Tag Archives: Hear… Read This

Hear Read This is Back… And We Would Love You To Get Involved!

I hope all your turkey and trifle are settling down. I have to say I feel ridiculously full after two Christmas dinners and I have another coming on Wednesday with my mother. I may explode. Anyway, I thought I would pop a quick post up between reviews and my forthcoming best of 2015 lists to tell you the exciting news that the podcast Hear Read This is coming back very soon. First with an A Little Life special and then a new series in 2016. Hoorah.

Now if you are wondering what on earth I am talking about, firstly shame on you though you now had a backlog of podcast listening, let me explain. Many of you will know I host The Readers with Thomas, and before with Gavin, where we talk all sorts of book based banter every fortnight. Interspersed with that I also make the podcast You Wrote The Book where I interview an author (the latest one is with Michel Faber which the recording of was one of my highlights of the year, one of my fav authors – whose books I do not seem able to review – who was wonderful to spend time with) and chat about their books and the like for 25 minutes or so. On top of that once a month I have been known to join Rob and Kate of Adventures with Words along with Gavin to record Hear Read This; a podcast where four hosts discuss two books over one episode… well we used to.

We have had a break but have decided, after recording a very fun (for us anyway) Christmas special of Adventures with Words that we will be back in January with a bit of a twist for the return. Firstly we will only talk about one book a month; warts, spoilers and all. We shall still sing a books praise (A Month in the Country) or slate it from the roof tops (The Martian) or bicker and differ if the case demands it we will just go into it all in more detail. The other change is that each month we will each suggest a book and you get to vote for which one we read. Here are this months choices…

Which could possibly be my choice?

So which is it to be? Will it be some good old gothic with ghosts, apocalypses and more in Shirley Jackson’s The Sundial? A thrilling, dangerous and illicit love affair in Patricia Highsmith’s cult classic Carol? A collection of mythical beasts from all over the world in Gods, Memes and Monsters? Or will it be a world in where the Nazi’s won the war as envisioned by Philip K Dick with The Man in the Castle? You can choose by voting on the Hear Read This post here. And I would love, love, love you to vote – though I can’t tell you which one is my choice, though some of you may guess.

You have until the special A Little Life episode of Hear Read This with Rob and myself, where we come at the book from almost polar opposite opinions, which will go live soon. The winning title, along with how else you can be involved, will be announced on New Years Day, so you (and Rob, Kate, Gavin and I) can get spending your book vouchers asap and get reading! So which book is it to be?

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Filed under Hear... Read This, Podcasts

The Martian – Andy Weir

This post should really be called, why I hated The Martian so much I couldn’t finish it. In fact this shouldn’t really be called a review post as it is probably going to be a big old rant and as I said, I didn’t finish it. Anyway, are you ready? Here goes…

Ebury Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, bought by myself to troll myself with apparently

Imagine you are caught in a freak storm and you become lost from everyone you are on an expedition with, note – they have searched for you and think you are dead. Now imagine that this happens to be on Mars and your expedition have gone back to the nearest spaceship, which is headed back to earth and you can’t communicate with them anyway as your suit and communication kit was damaged in the storm. That is the position in which astronaut Mark Watney finds himself at the start of The Martian and this is what he thinks about it…

I’m pretty much fucked.
That’s my considered opinion.
Fucked.

Now I have to say that at the start of this book I was pretty keen on it and hooked. I had loved watching Gravity and I thought that James Smythe’s The Explorer was a bloody marvel and I am not known for my love of books set in space. So I had high hopes. As Mark starts to look at ways to survive, both using the kit he has and also his bodies natural matter and chemicals, I was initially fascinated and even laughed a lot (there was a lot of poo being used as manure to grow plants science, thats my kind of science) as it went on. Then I started to get really, really, really bored.

Firstly there was the science stuff. I was not very good at science at school, my step father who was initially my science teacher (work that one out) would say this is because I didn’t apply myself, I would say I am just not very interested in science. I’m still not, unless Mary Roach is writing about it. So whilst I tried to keep up with all that ‘survival on Mars science’, which I couldn’t tell you if was realistic or not let’s be honest, I just couldn’t. It became repetitive, dull and frankly (and indeed literally in one respect) up its own bottom. I just couldn’t penetrate the monotony of it, here is an early example…

I even beefed up the MAV fuel plant compressor. It was very technical (I increased the voltage to the pump.) So I’m making water even faster now.
After my initial burst of 50 liters, I decided to settle down and just make it at the rate I get O2. I’m not willing to go below a 25-liter reserve. So when I dip low, I stop dicking with hydrazine until I get the O2 back up to well above 25 liters.
Important note: When I say I make 50 liters of water, that’s an assumption. I didn’t reclaim 50 liters of water. The additional soil I’d filled the Hab with was extremely dry and greedily sucked up a lot of humidity. That’s where I want the water to go anyway, so I’m not worried, and I wasn’t surprised when the reclaimer didn’t get anywhere near 50 liters.
I get 10 liters of CO2 every fifteen hours now that I souped up the pump. I’ve done this process four times. My math tells me that, including the initial 50-liter bust, I should have added 130 liters of water to the system.
Well my maths was a damn liar!

I mean seriously, it’s really dull, really repetitive and really boring. You could say ‘Simon that is the point’ but if you did I might have to come and poke you in the eye. Even if it is boring or complex science, and even if Mark must do it over and over again there is no excuse to be boring, the aforementioned Mary Roach is never dull not once, she gets me to understand science by making it funny, a bit rude, interesting and exciting. However  Andy Weir is not Mary Roach, actually that’s not fair, Andy Weir’s narrator Mark is not Mary Roach. After a few chapters I realised Mark is actually a cocky, arrogant, self inflated twerp. I hated him and the science. Then it went downhill further for me when we joined the spaceship heading back to earth.

You see instead of having one utter self absorbed pain in the arse character, we soon have several. Mostly men, but I will go onto that shortly. These characters couldn’t run an ice cream van let alone a space ship, so the unbelievable fiction I could get lost in went beyond farce. Only to say that implies it is funny, like Mark himself thinks he’s funny with his hilariously lame asides, it isn’t funny. And when it tries to be it is painful and, yes that word again, dull. Let’s see an example of the kind of banter happening in space…

“Seventeen times,” Chuck said.
“Fourteen times,” Morris asserted.
“No, it’s seventeen. You forgot the amperage minimum for the haters to keep the—”
“Guys,” Venkat interrupted, “I get the idea.”
“Sorry.”
“Sorry.”
“Sorry if I’m grumpy,” Venkat said. “I got like two hours sleep last night.”
“No problem,” Morris said.
“Totally understandable,” Chuck said.
“Okay,”Venkat said. “Explain to me how a single windstorm removed our ability to talk to Ares 3.”
“Failure of imagination,” Chuck said.
“Totally didn’t see it coming,” Morris agreed.
“How many back up communications systems does an Ares mission have?” Venkat asked.
“Four,” Chuck said.
“Three,” Morris said.
“No, it’s four,” Chuck corrected.
“He said backup systems,” Morris insisted. “That means not including the primary system.”
“Oh right. Three.”
“So four systems in total, then,” Venkat said. “Explain how we lost all four.”

Now if you haven’t fallen asleep again and found that tedious to read, imagine how it was to have to type it all. I mean me, not the author. Please bear in mind that this was almost a page of the book where absolutely nothing happens, no real movement goes in the story and things are (ironically) once again repeated over and over and over. If only it was ironic enough to be funny, it’s just infuriating. There are endless pages like that, well how as endless as fifty pages can actually feel and I was getting more and more and more angry.

So why had I not stopped reading? Self trolling maybe, seeing how much I could take (I did the same with Fifty Shades of Grey) before my eye bled and I hurled the book across the room. Whatever it was I was utterly broken when they started to introduce women into the book and a whole level of misogyny was introduced as the female characters were. Girls are either clever and bland looking and not really paid much attention in the book, or they are astronauts wet dreams. I think at one point I read something along the lines of but you’re too pretty to be an astronaut. That was it, I was done and frankly utterly furious. I threw the book across the room and gave up.

So as you might guess I didn’t like The Martian very much, I thought it was utter bobbins if I am honest. I had such high hopes for it, especially after hearing all the right people loving it. Interestingly Gavin, Kate and Rob and I all read this for Hear Read This and we all hated it, yes even Gavin, you can hear us giving it a good bashing here. That said, I am also aware we are in a small minority, after all there is a multimillion pound movie being made with Matt Damon in it, so it must be good. I won’t be queuing to see it though. I will be reading the sequel to James Smythe’s The Explorer, called The Echo, instead. If you want a corking spaceship book please, please read that instead. There I’ve said it.

If you have read The Martian I would love to hear your thoughts be they the same as me or be they that you think I am a complete buffoon. Do let me know. I was the same with Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Book Store by Robin Sloan which almost everyone else in the world loved too.

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Filed under Andy Weir, Ebury Press, Review

The Rabbit Back Literature Society – Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen

Sometimes a book takes you completely unawares. You have no expectations with it at all and it beguiles and then completely charms the pants off you, or maybe that should be charms the dust jackets off you? This was the case with The Rabbit Back Literature Society, I had no real prior knowledge of it other than I wanted to read it, when Kate chose it for December’s edition of Hear Read This. My only real thought was that it might be about books, it is and brilliantly bonkers and bookish all the way through.

Pushkin Press, 2014, paperback, fiction, 345 pages, translated from Finnish by Lola M. Rogers, kindly sent by the publisher

I am going to do something that I never do with a book, I am going to steal the blurb from the back of The Rabbit Back Literature Society because I simply would not be able to sum it up any better and indeed would over complicate it and put you off if I tried. So here it is. Only very special people are chosen by children’s author Laura White to join ‘The Society’, an elite group of writers in the small town of Rabbit Back. Now a tenth member has been selected: Ella, literature teacher and possessor of beautifully curving lips. But soon Ella discovers that the Society is not what it seems. What is its mysterious ritual, ‘The Game’? What explains the strange disappearance that occurs at Laura’s winter party, in a whirlwind of snow? Why are the words inside books starting to rearrange themselves? Was there once another tenth member, before her? Slowly, disturbing secrets that had been buried come to light…

She wasn’t thrilled. Not at all.
She’d wanted to do literary-historical research that might bring to light a few smallish skeletons – secret relationships, homosexuality, that sort of thing. Pleasant little scandals. Murder victims weren’t the sort of thing she’d been hoping to dig up.
Amateur detectives in fiction always annoyed Ella. They were so unrealistic. She didn’t intend to be the Rabbit Back version of Miss Marple or a cheap Baker Street knock-off, and she really didn’t like the idea of making the tabloids. That was no way to advance an academic career.

I have to say I was completely charmed by The Rabbit Back Literature Society from the start. From the moment we first met Ella as she describes herself; academic, unable to have children, with good lips and something artistic in the colour of her nipples, I knew I was going to be reading something that didn’t really fit into a mold or genre, rather breaking out of it instead. That is the kind of book this is and as we follow Ella – as she tries to work out just what on earth is going on with this secret writers society, the strange changing books in the library and the mysterious society member who has vanished – we discover a book that straddles over all the genres and then straddles them all riding them like a crazy pony. It’s contagious, look what it is doing to me as I write about it. Some of you might be put off because of this, normally I would, yet it works.

The novel is a crime novel, there is a mystery, or indeed two, as it unravels. It is a fantasy novel, with the atmosphere that anything could happen in the land of Rabbit Back; people vanishing in a whirlwind of snow, gnomes in the gardens attacking the gardeners etc. It is a comedy, I have not laughed as loudly at a book in sometime, generally because the giggles are quite dirty flirty ones from the accidental pornographic advent calendars the local children get by mistake a few pages in, onwards. It is a gothic ghost story. It is also a sinister thriller that will have you turning the pages. At its heart though it is a beautifully written literary love letter to, well, literature.

The Rabbit Back Literature Society really celebrates everything there is about reading, writing, readers and authors. It looks at how important escapism is, at how everyone can read a book differently (even without the endings changing as they do here) and how we use stories to cope with difficult things, or tell ourselves/create stories to make things better. It looks at authors and shows how writing is in its own way a kind of magical power, yet at the same time these people are all just very ordinary and shouldn’t be treated as anything special, even if some of them think they should. It is really all about the power of stories and storytellers, and what those writers can do with their powers, be it the bad or be it the good. (This is where ‘The Game’ and ‘Spilling’ is so brilliant, but I won’t spoil it!) It is about the power of words really.

“Well… I might turn those curls of yours black and make you fatter or thinner by ten kilos or so, whatever comes to me. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll change one of your eyes, perhaps this left one, into a glass eye.”
The woman’s mouth dropped open. “Huh?”
Winter smiled.
“Or I might give you a wooden leg, or some kind of disease. How does syphilitic brain damage sound? Or maybe I’ll have you broken in two in an auto accident?”
She gave a shrill laugh. “You are truly awful!” she said. “I’m not telling you anything now, or I might end up in your next novel.”
Winter gave a slight bow.
“That is your right. It would no doubt put you in much less danger of being used. But I may never the less steal your way of moving, the expressions on your face! Perhaps I’ll even take that way you have of smiling with your mouth open, your little tongue peeking out now and then between your teeth to see what’s happening in the world. And those freckles that start on the bridge of your nose  and continue all the way down between your breasts, that’s a detail that might come in handy in a piece I am writing at the moment.”
The woman smiled, frightened. “You’ll eat me alive.”

I really, really, really enjoyed (and loved a little bit) The Rabbit Back Literature Society. It isn’t the perfect book, on occasion the book goes off on tangents it never comes back to in its weird and wonderful way yet I didn’t care because I just bloody loved reading every single page of it. If you could get an amalgamation of all the types of rollercoaster’s and then converted them into a book, I think you would get this one. It sounds an odd analogy I admit, I think it is one Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen would appreciate though. I really hope that Pushkin Press are planning on translating all his books and bringing them to many more readers.

For more of my thoughts along with Kate and Gavin (Rob was sick) you can hear the latest episode of Hear Read This here. Anyone else read The Rabbit Back Literature Society, if so what did you make of it? I have a feeling it could be a marmite book, though if you love books and everything booky I can’t see how you couldn’t love it.

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Filed under Books of 2014, Pasi Ilmari Jaaskelainen, Pushkin Press, Review

The Floating Admiral – The Detection Club

One of the big talks in recent months on a certain social media platform that I got involved with was about bloggers and how much positivity they put out there in the ether, though hardly a bad thing right? Yet interestingly I can see if I don’t write about books I don’t like then how will people know the full extent of my tastes. The problem then lies in the fact that generally I don’t finish or get very far with books I don’t like and so then just bin them off and carry on with something else, after all reading is all about enjoyment, or should be. There is one exception to this rule, book group books! And as I would probably have never chosen The Floating Admiral unless Gavin hadn’t chosen it for the latest episode of Hear Read This I ended up reading a book I didn’t like very much. Well, I utterly loathed it, yet somehow finished it, so thought I would share a gloves off moment with you all…

Harper Collins, 1931 (2011 edition), paperback, fiction, 336 pages (in tiny print), sadly bought by my good self

The Floating Admiral is a crime novel like many of its ilk written in the 1920’s and 1930’s. This should come as no surprise when you see that Agatha Christie, G.K. Chesterton, Dororthy L. Sayers and many more were part of The Detection Club who collaborated on novels such as this one, taking it in turns to write the chapters. In this tale the body of Admiral Penistone (try not to snigger as I did) is found having been stabbed and left in the vicar’s boat which has been set adrift, ideally to be undiscovered but of course getting found or there would be no mystery. Sure enough it is up to Inspector Rudge to solve the mystery, though with fourteen writers at the helm who can do what they want with the plot (as long as they have a solution to their twists, part of the Detection Club rules, more on later) good luck to him I say.

From the cover of the book, with a bloody boat on it (and you know how I feel about them), I have to say I was thinking of ways to murder Gavin for his choice. Saving grace though is that the boat is just a piece of evidence really and even the Admiral’s Navy past isn’t brought up to much. So I soon started to relax into the story and was reminded for a while of how much I enjoy the golden age of crime novels, I even smirked once or twice…

Everyone in Lingham knew old Neddy Ware, though he was not a native of the village, having only resided there for the last ten years; which, in the eyes of the older inhabitants who had spent the whole of your lives in that quiet spot, constituted him still a “stranger”.
Not that they really knew very much about him, for the old man was of a retiring disposition and had few cronies. What they did know was that he was a retired petty officer in the Royal Navy, subsisting his pension, that he was whole-heartedly devoted to the Waltonian craft, spending most of his time fishing in the River Whyn, and that, though he was of a peaceful disposition generally, he had a vocabulary of awful and blood-curdling, swear words if anyone upset him by interfering with his sport.

…Then I got so bored; so, so bored. This novel wasn’t even chundering along; it dragged itself rambling through several chapters. This was like a really bad/tedious/dull version of an Agatha Christie novel. Then thank heavens Agatha actually turns up for Chapter Four and it is like a breath of fresh air; it is wryly camp, she brings in a brilliant character which adds some gusto… and then she hurries away as fast as she can after 8 pages!

“Now,” he said with a twinkle; “I’m going to ask you a question.”
“Yes, sir?”
“Who is the biggest talker in Whynmouth?”
P.C Hempstead grinned in spite of himself.
“Mrs. Davis, sir who keeps the Lord Marshall. Nobody else can get a word in edgeways when she’s about.”
“One of that kind, is she?”
“Yes, indeed, sir.”
“ Well, that will just suit me. The Admiral was a new comer to the place. There’s always talk about a new comer. For ninety nine false rumours, there will be one true thing that somebody has noticed and observed. Attention had been focussed on Rundel Croft. I want to know just what has transpired in village gossip.”
“Then it’s Mrs Davis you want, sir.”

It then swiftly descends again and I found myself thinking ‘just hold out for Dorothy L Sayers, Simon, she is meant to be amazing.’ Amazing? Amazingly full of herself! Her chapter rambles on and on and on, compared to Agatha’s eight snappy pages Dorothy decides why go for eight when forty will do. It is relentless. I even tried to be charitable and say to myself ‘poor Dorothy, she’s been given some dross to work with and sort out’ still that dreary never ending chapter doesn’t read well. She’s a pro so I feared for what followed and I was right to.

The whole idea behind The Floating Admiral was supposedly a fun exercise for the authors involved to test themselves and just be creative, sworn over a skull or some such delightful gothic ritual. It becomes a case of showing off and one-upmanship. Take the chapters after Agatha; John Rhode decides that Inspector Rudge Begins to Form a Theory, then clearly not happy with this at all Milward Kennedy decides that in the following chapter Inspector Rudge Thinks Better Of It. And I almost wept as after Dororthy had finished her smug tirade Ronald A. Knox decides to go over the whole case again with Thirty-Nine Articles of Doubt where basically, possibly out of confusion or more likely one-upmanship, he decides to go over the whole case again from the beginning and see what can be worked out. By then there was so little left I felt I had to get to the final chapter, ironically called Clearing Up The Mess, where upon I wish I hadn’t bloody bothered. I can’t think why we have hardly heard of most of these authors can you?

There was one small glimmer of hope, though this shows how bad it got for me; the Appendices’ were quite good, sort of. You see as I mentioned before each author had to give their solution to explain why they had done what they had. As you read them you can see how the writers were writing and plotting and twisting and that is quite interesting. I say quite because one of two of them (yes you Dorothy) decide they need to show how clever they are by almost writing the rest of the book word for word. Here the star of the show shines through again, Agatha Christie’s solution is brilliant (it involves cross-dressing) and frankly should have been a book, and in fact I am hoping it is actually the plot of one of hers I have yet to read.

You could say that The Floating Admiral really just isn’t a book for me. I would go further and say it is possibly one of the most tedious crime novels I have ever read/endured. I will not be reading another; I may also now never read Dorothy L. Sayers unless someone does some serious convincing. I would rather just read Agatha; you can see why she was Queen of Crime at the time.

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Filed under Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Harper Collins, Review, The Detection Club

Rounding Up The Reviews #4; A Bumper Crop of Book Reviews Before 2014 Ends

So in an effort to combat my blog OCD panic, I like to have reviewed everything I have read in a year and start a year a fresh, and a backlog of reviews I thought I’d do a round up of some of the books – there are more to come – that I have read and wanted to share thoughts with you about – be they good, bad or indifferent. So no waffle, just some quick(ish) book reviews today…

Scoop – Evelyn Waugh

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1938 (2000 edition), fiction, 240 pages, bought by my good self

I like Evelyn Waugh a lot and had heard marvellous things about Scoop from all the right people, so it had been on my ‘to read at some point’ list for quite some time when Rob chose it as a classic choice for Hear Read This! a few months ago. Sadly I really, really, really didn’t like it. The tale is one of mistaken identity as William Boot, who usually writes about things such as badgers and crested grebes, is sent in place of another journalist named Boot to the African state of Ishmaelia where he is to report for The Beat on a ‘very promising little war’.

By rights this book should have been completely up my street, a satire on the industry that I worked for (and hasn’t changed) for quite some time by an author I loved. I just found it deeply dated, rather boring, nothing new and actually a little bit (to put it mildly, I hate the excuse ‘of it’s time’) racist frankly. There were a few moments that I almost enjoyed but generally I was bored and couldn’t wait for it to be over. You can hear my thoughts along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Nights at the Circus – Angela Carter

Vintage Classics, paperback, 1984 (1998 edition), fiction, 368 pages, inherited from Granny Savidge

I have an interesting relationship with Carter’s writing, I either think it is utterly magical and wonderful or I just think it is rather bonkers verging on silly. Sophie Fevvers is famous around the world for supposedly being either part swan, with her amazing wings, or an utter fraud. Jack Waltzer, journalist, goes to interview her and find out not realising he is about to follow Sophie on quite the journey between nineteenth-century London, St Petersberg and Siberia. I found Nights at the Circus (again another book I have been meaning to read for ages and then my old book group chose it) to be a mixture of the two the whole way through, a romp I enjoyed yet occasionally didn’t get or felt went a bit too far magically and plot wise – what was Carter on?

Overall I enjoyed it immensely for its camp bonkers moments and gothic turns and eventually succumbed to its madness. Yet having finished it, I realised I didn’t have that much to say about it, I just enjoyed it overall which makes it sound more of a damp squib than I mean it to. I felt it should be a collection of short stories about Sophie rather than an adventure with her, if that makes sense? I think I wanted something like her fairy tales and didn’t get it; maybe I need to read it again?

Wind Sand and Stars – Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1939 (2000 edition), memoir, 144 pages, borrowed from the library

Like me, you may not know Saint-Exupery for anything other than The Little Prince and not for his stories, both fiction and none, of pilots and airborne adventures. Wind Sand and Stars is a nonfiction set of accounts of some of his flights from when he started in 1926 until and just passed the time in 1936 when he crashed in the desert and somehow survived. I have to say the idea of a book about planes excites me about as much, well maybe a bit more, as a book about boats BUT having loved Julian Barnes Levels of Life and its tales of ballooning and grief I was up for something new.

On one level, pun not intended, Wind Sand and Stars is a tale of one man and his first exciting, and often death defying, trips into the air. Now I don’t like flying but I could completely understand, through his writing, how Antoine became addicted. The descriptions of the freedom and the awe it gives is rather contagious. I also found the story of the crash to be a genuinely terrifying then thrilling reading experience. Yes, there’s a but coming. The problem with the book is that it takes on this almost meta meets philosophical tone which becomes rather preachy/smug and a bit annoying, so apart from the beginning and the drama I found the book a bit ‘meh’. I wanted to like it more, honest. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

Cold Hand in Mine – Robert Aickman

Faber & Faber, paperback, 1975 (2014 edition), short stories, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I received all of Aickman’s reissued collections unsolicited from Faber & Faber earlier in the year and thought ‘ooh these sound weird and wonderful’ and so thought they would be interesting to bring to the table for a classic choice on Hear Read This! (I know most of the books we do on there end up in round up review posts) as something different. As you will see in the next week or so 2014 has been the year of rediscovering the short story for me and so it ticked that box too being a collection of self proclaimed ‘strange stories’.

Well strange indeed they are but almost too strange. I like a ghost story, a horror story, urban legend, twisted fairy tale or just piece of bizarreness if it has a point/plot/thrill to it. All Aickman’s tales in this collection rather let me down, even the ones I rather loved like the almost-but-not-quite brilliant The Hospice, because the endings all let them down. Sadly in actuality sometimes the bonkers premise/middle (The Real Road to the Church, Niemandswasser, The Clockwatcher) just didn’t make sense and lacked punch. I felt like Aickman wanted to always be more clever, tricksy or just weird than the reader but in a way that made him feel better and doesn’t actually do anything for the reader. Each tale left me feeling cheated. Gav said this is the weird genre, I think maybe it is just not the genre for me. Glad I can say I have read them, unsure if I will read anymore unless one of you convinces me. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Poisoning Angel – Jean Teule

Gallic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 240 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I love Jean Teule’s writing and so chose The Poisoning Angel for Hear Read This! as I thought a darkly funny book in translation would be something different. Like the brilliant, but very dark and gory Eat Him If You Like, this is based on a true story – the case of Helene Jegado who became one of the most notorious prisoners of her time and indeed in French history, we follow her journey from the time she poisons her mother…

Unlike Rob, Kate and Gavin, I really enjoyed this book. I laughed the whole way through, which I think you are meant to do, as Helene just wanders around the countryside for a few decades killing people off, not being caught by the police and no one thinking the better or inviting her in. That isn’t a complete spoiler, you know that from the blurb. There isn’t masses more to say about the book other than give it a whirl! You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

The Hypnotist – Lars Kepler

Blue Door Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 624 pages, from my own personal TBR

I read this while I was off in the authors; there are actually two of them, homeland of Sweden between two of the Camilla Lackberg novels – I truly was on a cold crime binge. It is a hard book to explain so I am stealing the blurb “Detective Inspector Joona Linna is faced with a boy who witnessed the gruesome murder of his family. He’s suffered more than one hundred knife wounds and is comatose with shock. Linna’s running out of time. The killer’s on the run and, seemingly, there are no clues. Desperate for information, Linna enlists disgraced specialist Dr Erik Maria Bark, a hypnotist who vowed never to practice again. As the hypnosis begins, a long and terrifying chain of events unfurls with reverberations far beyond Linna’s case.” This sounded just my kind of thing.

Now it is quite a doorstopper but as it started I was racing through the book. A creepy child, a scary serial killer, some hypnotism what wasn’t to love? Then I started to get, not bored exactly, a little jaded with it. You see I love a twisty book like Gone Girl or the even better (seriously) Alex and this felt like one of those initially, in fact more like Alex as it’s really quite nasty. Then the twists started to get too much, I started to get confused and lose belief in the story as I went on. I think the best crime authors have the generosity to make the reader feel clever and twist them at just the right times whilst spinning a true spiders web, this began to feel a bit like the authors were being too clever – Aickman syndrome, see above. It was a page turner, it was clever, it was twisty… It just didn’t quite get me along for the whole whirlwind ride.

Orfeo – Richard Powers

Atlantic Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have left my thoughts on this one till last as it is the only book in this selection I didn’t finish and actually threw at a wall. I admit it started off very, very well. I liked the idea of a lonely composer calling the police when his dog dies, them discovering his home made science lab and thinking he might be a terrorist. A bit farfetched maybe, but fun. Then the writing bowled me over, I have never seen music written about so brilliantly.

The notes float and rise. They turn speech as pointless as a radio ventriloquist. Light and darkness splash over Peter at each chord change, thrill with no middleman. The pitches topple forward; they fall beat by beat into their followers, obeying an inner logic, dark and beautiful.
Another milky, troubled chord twists the boy’s belly. Several promising paths lead forward into unknown notes. But of all possible branches, the melody goes strange. One surprise leap prickles Peter’s skin. Welts bloom on his forearms. His tiny manhood stiffens with inchoate desire.
The drunken angel band sets out on a harder song. These new chords are like the woods on the hill near Peter’s grandmother’s, where his father once took them sledding. Step by step the singers stumble forward in a thicket of tangled harmonies.

So why did I throw it at the wall? Two reasons. Firstly, the writing about music is incredible… the first, second and even possibly the third time. Powers soon becomes a one trick pony as he carts this trick out over and over and over, there is almost a lyrical comparative sentence in every paragraph at one point. Clever becomes too clever and smug a theme with some of this selection of books! Secondly, remember I mentioned the farcical element, again went too far and made the story of Peter’s past seem all at odds with itself and slightly clichéd and done before. You can hear my thoughts in more detail along with Kate, Rob and Gavin here.

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So there we are the last round up of the year, well if you exclude a small catch up of books I don’t want to spoil which I will post in the next week or so! Have you read any of these books? If so what did you think of them? Would you recommend any other books by these authors?

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Filed under Angela Carter, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Atlantic Books, Blue Door Books, Book Thoughts, Evelyn Waugh, Faber & Faber, Gallic Books, Lars Kepler, Penguin Classics, Review, Richard Powers, Robert Aickman, Rounding Up The Reviews, Vintage Classics

The Year of the Ladybird – Graham Joyce

Happy Halloween to you all. I mentioned yesterday that this is one of my favourite days of the year and most of you will know I love a good chilling and creepy tale. One of the most recent spooky tales that I have read is The Year of the Ladybird, even subtitled ‘a ghost story’, by Graham Joyce. Many of you will know that sadly Graham Joyce passed away last month which was so sad to hear, especially at the mere age of 59 and because he is such a wonderful writer and storyteller. It was Gav who decided that for his choice for Hear Read This we would read his final novel, one which he had discussed with us on The Readers when we interviewed him about the amazing Some Kind of Fairy Tale and which I bought as soon as it came out in paperback.

Gollancz books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 265 pages, bought by my good self

It is the summer of 1976 and a heat wave has hit Britain, the hottest since records began. David, a young man who wants to go and find out more about the world, takes a break from his studies to become one of the staff at a holiday camp beside the sea and sands. David has decided that this first taste of true freedom away from the world of his mother and step father will be a big adventure. Yet as he gets to know the people behind the smiling ‘employee’ faces of the holiday park he soon discovers a much darker side to their characters and the society of the day. He also becomes aware of a man and young boy who seem to be following him, yet who can disappear without a trace.

I was an Alice in Wonderland. It was a world I knew nothing of, hyper-real, inflated, one where the colours seemed brighter, vivid, intense. I was excited to be working there, being part of it, but the truth is I felt anxious, too. It wasn’t just about being an outsider, it was the strangeness of it all. Many of the staff I met were odd fish. I had a crazy idea that they all had large heads and small bodies, like caricature figures on an old-style cigarette card.

With The Year of the Ladybird Graham Joyce was an absolute master of tension and an ominous atmosphere. Holiday camps are of course places of fun for all the family. You have the sand castle competitions, the donkey rides, the camp and ridiculous games and shows. Joyce marvellously gives all these things a sense of menace be it with an act of violence at the end of a singers act, be it the little looks certain staff members give each other, or be it an incident with the donkeys that goes from being very funny to something bordering on animal cruelty. Everything that is glitz, glamour and fun has its own rotten underside. Even ladybirds can become small monsters when arriving on mass. Every bit of beauty, glitz, glamour and camp has its rotten underside. Like the heat the tension crackles through it.

What also adds to the tension is our protagonist and his general naivety. David is a young man who is excited and almost overawed by all he sees and those he meets. There is quite a cast of characters at this holiday camp and almost every one of them has a darkness about them be it Tony and his illusions and control, the grumpy Dot running the uniforms who almost enjoys giving you the wrong size, the all too camp and nice to be true Luca or Nobby who lets say lives up to his name. David’s actions are also occasionally unwise, and not always moralistic, even if accidental. Firstly he falls head over heels from the woman that he really shouldn’t. Terri is the wife of the over bearing and brutal Colin, should you talk to him the wrong way, let alone look at his wife, and you might find yourself in more trouble (and possible pain) than you could bargain for. In his keenness to get to know Terri, David sort of befriends Colin accidentally and it is through this friendship that another tension arises as Colin takes him on a day out which ends up in a meeting of the National Front (which I am amazed is still going) and shows him some of the darkest and most unnerving side of society and politics. I was chilled before we had even got to the actual ghost of the tale.

It was the man in the blue suit I’d seen on the day of the sandcastle competition. He was hugging a child – presumably the boy I’d seen. Maybe the blue suit was made of some synthetic material because its threads caught in the sun’s rays and darted light. He had a rope coiled over his shoulder.
But then the sun darkened and I felt dizzy. My breath came short. I heard a groan way off – way out to sea and I felt an uncomfortable panic, triggered by something very old shifting deep inside me. I looked up. The man and the boy had turned to look at me, perhaps because I was acting oddly. But their faces were in the shadow. It made no sense. They were turned full on to the sun, but their faces were grey flat and smooth like beach pebbles, almost in silhouette. Even though their faces were indistinct, they peered back at me with suspicion, as if I had somehow meant to harm them. I felt a wave of revulsion. My teeth chattered.

Any of you who read this blog regularly will know I love a ghost story yet I am very picky about them. I have read many a novel where I have been thoroughly creeped out throughout until the ghost reveals itself and I think ‘really, that was what was scaring me?’ and being let down by the ghoul/demon/monster. I have to admit that I didn’t feel particularly chilled by the ghost of the man in the blue suit, which of course inspires the American title of The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, more puzzled and intrigued by who he and the little boy were. Without giving anything away, I liked the eventual reveal (even if I sort of guessed it, being a guesser) and the story that it told. Once you have read it, which you should, you will know what I mean. The same happened with the ladybirds, I was intrigued by the phenomenon of this plague of cute insects but not left as scared or freaked out by it as I was expecting.

Yet I don’t really think that is where Joyce wants us to be chilled and creeped out. As with Some Kind of Fairy Tale, the chilling moments happen where you might not expect them. For me personally it was the sections involving the National Front that I found to be the most chilling parts of The Year of the Ladybird. Firstly there is the fact that from a historical context this was a ‘political party’ of neo-Nazi’s who started to do well in the local elections when the big parties were leaving people feeling disillusioned. They thrived by spreading a campaign of fear and bullying and even horrific acts of violent protest. This is all the more chilling as currently here in the UK we have a party doing that, without the violence, and then worldwide we have ISIS and other terrorist groups who create a world of fear. Joyce looks at their motives and also their attitudes which makes for some uncomfortable reading in all sorts of ways.

The Year of the Ladybird may not be a conventional ghost story, in fact to me it is more a case of a story about the darker aspects of humans with a ghost in it. It is a tale of the fear that we humans can create in bullying and violence and how some people can be irrationally afraid as what they see as different or wrong and what that fear within them can do. For once the blurb on the back of the book didn’t lie when it said ‘this is a novel that transcends the boundaries between the everyday and the supernatural while celebrating the power of both.’ It is also a book that looks at the darkest of shadows in the world, even on the sunniest days of the most humid heat wave.

If you would like to hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gav talking about the book in even more detail, and also getting all their views on it, check out this episode of Hear Read This! If you would like to hear myself and Gavin interviewing Graham almost two years ago and discussing the wonderful, wonderful Some Kind of Fairy Tale you can do so here. Graham Joyce will be much missed and I cannot help think of all the wonderful stories he had still to tell, though fortunately (in a slightly odd way) I still have most of his works to go back through. Who else has read The Year of the Ladybird, or indeed The Ghost in the Electric Blue Suit, and what did you make of it? Which other of Graham’s novels would you recommend I head to next? What have you been reading this Halloween?

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Filed under Gollancz Publishing, Graham Joyce, Review

Rounding Up The Reviews #3; Fairytales, Maids Versions, Resurrections and Sex Criminals

As you will have seen already this week, but this is the last one, both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year starting a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Some of them might be perfectly fine reads, I just don’t have that much to say about them and that happens from time to time for no rhyme or reason. So here are the final four for a while and indeed before Savidge Reads turns a corner next week.

The Complete Short Stories – Oscar Wilde

Oxford University Press, paperback, 2010 edition, fiction, 228 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Oscar Wilde and me have a funny old relationship. I think his quotes are the height of wit yet his works tend to really divide me. I either think they are utter genius or not really that good. The Picture of Dorian Grey is on prime example as there is so much that is gothic about it and so much about attitudes and the theme of fighting for youth and beauty, yet occasionally I found it really boring and it is only short.

Possibly sacrilegious I know yet the same can be said for his short stories in this collection – well this complete selection. Some of them (Lord Arthur Saville’s Crime, The Nightingale and the Rose and the famous Happy Prince) are utterly brilliant, some (The Canterville Ghost) are okay and the others are a little bit, dare I say it, forgettable. Yet short story collections are tricky minxes because how you read them can really make or break them. I was reading these for Hear… Read This and possibly slightly more last minute and like a novel, rather than reading them over a period of time. That said dragging some of them out would still have caused problems. I have kept the collection though as some I will turn to again and again – mainly the three I named at the start.

The Maid’s Version – Daniel Woodrell

Sceptre, paperback, 2014, fiction, 176 pages, bought by my good self

In 1929, an explosion in a Missouri dance hall killed forty-two people. Who was to blame? Mobsters from St Louis? Embittered gypsies? The preacher who cursed the waltzing couples for their sins? Or could it just have been a colossal accident? Alma Dunahew, whose scandalous younger sister was among the dead, believes the answer lies in a dangerous love affair, but no one will listen to a maid from the wrong side of the tracks. It is only decades later that her grandson hears her version of events – and must decide if it is the right one.

How brilliant does that story sound? I was really excited about reading this novella after Kate chose it for Hear… Read This and sadly I came away really disappointed. The explosion happens very early on in the novel which would kill some books because why would you read on, some authors though make you want to. Woodrell sort of does. The problem is he shows too much too soon. The explosion happens, an affair starts before it (the book doesn’t go backwards, more hops about all over the shop) then we get some wonderful emotive short pieces about some of the victims and… and… then it sort of lost my interest. I felt, if I am being honest and that is what I will always be even if it’s harder when it is negative (The Beard would say I have no problem with this in real life), here Woodrell is trying so hard to write a novella unlike anyone has written before he couldn’t live up to his own desire. It’s a mish mash of voices and characters and chronological set pieces, yet not in an exciting way.

Resurrection – Wolf Haas                                                                                                                                                   

Melville House, paperback, 2014, fiction, 184 pages, bought by my good self

When Inspector Simon Brenner leaves the police force, he’s looking forward to some peace and quiet, and the lovely Alpine village of Zell seems like just the place. That is, until the corpses of an American couple are found frozen on a ski lift, and Brenner, doing some part time work for an insurance company, is called in to investigate the matter. It turns out that the victims have relatives in the area and the crime – if it is a crime – seems like it could be a family affair. Except the prime suspect has a solid alibi and no one in picture-perfect Zell is talking. (Stealing blurbs is so the way forward with these round up reviews, I waffle too much.)

Now this book was a really interesting reading experience and I am very much glad I read it even though I didn’t really like it overall. Some bits were brilliant, some bits were bonkers and some bits didn’t make any sense. I can definitely say it is a new form of cold crime novel, yet whether it will work for you or not is another thing. The omnipresent narrator is very unsettling, then funny, then baffling, talks in riddles and then suddenly seems to clarify towards the end. The humour flits between light, dark and then slightly inappropriate. The plot is fairly good, when it makes sense at the end, and there is a tour de force scene in a petrol station I will never forget. A real mixed bag, yet reading that back I feel intrigued and want to try it again. Maybe instead I will try his next in the series? Oh and before I move on, corking author name.

Sex Criminals – Matt Fraction & Chip Zdarsky

Image Comics, paperback, 2014, graphic novel, 128 pages, bought by my good self

Another recommendation from Rob, actually Resurrection was one of his choices for Hear… Read This where he also mentioned this title. Imagine if every time you reached a peak of sexual climax (yes it does feel awkward typing that and knowing you are all going to read those words) time stopped for everyone else, literally, until you thought about sex again. Imagine then you find someone else who can make the same thing happen? You could cause all sorts of mayhem, or rob banks to save a library. We would all do the latter as book lovers wouldn’t we? Well this is the premise of the comic/graphic novellas which make up the first volume of Sex Criminals, only something is chasing our heroes to stop them.

From its bookish and titillating (did they give that word its name on purpose?) premise I had to give it a whirl after Rob mentioned it. I was titillated (that word again) and loved the way the hero’s wanted to save a library so it ticked all the right boxes for me. I can’t say I was fully lost in the world as this did seem more of a comic than a graphic novel – if I have horrified comic and graphic novel fans saying that I am so sorry – as it did feel it was slightly more 2D than some graphic novels I have read. If you fancy some escapism and a bit of a bookish naughty giggle then definitely give it a whirl.

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So that is the final review round up for a while, have you enjoyed them? Do you want me to keep doing them now and again or would you rather I binned them off? Which of these titles have you read and what did you make of them? Have you had any books that you didn’t love but regardless are really glad you read and if so what were they? Who has accidentally arrived here because of the ‘sex criminal’ Google alert?

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Filed under Chip Zdarsky, Daniel Woodrell, Matt Fraction, Oscar Wilde, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Wolf Haas

Rounding Up The Reviews #2; Drivers Seats, Seas of Stories, Days of Deer and Wavewalkers

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would round up some of books I have failed to review so far this year and start a new occasional series of posts where I give you a more succinct selection of books you might want to need. The good, the bad and the ugly! Before you think that they are all just going to be books I didn’t really like I can say that two of these books I really liked a lot. Such a tease, anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let’s get on with it…

The Driver’s Seat – Muriel Spark

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1970 (2006 edition), fiction, 128 pages, bought by my good self

You know I love Muriel Spark, I know I love Muriel Spark so why would I put her in a round up post? Well my lovelies it is because I have read this book before and told you all about it then. But should you not be in the mood to pop and check that link, which would be frightfully mean of you, I will give you a little summary. I loved it as much as I did the first time.

Oh ok, that isn’t quite enough. Lise has pretty much lived the same day of her life every day for the last sixteen years. Yet she has decided to change all that by going away on holiday and leaving everything behind, in short she is going to transform herself and yet the transformation might not be the sort of thing we would go in for. As we follow her story though we soon learn that the adventure and journey Lise has in mind might not be the sort of thing we would go for either! It has been called a dark nasty little book; I think it is a dark little work of genius. Read it, then read it again. You can hear it discussed further here but beware of spoilers!

Haroun and the Sea of Stories – Salman Rushdie

Penguin Books, paperback, 1991, fiction, 224 pages, borrowed from the library

When Haroun’s mother leaves him and his father for her lover, who happens to be their neighbour (which I found all a bit grown up for a kids book but clearly I am a prude) everything changes. Not only for the family and the loss of a mother and wife but also as Haroun’s father changes almost overnight. Before his wife left he was one of the most witty and charming people around who made his living as a story teller, the Shah of Blah. Now the stories are gone and when he opens his mouth all that comes out of it is ‘Ark, ark, ark…’ Haroun must find the sea of stories and save them all. Which sounds very grand but is the purpose of the adventure that follows.

I think if I had read this when I was about 10 or 11 I would have looooooved it. As it was I kind of liked it. I think the problem really is me. I I like magical realism in general but for some reason in a kids book magic just tends to get a bit silly for me (with the exception of Mildred Hubble and Harry Potter) and it breaks the spell, pun intended. I had tried Rushdie’s other young adult/childrens book Luka and the Fire of Life and had the same issues there but Rob chose it for for Hear… Read This, so I blame him as I wouldn’t have read it otherwise, ha! It has made me want to read Rushdie’s adult works again though, not a complete loss for me, and many of you will love it – in fact on Hear… Read This most of them did.

The Days of The Deer – Liliana Bodoc

Corvus Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is known that the strangers will sail from some part of the Ancient Lands and will cross the Yentru Sea. All our predictions and sacred books clearly say the same thing. The rest is all shadows. Shadows that prevent us from seeing the faces of those who are coming. In the House of Stars, the Astronomers of the Open Air read contradictory omens. A fleet is coming to the shores of the Remote Realm. But are these the long-awaited Northmen, returned triumphant from the war in the Ancient Lands? Or the emissaries of the Son of Death come to wage a last battle against life itself? From every village of the seven tribes, a representative is called to a Great Council. One representative will not survive the journey. Some will be willing to sacrifice their lives, others their people, but one thing is certain: the era of light is at an end.

No I didn’t write that, Waterstones did. I had the most weird reading experience with this book. Firstly the writing style is at once completely wooden and clunky, though this may be the translation. Secondly, the author doesn’t feel like she is in control and as she goes will invent some magical/fantastical happenstance or monster or something to keep it all going. Thirdly, I don’t think she knows where its going. Fourthly, it is fantasy and I am not renowned for liking that genre. Well I read it. I just got on with it, I didn’t understand much of it, I didn’t really like it but oddly I was completely unoffended by it. I just read it, without rhyme, reason or any real reaction. It was a really odd experience, pure inoffensive nonchalance. Have any of you had that? Oh and if you can’t take my word for it even Gav, of Gav Reads, who chose it for Hear… Read This wasn’t a fan.

Wavewalker – Stella Duffy

Serpents Tail, paperback, 1996, fiction, 261 pages, bought by my good self

As with Muriel; you know I love Stella’s writing, I know I love Stella’s writing, so why pop it in a round up post. Well the honest answer is I just guzzled this down, like a chocolate bar you devour and enjoy but should have maybe let the flavour of linger longer. (This is by the way highly flattering; I never joke about great chocolate or great books or waste them.) To carry that analogy further and possibly to its limit, it is like when you finish inhaling a Crunchie (or Violet Crumble if you will) and you just loved it so much you just want another one. Well I have held off reading the bext Saz Martin because I should have dwelt on this one longer. I am pacing myself with her recently published short story collection at the moment.

To give you a brief synopsis, the second in the Saz Martin series (the first Calendar Girl, which I shockingly read six years ago, I also really recommend) sees Saz investigating a new craze therapy that has come over from America, San Francisco to be precise, employed by the mysterious Wavewalker who thinks Dr North’s practice may link with a cult group and an unusual spate of suicides in the seventies. As I mentioned I just ate this book up. It has great plotting, Saz Martin is a brilliant quirky lead character and there is quite a lot of lesbian sex to titillate you, pun not intended, as you read on. I am seeing Stella tonight and she may kill me for that, ha! All in all it is a great thriller and I would love Stella to bring Saz back!

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So that is your lot for now, one more round up on Saturday when we have a right old mix from Fairytales to Sex Criminals. If that doesn’t tempt you back nothing will. In the interim do let me know if you have read any of these and what you made of them! Also let me know if you have ever had the same instance as I did with The Days of the Deer where a book just leaves you utterly nonchalant, not good, not bad, just nonchalant.

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Filed under Liliana Bodoc, Muriel Spark, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews, Salman Rushdie, Stella Duffy

Rounding Up The Reviews #1; Graves, Shadows, Peacocks and Raindrops

Both in preparation and as a teaser for the change in Savidge Reads next week, I thought I would start a new occasional series of posts (occasional is such a lazy sounding word isn’t it, I have never understood what an occasional table is when it’s not being a table, sorry I digress) where I round up the books that be they good, bad or ugly I can’t quite get an 800+ post out of or, in some cases, don’t deserve such efforts. Yes that is right, finally after almost seven years blogging I am going to start telling you about some of the books that I have read which were average, bad or even downright awful. So I don’t come across a complete old grump there will also be some very good books in the mix, I might just not have oodles to say about them. We all have books like that don’t we? Anyway, I am in danger of falling into my usual waffle territory so let us start with the first four victims books…

Three Graves Full – Jamie Mason

ONE Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 336 pages, bought by my good self

Jason Getty has killed a man and buried him in his garden. This haunts him daily, but even more so when he has the gardeners in landscaping his lawn because he is so paranoid that someone might suspect from its unkempt state that he has buried someone there. What he, and the gardeners, are soon shocked to discover is that there are actually two other bodies buried in the Jason’s garden. If he didn’t kill them who did? And just who on earth are they? The farce begins…

I use the word farce above because in essence this is not a dark crime, it is not a cosy crime, I think it is trying to be a comic crime. From the synopsis I was sold and had no doubt that this would easily be in my top ten books of the year, alas I didn’t really like it. When the police detectives’ dog started to talk to itself a la Lassie and I was surprised and quite interested I knew all was lost – I don’t like talking animals in books, you know this. The book starts off with too much going on, confusion not being a good move early on in a book with too many characters introduced and random back stories. Then as it petered out, before going AWOL again later, I just coasted along with it. Sorry. Great idea just not crafted in a way that worked for me. You can hear me talking about it here.

Dreams and Shadows – C. Robert Cargill

Gollancz Books, paperback, 2014, fiction, 416 pages, bought by my good self

Now you will have to bear with me on this one. Ewan is kidnapped when he is a young boy by some fairies who swap him for one of theirs, who drives its new mother to suicide. He is brought up as one of their own but it isn’t done for the love, there is a purpose – which I am obviously not going to tell you for spoilers sake and some of you will love this. Meanwhile a young boy Colby meets a Djinn in the woods Ewan has been stolen into, who grants him a wish (because he has to, he’s a Djinn) to see all things supernatural, which is actually more of a curse. Lovely so far isn’t it? Well it gets lovelier as Ewan and Colby meet and become friends. But, yes you guessed it there is a but, when Colby discovers Ewan’s fate he uses his new powers unselfishly and not only does this backfire, pretty much opening hell, but Ewan is rescued but ends up in care, rather disturbed and not in a good way to start out his life… And that is pretty much just the start; after all I did say hell is unleashed.

I loved the first half of this book. Cargill interweaves Ewan and Colby’s tales with snippets from Folklore Encyclopaedia’s and has some wonderful urban legends and spooky/grim stories interweaved. The second half of the book, and this will sound bonkers coming from me, almost gets too real and bogged down in the miseries of the real world and soon enough I lost interest. Liked the writing, would have preferred a tale firmly set in the ‘other’ or collection of spooky and horrific tales set in the now, for some reason this didn’t quite master either. You can hear me talking more about it here.

Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock – Matthew Quick

Headline Publishing, paperback, 2014, fiction, 288 pages, borrowed from the library

Right! The gloves are coming off with this one. There are some authors who everyone loves and who can clearly write brilliantly but I just don’t get. David Mitchell, Jennifer Egan, Martin Amis, etc. Then there are those authors who loads and loads of people love who can either write okay or badly or write in a way that makes me want to scream. Matthew Quick has become one of those. I read The Silver Linings Playbook and unlike everyone else not only did I get bored of my own eyes rolling as I read it I also questioned how Quick writes about people with mental health issues. It felt like the joke was on them and he was off running to the bank on the proceeds.

Well, for me at least, he has done it again with Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock… Only this time it is at the expense of any teenager who has been suicidal or any teenager who has been shot at school. I actually don’t want to give the book any more airtime than that. Note – I talked about it a lot on Hear…Read This if you need more. But sorry Mr Quick, I cannot forgive you for this one.

A Necklace of Raindrops – Joan Aiken & Jan Pienkowski

Jonathan Cape, hardback, 1968 (2009 edition), fiction, 108 pages, , bought by my good self

Aaah!  A book to lighten any mood if ever there was one! This was actually a re-read for me and of a book that I had completely forgotten about until Kate chose it for Hear… Read This. It was a book I used to read way back decades ago when me and Polly, formerly of Novel Insights, were tiny little things and I used to dress up in her princess dresses refusing to be the prince. Back to the book though which is one of Aiken’s collections of short stories that also verges on picture book, thanks to Pienkowski who yes did all the amazing Meg and Mog books from your (or your children’s) childhood, the illustrations inside are as stunning as the cover.

This is a book that can be enjoyed and treasured by adults and children alike with its tales of genies, necklaces that can change the weather, cats that grant wishes and best of all the elves who come out of your books and bring them too life. Occasionally the tales got a little far out, yet that really is all part of the fun as like her readers it seems Joan Aiken had a limitless imagination. Virago are publishing her adult novels again I believe, someone needs to bring this and its follow up back into the mainstream as they are just wonderful and for me proved a real nostalgic trip.

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So that is your lot for now. I realised as I was going along that all these books were Hear… Read This choices. Now initially I was pondering if we just choose some dodgy books, I don’t think that is the case I think we all just experiment with choosing slightly random books which can be duds occasionally but overall when brilliant are really brilliant. I do wonder if it is actually a case of having discussed them so much with Gav, Rob and Kate I then feel like I have explored them enough and so don’t feel I can review them as well. Who knows? Anyway, more over the next few days meanwhile have you read any of these and if so what did you make of them? What are your thoughts on occasional review round up posts like this, and indeed what are your thoughts on occasional tables?

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Filed under C. Robert Cargill, Hear... Read This, Jamie Mason, Jan Pienkowski, Joan Aiken, Matthew Quick, Review, Rounding Up The Reviews

The Witches of Eastwick – John Updike

Being one of my favourite films I have always wanted to read John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick because the general rule is that the book is always so much better than the film, so in my head this meant the book was going to be amazing. I have also meant to read Updike again ever since I read Couples which was a choice at my old book club back in 2010. So I admit that I entered into the spirit of reading this one in high hopes. I have to tell you whilst The Witches of Eastwick has some similarities to Couples it has very little similarity to the film other than the characters names, it was quite unexpected.

Penguin Modern Classics, paperback, 1984 (2007 edition), fiction, 320 pages, bought by me

There is something in the air in the town of Eastwick that turns women into witches, generally when they leave or are left by their husbands. Alexandra, Sukie and Jane are three such witches and as they have become friends, with their Thursday nights of cocktails and gossip, they have formed rather a powerful bond and indeed a rather powerful coven. These three ‘independent’ women sleep with the married men of the town, seemingly casting a spell over them, until a stranger by the name of Darryl Van Horne arrives taking over the local Lennox Mansion and wetlands and soon the three witches are competing to vie for the attentions of one mysterious man.

What initially, and I should add pleasantly, surprised me about the novel was the fact that these three witches were just that, witches. They could cast spells on the people they didn’t like (which at various points becomes very important and quite horrifying), throw fortune in their favour, hex you, levitate, create storms and quite literally drive men mad. Yet brilliantly Updike just makes this all part and parcel of a life in a town in Rhode Island in the 1970’s with the Vietnam War making its presence felt in the background. No one in the town seems to really bat an eyelid, what they don’t like it change and Daryl Van Horne is very much change, magic they barely bat an eye to.

Alexandra counted the seconds until the thunder: five. By rough rule this made the storm she had conjured up two miles in diameter, if these strokes were at the heart. Blundering thunder rumbled and cursed. Tiny speckled sand crabs were emerging now from their holes by the dozen and scurrying sideways towards the frothing sea. The colour of their shells was so sandy they appeared transparent. Alexandra steeled herself and crunched one beneath the sole of her bare foot. Sacrifice. There must always be sacrifice. It was one of nature’s rules.

Yet these are not the sort of witches I would want in my neighbourhood because, rather surprisingly to me because of the film, these women are not that nice, more often than not they are actually quite nasty witches and quite nasty bitches. In some ways this is rather fascinating as we see these women who have become friends, though I was never quite sure why as they had slept with each other’s husbands in the past and could be quite malicious about the other, turn against each other and several people of the town.

At the same time though I found this confusing. What was Updike trying to say about women? You see initially Alexandra (in particular), Sukie and Jane seem like thriving independent women who are getting the most out of life. That I found a really positive and feminist stand. However soon enough not only do we discover they are sleeping with most of the married men around the town, as I mentioned including each other’s husbands before they ridded themselves of them. Then as Darryl turns up they turn on each other and become calculating and manipulative man eaters (especially Jane who I despised) who will trample on each other to get the man before realising they are going to have to share and so start having group sex regularly, to please their man – classy. Oh and heaven help any woman who then tries to get in on the act. Where is the sisterhood then? The book soon becomes the polar opposite of feministic as it twists and turns.

Like most good school teachers he was a tyrant, unctuous and insistent; in his dank way he wanted to sleep with everybody. Jane was sleeping with him these days. Alexandra had succumbed a few times in the past but the episode had moved her so little Sukie was perhaps unaware of its vibrations, its afterimage. Sukie herself appeared to be chaste vis-à-vis Neff, but then she had been available least long. Being a divorcee in a small town is a little like playing monopoly; eventually you land on all the properties. The two friends wanted to rescue Jane, who in a kind of indignant hurry was always selling herself short. It was the hideous wife, with her strawy dull hair cut short as if with grass clippers and her carefully pronounced malapropisms and her goggle-eyed intent way of listening to every word, whom they disapproved of. When you sleep with a married man you in a sense sleep with the wife as well, so she should not be an utter embarrassment.

As I read on I became more and more frustrated for the book as it became more and more apparent that Updike’s novel for feminists, with a little research I discovered that is what he called it, was more like an evocation of his ideals of feminism. Also known as women who will basically sleep with each other and all the men and don’t mind overall but if one puts a toe out of line then you might end up with a terminal illness hexed on you, or worse.

Updike’s prose, as with Couples which interestingly has similar themes and similarly vile characters, is wonderful. The descriptions of Eastwick and its inhabitants are marvellously created and you feel you have walked the streets, chatted to the locals and headed out to the wetlands once you have finished. He also really looks at the society of certain times and how the world was changing far faster than people wanted it to. Again, magical goings on are fine, but building a tennis court (the scene in the book is even better than the film) or changing the name of a street is an utterly heinous idea. Change is not good.

Felicia’s beady eyes furious eyes flashed. “No you wouldn’t. You wouldn’t think Shithouse Square had such a bad ring to it either. You don’t give a damn about the world we pass onto our children or the wars or the we inflict on the innocent or whether or not we poison ourselves to death, you’re poisoning yourself to death right now tho what do you care, drag the whole globe down with you ith the way you look at it.” The diction of her tirade had become thick and she carefully lifted from her tongue a small straight pin and what looked like part of an art-gum eraser.

I am torn with The Witches of Eastwick as a novel. Unusually I much preferred the film. I guess on the level of a tale of three witches in a small town who are pulled apart and against each other over a new man on the scene it is a darkly entertaining read. I also loved all the magic in such a suburban setting. Not that you have to with a book by any means, but don’t expect to like any of the characters or find any real redemption anywhere, well maybe with Sukie, maybe. As a feminist work it falls flat, really it’s a male chauvinists view of what the fantasy, or maybe even nightmare, of feminism is – the twist almost at the end really highlighting that. Puzzling indeed.

Who else has read The Witches of Eastwick and what did you make of it? Did you dislike the witches as much as I did? If you want to hear more about the book Gavin, Kate, Rob and I discuss it on the latest episode of Hear… Read This! so do have a listen. Which films have you seen that are better than the books, or give the characters and situations of a book a better context, do many of them exist?

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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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Other People’s Bookshelves #30 (Part One) – Rob Chilver

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 firstly to Rob (breaking the tradition of ladies first) to introduce himself and his shelves (as Rob and Kate haven’t merged shelves yet, I am not judging their relationship on this basis though… much!) and all other bookish shenanigans…

I’m Rob and you may know me as @robchilver on Twitter. I’ve always been an avid reader, something which my parents and grandmother encouraged from an early age. This love of books led me to studying for an MA in English Literature, developing a fondness for Salman Rushdie and Michael Chabon over the years. The day after I finished my Masters I applied to be a bookseller and buyer for Waterstones, a position I still hold today. I talk about books all day as part of my day job but I continue this outside of work, reviewing books on AdventuresWithWords.com and co-hosting a weekly podcast with other half Kate Neilan. Added to this Hear… Read This!, a monthly podcast with Gav from No Cloaks Allowed and a certain Mr Savidge and a forthcoming event at Essex Book Festival. With all this going on, it’s actually been quite hard finding the time to read lately while the books keep on building up…

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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 wish that I was either organised enough or had enough willpower to implement a one in, one out system but sadly I’m a hoarder! It’s the collector mentality in me that means that I keep all the books I read and very rarely get rid of any. I suppose if I’ve loved a book enough to finish it, who knows when I may wish to return to it or even lend it out to someone? At the moment we have a whole bookcase dedicated to our ‘to-be-read’ pile that we need to review for the blog along with research for our forthcoming event. This is conveniently placed in our living room, ensuring it’s a constant reminder that it is there! With my comic books, they are currently in a pile on the floor of our guestroom, awaiting to be boarded and boxed in chronological order. So while it may look like an unorganised mess, there is a method to it all somewhere!

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?

Despite living together, Kate and I still keep separate bookshelves that are now both overflowing with books. As you can see from the photos, it is getting to the stage where things are getting out of hand and I can’t actually get to one of my bookcases as Kate has boxes of books in the way! When I can get to them, I do try to keep my hardbacks together at the bottom of the shelves and gather books by the same authors together but other than that, it’s a bit of a disaster! Some weeks around 5-10 books can arrive so very quickly things have got out of hand. I think some of the shelves are actually bending under the weight of some of the books.

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

I’ve a very vivid memory of my first book purchase. It was going downstairs at Red Lion Books in Colchester, a great independent bookshop still going strong, to their science-fiction section and buying a hardback of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series (when there was still four stories in the trilogy.) Coming from a family who always wrote dedications to one another when gifting books, I thought I was being ‘funny’ when I wrote a dedication to myself.  I still cringe when people see it on my shelves.

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’m not one that believes in guilty pleasures as at the end of the day, if someone is reading at all, we shouldn’t really be one to judge. Saying that, I do have a soft spot for some John Grisham, who has a habit of writing the same sort of books over and over and yet I still end up devouring one over a holiday.

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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?

As well as collecting books I do try where I can to get copies signed. On recent trips to Latitude Festival half of my rucksack has been filled with copies of books waiting to be signed. If the flames were threatening them, then my signed Michael Chabon, Sebastian Faulks and Carlos Ruiz Zafon books would be following me. Then I might go back for a few of Kate’s…. 😉

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?

Despite being brought up on a diet of Bond films, my Mum steadfastly refused to allow me to read the original Ian Fleming novels. Ignoring the copious violence, it was the prospect of the sex scenes that upset her and was the cause of her blanket ban. Imagine my surprise/disappointment when I had snuck them off the shelves, Fleming effectively does the ‘fade to black’ when Bond and the Bond girl get intimate. Of course I couldn’t correct my mother’s opinion without revealing that I’d read them! That aside, I now have my Dad’s yellowed and battered Pan paperbacks on my shelves and have collected different ones with numerous covers.

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?

Oh I’d have to have it! If it’s a book I love I want to keep it and I’m even worse if it’s a hardback. Looking over the shelves I’ve collected books in proofs, hardback and also in paperback if it is one that I’ve enjoyed. If I were to lend a book out though, it would have to be the paperback! I am in the lucky position to be given books to consider buying through work or copies to review which is fantastic but I will buy around the same quantity myself using my work’s discount.

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

Ignoring titles given to me for work or for review, I had a bumper crop of books given to me for Christmas. Two of the highlights were S, by JJ Abrams and Doug Dorst, which is a love letter to the book itself, and a gloriously large hardback of The Making of the Return of the Jedi which indulges my love of Star Wars, filmmaking and gloriously large hardbacks.

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

As I’ve said before, I’m a collector so I do look at the shelves and have a desire to fill in the gaps in series or in an author’s back catalogue. I can get a bit particular about collecting the same editions of books, something I’m frequently asked to do at work, so I at the moment I’m on the lookout for certain editions of Asterix that I want to complete the copies I had growing up.

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

If they saw past the haphazard shelving, I hope they’d see a mixture of books that cross a number of genres. I’d hope that they’d see that I’m found of literary novels that remind me of my studies but also enjoy a good gripping page turner.

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A huge thanks to Rob for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves, though he really had no choice! Keep your eyes peeled for Kate’s shelves later today! 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 Rob’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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The Week That Whizzed By Before The Looooong Weekend

I feel like I have no idea where the last week has gone. Actually that is a big lie, I know exactly where the week has gone. Work ate it. I spent Sunday working most of the day, then working until 9pm on Monday (in the office) and then 11pm (at home so in some comfort/reach of cupcakes) last night. I have been well aware that the summer will be utterly mad and I will be working left right and centre (which I embrace as I like to be busy at work), I wasn’t quite expecting it to be this mad this soon.

Hopefully the madness is over, for a while at least, though this has meant that in the last four/five days has involved working or slobbing on the sofa/sleeping. Though I did manage to record an episode of The Readers where I moan about having no time to read – oh dear! Hoorah’s ahead though as with all those extra hours I have now got a lovely long three day weekend ahead of me and (after having spent this afternoon having a lovely lunch and then lazing with a DVD, the cats, sweets and the Beard – who feels he hasn’t seen me in forever) I am going to dedicate those days to these…

A Long Weekend of Books

Yes it is time for a long weekend of book binging. I have a huge craving for crime so plan on heading straight into some S. J. Bolton, then I really want to read Nathan Filer’s The Shock of the Fall which I bought in Waterstones when I fell in deliriously the afternoon before it won the Costa, Deborah Levy because I have become a huge fan and some lovely ‘early Levy’ books turned up in the post this week. Then I have two books with ‘deadlines’ of sorts to them. Oscar Wilde’s short stories have been chosen by Kate for the next Hear… Read This! and book group is a week on Saturday and Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder has been chosen by Rita – all I know is it is a fictional tale involving philosophy and its history, I am terrified of it yet also hoping reading it might make me seem brainier and able to spout philosophical diatribe left, right and centre. Ha!

I also plan on doing some reviews and catch up on comments here and blogs all over the shop. Bliss. What are you reading at the moment or are planning to read? How do you manage to find time to read when there seems to be no time to read? Have you read any of the books I plan on devouring this weekend? Note: I know I won’t read all of them! What else is news?

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Mini Review Madness Part II; Ruiz Zafon, Kelly, Harris, & Le Guin

So as Christmas is now less than a week away (eek) it means that New Year is less than a fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them are available below, so really you get even more out of these than you would a normal review, sort of…

Marina by Carlos Ruiz Zafon (Weidenfeld & Nicolson, hardback, 2013, YA fiction, 296 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I am a huge fan of The Shadow of the Wind and having read Marina, which was published in Spain before it but has only recently come out here in the UK, I am really keen to read it all over again (and indeed might next year) because all the best bits of Ruiz Zafon’s last YA novel made me think of it. Initially this is the story of Oscar and how he finds the mysterious Marina on one of his escapades from the school gates on the edges of Barcelona where he boards. However a mild mystery of a woman in black and an unmarked grave, which Marina instigates they try and find out about, leads them to a much darker mystery and takes them through and under the streets of Barcelona. Sounds good doesn’t it and often it is. There are some wonderful ‘monsters’ and dark chilling moments yet I found myself rather distant and often uninterested in the tale of Oscar and Marina and much more so in the one involving a dark love story from the past. Ideal if you love Ruiz Zafon, or if you have a younger reader who might not be ready for The Shadow of the Wind and so could do with something in the interim.

You can hear myself, Kate, Rob and Gavin discussing this in more detail on the third episode of Hear… Read This

The Burning Air by Erin Kelly (Hodder, paperback, 2013, fiction, 355 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

Possibly one of the best psychological thrillers that I have read this year and one that I didn’t, and won’t write about in too much depth for the fear of spoiling a chilling tale with a nasty twist and sting (or two or three) in its tail. Opening with a letter telling of a deep family secret which we soon learn is written by a woman recently dead, Lydia, we then join her bereaved family as they meet for Bonfire Night, as is tradition, along with spreading Lydia’s ashes. Sophie is recovering from a huge shock to her marriage and also having recently had a baby, a baby who is soon abducted by Sophie’s brother’s new girlfriend Kerry. I won’t spoil the plot any further (though that happens quite quickly on) other than simply saying that if you want a book about deep seated revenge and the darkness it can create then you should read this, as should you if you like a good thriller as this is a marvellous one – surprises will lie in store and you will be gripped to the end.

You can hear Erin and myself in discussion about the book on You Wrote The Book here.

Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure by Joanne Harris (Black Swan, paperback, 2013, fiction, 541 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

After having utterly adored Chocolat (I love the film but the book is so much better) earlier in the year, I was ready to read everything and anything by Joanne Harris. Instead of reading one of her thrillers, ghostly tales or even The Lollipop Shoes I decided to go with my gut (quite literally as they are my favourite fruit of them all) and read Peaches for Monsieur Le Cure which finds Vianne heading back to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes, eight years after she opened her sumptuous chocolate shop, despite herself. Here she finds quite a different town from the one she left and an old adversary who of all things may actually need her help. Once again Harris vividly captures a town that has fallen ill at ease and out of sync with itself and indeed the world around it. Themes of race and racism, and generally being different, lie at the heart of a book which from the outside seems sweet but has much more going on darkly below the surface. I enjoyed returning to Lansquenet-sous-Tannes and was spellbound (see what I did there) by a tale of Vianne once more.

You can hear myself and Joanne discussing the book on You Wrote the Book here.

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin (Orbit Books, 1969 (2009 edition), paperback, 273 pages, borrowed from the library)

Hmmm. This is a tricky one to talk about as in terms of plot I am not sure I really understood the full premise the whole way through as there is so much confusing jargon about why Genly Ai finds himself on the planet Winter where the inhabitants have no gender apart from when them go into heat, or kemmer, and could become male or female. Suffice to say he does end up there and becomes part of a political conundrum that almost verges on war though Winter has never seen a war as its inhabitants are not want to fight either. Thematically the book, once you have worked your way through it, is inspired. The way it discusses political issues, possibly based around the cold war, are relevant now as are the themes of gender and sexuality. I just ended up thinking that whilst it was probably ground breaking in its time, whilst as I said it is still relevant now it would probably be more potent as a short story. It needs to hit you over the head, not have you trudging through snow for page after page after page. I also struggled to find a single beautifully written paragraph. So overall I loved the themes and discussions it raised, sadly though I didn’t love the execution of it.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Rob and Kate talking about The Left hand of Darkness on the latest episode of Hear… Read This

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So that is my second and final mini-review madness of the week and indeed the year. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Carlos Ruiz Zafon, Erin Kelly, Joanne Harris, Mini Reviews, Ursula Le Guin, You Wrote The Book!