Tag Archives: James Smythe

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

Future Book Thoughts…

So all the shelf moving and book sorting has been completed and it has been unnervingly cathartic. I say unnervingly as who would have thought I would enjoy getting books out of the house to new homes? Yet strangely I did. Now that the shelves have all been trimmed down and reorganised (some possibly by the height of the books, is that really anal?) I have also created some kind of system. Whilst I haven’t organised them in exact release date order (which I freely admit I contemplated before telling myself a) I have a life b) not that much of one as I actually have a file with book press releases in date order – let’s move on shall we?) there is a vague sense of when they have come out, sort of. As I was doing this I noticed that I had quite a few books that are coming out in 2014 already, sixteen to be exact. This made me ponder about books of the future and how much I should talk about them or not?

2014

You see what worries me is that some people might come across this post and think of it as showing off, bragging or being a book tease if I am putting pictures like the above up here. I myself have often thought ‘oh stop showing off’ when on twitter I have seen the umpteenth tweet of a picture of some big book of the year six months in advance or when someone is going on about how they are flicking through the brochures of the next six months/year and all the books they will be asking for. Maybe it is all down to the way it is delivered? Which makes me ponder where the line between enthusiasm and excitement and simply showing off is? I hope it is in the intention and that, like with the incoming posts I have brought back, you know that my intention here isn’t to brag – I just love books and get excited about them.

However, the other thing that I have been thinking about in regard to these advance copies of books is just what the point of reading anything too early is? I will admit I read Natalie Young’s book on the train back from London as I couldn’t resist it. I am desperate to read the new Armistead Maupin because ‘Tales of the City’ is one my favourite series (same for Yrsa Sigurdardottir) and I am busting to read Emma Healey’s, because it is about Alzheimer’s which is something close to my heart and having met her (and hearing how her mum reads this blog, hello Ms Healey, and apparently ‘loves it’ – which authors take note; I am that easy to please) and she was lovely. Being a lovely author matters, just to throw that out there, which is why Naomi Wood and James Smythe’s books are also calling to me – not that any authors pictured above aren’t lovely, I just haven’t met them yet. Anyway… BUT. BUT. BUT.

The big issue with all this is, who will I have to talk about them with? If I see a blog about a book coming out in 3 weeks, let alone 3 to 6 months, I either think ‘oh lovely, might come back to that review later’, which realistically won’t happen as a few months or weeks down the line having not read the post in full I will most likely have forgotten where I saw it, or as above  think ‘stop showing off’ depending on who the blogger is.

I can understand it from the publishers point of view. They want people to read their books. The market is really competitive, advance books can get a buzz building nicely. It can also be a bit alienating. There is one title at the moment, which I won’t name, that I am already bored of seeing the hashtag for and it isn’t even out for three months. I actually saw the lovely Jojo Moyes tweeting only today (maybe yesterday or the day before) about Mrs Hemingway and wanting to talk to someone about it, anyone, but have that many people read the advance proof that has come in yet? I am keen to read mine but not too early, so who did Jojo find to have a chat about it with? That was a rhetorical question to which sadly I don’t know the answer.

What I do know though is that (despite my lax commenting of late, which I blame just on catching up on life since post-Gran but is constantly on my to do list) I really like to have a chat about books on here and out in the lands of social media. I have read Natalie Young’s ‘Season To Taste’ and it was brilliant, but apart from the author (who actually I am interviewing in advance for next years You Wrote The Book episode) and the publishers and one or two bloggers, who do I have to chat about it and how cliquey does that make us look? It is the same with the Emma Healey novel ‘Elizabeth is Missing’, I am desperate to read it but who will I have to talk to about it before June? Well, actually, there is Emma’s Mum – hello again Ms Healey! It makes it tricky, how to get the equilibrium right?

So I thought I would ask you lovely lot, after all you are the ones who pop by and most of you aren’t in the bookish industry so it would be really interesting to hear how you all feel about hearing about books in advance. Do you like it, are you put off by it, do you really care? How far in advance is too far in advance? Would you rather hear about paperbacks over hardbacks (this links into something else I have been thinking about) or be reminded of the review when the paperback comes out? All thoughts welcomed and I promise to reply to all of you whilst also going back over last month (or maybe two) comments whilst I am at it. Looking forward to discussing what you think.

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Filed under Random Savidgeness

Savidge Reads of the Summer Part One…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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We’re Going Through Changes…

In case you are confused, this is still Savidge Reads… I just thought that it was time to have a minor facelift of sorts to be honest, and we all like a change now and again don’t we? This isn’t going to be one of those big revamps which involves lots of fireworks and shouting to everyone about it nor is it a case navel gazing because its coming from a positive place and just seemed like the right time.

As you might have noticed if you come here often or occasionally (and thank you if you do) in the last few weeks I have been a little bit quieter. This isn’t because I have ‘been thinking’ about everything blog wise –  which has happened in the past – but other things have taken priority. Firstly just with getting Gran sorted out with a hospital (as she was so, so poorly suddenly in the last two weeks), which as I mentioned before take so much rigmarole it is untrue, which took about four days of telephone calls, also with everything Liverpool Literature Festival wise and because I accidentally got a new job…

Yes, that is right (and I think I am allowed to tell you about it, though I don’t start till next week) I am now Social Media Strategist for Culture Liverpool three days a week and I am beyond thrilled – in part as I now get to go to all the summer festivals the city is hosting and also because the office is on the 10th floor overlooking the Mersey, I don’t normally like heights but the view is amazing.

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All this has meant I have had more time away from the blog and the needed step away to realise it had become a bit of a monster that needed feeding everyday and I was possibly struggling with it more than I thought. I also realised I didn’t feel I was in it as much, so be warned the posts and reviews are going to be less ‘professional’ and more my sense of humour, hopefully you will like it but sorry if you don’t. Hence the change really, and the changing banners (thank you Gavin) which I love, love, love – oh and I have made a Facebook page now too, can’t really be a Social Media Strategist if you don’t do your own.

Now speaking of that new role of mine again; one thing I will be doing, as well as the book reviews and book thoughts which are the main focus points of the blog, is keeping you informed of the lovely events and stuff I am going to be doing off blog. Some of these might be a retelling of an adventure I had recently walking to a ‘treasure island’ from the coast the other weekend, some might be the things I am doing for work. In the latter case, to clear any thoughts doubting Thomas’s might have up, I will not be messaging about them for work but because you might be interested in coming on the off chance or you just might like to hear about them after, as I know most of my readers don’t live down the road but miles (tens, hundreds and thousands) away. And hence I will simply pop two pictures below and you can do with the information what you see fit…

Council Estate of Mind Debut Authors

Not being funny but that is a pretty good line up isn’t it? Anyway, enough from me! I might be back with a review later, depending if I am happy with it, though I am actually hosting an afternoon tea with John Whaite (he won the Great British Bake Off last year, which I looooooove) this afternoon and might get lost with all that, which I will be reporting back on in due course. How is all with you? What do you think of my new view at work? Do you like the changes to the blog?

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The Machine – James Smythe

So it seems another day, another book that is a bit of a swine to review in many ways thanks to Mr James Smythe and his third book, though my first of his, ‘The Machine’. There are two main reasons that this book has vexed me from a ‘book thoughts/review’ aspect (as a reader – though is there a difference – I simply thought it was brilliant) firstly the fact that for me the book was so brimming with ideas and themes it will be difficult to encapsulate them, secondly I don’t want to spoil how the book pans out and so I am going to have to watch my words very carefully and allow you to stitch a picture of the book together yourselves, rather like the ominous relationship between the Machine, of the title, and memory in the novel…

***** Blue Door Books, hardback, 2013, fiction, 320 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

It is a hot day on the Isle of Wight as Beth waits for a mysterious parcel. All we know initially is that whatever is contained in it is something that Beth both has her hopes and dreams encapsulated in, yet at the same time clearly doesn’t want anyone else knowing she had. (This is slightly scuppered when the delivery men have to take her window out in order to get it in her high rise flat.) Once they have left and the unwrapping begins we discover that Beth has bought, highly illegally, one of the few ‘Machines’ left since they were banned some years ago.

This ‘machine’ was designed to rewire the brains, and memories of those who suffered from dementia and Alzheimer’s, until someone saw the commercial benefits of an appliance, if you will, that could edit and re-write (“Purge. Commit. Replenish.”) memories and which then went wrong as Beth learnt when her husband, Vic – or Victor, with a nice nod to ‘Frankenstein’, started to use one after an incident fighting in the war, he now lies just a body with no memories in a home. Now though, Beth plans to re-programme her husband with ‘the machine’. But what if people can’t be programmed like a computer, what if ‘the machine’ has other ideas, and possibly memories, of its own?

“She can’t call in sick again the following day, she knows, not this close to the end of term; so she leaves the house after making sure it’s all unplugged. She shuts the spare bedroom door behind her – the Machine’s room, she thinks as she does it – and checks the locks on her front door twice. She doesn’t know why. The Machine’s not going anywhere.”

As if that wasn’t enough of a story/plot for anyone Smythe throws in even more for his readers to ponder and involve themselves with. Firstly is the setting, when we first learn of the machine we get the feeling there is a science fictional element to the book and indeed we are proved right as we learn that global warming, thought it’s never spelt out as such, has caused huge weather changes and floods worldwide changing the landscape of all forever, London itself now has ‘the Barrage’ on its skyline to protect it from further flooding. Yet despite the newly found heat of the UK and the fact it hardly ever rains (almost impossible to imagine as a Brit, yet you do) little else has changed, poundland is still very much a commodity, pubs are still going, etc which oddly adds to the unease of the whole of the book. The sense of place and atmosphere, along with the machine itself are all at once familiar yet very ‘other’ becoming quite unsettling and adding a sense of horror around the edges.

“When it rains, most of the South Coast gets caught up in celebrating. It still rains a little more in Scotland, but the closer you get to London it almost entirely ceases. It’s not a drought any more, though so many people still call it that. The hosepipe ban started and never ended. When it rains, if the kids are in the classrooms, they get more restless than at the end of term. They can’t be kept, and sometimes one or two of them have just stood up in the middle of Beth’s class and walked out, choosing instead to dance around on the torn Astroturf outside.”

For me one of the aspects of ‘The Machine’ that really hit me the most, along with everything else yet this had a real emotional pull, was the theme of memory. Whilst Vic is not suffering from Alzheimer’s and dementia his situation echo’s that of many of those who do suffer from it and also those left caring or on the outside, like Beth, from the affects of it. How does someone cope loving someone who can’t remember them let alone love them back? Do we ourselves forget what the person was really like as we look at someone who seems so helpless; do we not edit the memories of just the happiest of times with them? Even here though the sinister creeps in, as we hear more of Beth’s internal narrative (and struggle) we question just what she herself has chosen to remember of her husband, is he really the man that she describes with loss driven and lonely worn rose tinted glasses?

I found ‘The Machine’ was a book as chilling, and thrilling, as it was emotional and thought provoking. It is also one of those books that delightfully defies any labels of genre, delightful both for the reader and as one in the eye for those who want a book to be pigeonholed if at all possible. It is the sort of book – from the sort of author – that ought to be winning lots of prizes and being read by lots of people. I think that is all I need to say to be frank.

Who else has read ‘The Machine’ and what did you make of it? Which of his other books have your read? It seems that ‘The Explorer’ is meant to be quite something, is that the one that I should try next?

I will be in conversation with Mr Smythe (along with Kerry Hudson and Claire McGowan) on Monday night in Liverpool – scroll down this page a bit for more details – do come along.

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Head Down; More Reading, Less Everything Else…

I shouldn’t really be typing this. I should actually be busy reading and nothing else. But having looked at the next few weeks it seems that all I should be doing is reading and pretty much nothing else. You see, the thing is my bookish projects have started to get a little out of hand, though in a good way, I think…

Books Ahead

What you see above this is two piles of books I really need to read over the next few weeks, yes I said weeks. On the left are some of the books that I need to read or re-read for discussions that I will be having at the Liverpool Literature Festival (you can find the brochure here IOW Listing Brochure 22-3). I say some of the books as I am still waiting on a few and need to dig out a few Jeanette Winterson and Philippa Gregory novels before the big World Book Night launch that I will be reporting on and involved with launching this year in Liverpool and sort of kicking the festival off.

On the right we have some more books that I need to be reading (again am waiting on a few copies of other books by these authors) in preparation for forthcoming episodes of You Wrote The Book! which seems to have kicked off with a bang and now I am kicking myself with joy at some of the authors who have said yes (though Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Caitlin Moran still need final confirmations) and so might be making the podcast weekly instead of fortnightly.

Here I should note that I am in no way complaining about all this, it has left me all a bit daunted/panicked and a little muddled too. Which is why I need to stop talking, tweeting, photo posting, and blogging – well at least lessen them all – and just get on with reading shouldn’t I? I haven’t even taken into account that I will be reading the entire Women’s Prize shortlist for We Love This Book. Erm, let’s move on, shall we? Ha!

Anyway, I thought I would explain where I am at and why the blog and I might be a little quieter for a month or two (of course reviews of these books will pop up, as will bookish thoughts and reports from various events and things). I have said ‘Middlemarch’ reading is now postponed until further notice, I was going to say May or June but I don’t want to make a promise that I can’t keep so will update you after May if that is ok. Right, best get on with some of this lovely reading hadn’t I and stop this waffling on. What are you all reading at the moment?

P.S if you see me on Twitter too much can you tell me off, ha!

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In Other Words

So over the last few weeks I have been mysteriously hinting at what I have been up to as I have been working with Culture Liverpool on the first Liverpool literature festival. Well now I can finally tell you all just what I will be doing and all the events that I have planned for ‘In Other Words 2013’, and I am really, really excited about it…

IOW2013its

One of the things I am super excited about is that fact that Liverpool is the only city outside London that is hosting World Book Night for 2013. So on the opening night of the festival, which is in honour of the library re-opening after a huge revamp, is jam packed with exciting things as the ‘marketplace’ will be brimming with book swappers, book shoppers and even a cafe that is doing a special literary based menu. If that inst enough some of the authors (Philippa Gregory, Jasper Fforde, Jeanette Winterson, Jackie Kay and Patrick Ness) will all be at events on the opening night. Naturally I will be clamoring to get to these events, and these authors, to report back and have some serious fan-boy moments.

Over the next three weeks there are even more stonking events with James Herbert doing a special night of ‘Tales of Terror’ in some very dark and spooky infamous Liverpool tunnels, the Mersey’s finest poets Roger McGough and Brian Pattern (my favourite author as a kid) are appearing, as are Denise Mina, Janet Street Porter, Melvyn Bragg, Karen Campbell and Helen Walsh (who will be giving a writing workshop) and Rosie Garland having a book launch with a big circus… and much, much more! How awesome is that? And all of it will be (almost) on my doorstep. It is too exciting for words, in other words.

Now apart from going and being a real fan boy and a punter, I will also be hosting some events which are;

Novel Approaches: Ben Marcus & Keith Ridgway

Free | 24th April

6.30pm , Studio 2, Parr Street, 33-45 Parr Street, Liverpool, L1 4JN

Join authors Keith Ridgway and Ben Marcus in conversation with Simon Savidge about the novel, what makes it a novel, how it is evolving and how both authors, rather infamously with two highly talked about books of last year, are breaking the stereotypes of what can constitute a novel and how the written word can be used in many different ways.

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite

Ticketed | 28th April

Afternoon Tea With John Whaite , Liverpool Town Hall, High Street, Liverpool, L2 3SW

Join the winner of the Great British Bake Off 2012 for tea and, most aptly, baked goods in the delights of the Town Hall to talk about his time on the show, swapping banking for baking and how his new book John Whaite Bakes looks at food for any mood, plus he will share some top tips too.

Cost: £10 includes afternoon tea made by the Town Hall , Please book in advance at http://www.itsliverpool.com/culture

Council Estate Of Mind: Class And The Novel

Free | 29th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , Kuumba Imani, Millennium Centre Cafe, 4 Princes Road, Liverpool, L8 1TH

Join authors Kerry Hudson, James Smythe and Claire McGowan, currently Director of the Crime Writer’s Association, in conversation with Simon Savidge about class and the novel. Why is it that the middle and upper classes have been more predominant in fiction and how the ‘council estate’ novel is now rising as its own sub-genre and how to give voice to the unspoken in society.

First Words; Debut Authors In Discussion

Free | 30th April

6.30pm – 7.30pm , The Attic, 33-35 Parr Street, Liverpool L1 4JN

How hard is the road to getting your first book published? Is being an author all you expect it to be? These questions and many more will be answered by debut novelists of 2013 Beatrice Hitchman, Sarah Butler and Gavin Extence, John Ironmonger and Kerry Hudson who debuted in fine form in 2012. They will also offer tips to budding debut novelists out there too.

Celebrating The Bookshop

Free | 5th May

2.30pm – 3.30pm , The Bluecoat, School Lane, Liverpool, L1 3BX

If you love words, you have to love a bookshop. Join Jessica Fox; who swapped NASA and the US for a book shop in Wigtown, Sarah Henshaw; who sells books aboard a barge she lived, worked and travelled on all last year; Jen Campbell; a bookseller whose books are about the odd things people say in bookshops and Mandy Vere; of independent bookshop News from Nowhere for a discussion on why we love a bookshop, why we need them and why the future is bright for them even in the age of the e-reader.

So all in all I am excited on all sorts of levels, in part because I am getting to interview some cracking authors for my own events, in part as I have been loving being involved in the cities first literary festival and also because I am going to just geek out with lots of book based goodies for a solid two weeks.

I will of course be reporting back on the blog and also on The Readers and You Wrote The Book! too, so if you have any questions for any of the authors or want me to report on any of the events specifically then do please let me know. I really had better get a wriggle on with some serious reading hadn’t I?

(Oh and well done Kateg who correctly guessed that all the books in the picture yesterday were off books by authors, well some of them, that I will be having events with at In Other Words, email me with your details to collect your prize!)

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