the company of Mary Roach who by the end of the book I felt I was firm friends with, if only all nonfiction whatever its subject could be as readable as this.”

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

“Nevil Shute has created possibly one of the most brilliant ‘tart with a heart’ heroines in Moira, who from her first drunken arrival on the pages (and soon followed up with a hilarious ‘accidental’ bra loosing moment which made me laugh out loud) promptly steals any scene that she is in. You could actually say to a degree it is the tales of Moira and Mary that in part make the book such a special read. I know I have picked a few holes in it but I still ended up coming away from ‘On The Beach’ feeling very emotional and it’s made me do quite a lot of reflecting and thinking which all the best books should do. It’s one of those books that will stick with you for days and days, I am sure I will be mulling this book and the question it raises over for weeks and weeks to come. Like I said before ‘On The Beach’ is not the perfect book but it’s an incredible one.”

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

“It was the ending and then surprisingly the authors note that popped it back to being five star as I didn’t realize the period in which the book was set was a strange time for Boston and in particular those in Scollay Square. Don’t look that up though until you have read it as the impact of that and the ending left me feeling a little winded and a little more emotional… I would call this ‘a tale of a tail whose owner who loves tales’ and a book that will leave you with more book recommendations than you could shake a tail at!”

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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Prequels, Sequels and Spin Off’s…

I mentioned when earlier in the week when I discussed adaptations that I had been to see the musical ‘Wicked!’ again with The Converted One, my mother, my little sister and her best friend. Now many of you thought it was for the second time, it was actually the fifth!! Anyway it started me thinking about prequels, sequels and spin offs NOT written by the original author and this discussion has come up again a few times in the last week so I decided I should bring the discussion on here too. I hope you will all join in?

It was actually ‘The Wizard of Oz’, and therefore ‘Wicked’, as opposed to instant titles you might think of that have been spinned such as ‘Rebecca’ or indeed ‘Pride and Prejudice’ that got a conversation started on just this subject between myself and one of my fellow Green Carnation judges Nick Campbell when we were out at a book launch on Tuesday night. You see as a child I was rather obsessed with the film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ (and indeed ‘Return to Oz’ though I think people thought that film was rather uncool so maybe I shouldn’t admit to that) ask Granny Savidge Reads… I used to insist on watching it once a week apparently. It seemed that so is Nick and not just of the films but of the books. So I of course asked if he had read ‘Wicked’ by Gregory Maguire and ‘Was’ by Geoff Ryman (the answers were yes and no).

I personally loved ‘Wicked’ when I read it several years ago and it has indeed become one of my very favourite books because it took something I adored and turned it on its very head (making Elphaba a misunderstood witch who was actually best friends with Glinda at university in Shiz not far from Munchkinland. Interestingly though I was then really rather disappointed when I went onto read Gregory Maguire’s sequel to his ‘Oz’ spin off ‘Son of a Witch’ it didn’t cast the spell (pun intended) that I wanted it to once more. Maybe ‘A Lion Among Men’ will? I wonder if I would be such a fan of ‘Wicked’ if I had actually read the original Oz books or would I instead consider it some kind of barbaric sacrilege?

I mean most of the people I know who love ‘Pride and Prejudice’ think anything that is a spin off of that novel they hold in such high esteem is the work of Satan simply doesn’t cut the mustard no matter how good it is. The very fact that it is a spin off of from such a successful story is deemed an author cashing in or writing a book rather lazily to be honest (not my words a rather toned down watershed version of some of my friends actually). Is this the case or are their some gems out there they are simply being too snobbish to admit to? I mean look at ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ by Jean Rhys which has become rather an acclaimed novel and yet is a prequel of sorts to Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre’.

I applied the notion of prequels and sequels written by another author to my favourite book which is of course ‘Rebecca’ by Daphne Du Maurier. Whilst I have copies of Sally Beauman’s ‘Rebecca’s Tale’ and Susan Hill’s ‘Mrs De Winter’ I have not touched either of them or really been tempted to and considering the latter is one of my favourite authors I am wondering if there is something in this. Can I simply not bear the idea of my favourite book being ruined by another great author who no matter how good or how hard they try simply cannot recreate the atmosphere Daphne did? I suppose I won’t know the answer till I try… but just having looked at them again, I got that same unsure feeling, so I don’t think I will know for quite some time.

Are there any prequels, sequels or spin offs by your favourite authors or the ones mentioned above that have really, really worked for you and managed to embody/channel the voice from the original? Have any ever been better than the original itself? Which prequels, sequels and spin off’s really should never have happened?

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