Tag Archives: Grace Metalious

Great American Novels…

I have been pondering American fiction for some time. I don’t really read very much of it, though actually when I had a look at my shelves the other day there were much more American authors than I thought. I guess really what I mean it that I haven’t read many of the ‘American Greats’ and when I have, with the exception of ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’, I have yet to be really bowled over by them. I didn’t mind F Scott Fitzgerald’s ‘The Great Gatsby’ but it didn’t bowl me over like I was expecting at all. There are also some, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ and ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ I am thinking of you, that I haven’t loved at all and have felt a bit silly for not doing as apparently the great and good think they are marvellous.

This week Thomas and I discussed American novels on the Readers (you can hear the episode here)  where I admit my favourite American novel is Peyton Place, a cult underground novel that if you’ve not read then you must.

So, as always I would like your help. What are your greatest American novels? What lesser known ones must be hunted down?

79 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness

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.

7 Comments

Filed under Random Savidgeness

Books of 2010 Part One…

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

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

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

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

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

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

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

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

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

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

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

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

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

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

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

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

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

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

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

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

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

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

8 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010

Summer Read Suggestions – The Bloggers (Part Two)

So after yesterdays post which unveiled what some bloggers will be reading over the summer months and which books they have already loved during summers passed here are the second instalment of bloggers and their thoughts on summer reads.

Just in case you might be wondering why you didn’t get an email asking… check your spam, as I sent this out to loads and loads of bloggers who I enjoy but only got half the responses back. However as I have enjoyed these sort of posts so much (and hope you all have) I will be doing another one in the non too distant, a summery follow up I guess, so don’t worry about sending responses in late. Right, anyway on with the recommendations…

Polly, Novel Insights

My summer recommendation would have to be Peyton Place (starting out with that wonderful Indian summer passage and heady atmosphere).

As for what I am looking forward to reading this summer… A Room Swept White, by Sophie Hannah – I’d love to read this on holiday as her books are so gripping and I never fail to be surprised by her plot twists. I will also be heading to Sri Lanka so I might be taking some fiction set there or by authors from there if I can get my hands on some.

Simon, Stuck in a Book

People talk about beach literature as though it ought to be something trashy, preferably with the torso of an anguished woman taking up most of the cover.  I prefer to take something meaty on holiday with me, where I’ll have fewer distractions – a dense Victorian novel, say, or a tricky experimental novel which would confuse me if read in short bursts.  Having said that, my favourite summery read is actually The Summer Book by Tove Jansson.  These tales of summer on a Finnish island are wonderful wherever they’re read, but there’s something perfect about reading them on a windy beach with the sun in your eyes. For those of us who only have holidays in this Sceptred Isle, a touch of Scandinavian summer is welcome, if only vicariously.

Bearing in mind my answer to question 1, I am considering taking Fanny Burney’s Camilla off on my holiday this year.  It’s got more pages than I’ve had hot dinners, and a Yorkshire moor (for this will be a beachless summer for me) could be the perfect place to immerse myself in the dalliances of the eighteenth century.

Harriet, Harriet Devine’s Blog

I would suggest Tracy Chevalier’s Remarkable Creatures for a summer read. It would be especially apt for a beach holiday (and even more so if that was taking place in south west England) as it is set in beautiful Lyme Regis, on the Dorset coast, and much of the action takes place on the beach, where a couple of women are searching for fossils. This is much more exciting than it sounds — a real page turner, in fact! Set at the time of Jane Austen, this is a lovely, sensitive, thoughtful read, not too demanding for a relaxing holiday but intelligent and thought-provoking too.

Claire, Paperback Reader

It entirely depends on whether I am going on a summer holiday or not.  If I’m staying at home over the summer months then my reading won’t change all that much but if I am going to be in the sun then my reading choices tend to reflect that.  I usually go for something a tad lighter in content, nothing too heavy that will bring me down; however, I have also seen me take Vanity Fair by William Thackeray to the pool-side with me!  Sometimes I pack in the suitcase is a classic I’ve been meaning to read or a book I have been saving up for uninterrupted reading time. I do like books set in sunnier climes too for when I’m likewise baking in the sun or relaxing in the shade or air-conditioned room with ice-cream or refreshing watermelon.  The perfect examples I can give of my  favourite type of summer reads are those I read the last time I was in Florida; I took with me A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini; The Return by Victoria Hislop; The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak; The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe; The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller. All were perfect choices with none of them too literary but with more than enough substance to keep me immersed on long flights and the beach.

This summer I am not going abroad but will head home for a couple of weeks.  I intend to take The Passage by Justin Cronin with me because it’s long enough to keep me going although I foresee not having many free moments to read it and it extending out to a seasonal-long summer read.  I’m also going to pick up a couple of lighter books that everyone else seems to have read: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Schaffer and Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert before the film is released.  Depending what makes it onto the Man Booker longlist, I may include a few of those on my summer reading list; I say list metaphorically though as I’m going to try this year not to plan my reading too much and make my choices on a whim instead.

Dot, Dot Scribbles

The perfect summer read for me has to be a page turner, I need to be gripped by it so I can happily spend an afternoon in the sun with my book! These can vary from quite light chick lit type books to something a bit heavier, I always find Daphne du Maurier to be a good holiday author as you can be totally absorbed.

This summer my one holiday read that is already in the suitcase is actually down to the wonderful reviews from yourself and Novel Insights and that is Peyton Place, I wanted to read it as soon as it arrived but I decided that it would make perfect holiday reading. In terms of general summer reading I prefer books that are set more in that season, I find it really hard to read something in July/August that is talking about snow and the freezing cold! For some reason as well I tend to prefer to read mystery type books in the Winter but I have no idea why!

Jackie, Farmlane Books

The long list for the Booker prize will be announced on 27th July so I will spend most of my Summer reading time trying to complete the list. I don’t change the books that I read based on the seasons – I enjoy the same types of book all year round. If I’m going away then I prefer to take a few longer books with me – I’d hate to run out of reading material half way through a holiday! Fingersmith by Sarah Waters or Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean Auel are great examples of long books that would be my favourite holiday reads.

This Summer I am looking forward to reading The Elephant’s Journey by Jose Saramago. Blindness is one of my favourite books and I hope that The Elephant’s Journey contains his usual blend of fantastic writing and original story telling. His recent death has made this book even more important to me.

Claire, Kiss A Cloud

The perfect summer read for me would be something that makes me feel lighthearted and young and happy to be alive, of which the perfect example would be Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle.

Although I would read anything in the summer, what I most look forward to is Maggie O’Farrell’s The Hand that First Held Mine. While I have never read her yet, I’m convinced that it’s going to be a wonderful experience, based on many blogger recommendations. The book is said to pull on our heartstrings, and this leaves my mind imagining a summer romance.

Tom, A Common Reader

Summer reads? Well, I’ve been thinking about that and in all honesty I don’t think I differentiate between summer and other seasons. The books keep rolling in, and I keep reading them! However, thinking of summer books, I suppose something like my recently reviewed Hundred Foot Journey by Richard Morais would be ideal combining humour, al fresco eating and France. I think most people would be happy to take something like that on holiday with them.

Or a book of short pieces like the one I’ve just read called ‘Are We Related?’ which is the New Granta Book of the Family. Perfect for dipping into but by no means trivial.

Karen, Cornflower Books

It so happens I’ve just finished a perfect, relaxing, summery read, Rosy Thornton’s A Tapestry of Love. It’s set in rural France (a mountain hamlet in the Cevennes, to be exact) and it was inspired by a visit Rosy made there on holiday some years ago. The novel takes you through a year in that beautiful, relatively remote spot, and its heroine has her ups and downs, but it’s a warm, gently uplifting book which will entertain whether you’re already drowsy with summer heat or stuck in the cold and damp and wishing you could get away from it all.

In ‘real life’ Rosy is a Law don at Cambridge, a Fellow of Emmanuel College, and – impressively – she manages to combine that academic career and a family with being a novelist, but combine them she does, and her intelligent, lively books are pure pleasure to read.

Frances, Nonsuch Book

Working in education, I still have summer vacation every year just like the small people so summer reading has special meaning to me. Reading on a whim, at odd hours, as much as I can ingest before falling asleep with a book. Also enjoy a bit of a fluff parade those first few weeks out of school. Nothing to task the brain too much and a little off course from my usual reading choices.

My only reading obligations this summer are to my Non-Structured Book Group. We are reading A Personal Matter by Kenzaburo Oe in July and In the American Grain by William Carlos Williams in August. I say “obligation” but that is a bit of a joke as no one in our group would give a fig if I decided not to read or gave up on a book and emailed everyone, “I quit. This sucks.” And this is just one reason I love my online book group. Others include big brains, great writers, and Olympian quality smack talking.

Looking forward to re-reading Agatha Christie books for the first time since I was a teenager, Lit by Mary Karr, Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English by Natasha Solomons, The Imperfectionists by Tom Rachman, The Pregnant Widow by Martin Amis, and a whole bunch of Parisian inspired reads for the Paris in July event hosted by Book Bath and Thyme for Tea.

So that’s your lot, for now anyway, I am probably going to do a follow up post from a few more bloggers authors and co in the next few weeks. So what will you be reading over the summer season?

20 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts

Not The TV Book Group – Summer Selection 2010

Well it’s been a while since the dust settled on the host’s sofa of the last Not The TV Book Group read hasn’t it? Time to reflect on how it all went, what we enjoyed and maybe what we didn’t so much. One of the things I think we all found (both we four hosts and those of you who joined in) was that a ‘scheduled read’ every fortnight was bloody hard work, even if like some of us you read two/three books or more a week!!

So we thought instead of a collective set of reads over the summer we would do something different and simply offer you a selection of reads that you might want to dip into over the summer months, and what a varied selection it is again for the summer. I think even more varied actually. This will be down to the fact there was no publishing date limit, and again no publisher involvement, and we chose books that we have already read. So without further waffle here are eight reads you might like to give a whirl over the forthcoming sunny *we hope* months…

Lynne of Dovegreyreader’s choices

The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman (Bantam Press, 2006)

If summer holidays are about an exciting page-turner of a read in between dips in the sea and an ice cream (well that’s what we do in Devon) then this book is perfect. An intelligently written and well-researched archaeological adventure as Egyptian Arab detective inspector finds himself teamed up with a worryingly bigoted Israeli counterpart and a Palestinian journalist in the search for an ancient artifact that must not fall into the wrong hands. The story spreads across the broadest of historical canvases…from ancient Jerusalem and the Crusades via Vichy France and the Nazi holocaust right through to present-day tensions in the Middle East but never loses its focus. Edge of the seat reading and countless unexpected plot twists might just have your ice cream melting because you forget to eat it.

The Great Western Beach – A Memoir of a Cornish Childhood Between the Wars by Emma Smith (Bloomsbury, 2009)

Whilst you’re on the beach you might as well read about one, and if you happen to be in Newquay you can wander around Emma Smith’s childhood haunts too. Life in 1920’s Newquay was ordered,calm and pleasurable. There were social events, visiting and the tennis club to be enjoyed, dance classes and daily lessons with a local teacher, friendships to be forged amongst the children, a life by the sea to be enjoyed but hovering over all was Emma Smith’s war-damaged father. Emma Smith has retrieved those memories over seventy years later as if yesterday. It has to be a huge achievement to write a child’s voice memoir like this, without investing it with the wisdom and hindsight of adulthood. Even better not a hint of sliding down that slippery slope into Misery Memoir, a book you won’t want to end.

Kirsty of Other Stories choices

The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall (Faber, 2007)

This is one of my very favourite short story collections. If you’re not going away over the summer, then you can travel in your imagination with these stories. Never have I read a collection which spans so many places, times, ages, and backgrounds. Never have I read an author who is as comfortable writing in the dialect of a remote Scottish island as she is in the drawl of the southern states of America. In part, this might be one of the benefits of Wigfall’s life to date: according to the dust jacket, she grew up between London and California and now lives in Prague. A wonderful collection to dip in and out of throughout the summer.

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (Oxford World Classics, 2008 –originally published in 1863)

I always think that long summer holidays are the perfect time to lose yourself in a nice, fat Victorian novel and novels don’t come fatter than those of Anthony Trollope. However, this time I’ve plumped for one of his shorter efforts, Rachel Ray. Despite there being important and serious themes running through the novel – the political, religious, commercial, and class warfare that permeates a community – it is also a funny book. Many of the characters have that slight Dickensian caricature about them, and many have wonderfully evocative names that would in no way be out of place in a Dickens story: Mr Prong, Miss Pucker, Mr and Mrs Tappitt (the brewers), Rev Comfort. Rachel Ray is a book rich in descriptions, and rich in characterization. There are shades of grey in everyone; everyone has good and bad qualities (don’t we all?) and there is hardly a character that doesn’t evoke both sympathy and frustration at various points. This is a great introduction to Trollope’s work.

Kim of Reading Matters choices

The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle (Bloomsbury Classic Reads, 2004)

If you like your summer reads to be entertaining but also meaty, with plenty to chew over and keep you turning the pages, then TC Boyle’s 1996 novel will fit the bill perfectly. Set in California, it’s a tale of the haves and have nots. There are two view points throughout, told in alternate chapters, which reveal the contrasts between the protectionist middle classes who live with a fortress mentality and the poverty-stricken illegal immigrants (from Mexico) who struggle to put food on their plate on a day-to-day basis despite the obvious and abundant wealth around them. The subject matter sounds heavy, but Boyle has such a lightness of touch and such a wicked sense of humour, that amid the tears there’s also plenty of laughs, too. This is the type of book that stays with you long after you’ve reached the final page…

Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan (Allen & Unwin, 2009)

This exquisitely designed book will make you look tres cool by the swimming pool this summer – even if you don’t read it. However, the content is equally divine: think Parisian streetscapes, chocolate shops, Antiquarian bookshops, beautiful gardens and crumbling old houses in need of tender loving care. Oh, and babies. This is a gorgeous collection of interwoven short stories set in modern day Paris. There’s a fairy tale quality to the writing, which makes Valley of Grace seem like a light, frivolous read, but scratch the surface and there’s a lot going on here, about hope and children and the ties that bind us together. Delicious.

Simon of Savidge Reads choices

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Press, 2009 – originally published in 1956)

I know people always say that the summer months are for reading something lighter, something easier and many people might think Peyton Place is one such book because of its ‘trashy’ tag that it sadly gained. It’s not trash at all but an insightful, gossipy and most importantly of all well written novel about the goings on behind closed doors in a picturesque New England town. You will be gripped both by some of the dark storylines and their twists and turns but also by the wonderful characters. It’s pure escapism, but very well written escapism. Perfect for curtain twitcher’s or people watchers who want a little something salacious in the summer months and one that’s wonderfully written.

Mudbound – Hillary Jordan (Windmill Books, 2008)

It always amazes me that this book isn’t better known because it’s bloody marvellous! I am always a fan of authors who can take to a vast amount of places, through some unique characters and push you through several emotions all in a short space of time and with ‘Mudbound’ Hillary Jordan does that and more (I actually gasped and cried at this book I am unashamed to say). Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 we meet Henry and Laura McAllan take over a cotton farm, just as they are burying someone. Intrigued, you should be. What then follows is an epic (if you can have such a thing in 330ish pages) tale of war, slavery, racism and a love that shouldn’t be. This ticks all the boxes for a meatier summer read and will resonate with you long after, it’s a must read any season.

So there you have them! Will you be giving any of them a whirl? I have obviously read two of the list but other than that not a single on of them, though I do have one on the TBR (Claire Wigfall’s short stories) but several of the others are really taking my fancy ‘Valley of Grace’ and ‘The Last Secret of the Temple’ in particular. Have you already read any of them and if so what did you think? What did you make of my two choices? Let me know! Oh and a page for te NTTVBG Summer Selection 2010 will be live on the blog under NTTVBG as of tomorrow!

23 Comments

Filed under Not The TV Book Group

Those Summer Reads…

I mentioned on my bookish bits last week that I was planning on having a ‘Summer Reads Season’ and what time could be better than when I am away myself on a shortish summer break (longer one coming next month). Ahead this week you can expect to hear from publishers, authors and bloggers regarding favourite reads and what delights they have been saving for summer. The newspapers will be going crazy over this in a few weeks (I always read those seasonal lists) and so I thought ‘why don’t I too?’ But for today lets just look at summer reads as a genre shall we?

Two things made me think of what summer reading as a subject, if I did any – which I have now noted I do, for a post which then became a week long jaunt. One was a post Lija of A Writer’s Pet made which really got my mind whirring. The other was that I was already having to look at what books I had read that were my idea of a perfect summer read for something which launches tomorrow (I am shrouding it in mystery to build up the anticipation, ha) and I came up with this delectable eight of which I have had  to whittle down from.

I was going to list them but then the post might be never ending, if you want a list though let me know! Anyway, I never thought that I was someone who subscribed to the idea of summer reading; in fact I thought I read the same things all year round. When I looked into it though from what I read last year I noticed I do actually read a little seasonally. These books initially look like they have nothing in common but the more I thought about it the more as a group they sum up my summer mentality…

  • They are all well written and yet not hard or oppressive (crime doesn’t have to be dark just have some shades) nor are they froth
  • They each have big themes but never make them depressing
  • They have a slightly magical touch to them even if they aren’t surreal (it makes sense in my head to me if it doesn’t to anyone else)
  • They are books you could languish in no matter the genre
  • They are books you want to rave about to people
  • There is generally sunshine in them to my memory, be it the place, the season it’s written about or just a sort of jovial summery prose (even the war time ones)
  • They are literary yet punchy/paced too
  • None of them is trashy

Not all of them tick all those criteria but each one hits at least four or more… So I guess that must be my criteria for a good summer read from me. Weirdly I could probably sum up an autumnal gem for me far easier than I could a summer. I have also noticed that none of them are particularly long, even though one that looks like it might be.

Interestingly when I looked at what was on my current bedside it seems the ridiculously humid London heat of the last few weeks has started to have a summery effect on my reading subconscious already as I have these lined up and ready to go by the bedside.

I think they all fit with my summer bullet points don’t you? So do you read seasonally? What criteria can you list for me that you need from your summer reads? Don’t give any recommendations yet, save yourself for next week when it all goes recommendation mad! Hope you’re looking forward to it?

10 Comments

Filed under Book Thoughts

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious

I always think that it’s interesting to know where people of heard of the books they read and why they decided they should read them when they did. The latter of course can be harder to explain as sometimes the timing just seemed right. I initially had my interest piqued when I saw it mentioned on one of Dovegreyreader’s Endsleigh Salon posts and becoming smitten with the new Virago cover. When I then found out it was a tale of a town, its people and what goes on behind closed doors how could I not pick it up when I saw that very edition for £3 on Charing Cross Road (and again when I found a lovely battered copy of it and the sequel for 50p each the same week) late last year? It was also the book myself, Novel Insights and our friend Michelle chose to read for our reading retreat.

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

We follow and Indian Summer and join ‘Peyton Place’ and its folk in the autumn of 1937 and slowly but surely we are taken past its beautiful façade and through the closed, but never locked, front doors and firmly into the villagers lives – which of course means into all their secrets too. Upon its release in 1956, and indeed to a degree now, thinking that murder, incest, love that daren’t speak its name, rape, spying, abortion, child abuse and much more could go on behind the curtains (though again these never seem to be closed in Peyton Place, it would suggest something was amiss heaven forbid) in the house next to you was very shocking and the book deemed immoral.

All of this and more does indeed go on in Peyton Place and before you know it you a sucked into the town and all its gossip and goings on as if you live there. No easy job for any author yet Grace Metalious does it perfectly and with ease…

“By five o’clock of this same afternoon, the word had fallen on the ears of people who remembered Betty’s bruised face of the day before. It fell on the ears of Pauline Bryant, who was the sister of Esther Bryant who was the secretary to Leslie Harrington. Pauline, who worked as a clerk in Mudgett’s Hardware Store telephoned to Esther, and Esther, proud of being the only one who was really in the know, as she put it, gladly related the true story about Betty Anderson. That evening, the true story about Betty Anderson was served, along with the meat and potatoes, at every supper table in Peyton Place. Allison MacKenzie heard it from her mother, who used it as a sort of hammer with which to drive home her reasons for chastity in young girls.”

It also takes a rather great author to make a huge cast of characters not only real for the reader but human, be they good or bad, to the point that you really do care what happens to them. From the delights of true love to some more uncomfortable darker reading Metalious has you right there with them the whole way through, and what a cast of characters it is.

There are so many wonderful characters that I could write on and on about them, so I shall hone them down to a few favourites the good, the bad and the crazy. Norman Page and his overbearing slightly creepy mother, the bitter curtain twitching Page sisters Caroline and Charlotte, the crazy cat loving spinster Miss Hester Goodale, the almost too good to be true Dr Matthew Swaine and the rapacious and rogue Michael Kyros are just a few.

However, Selena Cross was my favourite, a determined young girl from the shacks who wants for a better life and who you root for the whole way through as she has some horrific storylines. Metalious seemed to want to make Allison MacKenzie the main focus of the book and I do wonder if that is because she is the character most like Metalious, a young girl in a small town with big ideas and dreams of being a writer but it was Selena who shone for me.

You may just have guessed by now that I thought this book was utterly brilliant. 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. In fact I am going to go as far as to say I may have found a new favourite book full stop. This should be a future classic, and you should all most definitely read it. 10/10

 So who out there has read Peyton Place too and what did you think? Has anyone seen the movie or the TV series? Who like me had never heard of it before? What other books, apart from the sequel to this, can you think of that manage to enthral you in a whole community and the lives of those in it? (I can only think of ‘Empire Falls’ by Richard Russo.) What other books which where scandalous at the time of printing have your read and thought should actually become great classics?

41 Comments

Filed under Books of 2010, Grace Metalious, Review, Virago Books