Tag Archives: Evie Wyld

My Top 12 Australian Books

Today the lovely Kim of Reading Matters posted a list of ten books written by Australian authors she loves in honour of Australia Day. So I asked if I could copy her. Here I have to say, before I share my list with you, that Kim’s is bound to be much better so you must check it out. Kim is also only reading Australian books this year which I am going to be following with much interest. My knowledge and Australian reading might not be as good as Kim’s however I have loved many a book by an Australian author and so here are twelve books I would highly, highly recommend you give a whirl. You can find the full review, bar one, by clicking on the books title if you want to find out more.

12. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

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Burial Rites was one of those books, based on a true story, that blew me way. It is the late 1820’s in Iceland and the lives of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife Margret and daughters Lauga and Steina, are changed on their farm of Kornsá when the news that they will be housing a criminal in the lead up to her execution, for we are in times when prisons do not exist. The criminal in question is Agnes Magnusdottir who, many believe, killed ‘healer’ Natan Ketilsson and his neighbour along with Sigridur and Fredrik who are to be housed elsewhere for fear they will concoct some tale or escape. What I thought was particularly great about this novel was that first we ask ourselves if we think Agnes is a killer and then suddenly start to ponder why on earth this family have been chosen to house someone who could be incredibly dangerous. Stunningly written, utterly compelling.

11. Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

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As many of you will well know I love fairytales and my very favourite above all the others is that of Rapunzel. In Kate Forsyth’s brilliant Bitter Greens we are sent into the lives of three women. First is Charlotte-Rose de la Force, who has been exiled from the court of the Sun King Louis XIV after a fall from grace too far (which in those times was saying something) and is banished to live in an Abbey with nuns. Second is Selena Leonelli, once one of the most beautiful women in Italy and even the muse of the Venetian artist Titian. Depicted forever in his paintings she has one fear, time, and how it will take her beauty something she will do anything to keep. Thirdly we have Margherita, a young girl trapped in a tower forever unless she finds a way to escape. Yes, you have guessed it all three of these women have the story of Rapunzel in their life somewhere be they the one who retells the tale, mirrors the tale or indeed is part of the tale. Through these three women we learn the magic of storytelling, the hardship of women through the years and how they have had to struggle (in good and bad ways) in order to survive. It is utterly marvellous.

10. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead – Marieke Hardy

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Those of you who have followed this blog for sometime will know that I am something of a Marieke Hardy fanboy. I think she is ace and love her thoughts, even when I don’t agree with them, whatever they are when she discussed books on my favourite book TV show here. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead  is a collection of frank, funny and filthy memoir essays about various points in Marieke’s life so far. It is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke, she is quite open to showing some of her worst/most cringe worthy and I love her all the more for it, in a non stalker kind of way.

9. Mateship With Birds – Carrie Tiffany

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I have just noticed that the cover of this book is very like my new wallpaper, anyway… On the outskirts of a town somewhere in Australia in the early 1950’s we join two neighbours. Harry owns a dairy farm and spends his days between milking his herd and watching the local wildlife, mainly a family of kookaburra’s, and looking over his past seemingly happy with and yet questioning his lot in life. Betty rents the house next door with her two children Michael and Little Hazel, often wondering what has become of her life and often wondering about Harry. We follow these two characters, Betty’s children, and their weird neighbour Mues over what I thought was a season – though it could be much longer or indeed shorter as Mateship with Birds has a sense of nothing and everything happening all at once, all in the grubby wilds of the countryside. I loved this, it has the earthy countryside wilds elements which I love, it has a deep sense of unease at times and is a book which just holds you from start to finish. It is hard to say more than that.

8. The Spare Room – Helen Garner

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When Helen says that her old friend Nicola to come and stay in her spare room she has a limited idea of what she is taking on. It is not simply a friend coming to stay for a short holiday; Nicola has terminal cancer and could possibly have come to stay with Helen to die. Helen becomes more than just Nicola’s friend she becomes her nurse, maid and the one who stand up to her no matter how unpopular that might prove. What follows is an emotionally gut wrenching and heartbreaking account of friendship at its most potent and at its most tested. Having been a carer once before I read this the honesty of the novel was both shocking yet also deeply consoling.

7. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

“Another sheep, mangled and bled our, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.” And so starts ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and so we find our heroine Jake as she takes in the sight before her, another of her sheep has been mutilated, killed by some ‘thing’. Yet what is the ‘thing’ that could be killing her flock one by one? Could it be the local kids who think she is some out of town witch? Could it be the neighbours’ crazy son? Could it be a monster, be it real, imagined or from Jake’s hidden past? Could it be linked to the sudden appearance of a new ‘incomer’ in the area? Evie Wyld keeps us guessing as the story goes back in time whilst also going forward, we glimpse moments in Jake’s past not from the point where something awful happened that she fled but slowly back to that moment, which is a treat to read whilst being both highly accomplished and very original. It is another of those wonderful books that keeps you guessing without you (quite) tearing your hair out.

6. Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas

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I am a huge fan of The Slap, I am a huge fan of Barracuda yet it is Christos’ earlier and slighter novel Loaded that I think has stayed with me the longest after I have read it and I think it is because of the voice. he narrator of ‘Loaded’ is quite a fascinating one. Nineteen year old Ari lives in the city of Melbourne in Australia, he is Greek, he has no job, he is gay but secretly, he loves nothing more than going on massive drink and drug fuelled binges preferably with lots of random anonymous sex along the way. In fact from the first page where the novel opens with Ari masturbating with a massive hangover you pretty much know the story that you are getting here, well you think you do at least, as we follow him for the next twenty four hours. As we read on between all the drug taking, drinking, etc there is a lot that this book is looking at and saying. One of the main senses you get is a sense of needing to belong, to be a part of something and yet rejecting that very thing at the same time. The other is just what it means to be an Australian man.

5. Under The Skin – Michel Faber

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There is no link to this book because as I have discovered several times now Michel Faber is an author who I simply cannot write reviews of the books of. I can devour the books happily, I can sit and interview him fine and dandy yet when I come to write a review of his work it’s like a block. In Under the Skin Isserley, an unusual-looking woman with strangely scarred skin, drives through the Scottish Highlands both day and night, looking for just the right male hitchhikers. She picks them up, makes enough small talk to determine she’s made a safe choice, then hits a toggle switch on her car, releasing a drug that knocks her victims out. But why? Well you will have to read the book to find out and it is so worth doing.

4. The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

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I only read this last year however I know it is a book that will stay with me for quite some time as it has a force of nature about it. When Verla and Yolanda find themselves waking up in a strange unknown room, both strangers to each other, dressed in old fashioned uniforms their first instinct is that they are dreaming, then when the realise they are not they panic. Well, as much as anyone can panic when they are groggy from clearly having been drugged. Soon they are taken to another room, where they initially think they will be raped or killed, to have their heads shaved and join a further eight women, all dressed the same and shaven, who too have become captives to a pair of men. Why and for what they do not know, yet. We follow them as the shocking truth is revealed and these two women’s lives are changed forever. A dystopian thriller, a feminist text and a love story to nature.

3. On The Beach – Nevil Shute

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In an alternative 1963, bear in mind this book was originally published in 1957, a nuclear war has left nothing much of the northern hemisphere and the radiation fall out is heading south to Australia where ‘On The Beach’ is set and where the last of earths survivors are living in a mixture of denial and hope. To say all this is not to spoil the story as its pretty much spelt out to you in the first 40 pages (and of course in the blurb), in fact really you could say this story is the tale of the end of humanity, unless of course there is some major miracle – which of course I wont tell you if there is or not as you need to read this book if you haven’t. It is one of the most emotionally draining, terrifying and yet life affirming novels I have read set at the potential end of the world.

2. The Secret River – Kate Grenville

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One of Australian’s contemporary classics, which also caused much controversy when it came out, is The Secret River which initially looks like a tale about one of the first convicts to Australia trying to make a life for themselves, yet soon reveals itself to be superbly brutal and shocking novel about racism and a rather dark time in Australia’s history. As men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold. I don’t want to say anymore than that for fear of ruining the impact this book will have on you if you are yet to read it.

1. The Narrow Road to the Deep North – Richard Flanagan

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This book left me speechless and almost unable to review it because of how moving and brilliant it is. Alwyn ‘Dorrigo’ Evans, based somewhat on Flanagan’s own father, is one of the survivors of the Death Railway in Burma where he was a prisoner of war. We follow his life before, during and after it and look at the man before and the man forever changed afterwards. The Narrow Road to the Dark North is a book that you experience, one of those books which makes you feel every paragraph emotionally and in your very core. Not only did it introduce me to a period in history, and indeed a place, that I knew almost nothing about; it also made me want to be kinder than I am, note how lucky I am, tell my loved ones I love them more often than I do and reminded me that not a second of life should be wasted because you never know what may come around the next corner. It is a book about war, peace, love, hate, death and life. Yes, it really is one of those life changing and life affirming books, an incredibly written modern masterpiece. I think it is one of my books of all time.

There is my list. Going of and trying to scout if I had missed any authors (and yes I know some of my list are anglo-Australian) I found a whole selection of authors I must read; Peter Carey, Thomas Keneally, Shirley Hazzard, Gail Jones, David Malouf, Christina Stead, Patrick White, etc. I must also read some more of the authors above and more form authors such as Tim Winton. Oh and get to some more of the classics too. I really want to read Picnic at Hanging Rock quite badly. Anyway, I would love to know which books you have read on the list and also which are your favourite books by Australian authors, I am always ready for more recommendations. Happy Australia Day everyone, though if you are in Australia it is probably the day after – oops. Now over to you…

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Savidge Reads’ Books of 2015 Part Two…

And so we arrive at the last day of 2015 and my last selection of books of the year. Yesterday I gave you the books that I loved the most this year that were actually published originally before 2015 (yes, even the ones that came out in paperback in 2015 but were in hardback before then) and today I am sharing the books that I loved the most that came out this year. You can probably all hazard a guess at the winner. Without further waffle or ado, here are the twelve books I really, really, really loved that came out in 2015; you can click on the titles to go to my full reviews, with one exception…

11.

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Starting off my list is a book by my favourite author which made does something incredible with a single paragraph that changes the whole meaning of book. Kate Atkinson’s A God in Ruins charmed me, entertained me, thrilled me, beguiled me and then in the simplest, smallest and most understated of moments completely broke me when I never expected it to. It is also a wonderful insight into what it is that makes us human, what can make anyone of us become a hero and the highs and lows that might follow such an act. Kate Atkinson is a master of storytelling, character and celebrating those simple day to day moments (and people) we often overlook.

10.

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A Place Called Winter is a blooming marvellous story. Gale is brilliant at placing you into the heads and hearts of his characters, mainly because his prose calls for us to empathise with them, even if we might not want to. We have all been in love, we have all done things we regret, we have all fallen for a rogue (or two or three), we have all felt bullied and the outsider at some point, we have all had an indiscretion and left the country to become a farmer in a foreign land… Oh, maybe not that. Yet even when our protagonist goes through things we haven’t Gale’s depiction and storytelling make us feel we are alongside Harry. We live Harry’s life with him; the highs and the lows, the characters and situations good or bad.

9.

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Grief is still something that we modern human folk are pretty rubbish at. It is something that we don’t like to talk about along with its frequent bedfellow death. I have often felt that in The West and particularly in Britain we are told to keep a stiff upper lip and get on with it. In reality this doesn’t help. If we are going through it we bottle it inside, isolate ourselves and tend to make it look like we are fine. When people are grieving we tend to find ourselves unsure what to do and either go one of two ways by being over helpful (and accidentally overbearing in some cases) or by distancing ourselves from people thinking they probably don’t want our help or need us in their faces – or maybe that is just me. Yet until we talk about it more, in all its forms, we won’t deal with it better individually or as a society, so thank goodness for people like Cathy Rentzenbrink who have the bravery, for it is a very brave act, to share their real life experiences with grief in a book like The Last Act of Love.

8.

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Physical is a stunning, raw and direct look at what it is to be male. It celebrates the male physique in all its forms as much as it celebrates the foibles of the male species. It is a collection that asks a lot of questions, primarily ones such as in the poem Strongman, which asks ‘What is masculinity if not taking the weight?’ Be you male or female you need to read this collection. Books, poems and stories are all about experiencing the world of others and walking in their shoes, Physical excels at this and from an unusual and original view point.

7.

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If I told you that you should really read a book set during the Troubles in Ireland which throws in poverty, religion, sexuality and violence, both domestic and political, you would probably look at me in horror, which is why The Good Son is such a brilliant book. It has all of those elements in their unflinching rawness and yet with Mickey’s voice and cheeky sense of humour McVeigh gives us an image of an incredibly difficult and fractured time in some sort of rainbow technicolor whilst with a very black and white viewpoint. It is something I have not experienced before and I thought it was marvellous. It also gives us hope.

6.

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I loved, and hugged, Mobile Library which is frankly some of the highest praise that I can give it. It is a book that reminds you of the magic of books, friendship, family and love without any magic having actually occurred. It is also an adventure story, possibly the most quintessentially British road trip novel you could encounter. It is also a book that despite being marketed for adults, I think many a ‘youth’ should read as I think it will remind them of the brilliance of reading and the fun it can be, as much as it reminds we adults of all ages, of just the same thing. I’m a massive fan of books, Mobile Library reminded me why whilst making me even more of a fan.

5.

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Faber and Faber, 2015, hardback, fiction, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is no surprise that from the title of a novel such as Grief is the Thing with Feathers the subject is going to be, you guessed it, grief. Whilst the idea of members of a family coming to terms with the passing of a loved one and the effect this has on them might not be the newest of subjects, I think it is safe to say that I have never read a book that describes the varying emotions of grief in such an honest and fractured way. We see grief through the eyes of the three people in the house, a father and two sons, as they try to come to a way of understanding the loss that now surrounds them and the blank unknown of what lies ahead. Into this space appears Crow an unwelcome guest who is both helpful and hindering and who will stay put until these three no longer need him.

4.

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As the Yorkshire Ripper began his several years of killing women, Una herself was the victim of sexual abuse. Una looks back on this period in hindsight and looks at how the situation around the Yorkshire Ripper and the attitude towards predatory men and their victims not only caused the murder of many innocent women and the pain and loss to their families and loved ones, but how the ‘victim blaming’ culture of the time also affected people like Una who were the victims of crimes that went undetected/unsolved or people feared reporting. Becoming Unbecoming is a very brave, important and thought provoking book. I urge you all to add it to your reading stacks and talk about it once you have.

3 (=).

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So here is the thing my next choice, Joanna Cannon’s The Trouble With Goats and Sheep, it is not actually out until the end of next month, however I had the delight of reading it in advance early this year and fell completely in love with the writing, the characters, everything. So really I couldn’t save it until my best of 2016 list even though I know I will read it again in the new year! My review is set to go live around release but for now I will tease you with this – England 1976. Mrs Creasy is missing and The Avenue is alive with whispers. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly decide to take matters into their own hands. And as the cul-de-sac starts giving up its secrets, the amateur detectives will find much more than they imagined…

3 (=).

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The Natural Way of Things is a book that will shock many of its readers for all the right reasons. By the end you will be enraged as to why women are still subjected to ‘slut shaming’ and victim blaming if they speak out about something bad? That is the dark root at the heart of this novel from which everything else spirals, only not out of control as scarily you could imagine this happening. That is where the book really bites, its reality and its all too apparent possibility. Shocking all the more because what seems extreme isn’t the more you think about it. This is a fantastically written horrifying, whilst utterly compelling, story that creates a potent set of questions within its readers head and asks you to debate and seek out the answers yourself. I cannot recommend reading it enough. (It is out in the UK in June but already available in Australia, I suggest trying to get it early!)

2.

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I do love it when a book takes me by surprise, even more so when one takes me out of my comfort zone. What makes this all the better is when this comes at the least expected time. This happened with All Involved by Ryan Gattis which when I was first emailed about, being told it was the tale of the 1992 LA Riots from a spectrum of seventeen witnesses and participants, I instantly thought ‘that isn’t my cup of tea’. Thank goodness then for several people raving about it and saying I must read it because one I started I couldn’t stop reading, even when I sometimes wanted to. It is a book that has stayed with me ever since I read it and lingers in my brain, when it is out in paperback everyone I know is getting a copy.

1.

So my book of the year will not surprise many of you. I think A Little Life is just incredible, it is a novel that looks at love, friendship, loss, pleasure, pain, hope, survival, failure and success. It is a book about class, disability, sexuality and race. Overall it is a book about what it means to be a human. It’s amazing, it is also brutal. Saying that you read a book like A Little Life I actually think does it a disservice as it is one of those all encompassing books that you live through. It is rare that a book as it ends leaves you feeling a somewhat changed person to the one who started it, that is what happened to me and is probably why this will be one of my all time reads. (Yes, I stick to that claim and you can hear me on Hear Read This defending that statement in a special that went live recently!)

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So there we are the first half of my books for the year. I do feel like I should give some honourable mentions to A. Igoni Barrett’s Blackass, Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner, Han Kang’s The Vegetarian and two corking crime novels Little Black Lies by Sharon Bolton and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, I don’t care if this is deemed as cheating. Let me know your thoughts on those in my first list you have read. Oh and fancy ending the year/starting the new by winning some books then head here. What have been some of your books of 2015?

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Everything is Teeth – Evie Wyld & Joe Sumner

I am rather a fan of Evie Wyld as an author and as a person. I have had the pleasure of interviewing her and having a few coffees and wanderings around bookshops, including her own, the Review Bookshop in Peckham which is also delightful. I first ‘met her’ in book form when I read her first novel After The Fire, A Still Small Voice. I was genuinely bowled over by it and the incredible writing from a debut author, I know people say that a lot but it is true. Then when I read All The Birds, Singing I was blown away once again by her prose but also fell for her sense of menace/the gothic and the way she pulls of something unusual and original in its format. With her latest book she has gone and done something completely different again working on a memoir with illustrator Joe Sumner and creating the truly wonderful Everything is Teeth.

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Jonathan Cape, 2015, hardback, graphic novel/memoir, 128 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It’s not even the images that come first when I think of the parts of my childhood spent in Australia. Or even the people. It’s the sounds – the butcher birds and the magpies that lived amongst us on the back veranda. And stronger still, the smells – eucalyptus, watermelon and filter mud, rich and rude and sickly strong, Most of all, the river, muddy and lined with mangrove. Salt and sulphur; at low tide the black mud that smelled bad, that had stingray burrows hollowed out in it. The smell I associate with the smell of sharks.

When Evie was a young girl she grew up between Australia and the UK. It was on the coast of New South Wales where Evie first learnt of the wonders and the terrors of sharks. After initially reading a few books and going to a shark museum with her father (which later seems somewhat pivotal) sharks soon become something of an obsession for her and one that catches her at the oddest of times, where even back in landlocked London she believed one could be following her or suddenly appear out of a bin and attack her or a friend. Oddly I used to worry that a shark might suddenly turn up in any swimming pool I frequented until I was about twenty-six, seriously. Anyway…

What initially starts as quite a funny and natural obsession (we have all had these keen interests that verge on obsessions in our childhoods) slowly takes on a darker side with greater menace the more we read on and the book takes a slight shift in direction. For Everything is Teeth is also a book about grief, the threat of loss and the potential of depression or fear to be around us at any time no matter how old we are. At least that is how I read it, the shark’s presence being a way of dealing with growing up and all the strangeness that that brings for us, an escape and a way of confronting fears in a different way. Not wanting to give too much away, the later stages of the book centre around the dying and death of Evie’s father and how something like that can bring nostalgia and fears from childhood back to the fore. The bite size (pun not intended) intense bursts of memory in Evie’s wonderful writing making this all the more potent along with the illustrations.

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Oh, the illustrations! I loved, loved, loved Joe Sumner’s illustrations in Everything is Teeth as much as I loved Evie’s writing. (Note, Evie and Joe have worked together on this blog before when Evie and I got him to draw some of your imaginings of the Australian mythical Bunyip.) They are initially deceptively simple, yet have both a precise artistic and then much more comic like edge to them making the sharks seem all the more terrifying and real, with a brutal beauty. These are certainly not comical comic pictures, well with the exception of the shark coming out of the bin which made me cackle. They also, again pun unintended, have hidden depths with a sense of menace looming the longer you look at them.

It is this that makes the pairing, and therefore the whole body of work produced in Everything is Teeth, so powerful; the deception of simplicity of both the lyrical words and the enchantingly disarming images. Yet in fact the more of these intense bursts you read and take in the images of the more intensity they give and the more layers that reveal themselves and make it all the more powerful, effective and moving. It is a book you can’t shake for a while after you have read it, rather like the nagging feeling there could be a shark swimming just behind you at any given moment. I loved it, I hope we have many more novels from Evie Wyld and many more graphic memoirs/novels and the like with Evie and Joe, lyrical and visual treats indeed.

Have any of you read Everything is Teeth and what did you make of it? Which authors you love would you like to see head into the world of graphic memoir or novels? Which graphic novels have you read which affected you deeply? It is a genre I am getting more and more endeared towards when done brilliantly, so I must read more.

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Filed under Books of 2015, Evie Wyld, Graphic Novels, Joe Sumner, Jonathan Cape Publishers

The Jerwood Fiction Uncovered Prize 2014 Winners Announced

And hoorah, I have been sat on this list (not literally) of the eight now announced winners of this year’s Fiction Uncovered which, unless you have been on Mars or on some fancy pants trip round the word, you will know is one of my favourite bookish endeavours there are. Each year Fiction Uncovered aims to find eight titles that have missed out on prizes or gone under the radar unjustly and this is their selection this year.

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Lolito – Ben Brooks (Canongate)
Mr Loverman – Bernardine Evaristo (Hamish Hamilton)
Little Egypt – Lesley Glaister (Salt)
The Dig – Cynan Jones (Granta)
Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? – Gareth R Roberts (The Friday Project)
Mrs. Hemingway – Naomi Wood (Picador)
Vanishing – Gerard Woodward (Picador)
All the Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Vintage)

Now I love this list this year for four reasons (there may be more by now) which are…

Firstly, I have read some of them and the books that I had already read when the list arrived* are bloody marvellous. Both Mr Loverman and All The Birds, Singing were two of my favourite books that I read in 2013. Evaristo’s tale of Barry Walker is one of the most funny, heart breaking but overall heart warming books I have read in some time, Wyld’s is one of the most mysterious, sinister and fascinating. So far Mrs. Hemingway is easily one of the best books I have read this year, even my ‘occasionally hard to please’ mother has phoned me raving about it – it is that good, and draws a fascinating portrait of Ernest Hemingway from the lives of the four main women in his life. The fact I loved these three so much has given me real high hopes for the other five.

Secondly, there are authors that I have heard whispers about (good ones) and have been meaning to read, which is part of the idea behind Fiction Uncovered after all. Gerard Woodward and Cynan Jones being these two said authors. I have heard much praise of The Dig and checked Everything I Found on the Beach out from the library a month or so ago. I have also been meaning to read Woodward’s Nourishment for ages and ages as have been told by sooooooo many people I will love it.

Thirdly, and most importantly, there are some authors and their novels which I have never heard anything about before this list. Having now looked them up they sound like corkers. Lolito is a love story about a fifteen year-old boy who meets a middle-aged woman on the internet. Intriguing, if controversial. Little Egypt is a tale of elderly, Egypt-mad twins Isis and Osiris who find their neglected English lives disturbed to catastrophic effect by the arrival of American Anarchist. Sounds amazing! Whatever Happened to Billy Parks? is about football. Hmmm football, apt timing but I am not renowned for my love of football it has to be said, but this leads to…

…Fourthly, and just as importantly, this list will get me reading out my comfort zone both in the themes of some of the books but also from the comfort authors I sometimes turn to. Ace! Lots of reasons to be very cheerful with the latest eight titles. Now to get reading!

So what do you make of the Fiction Uncovered 2014 list? Have you read any of them and what do you think? Which ones intrigue you and might you read if you can get your hands on a bunch?

*Note this is the same amount of the list I have currently read, as I have done no reading for the second week in a row, bloody work! Ha.

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Other People’s Bookshelves #37; Catherine Hall

Hello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week we have a doubly apt host, Catherine Hall. Firstly because they are one of the authors who has been selected for Fiction Uncovered in the past, which I am guest editing at the moment, and also I happen to be staying in her house (so she is literally hosting me) while London Book Fair is on, in fact I took the pictures and almost took some of the books. Oh, did I mention that she is one of my most lovely friends who I have become chums with since I read The Proof of Love a few years ago. Anyway, I could waffle on more but I shall not, let us find out more about Catherine and have a nosey through her books…

I was born and brought up on a sheep farm in the Lake District where we lived with another family in a vaguely communal way. I always loved books and ended up doing English at Cambridge. Part of me loved it, but I found it a bit odd that we didn’t read anything written after 1960 and not that much by women. After that I went to London and got a job in a television production company making films about the environment and development issues, and then worked for an international peacebuilding agency doing communications. I left when I inherited some money from my grandmother and have written three novels: Days of Grace, The Proof of Love and The Repercussions, which will be published in September. I live in London with my two little boys, their dad and his boyfriend.

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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?

I used to keep all of them because it was like a diary of my life, sort of marking where my thinking was at different times. Now I have to have liked them enough to want to live with them, otherwise I pass them on to Oxfam. Having said that, I’m quite a generous reader – I usually find something I like in most books. But my shelves – and there are a lot of them in our house – are pretty overflowing.

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?

There’s a sort of system, or at least there was when we moved in which is that they’re divided by genre – fiction, history, biography, travel, poetry, plays – and then within that vaguely alphabetically as in by author surname but not strictly, because that would mean rearranging everything every time I bought a new book. I have a massive pile of books to be read next to my bed. Since I had kids it’s all gone a bit messy, and of course they have loads of books that end up all over the place.

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

It was Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton. I loved her books as a child and would save up my pocket money to buy them. It’s on my boys’ bookshelf now waiting for them to be old enough to read it.

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?

I’ve got lots of guilty pleasures but I’m pretty out and proud about them. There’s a lot of Jackie Collins and Jilly Cooper on my shelves sitting next to Dickens and Doris Lessing. At college my friend Cath and I used to buy Jilly Cooper’s books as soon as they came out and retire to bed to read them in one go instead of reading Chaucer or whoever it was that week. Her politics are questionable but I learned a lot about character and plot.

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?

That’s a really hard question. I love the proof copies of my novels – they’re the things that I’m most proud of producing in my life. I also love my ancient copy of The Golden Notebook because that really changed the way I thought about things, and Oranges are Not the Only Fruit because I remember coming down to London on a school trip and sneaking to the Silver Moon women’s bookshop and buying – shocker – a lesbian novel. So I’d definitely save them, and then I think I’d want to save some of my children’s books because they remind me of reading to them as they’ve grown up.

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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?

Fear of Flying by Erica Jong. That’s another book that I’d definitely save. I have two copies of it, one annotated, the other clean for reading. It introduced me to psychoanalysis and of course the concept of the ‘zipless fuck.’ It was probably the most thrilling book I’d ever read. For my A levels I wrote a long dissertation type thing about Freud’s question on what women want, and the way it was answered in literature, ranging from Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Fear of Flying. It was my favourite essay ever. I go back to Fear of Flying every couple of years to read it again and it’s still relevant to me now.

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 have to have the book if I love it, so I’d go and get a copy. I borrow books sometimes if people have them to hand but generally I just buy what I want to read. I find it very satisfying to have a pile of books just waiting for me to dive into.

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

My dad, Ian Hall, just wrote a memoir called Fisherground: Living the Dream about the farm that we grew up on. I was very proud to add it to my bookshelves. The last books I bought were Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah and Taiye Selassi’s Ghana Must Go.

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

I’m dying to read Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, and The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Oh, and of course Armistead Maupin’s Days of Anna Madrigal. I’m so excited to read that.

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

I think they’d probably think it’s quite eclectic and pretty wide-ranging. Perusing shelves is the first thing I do when I go to someone’s house – it really does tell you a lot about the person, and I’ve bonded with people or fancied them because of their taste. So I hope my taste makes me look good!

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A huge thanks to Catherine for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, as if she had any choice, and for letting me stay so often when I pop down to London town. She is rather a legend. If you haven’t read The Proof of Love, which is one of my favourite books and if you have read this blog for a while you will know that, then you must get a copy NOW! Anyway… Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Catherine’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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The Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction Longlist 2014

One of my favourite prizes of the bookish year is what we now know as the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction. I have been a supporter of it for many a year now, trying to guess the longlist and then trying to read them. I normally stay up until the midnight announcement but as I appear to have aged by about 20 plus years in the last few weeks I couldn’t. I did wake up at about 5am, when Oscar decided to be sick behind the wardrobe, and then have a sneak peak and it’s a really interesting list…

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Before I go on to share the list can I just say there is so much that is brilliant about the above picture it is almost too much. Imagine being on a panel of judges with Mary Beard and Caitlin Moran, you’d just be in heaven. Anyway, the list of twenty books in full is as follows…

Americanah – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
MaddAddam – Margaret Atwood
The Dogs of Littlefield – Suzanne Berne
The Shadow of the Crescent Moon – Fatima Bhutto
The Bear – Claire Cameron
Eleven Days – Lea Carpenter
The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter
The Luminaries – Eleanor Catton
Reasons She Goes to the Woods – Deborah Kay Davies
The Signature of All Things – Elizabeth Gilbert
Burial Rites – Hannah Kent
The Flamethrowers – Rachel Kushner
The Lowland – Jhumpa Lahiri
The Undertaking – Audrey Magee
A Girl Is A Half-Formed Thing – Eimear McBride
Almost English – Charlotte Mendelson
Still Life with Bread Crumbs – Anna Quindlen
The Burgess Boys – Elizabeth Strout
The Goldfinch – Donna Tartt
All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

Amazingly though I don’t have all of them I do happen to have thirteen (I am hoping this is not an omen) of them in the house 4.5 of which I have read.

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I didn’t try and guess the longlist this year (what a party pooper) because I didn’t feel after last year being my slowest and quietest year for reading what with Gran (who was a huge fan of the prize, I think it lead her to Rose Tremain, and would be happy I have posed the books on what were her sofa’s on which she did much reading and I will carry on the tradition of) and all that jazz I didn’t feel that I could give a good enough insight. Plus there is always the worry you look super smug, then the mild embarrassment when I am sooooo wrong and the invariable almost moan of ‘why wasn’t x and y book on the list?’ Speaking of which Naomi Wood, Fiona McFarlane? Moving swiftly on…

I would have stabbed a guess at All the Birds, Singing, A Girl is a Half Formed Thing, Burial Rites and Almost English being on the list as they were all highlights of my reading year last year, so naturally I am thrilled for those to be on the list. I may also have hazarded a guess at Americanah and MaddAddam being on the list as they are by two of my favourite authors though shockingly I didn’t read these upon release, strange. I also would have guessed The Luminaries, The Goldfinch and The Flamethrowers as they have been three of the most talked about books and also interestingly three books which seem to really divide people, interesting.

Berne, Bhutto, Cameron and Carter I am excited about because I have them on my shelves, The Bear was actually one of the books I mentioned in The Readers ‘Books To Be Excited About January to June’ show. Yet, as always with me, it is the books I know very little or nothing about that are the ones that I instantly go off and look up.  Deborah Kay Davies is an author I have already read and was equally impressed and disturbed with True Things About Me so I will have to get my mitts on her knew one, Elizabeth Strout I know through Olive Kitteridge which I still haven’t read but Gran raved about, Lea Carpenter and Audrey Magee are completely knew to me which is most exciting.

So it is a really interesting list, some big names with big books, some debuts, some lesser known authors all in the mix. Now I just have to choose which one to start with… I was umming and ahhing about doing a shadow jury of beardy blogging blokes but I think to try them out as and when the whim takes me might be a better plan of action. So while I decide which one gets read next (I am leaning towards The Bear) which of these books have you read and what did you make of them? Which books are you keen to read? And what do you make of the list overall?

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

The Night Guest – Fiona McFarlane

I think 2014 might be the year of ‘grey fiction’. I don’t mean in a fifty shades of grey way though, I do think that we are going to witness a lot more novels about, or narrated by, the older character and two of them are my favourite books of the year by far and both of them are debut novels. First up is The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane which I think is one of the most intensely gripping, worrying and moving novels I have had the pleasure of reading in quite some time, and one which I think will linger hauntingly for the rest of my reading year to come.

Sceptre Books, hardback, 2014, fiction, 276 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Ruth is a widow who has been living by herself on the coast round from Sydney and for a little while and been coping quite well thank you very much. However on and off in the night she has felt pretty sure that there is a tiger who is roaming around her house. She doesn’t know where this tiger comes from or goes to after it visits her and yet while she doesn’t think it wants to harm or eat her its presence is unnerving to say the least. Especially when she wakes up and wonders if it was ever really there at all, is she loosing her marbles?

Just as she and her two sons, who both live distances away, are beginning to worry luck intervenes as a young burly and rather bossy woman, Frida, turns up on the door one day announcing that she has been sent by the government and is Ruth’s new home help, initially just staying for an hour or so a day to help all she can. Help indeed she does, she may be bossy and have an edge but Frida cleans thoroughly, helps with bills and even helps Ruth look up and old flame from her youth back in Fiji. Yet as we read on and Ruth continues to tell her narrative a sense of menace builds around Frida and we initially have to work out if Frida is not who she says she is, or is Ruth indeed imagining or confusing things as her mind has started to wander more and more.

I won’t say anything else for fear of giving the plot away because part of what the book is all about, and indeed built up on, is the relationship between Ruth and Frida as it twists and turns with the books progression. In this sense I have to say it was one of the most compelling novels, this would fall into ‘literary thriller’ territory, that I have read in quite some time – so much so I read it in two sittings, didn’t speak to anyone for a whole Sunday and completely forgot to keep any notes for quotes and points to discuss, and much to discuss there is in The Night Guest.

As I mentioned the twists and turns are only one strand of the book. The Night Guest is also very much a book about old age, loneliness, regret and second chances. In terms of old age, I think anyone who reads this book will be keeping a much closer eye on the older people they love and those people around that person. More importantly it looks at the subject of old age unflinchingly, through Ruth we are given an insight into how it feels to be lonely and unable to see or get to those you love as much as you would like, how it feels to be isolated yet lacking in true independence when you aren’t able to do everything for yourself. It isn’t all bad, the time she gets to think and contemplate the sea and whales is delightful, as are the thoughts of what it might be like to shock some young person by saying ‘fuck’ or ‘bitch’ which adds to many of the books darkly funny moments.

I loved how Ruth looked back fondly at her marriage to Harry, living in Sydney and having the boys and yet also longed for the days when she was the daughter of missionaries in Fiji and completely in love with a doctor called Richard. The tale of her contacting and meeting Richard again is a lovely one amongst the darkness and I thought, slight spoiler here but it is so wonderfully done I can’t not mention it, a brilliant and hopeful portrayal of love, lust and even sex once your over seventy, all done tastefully and movingly.

Of course the atmosphere of menace is still present even in these more tranquil moments of McFarlane’s prose, and as the book goes on the menace intensifies yet the book never strays into a sense of farce or the unbelievable. Actually, it is probably the fact that The Night Guest is so realistic and so possible that it makes it all the more effective and chillingly thrilling. I think McFarlane has written a marvellous book, one which I highly recommend to you all as it is definitely one of my reads of the year and as I mentioned, even a month later, haunts me still. Oh, and if you needed any more convincing it is also an utterly beautiful object in itself, you really should judge this book by its covers.

The Night Guest Uncovered

Who else has read The Night Guest and what did you make of it? I have seen it has been long-listed for this year’s Stella Prize in Australia (along with the brilliant All The Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld and Burial Rites by Hannah Kent, so maybe I should read the whole list if they are this good?) and if it misses out on a long-listing for the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction on Friday I will be rather surprised.

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Filed under Books of 2014, Fiona McFarlane, Review, Sceptre Publishing

Other People’s Bookshelves #30 (Part Two): Kate Neilan

Hello and welcome, to the latest in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves which sees the series of posts turning 30! So to mark this special occasion we are heading to the delights of Essex for a big old party (grab your streamers, some cupcakes, a glass of fizzy and a paper hat) as we are hosted by one of my favourite bookish couples in the whole wide world. Today we join Rob and Kate from Adventures with Words, who I have the pleasure of joining along with Gavin every month to make Hear… Read This. Less about me, and more about them as I hand over to Kate (breaking the tradition of ladies first as I let Rob share his shelves earlier as they haven’t merged shelves yet, I am not judging their relationship on this basis though… much!) to introduce her lovely self and her shelves and all other bookish shenanigans…

I’m Kate – you might know me as @magic_kitten – and I’ve always been a huge reader ever since I can remember, and even before that if you believe my parents.  I work full time as Head of Citizenship and PSHE at a secondary school in Essex, although I originally trained as an English teacher at Cambridge, after doing my English Lit degree at Durham.  While I was there, I took the (very popular) Children’s Fiction module, which reignited my love for Young Adult books, to the extent that I wrote my dissertation on His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman. I’m now one half of Adventures With Words, alongside Rob Chilver. He began the blog to discuss books, films, games and stories in general and in 2012 we started recording a weekly podcast too. Recently, I’ve branched out with my own ‘Young Adult Edition’. Do go to www.adventureswithwords.com and have a look.

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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?

I’m a dreadful hoarder and, until recently, I kept every book that I bought, even if I’d read it and not really thought much of it.  My book collection fills three ‘Billy’ bookcases and more; I’ve got two boxes of books that have yet to be unpacked since Rob and I moved in together over a year ago. Lately, though, I’ve had to be more ruthless.  We now have a ‘To go’ pile of books where books I know I’m not going to read again go, although, as yet, they’ve not actually gone anywhere yet! If I’m being honest, these aren’t even all my books. I still have a shelf in my old bedroom at my parents’ house full of all my Point Horrors and teenage reads. I’m thinking about retrieving them but where would they go?!

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?

Before my most recent house move (I worked out recently I’ve moved more than ten times, taking into account university, teacher training and various flats and houses since moving out), I had my bookcases very carefully organised. I had three big red ‘Billy’ bookcases, one ‘half’ bookcase with three deep shelves, and one totally non-matching white one. That one housed my (excessive) CD and DVD collection, then my half-bookcase was for YA, and one large bookcase housed my university books (a mixture of textbooks, anthologies, Complete Works of Shakespeare/Chaucer etc and various novels, plays and poetry). The other two bookcases were organised roughly by genre, then by author; you could glance at the shelves and easily see the Tolkien, Iain (M) Banks, Isabel Allende and so on.

All this lovely system was completely destroyed when we last moved house; putting two sets of things into one house just doesn’t fit, so I gave up my white bookcase…and so it began! As I mentioned earlier, I’ve got two boxes of books that haven’t even seen the light of day yet – there wasn’t any urgency as they’re mostly university texts – but I’m sure I’ll want them one day… Eventually, during as summer holiday, I’ll take all these lovely stories off the shelves and rearrange them. I promise. We do have a “Blog TBR” bookcase (because piling them on the floor was becoming a little impractical) and some of these will graduate onto my own bookshelves after being read, reviewed and enjoyed.

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

Short answer? No, I’m really not sure, although I did spend quite a lot of my summer holiday aged 12 buying Point Horror books for a couple of pounds each from the second hand book stall in Norwich covered market… Still got them!

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?

I have very varied taste in books – I read literary fiction, lots of genre fiction and Young Adult – and I’m not really embarrassed about any of my choices; as far as I’m concerned, it’s fine to read something that’s a bit cheesy or clichéd as long as you enjoy it. I do own the entire Twilight series (and have read them all) and I’ve got The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown. No, they’re not literary masterpieces, but yes, they were enjoyable in their own ways.

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 given to me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I have a lovely set of Tolkein’s fiction with matt black covers and a small picture on the front of each one, which I really love, and a fantastic set of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy in hardback, all first editions. These were from my parents and they’re very precious to me. I also have a very well-loved secondhand copy of Feersum Endjinn by Iain M Banks, my favourite of his science fiction novels, which was sent to me by the wonderful Gav of No Cloaks Allowed, The Readers and Hear Read This. He found it while browsing, opened up the cover, and saw that it was signed. After buying it, he tweeted about it and I jokingly tweeted back saying it would make my day (life) if I’d found it, and he sent it to me! What a lovely guy. Finally, I have one of only eight comb-bound preview copies of the final Artemis Fowl book, Artemis Fowl and the Last Guardian. Rob knew I’m a huge fan of the series and managed to get hold of it, without letting on; as you can imagine, I was absolutely thrilled.

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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?

A bit like me, my parents have a house full of books, so I always remember them being there. One of the first “proper” books I read was Jane Eyre, aged 11, but I swiftly graduated to The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings and then The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, which is absolutely hilarious when you’re supposed to be asleep but in fact you’re reading about sweary robots under your duvet using a torch…

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?

Neither a borrower or a lender be! Well, I’m not, anyway. I have a bit of a ‘thing’ about pre-read books; library books always have that slightly funny smell to them, other people crack the spine or turn over the corner of pages, a habit I managed to kick. I’m a huge recommender to others, especially my mum, but she buys her own copy rather than borrow mine because she doesn’t want to give it back in less than pristine condition! I’m very aware that this is all a bit weird; libraries are brilliant, they’re just not how I read. Plus, the last time I lent a book (a first edition hardback of the first in Isabel Allende’s YA trilogy) I didn’t get it back… #fuming

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

Funny you ask that, Simon – you may recognise the titles I’m about to mention.  Only earlier today, Rob came home from work with a lovely bookish goody bag for me. My newest acquisitions are Magda by Meike Ziervogel, A Constellation of Vital Phenomena by Anthony Marra, The Language of Dying by Sarah Pinborough and The Gigantic Beard The Was Evil by Stephen Collins. I’ve also got a fantastic little Reading Journal. I find, when I’m reading, that I’d like to jot down ideas but I don’t fancy ‘texting’ them into my phone, so I’m looking forward to using this from now on. Hopefully, it should improve my reviews, too!

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

To be honest, I think I’m extremely lucky when it comes to books; there are very few that I don’t have but do wish for. I’d love a hardback copy of Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales for Young and Old and I’m awaiting the arrival of All the Birds Singing by Evie Wyld, but, other than that, it’s books that haven’t been published yet. I know they’re coming, because they’re part of series I’m reading: the final Heroes of Olympus book by Rick Riordan, and the next book in Charlie Higson’s The Enemy series, not forgetting the conclusion of Tom Pollock’s Skyscraper Throne trilogy and James Dawson’s new book, Say Her Name.

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

I’m sure they’d think I’ve got very eclectic tastes – there’s a little bit of everything – but hopefully I’ve picked some great books from every genre, and hopefully they’d see things they’d love to try themselves.

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A huge thanks to Kate for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, though she really had no choice! If you haven’t go and visit Rob’s shelves, imagine all those books in one house, here! Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Kate’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Books of 2013; Part II

Blimey, it is the last day of 2013 and before we know it 2014 will be upon us. I hope you have something lovely planned for your New Years Eve? I will be back home in the Peak District with my Mum, aunties and all their children which will be lovely, we are combining Christmas and New Years all in one so much merriment will ensue I am sure. Anyway time for more of my books of 2013. I am continuing the tradition of the last few years, and my inability to whittle books down as favourites, and so this is the second of my books of the year post. Today I celebrate my top ten books that were published for the first time in the UK this year, yesterday I gave you all a list of ten corking books published prior to this year – do have a gander. So without further ado here are my favourite books published this year…

10. The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness

I absolutely adored ‘The Crane Wife’. It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away.  Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success as it certainly deserves to be read and loved.

9. The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil – Stephen Collins

There is one word that sums up the whole reading experience of The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil and that is ‘sublime’. I loved everything about it; the imagery, the atmosphere, the message at its heart, everything. It’s a very moving book and one you cannot help but react to, I even shed a tear or two at the end. There is no doubt that to my mind The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil probably has the best title of any book this year, it also looks set to be one of the most memorable books of the year for its contents too. A quite literally, or maybe that should be quite graphically, stunning book and one of my reads of the year.

8. Maggie & Me – Damian Barr

I really loved ‘Maggie and Me’. I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

7. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

There is no question that Hannah Kent has crafted an incredibly beautiful novel with ‘Burial Rites’. It is a book which has a sense of isolation and brooding menace throughout and a book where the prose is as sparse (you feel not a word has been wasted) as the Icelandic landscape it is evoking. It is one of my books of the year without question and one lots of people can expect in their season stockings in a few months time. I strongly suggest you read it.

6. A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra

‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ is one of those books that Gran would say ‘manages to educate you on something you have little knowledge of’ and ‘makes you walk in a strangers steps, even if the stranger is fictional’. It is a book that isn’t a comfortable read by any stretch of the imagination yet, and I know I am sometimes stuck on repeat when I mention this, I don’t think that fiction should always be neat and comfortable. Sometimes we need brave bold books and authors like this to highlight what is going on or has gone on which we know little about.  Anthony Marra took on a challenge that even an author on their tenth book might not take on and he excels at it. I urge all of you to give this book a try.

5. Alex – Pierre Lemaitre

What Lemaitre actually does with ‘Alex’, which is far more interesting and potent is make you question, as the twists come, what you think is and isn’t morally right and soon this gripping thriller starts to ask so really serious questions of its reader and their ethics. A very clever move indeed, provide a book that makes you think hard about what you might do or what you find to be the ‘right’ thing for someone to do whilst also creating a read which is a complete page turner that has the readers jaw dropping as they go. That is what has made it my thriller of the year so far, it’s genius, and I personally cannot wait for the next one in the Camille series.

4. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.

2= Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Atkinson is a master of prose in my eyes. I love the way she gives the readers discreet asides and occasional knowing winks. I love her sense of humour, especially when it is at its most wicked and occasionally inappropriate. I think the way her characters come to life is marvellous and the atmosphere in the book, particularly during the strands during World War II and during the London Blitz (though I didn’t think the Hitler parts of the book were needed, even if I loved the brief mention of Unity Mitford) along with the tale of her possible marriage were outstandingly written. There is also the element of family saga, the history of Britain from 1910 onwards and also how the lives of women have changed – all interesting themes which Atkinson deals with throughout.

2 = Magda – Meike Ziervogel

Two of the biggest powers that books can have are to make us think outside our usual periphery or be a spring board to discovering more about subjects we think we know. Some books can do both, they are a rarity though. Magda, the debut novel from Meike Ziervogel, is one such book which gave me both a different outlook on something I thought I had made my mind up about and left me desperate to find out more when challenged. It is the sort of book where I simply want to write ‘you have to read this book’ and leave it at that so you all do, yet it is also one that is designed to be talked about and the questions it raises be discussed.

1. The Language of Dying – Sarah Pinborough

I thought The Language of Dying was a wonderful book for its rawness and emotion. It is a book that I really experienced and one which I am so glad I have read for the cathartic and emotional effects it had on me (I was openly weeping often) and proved that sometimes books are exactly what you need and can show you truths you think no one else quite understands apart from you. I can’t recommend it enough, without question my book of the year.

I have to say I struggled with this list rather a lot. If any of you have listened to the latest episode of The Readers you will have heard me shamelessly cheating as Gavin and I discuss twelve books we are each looking forward to in 2014. So I will here cheat slightly and say that Taiye Selasi’s Ghana Must Go, Charlotte Mendelson’s Almost English, Maggie O’Farrell’s Instructions for a Heatwave, Bernadine Evaristo’s Mr Loverman, and particularly both Deborah Levy’s Black Vodka and Eimear McBride’s A Girl is a Half-Formed Thing, could all easily have made the cut. Maybe I should have created a top twenty?

So which of these have you read and loved? What have been your books of 2013? What are you doing for New Years Eve?

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The Detour – Gerbrand Bakker

I promised you a detour today after our wanderings around Amsterdam yesterday (metaphorically) as we continue to ‘go Dutch’ this week. ‘The Detour’ by Gerbrand Bakker, who aptly lives in Amsterdam, is a novel that I have been meaning to read ever since I saw William review it (much better than I am about to the swine) and the premise immediately caught my attention, it has only taken me a year and a half to get around to it. What appealed to me at the time was that it was a tale of an outsider who moves into the rural unknown and there is something I really like about books set on farms in the middle of nowhere, or places on the periphery of a village or in a rural setting as well as loving books about outsiders. Combine the two and you are going to get a book that I will most definitely want to read, at some point, if only there were a guide to books of such ilk.

Vintage Books, 2013, paperback, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

We all know what it is like to need to escape from our lives, even if we might never actually do it at some point I am sure we have all thought about it to varying extremes. Emilie has thought about it and then acted on it as she has left her life, husband, family and job, behind in Amsterdam and rented a remote farm in rural Wales, somewhere in Snowdonia to be precise. Emilie, as we read on, seems to be hiding. She has no interest in the nearest villagers (wisely in some cases) and when a young boy injures himself and looks for a bit of shelter she couldn’t be more resistant to it if she tried. The question we as the reader want to know is why Emilie has done this. Slowly (and very subtly) but surely Bakker tells us.

It is incredibly difficult to say too much more without spoiling what is a beautifully crafted and delivered slow burning and subtle novel with a sense of mystery at its heart. It is one of those books that very quietly takes you by the hand and slowly but surely grips you as you go on.

What I found very interesting was the way that Bakker gives Emilie and her situation a sense of dual mystery – I don’t mean mystery in a murder mystery way, she is just an enigma. The first layer is, of course, why on earth Emilie has left Amsterdam for this hidden away life, the second mystery though is Emilie herself because as the novel progresses she, and of course Bakker, hold all the details of her life as close to her chest as possible. Emilie is a mystery within the mystery if you know what I mean.

“For a few nights now the rushing stream no longer calmed her: noises – creaking boards, the shuffling of what she hoped were small animals, and an almost unbearably plaintive cry from the woods – kept her awake, and awake she started thinking. She got wound up again, defiant and angry.”

As I was reading on, with this woman who is almost a recluse and a past that eluded me, I was reminded of Evie Wyld’s latest (and stunning) novel ‘All The Birds, Singing’. Yet whilst both are equally stunning in their atmosphere and dark sense of menace they take their novels in very different directions, even though I have just realised that they both have the plot twist of a stranger moving in. Whist Wyld alternates with the present and then the past (going backwards), Bakker alternates between the present for Emilie and also with her husband back in Amsterdam as her disappearance, which he wasn’t so surprised about, starts to nag at him and he decides to look for her and in doing so uncovers more of Emilie’s life including one strand that I never saw coming and was a huge impact in the novel.

There I will stop with the plot, and indeed the comparisons to Wyld (which I couldn’t not have popped in this post as I have read them within a relatively short space of one another) apart from the fact that it too could be one of my books of the year, because I wouldn’t want to spoil anything for anyone. Suffice to say that the book surprised me, especially with its subtle nature which I admired it all the more for. In terms of a book set in the middle of nowhere, and a winter in Snowdonia is painted vividly for the reader, about outsiders and the grind of rural life I couldn’t have asked for more.

Snowdonia in winter

‘The Detour’ won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize earlier this year and having read it you can easily see why. Bakker creates a story that is subtle and slow burning yet all at once brimming with a sense of mystery and menace. It is also a book that will linger on with the reader long after you have read it and, if you are like me, long after it devastates you with both its prose and most importantly its story. A much recommended book.

Have any of you read ‘The Twin’ by Bakker? As I am desperate to read it now but am slightly worried that this being a later book it might be more accomplished? Is that a bad/lazy assumption to make? I tell you what though, it is books like this that remind me I need to be a bit more like (the legend that is) Stu of WinstonsDad Blog and read much, much more translated fiction.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Gerbrand Bakker, Review, Vintage Books

Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One…

At the weekend I was a little vocal on Twitter about how disappointed I was in The Guardian’s Holiday Reading Guide for the summer. Here I do want to preface that a) I know that I am probably not the person that this guide is aimed at… but b) I normally like these guides because they introduce me to some books I would never have heard of. To my mind this was not the case with the produced list of books which frankly look like they have gone through all the prize long lists, the best seller lists and then popped them into a very long guide. There seemed to be no diversity, nothing particularly new to liven the bookish blood on a break away over the summer. Post rant several people said I should have a go and so I thought ‘sod it, I will’. However to be a bit different I decided that I’d compile two lists. The first, a list of books I have read and would recommend. The second, books I haven’t read but I have on my list of summertime reading material (if the sun ever bloody turns up) as I thought that might make it less predictable and will appear tomorrow. Here are today’s titles…

Fiction… Which might not be to everyone’s taste as each one of them has quite a punch not normally associated with ‘a good beach read’ but I like a bit of depth on a holiday read like I do anytime of the year.

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena – Anthony Marra (Hogarth Press, £14.99, out now)

In a snow-covered village in Chechnya, eight-year-old Havaa watches from the woods as her father is abducted in the middle of the night by Russian soldiers. Their life-long friend and neighbour, Akhmed, has also been watching, and when he finds Havaa he knows of only one person who might be able to help. For tough-minded doctor Sonja Rabina, it’s just another day of trying to keep her bombed-out, abandoned hospital going. When Akhmed arrives with Havaa, asking Sonja for shelter, she has no idea who the pair are and even less desire to take on yet more responsibilities and risk. But over the course of five extraordinary days, Sonja’s world will shift on its axis, revealing the intricate pattern of connections that binds these three unlikely companions together and unexpectedly decides their fate.
Possibly one of the most amazing books I have read in a long, long time. So much so the review has taken me over two weeks to write, it will be on the blog over the weekend. In the interim, this is one of the most affecting books on war I have ever read. It won’t be everyone’s ideal summer read as it is incredibly confronting but it is a book that will quite possibly change your life let alone your summer.

Tony Hogan Bought Me An Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma – Kerry Hogan (Vintage Books, £7.99, out 4th of July in Paperback)

When Janie Ryan is born, she is destined to be the latest in a long line of Aberdeen fishwives. Ahead of her lies a life filled with feckless men, filthy council flats and bread & marge sandwiches. But Janie isn’t like the rest of them. She wants a different life. And Janie, born and bred for combat, is ready to fight for it.
It is a very assured, bluntly honest and highly crafted debut novel filled with laughter and heart ache, it is full of reality, it can be grim but it also celebrates life and all walks of it and might have you reassessing some of the subconscious assumptions you find you make about some of the people you pass in the street, and about books with quirky long titles.

Ghana Must Go – Taiye Selasi (Viking Books, £14.99, out now)

A stunning novel, spanning generations and continents, Ghana Must Go by rising star Taiye Selasi is a tale of family drama and forgiveness, for fans of Zadie Smith and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. This is the story of a family – of the simple, devastating ways in which families tear themselves apart, and of the incredible lengths to which a family will go to put itself back together. It is the story of one family, the Sais, whose good life crumbles in an evening; a Ghanaian father, Kweku Sai, who becomes a highly respected surgeon in the US only to be disillusioned by a grotesque injustice; his Nigerian wife, Fola, the beautiful homemaker abandoned in his wake; their eldest son, Olu, determined to reconstruct the life his father should have had; their twins, seductive Taiwo and acclaimed artist Kehinde, both brilliant but scarred and flailing; their youngest, Sadie, jealously in love with her celebrity best friend. All of them sent reeling on their disparate paths into the world. Until, one day, tragedy spins the Sais in a new direction.
It is a book filled with hidden depths and one that left me feeling a real mixture of emotions; heartache, shock, horror and also hope. At a mere 318 pages I think that is an incredible accomplishment and am very much in agreement with anyone else who thinks Taiye Selasi is one author to most definitely watch out for.

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld (Jonathan Cape, £16.99, Out now)

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags. It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.
I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book… It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I know everyone is talking about this book at the mo but sod it, its f**king brilliant.

Black Bread White Beer – Niven Govinden (The Friday Project, £7.99, out now)

Amal is driving his wife Claud from London to her parents’ country house. In the wake of Claud’s miscarriage, it is a journey that will push their relationship – once almost perfect – towards possible collapse. In this, his latest novel, Govinden casts a critical eye on a society in which, in spite of never-ending advances in social media communications, the young still find it difficult to communicate. A devastatingly passionate and real portrait of a marriage, ‘Black Bread White Beer’ keenly captures the abandon, selfishness, hazards and pleasures that come with giving your life to another.
This is technically cheating as I have not quite finished this as I type, however I will have by the time this goes up and a review will follow shortly. Safe to say I love this book, its one where you feel the author is speaking just to you and you want to hug the book (and maybe the author) as you read it and whenever you stop, or in my case are made to stop to clean, work or some other annoying thing.

Crime… Where I shocked myself as I only had two recommendations and yet love crime but have learnt how little I have read of it this year. Shameful. To make up for it one will give you nightmares, the other will probably make you laugh quite a lot.

Human Remains – Elizabeth Haynes (Myriad Editions, £7.99, out now)

How well do you know your neighbours? Would you notice if they lived or died? Police analyst Annabel wouldn’t describe herself as lonely. Her work keeps her busy and the needs of her ageing mother and her cat are more than enough to fill her time when she’s on her own. But Annabel is shocked when she discovers her neighbour’s decomposing body in the house next door, and appalled to think that no one, including herself, noticed her absence. Back at work she sets out to investigate, despite her police officer colleagues’ lack of interest, and finds data showing that such cases are frighteningly common in her own home town. A chilling thriller and a hymn to all the lonely people, whose individual voices haunt the pages, Elizabeth Haynes’ new novel is a deeply disturbing and powerful thriller that preys on our darkest fears, showing how vulnerable we are when we live alone, and how easily ordinary lives can fall apart when no one is watching.
With its mixture of an unusual crime, if it is indeed a crime, a compelling and disturbing psychopath/sociopath at its heart, Annabel’s domestic drama and Haynes dark sense of humour, I would say, even at this early stage, that ‘Human Remains’ will easily be one of my thrillers of the year. It is one of those thrillers that is more than just a page turner (though s clichéd as I am aware it is to say this, I literally could not put it down) and works on several layers with many hidden depths and much to say, especially about forgotten people. You think you know what is coming at the start and you have absolutely no idea then, just when you think you have it all figured out, Haynes does it over and over again with more twists and turns as you go on.

Speaking From Among The Bones – Alan Bradley (Orion Books, £12.99, out now)

It is almost Easter in Bishop’s Lacey, and the villagers are holding their collective breath as the tomb of St Tancred in the church that bears his name is about to be opened after five hundred years. And as luck would have it, it’s inveterate eleven-year-old sleuth Flavia de Luce who is first at the scene. But the body she finds lying there is clearly not that of a desiccated saint. For a start there’s the pool of fresh blood, and then there’s the gasmask, from under which an unmistakeable shock of golden hair identifies the corpse as that of Mr Collicutt, St Tancred’s celebrated organist. Despite her tender years, Flavia is no stranger to murder – but even she is baffled by the peculiar circumstances of Collicutt’s death. Especially when soon after, an effigy of St Tancred appears to be weeping blood onto the church floor. Determined to get to the bottom of the mystery, Flavia soon finds herself exploring a secret maze of underground passages beneath the church – and is drawn into the equally dark and fetid world of one of Bishop’s Lacey’s most peculiar families.
I utterly adored ‘Speaking From Among The Bones’ and I think it might be one of my favourite Flavia De Luce mysteries yet. I have to say though, Alan Bradley how could you do it to us? The cliff hanger that you are left with is just too much! (Whatever you do, do not read the last line in the book until, erm, the last line.) How are we meant to wait until next year for a new book? How?

Classics… Where I choose two titles that might not be the best known classics, I think would make a delightful read over the summer months.

Mariana – Monica Dickens (Persephone Books, £9, out now)

Mariana is the story of a young English girl’s growth towards maturity and happiness in the 1930s. We are shown Mary at school in Kensington and on holiday at her beloved Charbury; her attempt at drama school; her year in Paris learning dressmaking and getting engaged to the wrong man; her time as a secretary and companion. Like Dusty Answer, Rebecca, I Capture the Castle or The Pursuit of Love, this is one of those novels about a young girl growing up and encountering life and love which all have the common characteristic of being funny, readable and yet perceptive. But Mariana is more than this. As the Observer’s Harriet Lane wrote in her Preface, critics may have tended ‘to dismiss its subject matter: crushes, horses, raffish uncles, frocks, inconsequential jobs, love affairs…but it is Mariana’s artlessness, its enthusiasm, its attention to tiny, telling domestic detail that makes it so appealing to modern readers. As a snap-album – as a portrait of a certain sort of girl at a certain time in a certain place – it now seems, sixty years after first publication, entirely exotic.
It has elements of the real social history of the time, only fictionalised and is a proper story of our heroine growing into adulthood and all the highs and lows that this brings. It also has a cast of characters that I am desperate to revisit again and again. As I mentioned earlier on, it is an epic of the everyman really. It isn’t often I read a book and think ‘ooh I must re-read you one day’ yet I have the feeling I will be rejoining Mary many more times in the future.

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Books, £9.99, out now)

Switch off those TVs, kill your mobiles and settle down with the most controversial book ever written. Once denounced as ‘wicked’, ‘sordid’, ‘cheap’ ‘moral filth’, Peyton Place was the top read of its time and sold millions of copies worldwide. Way before Twin Peaks, Survivor or Big Brother, the curtains were twitching in the mythical New England town of Peyton Place, and this soapy story exposed the dirty secrets of 1950s small-town America: incest, abortion, adultery, repression and lust. Take a peek …
I got the page-turning escapism that I was looking for but I also got so much more, the humour, the sadness, the shocks. I found a book that was so well written and so believable (yet incredibly and quite delightfully melodramatic) it made me care about a community and feel a part of it. I also found some characters that I will never forget and a book I will have to go back to time and time again.

Non-Fiction… Where in trying to find titles I was saddened to discover my yearly attempt to read more non-fiction is just not happening!

The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe (Two Roads Books, £7.99, out now)

Mary Anne Schwalbe is waiting for her chemotherapy treatments when Will casually asks her what she’s reading. The conversation they have grows into tradition: soon they are reading the same books so they can have something to talk about in the hospital waiting room. Their choices range from classic (Howards End) to popular (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), from fantastic (The Hobbit) to spiritual (Jon Kabat-Zinn), with many in between. We hear their passion for reading and their love for each other in their intimate and searching discussions. A profoundly moving testament to the power of love between a child and parent, and the power of reading in our lives.
‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is touching without ever being saccharine, confronting and honest without ever being emotionally manipulative. It also celebrates life and highlights that we are part of each other’s ‘life-book-club’s’ through the discussions we have at book groups, on blogs, to our friends and family, or randomly on public transport about books and the power that they have. It has also left me with a list of books to go off and read as long as my arm.

Maggie & Me – Damian Barr (Bloomsbury, £11.99, out now)

It’s 12 October 1984. An IRA bomb blows apart the Grand Hotel in Brighton. Miraculously, Margaret Thatcher survives. In small-town Scotland, eight-year-old Damian Barr watches in horror as his mum rips her wedding ring off and packs their bags. He knows he, too, must survive. Damian, his sister and his Catholic mum move in with her sinister new boyfriend while his Protestant dad shacks up with the glamorous Mary the Canary. Divided by sectarian suspicion, the community is held together by the sprawling Ravenscraig Steelworks. But darkness threatens as Maggie takes hold: she snatches school milk, smashes the unions and makes greed good. Following Maggie’s advice, Damian works hard and plans his escape. He discovers that stories can save your life and – in spite of violence, strikes, AIDS and Clause 28 – manages to fall in love dancing to Madonna in Glasgow’s only gay club. Maggie & Me is a touching and darkly witty memoir about surviving Thatcher’s Britain; a story of growing up gay in a straight world and coming out the other side in spite of, and maybe because of, the iron lady.
I related to it – something that only happens to your very core or bones once or twice in a blue reading moon – and empathised with it. It was the sort of book my younger self was crying out for someone to put in my hands. I can only hope some lovely relatives, librarians, teachers or other influential bods make sure this is passed on to both the younger generation, especially those who call rubbish things ‘gay’, and to everyone they know really. Books like this help make being different both more acceptable and understandable, we need them.

Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Magical/Other… A section which I tried so hard to make simply a sci-fi section but showed that I clearly barely read any and that to even try and sound au fait with the sci-fi genre would have diehard fans chastising me, but I honestly did try!

The Machine – James Smythe (Blue Door Books, £12.99, out now)

Haunting memories defined him. The machine took them away. She vowed to rebuild him. From the author of The Testimony comes a Frankenstein for the twenty-first century. Beth lives alone on a desolate housing estate near the sea. She came here to rebuild her life following her husband’s return from the war. His memories haunted him but a machine promised salvation. It could record memories, preserving a life that existed before the nightmares. Now the machines are gone. The government declared them too controversial, the side-effects too harmful. But within Beth’s flat is an ever-whirring black box. She knows that memories can be put back, that she can rebuild her husband piece by piece. A Frankenstein tale for the 21st century, The Machine is a story of the indelibility of memory, the human cost of science and the horrors of love.
I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people.

The Crane Wife – Patrick Ness (Canongate,  £14.99, out now)

One night, George Duncan – decent man, a good man – is woken by a noise in his garden. Impossibly, a great white crane has tumbled to earth, shot through its wing by an arrow. Unexpectedly moved, George helps the bird, and from the moment he watches it fly off, his life is transformed. The next day, a kind but enigmatic woman walks into George’s shop. Suddenly a new world opens up for George, and one night she starts to tell him the most extraordinary story. Wise, romantic, magical and funny, “The Crane Wife” is a hymn to the creative imagination and a celebration of the disruptive and redemptive power of love.
It made me cry at the start, possibly at the end and a few time, with laughter, through the middle. It has been a good few weeks since I read the book now and I still find myself pondering what has happened to the characters since, always the sign of a good read, and the writing just blew me away. Patrick Ness says in this book that “A story forgotten died. A story remembered not only lived, but grew.” I hope this story grows to be a huge success.

Diving Belles – Lucy Wood (Bloomsbury, £7.99, out now)

Along Cornwall’s ancient coast, from time to time, the flotsam and jetsam of the past can become caught in the cross-currents of the present and a certain kind of magic floats to the surface…Straying husbands lured into the sea can be fetched back, for a fee. Houses creak, fill with water and keep a fretful watch on their inhabitants. And, on a windy beach, a small boy and his grandmother keep despair at bay with an old white door. In these stories, hopes, regrets and memories are entangled with catfish, wreckers’ lamps and baying hounds as Cornish folklore slips into everyday life.
There are those rare books that come into your life and once finished you feel a little bereft because they were so good. Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short stories ‘Diving Belles’ is one such book, in fact I loved it so much I had to ration it out to the point I was only reading one or two stories a week. I simply didn’t want to it end.

So there you are, if you managed to stay with me for the long haul then well done. Tomorrow I will be sharing with you the books that I haven’t read yet which I really fancy getting to over the summer months (if summer decides to show itself) and think some of you might like too! In the meantime don’t forget to share you thoughts on the books you have loved the most so far in the first half of the year. Also let me know what you think about the selection above, which ones have you read or been meaning to read? Also, if any of you fancy doing summer reading guides, or already have, do let me know as I would love to have a gander.

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All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

I think it would be fair to say that Evie Wyld’s second novel, ‘All The Birds, Singing’, is one of the books that I have been most excited about reading this year. Back in December 2009, way back before she was (rightly) included in the Granta Best Young British novelists, when I first read her debut ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ I said “I thought this was a marvelous piece of work, an incredibly impressive debut, I think Wyld is definitely an author to watch out for in the future.” Having read ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and spending a few days thinking about it, and possibly hugging it, I initially thought it was bloody good now after more mulling I think it is a masterpiece… so it seems I was right with my prediction.

17283744

Jonathan Cape, 2013, hardback, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

“Another sheep, mangled and bled our, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.” And so starts ‘All The Birds, Singing’ and so we find our heroine Jake as she takes in the sight before her, another of her sheep has been mutilated, killed by some ‘thing’. Yet what is the ‘thing’ that could be killing her flock one by one? Could it be the local kids who think she is some out of town witch? Could it be the neighbours’ crazy son? Could it be a monster, be it real, imagined or from Jake’s hidden past? Could it be linked to the sudden appearance of a new ‘incomer’ in the area?

As we read on we realise there is going to be a lot more to Jake, and indeed ‘All The Birds, Singing’ than meets the eye. Jake has clearly taken herself as far away from the world and place of her childhood, Australia, as it could be possible to be. She has hidden herself and even alienated herself from everyone around her. But why?  Now I am not, of course, going to tell you because Wyld herself plays a master stroke of leaving it until quite literally the very end of the book to find out. Thus adding a thrilling sense of you simply bursting to know both what the hell is out there in the fields and the forests in the now and just what the hell happened to send her there now. The unease of her present mixed with the unknown of her past becomes equally unnerving and intriguing as the book continues.

“I slammed the fridge and lent my head against it. Stupid to have become so comfortable. The fridge hummed back in agreement. Stupid to think it wouldn’t all fall to shit. That feeling I’d had when I first saw the cottage, squat and white like a chalk pebble at the black foot of the downs, the saafety of having no one nearby to peer in at me – that felt like an idiot’s lifetime ago. I felt at the side of the fridge for the axe handle.”

The way Evie weaves all of this together is just masterful. She doesn’t simply go for the route of alternating chapters from Jake’s present and her past, which would be too simple and has been done before. In the present Evie makes the story move forward with Jake from the latest sheep mauling, in the past though we go backwards making the reader have to work at making everything make sense. I had several ‘oh bloody hell that is why she is where she is’ moments with the past storyline before thinking ‘what there is more, that might not be the reason…’ Jakes mistrust of things it seems it catching. This style is a gamble and admittedly initially requires a leap of faith and chapter or two of acclimatizing to the structure, yet it is a gamble which pays of dividends by the end and if you see the end coming, and aren’t left completely jaw droppingly winded by it, then you are a blooming genius. I was honestly blown away.

It is also Jakes character, along with Wyld’s prose throughout, which makes the book a real stand out. She is barbed, brittle and rather damaged, yet in the same vein and with the way she loves her sheep she is also gentle and, with the way she jumps at the smallest thing, rather fearful and mistrusting. She is a dangerous dichotomy, which can be compelling but there is also the question of whether we should trust her, how reliable is she and just what on earth is being kept from us. It all creates a heady mix.

Throw in some corking set pieces like a sex scene which will have any reader with arachnophobia utterly hysterical in both senses, ghostly apparitions and spending nights alone on a farm with Jake that could be taken from a horror story and you have the reader undergo the full spectrum of emotions from horror to hilarity and back again. Like ‘All The Birds, Singing’ it is a book that stands alone, it isn’t like anything else. That said, some people are comparing Wyld to Du Maurier, I love both and can see the link yet I think Wyld is an author in her own right and doesn’t need to be likened to anyone if I am truthful.

I love books where the brooding sense of atmosphere and menace are palpable to the reader at all times, even in the lightest of moments. ‘All The Birds, Singing’ is such a book. It is one of those rare books you read (‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall and ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris spring to mind) that you feel the author actually wrote for you as it chimes with you so much. I asked Evie if she had, she hadn’t, rude. It is a book that I simply cannot recommend to you enough. You will be intrigued, horrified, laugh (when you possibly shouldn’t) and thrilled by an author whose prose is exceptional. I liked it even more than its predecessor. I want ‘All The Birds, Singing’ to win awards it isn’t even eligible for, most of all I want it to be read by YOU! Simple as that.

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Filed under Books of 2013, Evie Wyld, Jonathan Cape Publishers, Review

Going Off The Beaten (Bookish) Path…

I am going to be heading off on a bit of a bookish adventure over the next few weeks and months I have decided. Having done less reading and more thinking recently, I decided that Savidge Reads needs to change its trajectory. When I started this blog five, very nearly six, years ago I started it as a diary of the books I was reading so I didn’t bore so many of my friends about books they really didn’t give a toss about – little did I know what a wonderful world of bookish friends it would earn me online and in the flesh all these years later! Anyway enough of all about you, back to me. *Cough* When I started these bookish thoughts and notes I had no real bookish direction. I would randomly read books that, if I am really honest, I knew very little about unless I knew the author already, liked the cover or the bookshop recommended it.

I had no idea of all the book prizes (ironic now I have co-founded one) and really didn’t know what the latest bookish buzz was, what a heathen! I just wanted to read good books, ones that simply appealed to me at that moment. I didn’t have a TBR that needed several rooms of shelves to house it, I simply went by instinct. I wasn’t aware of the big books on the periphery or any hype, nor was I part of the literary world really. Whilst I guess I am now through work, this blog and podcasts and it is all lovely and I love it, I do think it is time for me to have a blogger’s kind of GAP year and do some travelling off the beaten bookish path.

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This I have just realised all sounds rather final. It honestly isn’t, I can confirm that Savidge Reads is not going to disappear for a year. It might just mean I start talking about much more random books than I have been. This of course might mean lots of you decide you don’t want to read on, I hope not but if that is the case fair enough. Yet I personally am becoming a bigger fan of blogs that tell me about books I might not have heard of in the review pages, on prize shortlists or published by the latest ‘literary darling’ – and there are bloody loads of books out there that fit that category.

I think it was the Fiction Uncovered list that inspired this. Eight books, one of which I had read and the others heard about a little, that sound really intriguing and I am thrilled to have been recommended after all that is how I first read one of my favourite books, which I probably don’t need to tell you all about (but sod it my blog my rules) so I will, ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall. Does it sound grand to say I would like to do my bit for those books too? I have already been scanning my shelves for copies of books publishers have sent that fit into that description. I am also planning on reading most of the Fiction Uncovered books which may seem ironic I suppose after all I say above, but I am a contrary Mary what can I say? Ha!

Speaking of irony… I have looked at what is currently residing on my bedside table and those books don’t, initially, reflect my new found state of mine. Let me explain them though if you will! I have just finished ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony  Marra, which the lovely Michael Kindness raved about on Books on the Nightstand has been raving about so I decided I wanted to read it before the hype goes bananas, which I think it will as it is amazing. I have since started the new Evie Wyld novel ‘All The Birds, Singing’ but that is because her debut blew me away and I would have read it regardless of the buzz of her Granta listing and the reviews its getting (and the fact I asked her nicely to come on You Wrote The Book and she said yes). There is also an advance proof of a newish favourite author Niccolo Ammaniti which I am desperate to read and tell you about before everyone else does, ha! Then, below Niccolo, is ‘World War Z’, now seriously how often do I read books about Zombies, erm hardly at all if ever. It is a ‘new to me but known by pretty much everyone else’ book and a challenge, plus couldn’t be more removed from the previous titles. I am waffling now aren’t I?

Basically I am going to be doing the reading equivalent of interrailing or back packing, ‘bookpacking’ if you will. Along the way there might be the odd reading equivalent of treating myself to a regular hotel along the way, in this case The Persephone Project, Readers Book Group of prize winning novel that just takes my fancy (like ‘The Detour’ by Gerbrand Bakker currently is) if you will. I already have a book waiting in the wings to talk about tomorrow; I just hope you will join me on this random adventure, direction and destination unknown.

P.S Sorry this post is so late I started writing it hours ago but we have had Oscar bring in a baby Blue Tit (now called Bertie) who I have decided to rescue and the drama of it all took over.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Bereft – Chris Womersley

Sometimes a book arrives here unsolicited and just reaches out to me. It is likely that I haven’t heard anything about it prior to its arrival and yet it just tempts me to read it. This is what happened with ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, it arrived and the cover seemed to constantly catch my eye and call out to me (I am wondering if this is because it looks a little like Catherine Hall’s ‘The Proof of Love’ which you know I adored). The quote from Evie Wyld, ‘I hammered through Bereft in a day; I didn’t want to be away from it’, was the final clincher especially after the success I had with her recommendation of ‘The Hunger Trace’ by Edward Hogan. It is interesting that its arrival made me think of these two books because in some ways it is of their ilk. It also fitted in perfectly with Kim’s Australian Literature Month, it all seemed aligned.

Quercus Books, trade paperback, 2012, fiction, 264 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

The year is 1919 and Quinn Walker is returning to his hometown of Flint in New South Wales after fighting in WWI. This is not going to be some happy emotional family reunion as the reason Quinn left was that ten years earlier he was found seeming to have raped and murdered his sister, he fled. His return seems timely as Australia is in the grips of the Spanish flu epidemic, in fact many believe it is the end of the world, and when the end is nigh you have very little to lose.  Now returning, undecided if he will face his accusers or not without proof it wasn’t him, sheltering in the hills around Flint he meets Sadie a young girl living in secret like him and as these two outsiders form a bond of friendship they both realise her present and his past are more linked than either of them could have imagined.

I am aware that the last line in that paragraph above is a little bit clichéd and sounds rather melodramatic, yet in essence that is how the plot goes, it isn’t a melodramatic book however and that is what holds me back from giving it the ‘gothic’ label that I have seen in reviews since finishing the book and mulling it over. It does have elements of the gothic but despite the nature of the tale it tells this novel is rather quiet and understated until it leads to its climax. It has also been labelled as a crime novel and in some ways it is, there is a mystery at the heart of the book and yet it is never a whodunit, in fact that aspect of the book is really bubbling away in the background as we look at the effects of war and epidemic on people at the time.

It is this combination that I think makes this book such a brilliant read. You have the war and its effects, and in many ways the understated element of the horrors we read of and see in Quinn himself are the reasons they hit home, a country and its people believing the world may be ending, you even get some séances in Victorian London thrown in and yet it never feels too much, nothing seems out of place. Its historical, thrilling, has some magical elements (in fact while I loved the séance and how that worked into the story, there was an animal sacrifice that I just didn’t see the rhyme or reason for, small quibble) and most importantly is beautifully written. It’s understated but highlights the drama of the time; it’s to the point yet descriptive and wonderfully builds the brooding atmosphere and heat before the storm, a metaphoric aspect if ever there was one and one which again made me think of ‘The Proof of Love’, it’s writing that quietly holds you and takes you away to a calm darkness.

‘That night, Quinn lay back, snuggled into the curve his shoulders had made in the pine needles and stared up at the darkness. The moon hove into view. The forest spoke in its secret tongue, and if he turned his head and pressed his ear to the ground he fancied he might hear the millions of dead rustling in their mass, unmarked graves on the far side of the world. Sarah had always claimed to understand the language of animals and trees, the growls of possums and wallabies. But what of the dead?’

Since finishing the book I have been off finding out more about it and the author. It seems this book was pretty much long listed for every book award in Australia last year and I can certainly see why. ‘Bereft’ is one of those books that is set very much in its time and yet asks you to look back and put the pieces together. I like this effect in books as it makes me feel a little bit clever. It also makes this book nicely merge the divide between literary and thriller in many ways. The prose it beautiful, the characters fully drawn, there is also a mystery at its heart giving it that page turning quality, yet never at the expense of any of its other winning factors. It also covers a very interesting period in a countries history I knew nothing about yet came away with the atmosphere still lingering with me long after finishing the book. Highly recommended.

I am really glad I read this book, I have instantly started wondering if its eligible for a certain award this year but wouldn’t want to jinx it, it is only January after all. I am saddened to see that you can’t get his debut novel ‘The Low Road’ in the UK as yet, as I would definitely like to read more of his work. Has anyone else read that? Who else has read this one? I would love to know if readers in Australia have heard as much about this book as I imagine you might.

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I read this book as part of Australian Literature Month,    which runs throughout January 2012. The idea is to simply read as  many   novels as I can by writers from my homeland and to encourage  others to   do the same. Anyone can take part. All you need to do is  read an   Australian book or  two, post about Australian literature on  your own   blog or simply engage  in the conversation on this blog. If  you don’t   have a blog, don’t worry —  you just need to be willing  to  read   something by an Australian writer  and maybe comment on other   people’s   posts. You can find out more here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Chris Womersley, Quercus Publishing, Review