Tag Archives: Emma Henderson

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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Filed under Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Silver Linings Playbook – Matthew Quick

I came to finally reading Matthew Quick’s ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ a rather unusual way. When the book came out a few years ago and was placed on the (now defunct I believe) TV Book Club choices it just wasn’t a book I fancied reading. The title seemed a little bit saccharine and I just had the feeling it might be a real schmaltz fest that I simply wouldn’t get. However at the cinema a few weeks ago (to see Breaking Dawn Part 2, a film that was really only good for 20 minutes which turned out to be a ‘vision’ and hadn’t actually happened) I saw the trailer for new Hollywood adaptation of ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ and took a shine to it. I thought it looked like it would have you laughing and crying the whole way through and so I decided to ignore my previous thoughts on the book and give it a whirl before I saw the movie.

Picador Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 289 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (so sorry!)

Picador Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 289 pages, kindly sent by the publisher (so sorry!)

Patrick Peoples, our narrator and protagonist, has just been released from a psychiatric hospital as ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ opens. Many, including some of the doctors there, don’t feel that he is ready to go out into the world yet his mother, and her lawyers, have persuaded people otherwise. Patrick, or Pat, is determined to get his life back on track. He understands that he wasn’t the best husband, initially you think this is because he feels he put on weight during his marriage and is obsessed with losing it, to his wife Nikki and wants to make amends no matter how many times people clearly state to him that this will never happen. As he starts life again his friends introduce him to Tiffany, a widow who has become something of a nymphomaniac, who it seems is just as much of an emotional wreck as he is. Can this unlikely duo and their friendship help each other sort themselves out?

At first I was really quite charmed with the story that Matthew Quick was unfolding, I liked Pat’s rather direct and sometimes blunt outlook on life quite funny and found the story of his initial steps after leaving the clinic and moving home interesting. Sadly however slowly but surely the book started to fall apart for me, and I found myself picking it to pieces, before wishing it would all be over. Here is why…

First of all whilst I liked Pat he remains throughout a rather two dimensional character, I never felt (despite all we go through with him) that emotionally connected to his story. I did want to know the mystery of what happened between him and Nikki and why his father didn’t really speak to him but I never fully cared. This sounds awfully harsh I know, I think the problem was that in having the HUGE ‘what happened?’ over the whole of the book and the mystery behind it you couldn’t know him and while I was interested it was only in the mystery, not about him and what happened to him.

I actually thought that Tiffany and her story, which we get at the very end not long before one of the most saccharine and clichéd of final chapters I have read in a long time, was much more interesting and yet she wasn’t really in the book that much and when she was you might as well have had plot device tattooed on her forehead. I don’t want to give any spoilers away but as the book goes on it appears Tiffany could be a link to Pat meeting Nikki again, let’s just say it was preposterous and the twist that Quick uses was easy to spot a mile off, though maybe that was the idea? Either way it completely jarred with me and the world was broken, but to be fair to Quick I did carry on to find out what happened, I just didn’t believe in any of it.

I did overall like Quick’s writing, well its style, I found some of the set pieces quite funny but as I mentioned before I never quite had an emotional attachment. I also thought the book tried to pack too much in and didn’t know who it was aimed at, something an editor should have sorted out. One minute it had that ‘love story’ quality and the ‘man who went mad and made good’ aspect, oh and the dancing competition (I am rolling my eyes) all which seemed to state this was a book for women. Then there was the never ending (well it seemed never ending) football stuff, American football I should add – the Eagles of Philadelphia to be precise, a storyline which I think was to try and make Pat bond with his brother and father again who have completely ignored him for the years he was away. When his new therapist was also a fan and they met at the game my eyes almost rolled so much that I thought they might never stop like an arcade machine that needs fixing – and no not in a ‘jackpot’ sense. Oh, and don’t get me started on how the book  has ruined, with all its spoilers as Pat reads them, most of the American classics that I have yet to read.

It looks like I really disliked ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’ doesn’t it? I think it’s fairer to say I was just very disappointed in it, I had high hopes because the premise looked so could it just didn’t deliver for me personally. I won’t give the book the ‘debut author’ excuse that some might as a) it is patronising to the author and b) I read Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says It Out Loud’ last year which does all of this so, so much better and is a debut too. It simply isn’t a ‘me’ book and that is really no one’s fault but mine. I should have stuck to my initial feelings and left the book alone, damn you trailer! Speaking of which I am now unsure I want to see the movie. That said though sometimes, no matter how much it pains me to say so, the films can actually be better than the books which brings us full circle to me mentioning Breaking Dawn Part 2 again ironically.

I am sure I am a part of a very small minority here though and that many people love or will love ‘The Silver Linings Playbook’? Maybe the cold weather has frozen my heart and feelings? Have you read it and if so what did you think? Have any of you seen the movie yet, thoughts?

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Filed under Books To Film, Matthew Quick, Picador Books, Review

Savidge Reads Books of 2011 – Part II

The midway point though the last day of the year seems an appropriate time to pop up part two of my books of 2011 and my last post of the year (is it me or does that feel weird?). We have already had the books released prior to this year and we now move onto the books that were released this year in the UK (I don’t think any of them came out anywhere else in the world but just in case I have popped that clause in). I actually think that 2011 has been one of the best for contemporary fiction and this was a much harder exercise to whittle these down to just ten. So without further waffle from me here they are again with a quote from the full reviews which you can find by clicking on the title…

Gillespie and I – Jane Harris

“Like its predecessor, the wonderful ‘The Observations’ (which I am going to have to re-read soon, it’s one of my favourite books which made me rather nervous about this one), ‘Gillespie and I’ is a book that is all about evoking an atmosphere, wonderful writing, an unforgettable narrator, and those clever twists you never see coming. Yet it is no carbon copy by any stretch of the imagination and stands in its own rite. I loved this book, it’s very easy to find a fault with a book, particularly one at over 500 pages in length, yet there are none I can think of. I would go as far as to say I think ‘Gillespie and I’ could be an almost perfect book…”

The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall

“I can’t hide the fact that I loved ‘The Proof of Love’. It’s a book that gently weaves you in. You become both an ‘outcomer’ and one of the locals. You are part of the loneliness and isolation of Spencer as well as the gossiping heart of the community, part of the mystery and part of the suspicions. It’s a very subtly clever book, it doesn’t show off the fact that it’s a rare and wonderful book at any point, but I can assure you it is.”

Annabel – Kathleen Winter

“I don’t think I have read a book that uses the third person in such a way that you see every person’s viewpoint so vividly. Every character, no matter how small a part they play, springs to life walking straight off the page and I honestly felt I was living in Croydon Harbour (atmosphere and descriptions are pitch perfect), whilst also being shocked that such a place still exists in modern times, and went along with Wayne’s journey every step of the way. It is incredible to think that ‘Annabel’ is Kathleen Winter’s debut novel; I was utterly blown away by it and will be urging everyone I know to rush out and read this book.”

The Borrower – Rebecca Makkai

“Rebecca Makkai is certainly a big fan of books of all genres, this adds to her prose and not just in the words and descriptions she uses but also the style. We have a letters and one of Ian’s short stories interspersed in some chapters, there are also chapters in the style of other books such as ‘Choose Your Own Fiasco’ where Lucy gives you her current scenario and you have to decide for her by going to ‘number three or go to number five’ like those quest books I used to read. It’s a really inventive way of writing the book, there is even a table or two in there, and adding another dimension to the whole experience of reading, in some books this doesn’t work, in this one it did.”

The Hunger Trace – Edward Hogan

“There is a real sense of humour in this novel, dark but often very funny, yet in many ways it is a moving tale of people and their sense of isolation or being an outsider often leading to events in their pasts be the recent or from years ago. These are events that leave a trace on you and which is described beautifully when Louisa discusses her prized bird Diamond who she saves and leads to the novels title. ‘When a falcon is undernourished, the feathers cannot grow properly. A fault line appears, even if the bird is fed again. The fault is called a hunger trace.’ It is this hunger trace that runs through the main character of this novel and their obsessions which keep the real world at bay be they Louisa’s birds, Christopher’s obsession with Robin Hood or Maggie’s need to succeed despite what anyone else says.”

There But For The – Ali Smith

“…so far it’s my favourite of Ali Smith’s works to date that I have read. She has taken bits of her earlier work; great characters, observations, comedy, unusual narratives, prose and pacing and put them all together. It’s a tour-de-force as opposed to a hotch-potch. I don’t want to say this is her most accessible book, even though in many ways it is, because that makes it sound like it’s not experimental and it is. It’s just honed down, controlled and done without ego.”

The House of Silk – Anthony Horrowitz

“I loved spending time with Holmes and Watson again and was gripped and tricked along the way. I just loved the adventure of it all. It doesn’t try to take Holmes anywhere new that the loyal fans will be unhappy with, nor does it become a pastiche of a Holmes novel. I knew it wasn’t Conan Doyle but I knew I was in safe hands. It has certainly made me want to turn back to the original Holmes novels; I hope Horowitz and Holmes fans will do the same, to me that is the sign of a great return and a successful one.”

In Other Worlds: SF & The Human Imagination – Margaret Atwood

“…because the way Atwood writes makes it feel like you are sat having a conversation about these things with her (if only), there is a humour and knowingness as you go along, secondly because it shows the forming of a writer which I always find fascinating and thirdly because it made me think. A lot. This isn’t writing you can rush, you need to read it, pause, think a bit, make some mental notes, read on, have a bigger pause, think more. I loved that this was the effect it had on me.”

Before I Go To Sleep – SJ Watson

“It takes a relatively simple, and equally possible, scenario and flips it on its head. In fact it’s the very domestic and almost mundane ordinariness of the books setting which makes it so unnerving. The fact Watson does this, on the whole, in one house between three characters is truly impressive. It’s an original, fast paced, gripping and rather high concept novel. I am wondering just what on earth, Watson is going to follow this up with… and how?”

When God Was A Rabbit – Sarah Winman

“You see initially after reading it I was a little conflicted about it, however with time for the dust to settle I realized I really, really liked it. There’s a warmth in this novel which is quite unlike any other I have read and it lingers. So as I was saying all in all I really, really, really enjoyed ‘When God Was A Rabbit’. It’s a book you gulp down for the first half and then watch unfold more delicately in the second.”

So there you have it, my top twenty books of the year. (I should add here that ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson and ‘Mr Chartwell’ by Rebecca Hunt were initially on this list but then I discovered this morning they were actually published initially in 2010 and had already popped Part I up – oops, there’s two more recommendations snuck in there though.) So over to you, what do you think of this list and what were your favourite books of 2011?

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2011

Début Delights – The Savidge Reads Advent Calendar Day 4

Apologies for belatedly posting this, as my computer got wiped by a nasty virus everything has been a little delayed. Just imagine you have been away for a weekend and forgotten your advent calendar so you have double/triple the treats to catch up with.

In the last week specifically I have not only started to think about the books which I have enjoyed the most this year, I have also started to think about the direction that I want the blog to go in 2012. This has been through certain contemplation here on the blog and in discussion elsewhere too. I have been feeling like I am forgetting the careers of authors I love and want to go back to them more often than I do, yet I wouldn’t want to miss out on new authors I might love and in particular début authors especially as 2011 has been such a fantastic year for them.

I think début authors will actually feature rather heavily on my ‘Books of the Year’ when I get around to finally compiling it and whittling them down (something I keep putting off) there have been joys like ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman, ‘White Heat’ by MJ McGrath, ‘Ours are the Streets’ by Sunjeev Sahota, ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson, ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ by SJ Watson… I could go on. So I thought I would give a couple away as my fourth day of festive fun, and the titles I have chosen to give are ‘The Godless Boys’ by Naomi Wood (who I hosted a Reading With Authors with earlier this year and ended up in a fig roll fight with) and ‘Snowdrops‘ by A.D. Miller which I read and really enjoyed (and lost the almost finished review of in the great computer wipe mentioned above) in the Man Booker Longlist blur way back when.

 

Three of you, wherever in the world you are, could win a copy of both of these books. All you have to do is tell me which book, or books, have been your favourite début novels of the year and why? You have until 11am GMT on December the 7th – Good luck!

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Recommended Reading, My Books of 2011 So Far…

Can you believe we are halfway through 2011 already? I have more thoughts on all that coming later on today. Why is it that knowing you are halfway through a year makes you think about everything more? Like I said, more on that later today. In the meantime I thought I would give you a list of my books of the year so far. There have been more than ten in my ‘Books of 2011’ category, some have grown on me, some faded over time and some like the marvellous new Ali Smith novel ‘There But For The’ still need a little time to settle on me as do about six books I have read recently and have still only done small notes on pre-review. Getting back to the point without further ado, here are my favourite reads of 2011 so far…

  1. The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall
  2. Gillespie and I by Jane Harris
  3. Annabel by Kathleen Winter
  4. Cat’s Eye – Margaret Atwood
  5. Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford
  6. Grace Williams Says It Loud by Emma Henderson
  7. The Mermaid’s Singing by Val McDermid
  8. A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley
  9. Jamrach’s Menagerie by Carol Birch
  10. Before I Go To Sleep by  SJ Watson

I wonder if these will still be some of my favourites by the end of the year. There are a few contenders that I haven’t put reviews up on the blog, in fact ‘Swamplandia!’ by Karen Russell which I read ages ago, but haven’t reviewed yet could be a contender. Of course my end of year favourites allow me to cheat a little more, I have ten released in the year and ten released before, this mid-way post is more of a merge.

It is of course now pretty much summer time, and so you could really say that really this is my list of summer reading recommendations, should you be in the need of any. What are your favourite books of the year so far? What would you recommend I get reading over the summer months?

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The TV Book Club Summer Reads 2011

I realised I haven’t mentioned either the Richard and Judy Summer Reads or the TV Book Clubs summer selections. I did comment on Jackie of Farmlanebooks post about them saying if they had merged the two then it would be an ideal selection of books for me. Then a mystery parcel arrived…

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I admit I was hoping it was a huge contract offering me the opportunity of a lifetime to host a new tv show all about books, well it wasn’t but it was a bit if a book delight…

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Well… My initial reaction, on thinking ‘well I am going to have to read them all now aren’t I?’, was ‘phew, I’ve read two’. I loved Emma Henderson’s and, erm, really didn’t love Jennifer Egan’s. I’m wondering if that will be my reaction to the selection as a whole, maybe a 50/50 divide?

I’m excited by Matt Haig, unsure if starting with Camilla Lackbergs fifth book in a series is a good idea even though I’ve been wanting to read her a while, and am intrigued by Michelle Lovric because of the title ‘The Book of Human Skin’.

I can’t decide if Deborah Lawrenson’s book ‘The Lantern’, which they are discussing tomorrow (as it only came out this week they must think the audience has nothing to do but read swiftly), sounds very much like a retelling of ‘Rebecca’ which I think will either delight me or make me really cross! We will see. The other two I know little about, well apart from that the cover of Kristin Hannah’s looks nice, and the Lehane cover doesn’t compel me to read it at all. But I’ll try them all!

What are your thoughts on the selection? Would you have liked any other books featured? What about the R&J selection? Oh and keep your eyes peeled for another Summer Reading club that I will be announcing very soon, am bit overexcited!

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What The F**k?

Before you start thinking I’m an uncouth young man, there is a reason for today’s post title – which is all about reactions to expletives in books. Oh ok, I also did it because my aunty bet me I wouldn’t dare put a title like that on the blog after we discussed this very subject. But I have because I bet you had an initial reaction to the last word in it.

Language is a powerful thing, including those more, erm, controversial words. I admit that in real life I do swear a bit, not quite like a trooper but one of my favourite words is an expletive… Shocking I know but I just love the way it sounds.

So why does it occasionally jar with me in books? Why do I find myself coming across a certain word in a book and flinch before exclaiming ‘oh gosh and golly’ like an old dame in an Oscar Wilde play?

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It happened most recently, that I can remember, when I read ‘Grace Williams Says It Loud’ by Emma Henderson and out of nowhere Grace suddenly let out ‘the c-bomb’ and I admit it made me stop in my reading tracks. I couldn’t work out if it was because of the context it was used in, which was rather graphic, or because it didn’t seem to match the narrative up to that point. Or was I just being a reading prude?

After a small pause, whilst I collected myself, I asked the question ‘was that specific word needed?’ I thought about it and tried said sentence with other alternatives (my face must have been a picture) and could see it wouldn’t have worked. So maybe it was just me being a slight fuddy-duddy in my older reading age?

I discussed it with aforementioned youngest aunty who told me to ‘get over it’ as people in real life swear so what’s the big deal? Quite right, and as you can see from my review it didn’t take away from how much I enjoyed the book. Yet it made me stop and shook me out of the world a little before I carried on again. Im aware that I’ve not really answered my own question here, but I think it’s because there’s no right answer, like certain ‘out there’ subject matter I guess it depends on the book?

What are your thoughts on certain language in novels? Are you not bothered, fine with it when its called for or in a characters nature, or can you simply not abide it? Does it depend on the book?

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