Tag Archives: Kate Grenville

My Top 12 Australian Books

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

12. Burial Rites – Hannah Kent

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

11. Bitter Greens – Kate Forsyth

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

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

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

9. Mateship With Birds – Carrie Tiffany

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

8. The Spare Room – Helen Garner

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

7. All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

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

6. Loaded – Christos Tsiolkas

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

5. Under The Skin – Michel Faber

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

4. The Natural Way of Things – Charlotte Wood

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

3. On The Beach – Nevil Shute

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

2. The Secret River – Kate Grenville

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

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

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

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

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One Life – Kate Grenville

I have often believed that some of the most interesting stories can come not from the rich and famous but from those people in our families past. I have the tale of my Great Great Aunt who after burying her husband returned to his grave sometime later to discover his mistress had been buried with him. We all have those family stories don’t we? Kate Grenville has many such a tale in her family, however it is the story of her mother Nance Russell that she has focused on (though we also get some other family tales) who, as we come to learn reading One Life, was a remarkable woman in many ways who lived through some of Australia’s most interesting historical times, yet to those who met her may have simply appeared to be a suburban housewife.

Canongate Books, hardback, 2015, non-fiction, 254 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Kate Grenville’s tale of her mother Nance starts from the first memory that Nance had of crying loudly and too much as she was put under her father’s arm. We start from the very beginning, and technically a little before her birth thanks to Grenville’s preface, as we join Nance at her home of Rothsay with her mother Dolly, her father Albert and her brothers Frank and Max. Yet this is not going to be home for long, and indeed this becomes a theme in Nance’s childhood, as soon the family up sticks and move, again and again and again, sometimes with her parents or a parent or sometimes shipped off to a relative or friend.

With the backdrop of the Australian Depression of the 1930’s we follow Nance’s childhood as she makes her way through school and soon come to see that Nance is going to become a woman of firsts as she studies pharmacy, graduates and becomes a pharmacist something quite unheard of at the time. And this is before she even falls in love or meets her husband and her life takes on multiple trajectories as she takes on multiple roles as lover, wife, mother and career woman. I don’t want to say too much more because part of discovering where Nance’s life goes is part of the charm of One Life, though it charmed me in plenty of ways.

It is very hard as you read One Life to remember that this is all based on fact, and indeed Kate had the help of many conversations with her mother before she died and the memoirs Nance had started. This is in part because of the way Nance’s life developed from that childhood I mentioned and onto being a successful career woman and quite amazing wife and mother at home. It is also because Nance is such a wonderful character; you can really imagine having a good laugh with her over a cup of tea. Yet whilst Grenville injects all the love and respect she had for Nance into her writing of her, we aren’t given a saint. As we discover Nance had flaws and some naughtier shenanigans in her life, we are given the portrait of a woman whole. I adored her and the way Grenville wrote about her from every angle.

Another thing that makes you forget that it is real is the backdrop that Nance’s life had in terms of Australia’s history, and Australia very much feels like a character in the book all of its own as we travel around it and see it go through bad times and good. We have the big events like the Depression and of course the World Wars, the latter which initially seems like a distant issue until her brother Frank enrols and ends up in a prisoner of war camp, which of course took me right back to Richard Flanagan’s very much fictional but all too real The Narrow Road To The Deep North. So you have these massive things happening in the background affecting Nance’s life.

Nance has seen the little man with the moustache on the newsreels, standing at his stone pulpit, his arm pumping up and down, haranguing great crowds that seemed like machines, line after line of people in the same uniforms thrusting their arms in the air. But it was on the other side of the world and in another language. It was serious but not personal. It was Britain’s war. The man with the moustache was frightening but he was also a bit ridiculous.

You also have the smaller yet equally significant domestic changes. We go through era’s where women are allowed to study and even graduate, we follow the sexual freedom and liberation that came from contraception, we watch as women could work and even set up by themselves breaking the shackles of society. We also learn how man, and some older generations of women (Nance’s mother Dolly is utterly fascinating) reacted to that both in good and bad ways. These small domestic shifts I found as interesting, if not more, than the big parts of history as I knew much less about them.

Leaving the doctors with the little beige box in her handbag, Nance thought, mine is the first generation of women, in the history of the world, to have any choice about children. All those millions of women who were nothing but baby-machines. So many of them must have been like me, wanting it both ways. Children, of course, but a life of their own too.

Grenville’s writing is wonderful; if you have read any of her novels you will know this already. Nance and her family come to life and walk off the pages. She celebrates the ordinary and the stories of the everyday. She builds the world of Australia through those times fully without hitting us over the head with research and yet highlighting important events big and small. What she also does which I think is very clever is that she highlights the plight of women at the start of the 1900’s, the struggle for change and how changes as it comes affects everyone, without ever taking a moral high ground or bashing men of the time for the society that they were also born into through no fault of their own. I mean if they behave badly then they are fair game, but not all of them did, a lot but not all. There is just great warmth, generosity and passion with this book that is really hard to try and encompass in words.

No book Nance had ever read described burned dinners or messed children. None had even mentioned trivial domestic details, let alone been exact about them.
The night Ken brought the new novel home for her she burned their own dinner, reading in the kitchen, so engrossed that she didn’t smell the potatoes until they were almost alight. At Mrs Lippincote’s was about the world she knew: the invisible armies of disregarded mothers and housewives. Elizabeth Taylor proved what Nance had always known, that the quiet domestic dramas of women’s lives might be invisible to men, but they mattered just as much.

I have chosen that final quote as I think (without having read At Mrs Lippincote’s, which I now desperately want to) that Kate Grenville does something in One Life which Elizabeth Taylor was trying to do with her writing. Not only does she write about some of the forgotten voices and the underdogs in society, she also writes about the domestic and the working class and celebrates them. In giving us the voice of her mother, Nance Russell, she gives voice to a generation of women who are often left unheard and yet who once known about should be the role model’s we should be championing to future generations. I cannot recommend you discovering Nance Russell’s story enough.

If you would like to hear Kate Grenville talking about One Life, you can hear her chatting to me on the latest episode of You Wrote the Book – which is back!

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Filed under Books of 2015, Canongate Publishing, Kate Grenville, Non Fiction, Review

Australian Authors…

A fairly quick post today and one which calls for your recommendations whilst telling you about a lovely reading project from a fellow blogger, who is a favourite of mine, which could also make money for a good literary cause. The ever-so lovely Kim of Reading Matters is hosting her second Australian Literature Month throughout April 2013, which of course is now. What’s more, as well as doing some lovely giveaways, she has said that “for every review of Australian literature posted on Reading Matters — and on other blogs around the world using my logo — during Australian Literature Month (April 1 to 30), I’m going to donate 50 pence to the Indigenous Literacy Fund. That might not sound like much, but if we get 100 reviews posted online that’s an easy £50 right there.”

6a00d83451bcff69e2017ee908e15b970dI think this is a wonderful idea and while I was planning on joining in with Australian Literature Month anyway (as it is a project where you can read by whim whichever books you like by Australian authors) it has given me the added incentive to read a few more than I was planning in order to raise some money for charity, via Kim and I thought some of you might like to aswell?

Of course now the question is which blinking books do I read, because I am actually a bit hopeless on knowing where authors come from and when I was trying to think of some Australian authors my mind just went blank. I have thought of Tim Winton, Thomas Keneally, Kate Grenville and Peter Carey… then I got a bit stuck, and I fancy some quite different authors this year, I have a plan to read one massive Rapunzel based book for the end of the month if I can squeeze it in, but I would like some others along the way. I am hoping a parcel from Australia containing one of Ruth Parks books might make it across the pond in time, we will see.

Who would you recommend as your favourite Australian author and which of their books should I read? Do you have one particular favourite Australian novel of all time (in fact I must pop and check The ABC Book Group – my fav book show ever – to see if past shows can give me any inspiration) that you would recommend? I would love your thoughts and inspiration.

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Those Summer Reads…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Savidge Reads Grills… Evie Wyld

Now if I hadn’t urged you to get your mitts on this debut novel before today then I would urge you once more to read ‘After The Fire, A Still Small Voice’ by Evie Wyld, that is of course unless you have already read it! I enthused about it last year and it made my top books of 2009. Well I had the pleasure of meeting Evie a while back (a big thanks to Kim of Reading Matters for being brave) and going all fan like and a little star struck. However despite my ‘rabbit in the headlights’ first impression Evie kindly agreed to be my latest victim author to have a Savidge Reads Grilling. Here she discusses her wonderful debut (on the day it comes out in paperback in the UK hint, hint), kissing books and books that make her clap with joy…

For those people who haven’t read After The Fire, A Still Small Voice yet, can you try and explain it in a single sentence…
It’s a story about traumatised men, not talking and scary things that people try to ignore. 

How did the book come about, where was the idea born?
I really just sat down and wrote for three years. I didn’t have any strong ideas of where it would go, I just followed the characters around until they made their own way in the story. Australia was the only bit that was a solid ‘idea’.

Now the book is written from points of view of some very strong (and if I may say so emotionally withdrawn) males, how easy did you find that, what were the hurdles?
I didn’t find it difficult using a male voice – in fact I think I find it easier to write at a bit of a distance, because you have to imagine so much more to make it authentic. When I was writing at home there was a fair bit of acting that went into developing the characters, I spoke a lot of their dialogue out loud; I stomped round the flat and tried to imagine I was Frank and Leon. That seemed like the easiest way to understand them.

Has working in a book shop been a push to write more? How did you combine work and writing?
I work twice a week in the book shop, so ordinarily I’ll have three days of writing, which seems to be working out pretty well. Working there has made me aware of how difficult it is to get anywhere with writing – and rightly so – there are so many wonderful books, and they keep coming, there’s no reason for anyone to read a bad book. I think it’s made me understand the importance of getting it right.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your book or is it something you avoid at all costs?
I find it impossible not to read reviews. And they can be really helpful – it’s lovely to know that someone you’ve never met is taking your work seriously. I’ve found that book blogs give a whole other life to the book, and it’s that sort of word of mouth which has been the most useful in getting the book out there. Reviews on your blog or on Dove Grey Reader seem to be as helpful to sales as something from say the Guardian.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do? How long have you been writing for?
I started writing when I was about 15, and the first thing I wrote came out really easily, partly because it was pretty awful but partly because it released some tension I didn’t realise I had until then. It just flowed out and it was a really wonderful feeling. I don’t get it often but that’s the feeling I’m chasing when I’m writing. It’s as much about figuring yourself out as telling a good story.

Which books and authors inspired you to write?
Cloudstreet by Tim Winton was the first novel that made me envy a writer’s relationship with their work. I had the misguided idea that for the author the characters have an afterlife, that it doesn’t all end when the writing stops, like you could ask what a certain character goes on to do after the book is over and the writer would know. I love Lorrie Moore too and anything in the Love and Rockets series by the Hernandez brothers

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?
David Vann’s ‘Legend of a Suicide’ is wonderful. I would read anything that Tim Winton writes, and I’ve just got into Peter Temple. Jon McGregor is a hero and I’ve just read ‘The Cuckoo Boy’ by Grant Gillespie, his first novel. I loved that. I’m looking forward to whatever Karen McLeod writes next.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
I write best it the morning, and I drink black coffee. I like to get out of the flat, so that I don’t have the temptations of housework and looking in the fridge. My only really creepy ‘quirk’ is that if I’m reading a book, I have to kiss page 100 when I get to it. That’s the only thing that really makes me worry about myself. 

Which book, apart from your own, would you demand Savidge Reads and readers run out and buy right this instant, a book you would call your favourite?
So hard – I really don’t have a favorite, but The Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville makes me clap my hands.

What is next for Evie Wyld; please say we don’t have to wait too long for the second book? No pressure though, hee, hee!
I’ve made a start on the next book, its set between Australia and sea side towns in the UK. I’m also working with an illustrator on a short graphic novel, which is really good fun. It’s about my early childhood and swapping between Australia and England and it’s about sharks.

Well I don’t know about you but I cannot wait for novel number two and the graphic novel (maybe this project will help me finally get into that genre). A huge thanks to Evie for taking part, I won’t go all fan-esque again, I shall just say if you haven’t read her book then you really, really must and you can visit her website here and read her blog as Booktrust ‘writer in residence’ here. Oh and I nearly forgot, should you have any burning questions for Evie you might want to pop them in the comments as she just might pop by, you never know…

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Simon’s Bookish Bits #8

Another week seems to have hurtled by and I am suddenly realising I am getting a little rubbish at keeping up with blogs and commenting (both on them and on my own) next week will be better I promise. Today’s ‘Bookish Bits’ is going to be a fairly short one with some reminders and updates, then a bit of library looting and then some coveting all which will be made better by your comments at the end. So without further a do lets get on with it.

First up just a quick reminder if you want to ask Kate Grenville anything and possibly win a copy of her book then you have until last thing tomorrow to go here and ask any question you like, its that easy and I want you involved of course. The second thing is a huge thank you to everyone who has signed up for Penpals of Prose, its wonderful to see so many of you and to let you know the matching of pen friends will start on Sunday and I will be emailing you all soon. If you haven’t joined yet then fear not I have no plans on closing it so do join whenever.

Next up, I thought I would show you how restrained I was at the library as I only got three books…

Margaret Atwood’s ‘Negotiating With The Dead’ is a book I have been hankering after for quite some time and have popped on the bedside so can dip in and out of it at leisure. I saw ‘Mariana’ by Monica Dickens and Persephone’s are like gold dust in a library so I grabbed it and have started reading it, so far so good I have had occasional moments of being ‘persephoned out’ though, maybe I am getting a fever? Last but not least is ‘Real World’ by Natsuo Kirino. I have been wanting to read more of her since I read Grotesque for a past book group and though I have ‘Out’ on the TBR it is quite big and as is often the case I wanted to read the one I didn’t own more than the one I did.

Now I am being much better with the library as I said however that could all go wrong today as I am off to pick up the latest Riverside Readers Book Club choice from a library a bus ride away (under my rules I can’t pay for a book to be sent from one library to another locally) and am now on the hunt for a book solely for its cover…

It was in fact only on the tube home from town yesterday early evening that I saw the cover of ‘Dark Echo’s’ by F.G. Cottam. I had not heard of the author until I saw the book and in fact had to discreetly try and see the first name (which didn’t work at all) or initials as it turned out. I don’t know why this cover leapt out at me the way it did I just knew it was some kind of destiny that I now need to read it. Having looked up more about the book I am most vexed to find it’s about a boat (never a favourite subject for me) but it des sound quite chilling, thrilling and dark so might just be my up of tea. I have also looked at other Cottam works and now want to read her entire back catalogue, isn’t it odd how that can happen?

Right that’s me done, so now to set you your weekend questions (and again remind you about Grenville questions and Pen pals) which this week are; What have you got from the library of late? Have you read any I picked up? What are you reading this weekend? Have you read any F.G. Cottam? Which books have you coveted for the cover and then got and did they live up to your expectations?

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Filed under Simon's Bookish Bits

Grilling Grenville…

On Saturday you guys gave me some great feedback when I asked you about author interviews. As always if you guys give me your thoughts I like to act on them and so with my next Savidge Reads Grills I am doing something a little bit different and asking you to also ‘ask the author’. And (if you hadn’t guessed from the title) the next author is…

…Kate Grenville! I am also giving you a few weeks notice as Canongate have very kindly offered to give away copies of ‘The Lieutenant’ to five of you. All you have to do is think of a question you would love to hear Kate Grenville answer.

They can only send to people in the UK and Europe so  if you are further afield then apologies but do pop a question in anyways as they could end up being in the interview which would be  a prize in itself I reckon. Oh and a small note I know you all loved Granny Savidge getting grilled and my mother has agreed to do it in a few weeks (she is just getting over some eye surgery this week) so you will be getting more of my reading heritage fairly soon.

You also don’t have to ask a question related to ‘The Lieutenant’ in case you were wondering, I have quite a few about ‘The Secret River’, it could just be a question that you have always wanted to ask an author, so get your thinking caps on. You have until last thing Sunday for the draw, you can keep popping in answers after that too of course! I shall now hand it over to your quizzical minds.

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Give Away, Kate Grenville

The Secret River – Kate Grenville

You know when you have a book that you have had for ages and ages, everyone has told you that “you simply must read it” and yet you haven’t? We have all got some of these on our TBR’s I would imagine? ‘The Secret River’ by Kate Grenville is one such book for me (though I will admit there are a few) and finally I have managed to get around to reading it “at long last” I can hear some of you cry. It might actually be like preaching to the converted to discuss what this book is about as I have a feeling that most people have already given it a whirl. However, maybe as I hadn’t read it until now there might be some more people out there who don’t know what this book is all about.

9780857860842

The Secret River opens with a kind of prologue called ‘Strangers’ as William Thornhill arrives fresh off The Alexander in New South Wales, Australia as one of the convicts sent to serve a life sentence in 1806. On dry land he comes across one of the aboriginals a man ‘as black as the air itself’ and what follows is the scene of two men, neither understanding the other sussing each other out. Now this opening scene appeared rather random to me because three pages in you are in the poverty stricken streets of London in the late 1700’s. As the book develops in its different parts you soon come to understand the significance of it as The Secret River is not just about the first convicts to Australia, it is also about racism and a rather dark time in Australia’s history as men try and stake their claims on the continent and in doing so tragic and horrific events unfold.

What I think that Grenville has done in this book which is incredibly clever is give you the back story of William Thornhill and his wife Sal so that you have seen them struggle and fight through poverty, sickness, death and despair through their lives in London and so you come to like them. Therefore when they then become embroiled in situations in the future you have a real difficulty as a reader to then separate the people and the circumstances and the conclusions they bring. I can’t say any more than that as wouldn’t want to give the story away; it did make me really think though as well as affecting, horrifying and unnerving me.

I am aware that I might not do this book justice as if I say to much I culd ruin it for anyone who hasnt read it yet and isn’t aware of the story so am being a bit vaguer than normal. I was impressed how quickly I was pulled into this book and ended up reading it in four sittings. I can be a little hit and miss with historic fiction yet before I knew it I had gotten through half of the book. As I said I liked the characters of Will and Sal and despised some of Grenville’s well drawn vile characters like Smasher who has to be read to be believed. I also felt that Grenville tried to balance the story as best she could by putting you in the minds of both those arriving in Australia and doing anything to make their way and survive and those already in Australia who wanted to keep what was theirs and survive.

If that wasn’t enough Grenville even did the unthinkable and made me enjoy a book that has a lot of ‘boatish’ things going on in it, something I didn’t think was possible. I did have one small issue I must mention to make this a wholly rounded review and that was some of the characters names. I found it distracted me (and if you spotted this you will know why though email me don’t leave in the comments) which sounds a small thing but would draw me out of the story now and again, but a very small qualm overall.

All in all I am really, really pleased that I have finally read The Secret River, if you haven’t read it yet do give it a try. Its finding a book like this that is one of the reason’s why I am so pleased some of my resolutions were ‘whim reading’ and ‘no book buying’… look at what gems I have been missing. I will definitely be reading more of Grenville’s work in the future (I have a few more on the TBR), what would you recommend next? If you have already read The Secret River what did you make of it?

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Kate Grenville, Review

Guessing The Man Booker Longlist

Now in case any of you think that I am cheating and releasing this on the day that the longlist is announced, I have actually written this a few days ahead, as am still in bed and its good to use this swine flu for something positive, anyway so its a timed blog that should be online from 2am. See all bases covered. So back to the point of the blog its the day (or will be the day – as I type) that the Man Booker Longlist is announced which in the world of books is quite a big event. So I thought I would have a guess (and believe me I have done this for two years running and only matched four of my guesses to actual longlisters so am not expecting better this year) and this years Savidge Reads guess is…

  • Between The Assassinations – Aravind Adiga
  • Strangers – Anita Brookner
  • The Childrens Book – A. S. Byatt
  • The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
  • The Wilderness – Samantha Harvey
  • The Book of Negroes  – Lawrence Hill
  • Wolf Hall – Hilary Mantel
  • The Taste of Sorrow – Jude Morgan
  • Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
  • Brooklyn – Colm Toibin
  • The Slap – Christos Tsiolkas
  • The Little Stranger – Sarah Waters
  • Breathe – Tim Winton

Will I be even close? I would love to be and possibly feel a little current and with it, at the same time I would like to be quite wrong and see lots of talent I haven’t spotted that I can then read if that makes sense? Out of my list I would most like Kamila Shamsie, Jude Morgan or Samatha Harvey win, though really its a close battle at the moment for Kamila Shamsie and Jude morgan as to who has written my favourite read of 2009 so far!

Who do you think will get longlisted? Are you going to try and do the longlist? I think I am, I just need to pace myself properly with ‘other books I want to read along the way’ as I didnt do this with the Orange. So how close will I get… we will have to wait and see, let me know all of your thoughts!

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Filed under Man Booker

What I Bought Back From The North

Nope I still havent quite been able to finish reviewing Midnight’s Children though I have officially finished it. It has to be one of the hardest books to review, so while I recover from being a bit ill yesterday and try again to crack a worthy review I thought I would let you know of my latest bookshopping from while I was away up north last weekend! Naturally the bookshops of Matlock and the surrounding area were simply too good to miss. Can anyone tell me why charity shops arent as cheap as they are in the north of England everywhere? Mind you if they were I would be forever shopping and never have enough money to eat. I was slightly reserved and only bought four books and had valid reasons for buying them all frankly (and yes I will keep telling myself that)…

E.M. Forster – A Passage to India
I am having a real love affair with India through my reading so far this year (The White Tiger and Midnight’s Children to name two) and so this one being such a classic has always been on my radar. Reading the blurb how could I then resist “When Adela and her elderly companion Mrs Moore arrive in the Indian town of Chandrapore, they quickly feel trapped by its insular and prejudiced British community. Determined to explore the real India’, they seek the guidance of the charming and mercurial Dr Aziz, a cultivated Indian Muslim. But a mysterious incident occurs while they are exploring the Marabar caves with Aziz, and the well-respected doctor soon finds himself at the centre of a scandal that rouses violent passions among both the British and their Indian subjects.” Well frankly I couldn’t at 99p! It goes towards my aim of reading more classics in 2009 too.

William Golding – Rites of Passage
Well as I am planning on trying to read all the Booker winners within the next twelve-ish months this, the 1980 winner, has elluded me in recent shopping trips. I shamefully have still not read Lord of the Flies which I am quite embarrased about… I mean I call myself a reader!!!!

Carson McCullers – The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
I have to admit I bought this for the cover (I love the new silvery Penguin Modern Classics) and also for the title, come on you must all surely have done that before. However it does sound like it could be wonderful “Set in a small town in the American South, it is the story of a group of people who have little in common except that they are all hopelessly lonely. A young girl, a drunken socialist and a black doctor are drawn to a gentle, sympathetic deaf mute, whose presence changes their lives.” I might read this soonish!

Kate Grenville – An Idea of Perfection
I have been waiting and waiting to see a copy of this as I am holding off reading ‘The Secret River’ until I have managed this first. I dont know why I originally came up with that pact with myself but I did and am sticking to it. Plus with my soon to start Orange Short-list-a-thon I am going to read some previous winners and some of the other books the winners have written before I delve in!

What was the latest book you bought? Have you read any of the above or any of the authors mentioned? I would love to know! (Oh and dont forget the competition below!)

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Filed under Book Spree, Book Thoughts, Kate Grenville

Travel Companions (and a hard but worth while competition)

So by the time you read this I shall probably be on a train going halfway up the country to my homeland, that’s right the blogs you get over the next few days are timed and have been written in advance so I have been less reading and more typing the last few days. It is a mixture of sadness and happiness that takes me up as I love seeing all my family but sadly we are doing my Granddad’s (or as I called him Bongy) ashes, it would have been his 70th birthday on Sunday. Now that may get you all doing some maths, my Mum had me when she was 16 and my grandparents helped raise me when she was at University (well in the holidays – I was with her in term time) so as my Dad wasn’t around Bong was actually the closest thing to a Dad I had. Sadly almost two years ago he was diagnosed with cancer and died within seven weeks, and I think the shock, plus logistics of the Savidge Tribe (we are having a close family dinner Sunday and its 20 people) have held us off doing this sooner. I think it’s quite nice it’s his 70th seems timely. Anyway enough doom and gloom this is a book blog not my online therapy outpourings.

So like I said when you read this I will be on the train and what does one need for all good train journeys? No not a book… books. I see the books I travel with as being almost as important as whom I am travelling with. You need something for every possible eventuality; therefore I don’t take a book I tend to take two or three for each direction the ones I don’t read on the way to my destination I can read when I am at it if that makes sense? So I always take about six one of each of the following catagories;
a) Something big I have been meaning to read for ages
b) A guilty pleasure read in case the above really just doesn’t work out, you know something slightly erm… un-literary??!!
c) Something by one of my favourite authors (like we discussed on Thursday)
d) Something brand spanking new ‘just in’ as you never know
e) A good crime novel
f) Something that has been hovering on my TBR pile and reading radar for sometime
This so far has stood me in good stead (though do note this isnt the order I read them in) and ok so my bags might be a bit heavy (I always get a tut from the Non-Reader over the amount of books I “need” when we go on trips) but should the train breakdown in the middle of nowhere or we get stranded at a station hey I am all sorted thank you very much.

So for this trip I have enclosed in my luggage in reference to the above formula:
a) Midnights Children – Salman Rushdie (and the latest Savidge Big Reads which you can join in with, I think some of you are already?)
b) Angels & Demons – Dan Brown (as The Da Vinci Code was a complete cheap thrill page turner and also because I am also going to a special screening with Q&A’s with the stars and director next week)
c) Behind The Scenes At The Museum – Kate Atkinson (must try and love this book)
d) The Earth Hums in B Flat – Mari Strachan (and I am taking part in a blog on someone elses site where we get to ask the author lots of questions and you can join in – more of this on Wednesday)
e) The Point of Rescue – Sophie Hannah (because her books are just superb)
Now what about f? I was stuck I simply had too many contenders. Eventually I managed to whittle it down to five…

If you cant see the picture very well the five are; Daphne – Justine Picardie, The Girl on the Landing – Paul Torday, The Devil’s Paintbrush – Jake Arnott, The Road Home – Rose Tremain or The Secret River – Kate Greville!

So which one did I pick? Well I thought I would leave you guessing and see what you come up with, which one would you have taken? Which one do you think I will have taken? I can’t wait to read your thoughts… and also if you have any particular ‘books for travel’ rules yourselves?

I was going to dish up the results of my nosey findings of what people have been reading on the tube as it fits well with this but as this blog looks a little like a business report I shall hold off with any more lists and bullet points! I am going to run a little competition though… As well as telling me which one I picked from my five and your travel reads habits, if you can guess how many of the books I actually read (and which books they were) from what I have taken I will send you a very special book filled parcel! Adds to the May Bank Holiday Fun for you all I think! You have until 9am Tuesday…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Jake Arnott, Justine Picardie, Kate Atkinson, Kate Grenville, Mari Strachan, Salman Rushdie, Sophie Hannah

Latest Reading Arrivals…

I thought as I have gone a fair few book reviews in the last two days that I would put up some pictures of the latest arrivals here in Tooting Towers. I have had some lovely parcels (some people call them promotional items – I call them presents) from some of the publishers which I always greet with great excitement. You can see these below…

The First Person & Other Stories – Ali Smith (Penguin)

I had the pleasure of reading Girl Meets Boy earlier in the year and so far its still one of my favourite reads in ages, I also loved The Incidental when I read that a few years ago. A collection of short stories that are “always intellectually playful, funny and moving’ should be a joy to read.

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton (Penguin)
The cover (or covers… more when I review) of this makes it look like a gothic mystery novel and I adore those. I have high hopes for a debut which seems to have a massive marketing campaign going and took fifteen years to write. The line “and out of the Darkwood Mr Toppit comes, and he comes not for you, or for me, but for all of us” sounds deliciously dark. I have to admit I have started this it just looked to good to savour.

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill (Harper Perenial)
Another one of the Richard and Judy Books of 2009 for which I am doing the challenge. This one is the one that in all honesty (and I will always be honest) has the least appeal to me initially as it seems to be about cricket which I am not a fan of. However its also a book about ‘belonging and not belonging’ which sounds unusual plus it was longlisted for the Man Booker and didnt win which is a good sign. I am more of a fan of the longlisted or shortlisted than the winner.

The Devils Paintbrush – Jake Arnott (Sceptre)
I meant to re-read his novel The Long Firm earlier but didnt manage to get round to it (don’t worry though I will) which is part of his trolgy about gangsters. This scandalous tale is set in Paris in 1903 and is Arnotts first foray into ‘historial fiction’.

The Dog – Kerstin Ekman (Sphere)
Dovegreyreader reviewed this recently and I would never have heard of it if not for her… and the people at NewBooks Magazine who have asked me to review it. It sounds a bit sad though, a puppy getting lost in the wild and having to fight for its survival. However this may actually make the dog loving Non Reader pick up a book after I have finished one for once.

The Prophet Murders – Mehmet Murat Somer (Serpents Tail)
A crime which has the wonderful subtitle of ‘a Hop Ciki Yaya Thriller’ – I am already sold.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay – Michael Chabon (Harper Perennial)
I cannot count the times that people have told me ‘you will love that book’ its huge so I will be saving it for some very long train journeys I have lined up in a few weeks. The fact its a “heart-wrenching story of escape, love and comic-book heroes set in Prague, New York and the Arctic” does sound like quirky brilliance so I may very well love it.

King Kong Theory – Virginie Despentes (Serpents Tail)
This book has caused quite a lot of controversy of late (well in the broadsheets at the weekend anyway) and has made me want to read it and from the chapter titles (oh its short autobiographical stories) which I shant print just yet I can see why. Its also very short and short reads are the way forward after Mr Toppit I think.

I also went second hand shopping yesterday and found…

The Danish Girl – David Ebershoff (Phoenix)
After the thought provoking The 19th Wife it seemed like fate when I saw this for 50p. The story is again based on real people this time the “story of Danish painter Einar Dresden, this is a strange and eerily haunting novel about a very unusual love affair between a man who realizes he is really a woman and his remarkable wife” sounds unusual and is currently being made into a film with Nicole Kidman and Charlie Theron in it!

The Leopard – Giuseppe di Lampedusa (Vintage)
I have seen this book listed in so many ‘books you must read’ lists and the like that again for 50p how could I say no? I had no idea what it was about but apparently its a materpiece “is set amongst an aristocratic family, facing social and political changes in the wake of Garibaldi’s invasion of Sicily in 1860” time will tell I sometimes have issues with masterpieces. Love the old Fontana edition I got will feel cultured andretro reading it on the tube.

The Secret River – Kate Grenville (Canongate)
I had been out shopping second hand especially for this. It’s for this reason that charity books are brilliant, money to a good cause and also when your unsure of an author its a good way of trying them before you become addicted and buy everything they do th moment it comes out… or never read them again. I heard Grenville on the Guardian Book Group podcast and despite the fact it pretty much gave everything away (I shant dear readers) I thought I should try it. It is another Man Booker nominee that didnt win so the signs are good I will like it.

As for what I am specifically reading this week after Mr Toppit… mainly short reads including The Dog as mentioned. After a few heavier novels I want some faster fiction plus I had a readers block for a while and short reads are the best medicine for that. I might recah for another Capote maybe. I have also promised Novel Insights (who is on a world tour so wont be blogging till the summer now – selfish) I will read The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood for our mammoth Rogue Book Group and shes stared already!

Any short read recommendations out there? What are you all reading?

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Filed under Ali Smith, Book Spree, Charles Elton, David Ebershoff, Jake Arnott, Joseph O'Neill, Kate Grenville, Kerstin Ekman, Virginie Despentes