Tag Archives: Lucy Wood

A Summer of Short Stories

I have fallen in love with short stories again this year. Not that I am sure I ever fell out of love with them. I think if anything I tended to read collections by authors I knew, and saw them rather like bonus scenes to the full novels, which I know is daft but it is true. It was rare that I would read a completely new to me authors collection, though when I did and they were like Lucy Wood’s Diving Belles (which if you haven’t read after the amount of times I have recommended it, you are bonkers and there may be no hope for you, ha) I was lost in them completely.

This year they have really come into their own though for me. During Fiction Uncovered I was introduced to several collections of which the standouts were longlisted The Way Out by Vicki Jarrett and one of the winners The Redemption of Galen Pike by Carys Davies, both of which I will be telling you about and raving about in due course.

Collections can be an interesting experience as some will blow you away and some will leave you cold, I hasten to add none leave you cold in the two I mention above, which can create an interesting reading experience of peaks and troughs. When a short story is amazing though it can blow your mind and as I said when I was talking about how intense reading taught me about my own read habits and that Sometimes a single short story in a collection can have as much power as a 500+ page novel, which is true.

I also think they could be the perfect way to get people back into reading more if they think they haven’t the time or that reading isn’t really for them. You can read a story or two on a commute, or when you are on the loo (sorry over sharing) or when you’re waiting in the car park for your partner to finish faffing around Homebase or any other DIY store, or clothes store if your partner is more into that than DIY or just on your lunch break and need a quick fiction fix.

They are a few pages of magic and so I am planning on reading lots more over (what is left of) the summer. Here are some, not all, of the collections I have been buying and others I have dusted off for just such a short story binge…

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  • Don’t Try This At Home by Angela Readman – This is a collection that The Beard bought me after I had heard great things about it from various lovely sorts on Twitter and also declared I wanted the cover art as bedding.
  • The Isle of Youth by Laura Van Den Berg – I saw this collection from Daunt Books (who have a publishing house as well as gorgeous bookshops) out the corner of my eye, because the cover shimmers, in Waterstones in Newcastle where they have wonderful displays of eclectic books, so purchased it.
  • The Iraqi Christ by Hassan Blasim – This collection won the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize last year (why all prizes don’t include short story collections I do not know) and my lovely pal Natalie was one of the judges and raved about it, a lot.
  • Young Skins by Colin Barrett – This won last year’s Guardian First Book Prize and whilst it pains me that the author was born in the same year as me, 1982, and is so talented it does mean I can tick off a box on my BOTNS Bingo Summer Reading card. This also links nicely with…
  • Things to Make and Break by May-Lan Tan – This was longlisted for last year’s Guardian First Book Award and was the public’s addition to the longlist. I read and really liked May-Lan Tan’s chapbook of two short stories Girly earlier this year and then randomly sat next to her at an event and had a lovely long chat about all sorts.
  • The Not-Dead and The Saved by Kate Clanchy – I do not know a single person who has seen Clanchy read her stories that has not been in hysterics and in tears in both happy and sad ways. This was enough of a recommendation for me.
  • An Account of the Decline of the Great Auk, According to One Who Saw It by Jessie Greengrass – One of the first books to come from the John Murray Originals imprint (the cover is stunning) which I want to read for the title, and title story, alone.
  • Merciless Gods by Christos Tsiolkas – I love Tsiolkas’ writing and this is one of the collections I have been most excited about this year, it is out in September.
  • Jellyfish by Janice Galloway – Almost everyone I know loves Janice Galloway so by default I am sure I will and I think short stories can sometimes be a rather wonderful way of trialling an author, or maybe trying them out sounds nicer.
  • Your Father Sends His Love by Stuart Evers – Again all the right people have been raving about this.
  • Stone Mattress by Margaret Atwood – Why on earth has this gone unread for so long, I am frankly embarrassed. She is a genius, we all know this, and this is meant to be a brilliant collection of nine tales.

Phew. You may notice that there aren’t any classics on this list, which I have realised is rather remiss of me. That said I am reviewing a modern classic collection next, so you’ll be hearing all about that. I have also been contemplating Hemingway’s short stories in September as I will be at some of his old hangouts and watering holes by Lake Michigan when I go on my road trip around some of northern America, we will see.

Have you read any of the above collections or other collections by some of those authors? What did you make of them? Are you a fan of the short story? As always I would love your short story recommendations be they new, recent or classic (I have a feeling many of you will mention Elizabeth McCracken’s Thunderstruck, which I have read and adored but am struggling to write a review of) so let me know which other collections I should look out for and why…

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Why I Still Turn to Fairytales…

Some might say it is a little bit queer (rolls eyes at self) that a thirty three year old man would be desperate to see Cinderella as his 33rd birthday treat, yet this was my story just a few weeks ago. Since I can remember when I have loved a good fairytale. This I blame on my family frankly.

Firstly my highly over imaginative grandfather who made me believe that the tower at the top of our hill (actually part of The Heights of Abraham) was where Rapunzel lived (who I named my pet duck after) and who also wrote me magical tales with me in them when I was three upwards. Secondly my pair of wicked ugly aunties (only joking Caz and Alice, honest, gulp) who told me tales of witches who lived on the hill, which I think they made up. Thirdly my mother who would read and reread (and reread and reread and reread) the wonderful Ladybird Well Loved Tales to me as a child. Fourthly my Gran who also read me those and would watch the Slipper and the Rose (one of the best versions of the Cinderella story, end of) at least four or five times, with a break in between for The Wizard of Oz or the odd Doris Day movie, when I would stay in the school holidays. I know, this explains so much right there doesn’t it?

My old family home, surrounded by forest – Sleeping Beauty much?

So I guess fairy tales were a safe haven when I was growing up and indeed have been my turn to books whenever I am feeling a little off kilter, ill, out of sorts or have the dreaded readers block. There are the odd exceptions but Into the Woods was a film not a book and probably shouldn’t be mentioned ever again. Oddly enough once I realised how much darker they were than sanitised Ladybird or Disney incarnations I loved them all the more, though still haven’t read all the ‘fairy tales uncut’ as it were. That was why there was really no other first tattoo option for me; I am planning a ‘woodland fairytale scene’ on my other arm as we speak. Seeing Cinderella, which was extremely good indeed thank you for asking, and having the new routine of watching an episode of Once Upon a Time with my breakfast and coffee and sometimes my lunch – the urge for me to read the originals and the new homage’s and the like has come back really strong.

I thought instead of me just asking you for advice on which ones I should look out for, though you all know I am going to ask that later let’s not pretend, I decided I would share with you some fairy tales and fairy tale themed books I have loved and some I have been buying and hoarding and planning to read at some point.

Just a selection from my shelves...

Just a selection from my shelves…

First up are some books that I would really, really recommend and indeed have reviewed. There are of course the originals but you all know about all of them. There have been some wonderful authors who have taken on the fairytales and given them their spin. Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber is one fine example, as is Philip Pullman’s Grimm Tales (which do what they say on the tin) and I would highly recommend Sarah Pinborough’s trilogy of Poison, Charm (which I have read but yet to review) and Beauty (which I have yet to read) which give the tales of three princesses a much darker and saucier feel, and cleverly interweaves them all.

If you fancy some new fairytales then you can’t go wrong with the fantastically gothic graphic novel collection of both Emily Carroll’s Through the Woods and Isabel Greenberg’s An Encyclopedia of Early Earth one which will give you the horrors, the other which looks at myths, fairytales and legends and their creation. Then there is the wonderful collection by Viktor and Rolf, which safe to celebrates the campiness of the fairytale, disco hedgehog anyone? Oh and how could I forget the sublime, sublime, sublime Diving Belles by Lucy Wood which is one of my favourite short story collections every and will have you seeing magic, mermaids and witches everywhere when you leave the house.

There is one standout though that both reinvents and invents. With Bitter Greens I think Kate Forsyth, who is actually a Doctor of Fairytales yet who we shall just call Queen of the Fairy Tales for now, has done something incredible that any fairy tale or story lover of any type should read. In it we meet three women all isolated from society for various different reasons, a storyteller locked in a nunnery, a woman locked into getting revenge and a young girl locked in a tower. These women’s tales come together to create a wonderful novel about storytelling, history, and fairytales and of course my favourite tale of all the story tales… Rapunzel. Just read it. I need to read The Wild Girl which I believe looks at the Brothers Grimm themselves and nicely links in to some books I haven’t read yet but have bought.

So what of the books to read?  I didn’t realise this until recently, and now it seems so obvious, but Kate Hamer’s debut about a child abducted The Girl in the Red Coat is one I am itching to read, as is Kirsty Logan’s collection of modern fairytales The Rental Heart. Then there is the series that I have seen lots and lots and lots of people going crazy over, the dystopic Lunar Chronicles which sees Cinderella as a cyborg, Little Red Riding Hood turn detective/street crime fighter and Rapunzel a computer hacker. I. CANNOT. WAIT!

Oh and then there are two nonfiction books I should mention. Once Upon a Time which is Marina Warner’s short history of the fairytale (apparently she is an expert so I might end up wanting her entire backlist) and I am also desperate to read, Gossip from the Forest by Sara Maitland which comes with the subtitle the tangled roots of our forests and fairytales which I have had on the shelves for far too long and needs to be read.

Phew I think that is enough! As you can see this list is not exhaustive and I am sure there are many, many recommendations you would love to pass onto me. Hint, hint. Has Margaret Atwood not done some fairytales, it will be a crime if not. If you would like to hear Kate Forsyth and I talking fairytales, you can do so here, oh and if anyone would like to be a secret benefactor and send me to Australia to do a doctorate of fairytales and follow in Kate’s footsteps do let me know. Right over to you; which of the above have you read and what would you recommend?

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Guessing the Bailey’s Prize Longlist 2015

I haven’t done this for a year or two I don’t think, yet as it is International Women’s Day it seemed fitting for me to celebrate it by celebrating female authors and what could do that better than by playing guess the Bailey’s Prize for Women’s Fiction longlist which will be revealed on Tuesday next week. Initially I didn’t think I would be able to hazard a guess at this, yet when I started thinking about the books that I have read and loved plus went and looked through my shelves of all the books I have meant to read in the last year I suddenly had far too many. You see that is my criteria for guessing, which books have I read and loved that are eligable and which ones would I love to see listed because I am desperate to read them and think they may well be corkers, as may you!

So here are the books that I have read and would LOVE to see on the list on Tuesday, I have linked if I have reviewed them…

The Bees by Laline Paull, He Wants by Alison Moore, After Me Comes the Flood by Sarah Perry, Thirst by Kerry Hudson, Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey, Animals by Emma Jane Unsworth, The Repercussions by Catherine Hall (which I edited one edition of so haven’t reviewed yet but will with that caveat) and finally The Miniturist by Jessie Burton, which I just read and absolutely adored, more soon.

Then for the books that I really want to read…

Dept of Speculation by Jenny Offill (which I actually have finished since scheduled this post), Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Viper Wine by Hermione Eyre, How to be Both by Ali Smith, Mr Mac and Me by Esther Freud, An Untamed State by Roxanne Gay, Rise by Karen Campbell, Her by Harriet Lane, Weathering by Lucy Wood, I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, Mother Island by Bethan Roberts and Young God by Katherine Faw Morris.

(I could also have mentioned The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins, A God in Every Stone by Kamila Shamsie and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart which I have read all of. And I also mulled over Academy Street by Mary Costello, The Ship by Antonia Honeywell, The Exit by Helen Fitzgerald, The First Bad Man by Miranda July, Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller, The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters, A Blue Spool of Thread by Anne Tyler and The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer.)

Blimey hasn’t it been an amazing year, again, for women’s fiction. What are your thoughts on the Bailey’s Prize longlist, let me know if you have had a guess and if not which ones would you like to see on the list? Have you read any of the above and if so what did you think? Who would you love to win?

P.S Sorry the pictures aren’t all the same size, it is setting off my OCD slightly too!

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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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Other People’s Bookshelves #9; David Dean

As Thursday rolls round again it’s time to take a nosey look through someone else’s shelves and this week we are joined by book cover illustrator, and commenter extraordinaire on this blog, David Dean. David is an illustrator, mainly of children’s books (you can see some of his work here, my sister Mim loved ‘Dead Man’s Cove’) which means he can combine his two passions – books and painting – and get paid for it, which, he says “seems to me to be pretty ideal. Getting to go off and play in authors’ worlds all day is just the best job”. He lives with his two cats, Button and Ptolemy, to the east of Manchester, in the foothills of the Pennines where he loves to go walking. Book-wise he reads mainly contemporary fiction, though lately he is trying to read older books. He has a particular fondness for Canadian literature and is slowly starting to explore Australian fiction too. So let’s have a look through his shelves and find out more…

Do you keep all the books you read on your shelves or only your favourites, does a book have to be REALLY good to end up on your shelves or is there a system like one in one out, etc?

I used to keep everything on my shelves, read and unread, but I ran out of shelf space a few years ago and now all my shelves are double-stacked. So behind what you can see in the photos there is essentially the same number of books again. The books hidden behind are ones I haven’t read and don’t immediately plan to read (though I have recently been having fun by rooting around in there amongst books I’d half forgotten to select my next read), but there are also quite a few back there which I have read but which I maybe didn’t like all that much but don’t want to get rid of. Typically this will be because they’re by an author I otherwise like – as an example ‘The Testament of Mary’ by Colm Toibin went straight to the back, whilst ‘Brooklyn’ is still on display. As for ‘one in, one out’ – ha! I wish I could be that tough, but I really struggle to part with books. The number of times I’ve put books in a charity bag only to wish I still had them years later.

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Do you organise your shelves in a certain way? For example do you have them in alphabetical order of author, or colour coded? Do you have different bookshelves for different books (for example, I have all my read books on one shelf, crime on another and my TBR on even more shelves) or systems of separating them/spreading them out? Do you cull your bookshelves ever?

Alphabetically (for fiction anyway) – I can never understand people who don’t alphabetise books and CDs. And then each author’s books are organised by publication date. I have all my fiction books in one room, though my Folio Society editions are in boxes rather than out on the shelves – cloth bindings (especially if they’re faux Victorian looking) seem wrong to my eye when put next to modern dust jackets. And then in what I laughingly refer to as my ‘studio’ (in reality the box room) I have all my art and design and travel books. These are not filed in any particular order, just by the most efficient way to get as many on to the shelves as possible, a system that drives me mad, but needs must I’m afraid.

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

Goodness, I don’t know. I’ve always read but I wouldn’t say I was an avid reader as a child (I read comics more than books) and I spent my pocket money on toys rather than books. Books we got from the mobile library. I remember having and reading copies of Roald Dahl and Alan Garner, but I think my Mum probably bought those for me. I didn’t become a big buyer of books until I was about 13 and I started reading Star Trek novels, of which I must have had well over a hundred. But I suppose with my own money it might have been this from 1985. It doesn’t reside on my shelves but I think it might be in my Mum & Dad’s loft somewhere.

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Are there any guilty pleasures on your bookshelves you would be embarrassed people might see, or like me do you have a hidden shelf for those somewhere else in the house?

Guilty pleasures? Not really. Most of the books on my shelves are contemporary literary fiction and boringly respectable. I do have a full set of Dan Dare books (reprinting the original stories from the Eagle of the 50s and 60s), some collected editions of the Transformers comics I loved as a kid, a few graphic novels, but nothing I’d be embarrassed by.

Which book on the shelves is your most prized, mine would be a collection of Conan Doyle stories my Great Uncle Derrick memorised and retold me on long walks and then gave me when I was older? Which books would you try and save if (heaven forbid) there was a fire?

I think most would be replaceable, and there are other things I’d save first in the event of a fire. I’d perhaps save my copy of ‘King of the World: The Padshahnama’, a very nice art book on the paintings produced for the Mughal Emperor Shah Jehan. The pictures have been a huge influence on my own painting so it has been an important books to me.

What is the first ‘grown up’, and I don’t mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’ way, that you remember on your parent’s shelves or at the library, you really wanted to read? Did you ever get around to it and are they on your shelves now?

I don’t think I ever borrowed anything from my parents’ shelves. Their tastes didn’t really appeal to me at that age, though me and my Mum now regularly lend each other books. I do remember looking through a couple of my Mum’s for the rude bits!

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If you love a book but have borrowed the copy do you find you have to then buy the book and have it on your bookshelves or do you just buy every book you want to read?

I pretty much just buy what I want to read, and far more than I ever actually COULD read!

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

A handful bought this week: Olivia Manning’s ‘The Rain Forest’ (I want to read her two trilogies, but thought a single novel might give me an idea if I like her writing before embarking on a huge tome); Alyson Hagy’s ‘Ghosts of Wyoming’, Dylan Nice’s ‘Other Kinds’ and David McGlynn’s ‘The End of the Straight and Narrow’ (I’ve grown to love short stories over the past year and a lot of my favourites have been by American authors) and Lucy Wood’s ‘Diving Belles’ because Simon has raved about it so often on his blog!

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

Yes, lots! My wish list on Amazon currently contains 327 books and my wish list on Book Depository runs to 15 pages.

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

That I read too much?

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A big thank you to David for letting me grill him. Don’t forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to) in Other People’s Book Shelves series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of David’s responses and/or any of the books he mentioned?

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Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part Two…

As I mentioned on Saturday I was going to try and be really brave and break the habit of this blogs and just do a single top ten books of the year. I tried and tried and tried, and I failed. I simply couldn’t only have ten, in fact I actually had a top thirty roughly, but then I have read 167 books (Green Carnation submissions always bump this figure up, what will next year be like without them) this year so maybe that will make it slightly more understandable. So what I have done once again is have two top tens, one of the books published for the first time in the UK in 2012 and another with all the other books published before that – today I am listing my favourite books published for the first time in the UK in 2012. For the full review click on the link, I have chosen a highlighting paragraph to tempt you for this post.

10. The Lifeboat by Charlotte Rogan

I think ‘The Lifeboat’ is one of the most brilliant fictional takes on ‘mental warfare’ and how people change under certain circumstances that I have come across in a very long time, especially from a modern writer. Dare I say there was something rather Daphne Du Maurier-like about the darkness that develops? What I won’t say is anything about the other characters (apart from the fact I was scared of Mrs Grant) because I don’t want to give anything away, but Rogan creates a fascinating psychological game with them all, and with Grace herself Rogan pulls the trump card.

9. The Snow Child – Eowyn Ivey

I was enjoying ‘The Snow Child’ so much from the start that I did something I hardly ever do. Rather than read it in chunks when I could, I simply devoted almost a whole day to it. I could have saved it and made it last, but sometimes you have to think ‘stuff that’ and just get lost in it all. So I did and read the book in pretty much one go just gorging on it. Now that is the sign of a truly magical book, I was completely spellbound… apart from having to pop the heater on and making the occasional hot drink as the snow really does feel like it’s coming off the page. This is a highly, highly recommended read.

8. The Colour of Milk – Nell Leyshon

The book is a story of a girl who leaves an unhappy home, yet we figure that out as we read on because really Mary is quite happy with her life on the whole thank you very much. The fact the story is reminiscent of a Victorian classic also works in the books favour because it feels comfortable and yet different, does that make sense? I have to admit that i did hazard a guess at ending that seems to have shocked other people I know who have read it, which I will not spoil or even hint at, not that it stopped me loving the book because I was being taken along by Mary who I could have read for another few hundred pages or more.

7. Some Kind of Fairy Tale – Graham Joyce

If you are thinking of dipping your reading toes/eyes into fantasy from literary fiction or vice versa, or more importantly if you just want a really good story, then you need to read ‘Some Kind of Fairy Tale’. I am really pleased that I ended up choosing this for one of The Readers Book Groups on a whim because I can promise you that I am going to read everything that he has written so far after reading this. I really like his prose and in a way he is doing with literary fiction and fantasy what I think Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill have done with their crime novels, merging them so they become one genre, a genre I call ‘bloody good books’.

6. The End of Your Life Book Club – Will Schwalbe

There are some books out there that you need at a certain time in your life. They can be therapeutic and upsetting but show you just how important a book can be as an object that emotionally resonates with you. These books may be recommended when you are going through something or they may be found through researching yourself. That said they are not self help books, just books which chime in with you at that moment. Will Schwalbe’s ‘The End of Your Life Book Club’ is one such book, a book that seemed to mirror my life in many ways it was both a comfort and occasionally uncomfortable, overall though just amazing.

5. Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

I don’t think I have read a book that has taken me to such dark places, it’s not a graphically disturbing novel though get ready to have your mind played with and warped, and have so many twists and turns. I also don’t think I have read a book that so cleverly asks the question ‘how well do you really know your partner’ and answers it in such a shocking, brutal yet also worryingly plausible way. ‘Gone Girl’ is easily one of the best novels I have read this year, I cannot recommend it enough… well, unless you are about to get married, have just got married or have just had a bit of a row with your other half as it might give you second thoughts, or sudden ideas, good and bad.

4. The Age of Miracles – Karen Thompson Walker

I thought that ‘The Age of Miracles’ was a truly marvellous novel, definitely one of the highlights of the year so far for me. Naturally because I loved it so much I am finding it very difficult to do the book justice as I feel I missed so much out. I was so lost in the book that I felt the people’s dread and I felt like I was with Julia along the way; I got very upset several times, and as the book went on worried all the more. I was hooked. It seems almost patronising to say ‘I was also really shocked this was a debut novel’ yet if I am honest I was. Karen Thompson Walkers prose is wonderful in the fact it captures the changing atmosphere of the people and the planet, and I should mention here the brilliant way she creates a divided society with people who keep ‘clock time’ and people who decide to live with the earth’s new unnaturally timed days, and also ever so slowly and skilfully builds up the tensions in relationships, fear and terror as the earth slows down and the book leads to its conclusion.

3. Hawthorn & Child – Keith Ridgway

I think the best way to sum up the wonderfully quirky, exciting and surreal yet real ‘Hawthorn & Child’ comes from one of the many characters who could be a psychopath or sociopath or just mad who says “Knowing things completes them. Kills them. They fade away, decided over and forgotten. Not knowing sustains us.” This is a book where not everything is resolved, stories create stories, some fade and some linger, the only constant is the brilliant writing, compellingly created cast, sense of mystery and dark humour which will sustain you from the start until the end and may just have you turning to the first page again as soon as you have finished the last.

2. Diving Belles – Lucy Wood

‘Diving Belles’ is a collection of stories that it would be easy to describe as fairytales for adults, that very statement may of course put people off, and while it is a book that finds the myths and legends of the Cornish coast seeping into every page of it there is so much more to it than that. Of course writing about a whole collection is always difficult (made doubly so when you loved every single one in the book) as you could end up giving too much away on each story or end up writing something as long as the collection itself.

1.  My Policeman – Bethan Roberts

I adored ‘My Policeman’, despite the fact it made me cry on a few occasions. I found it incredibly difficult to break away from it for any period of time yet I also found that as the book went on I was trying not to read it too fast, in part from the sense of impending doom and also because I didn’t really want it to end. I felt I was there, a bystander watching it all, feeling for Marion then Patrick and vice versa. It is one of the most beautifully written and emotionally engaging novels I have read this year. It is also a book that highlights a bit of our history that we often brush under the carpet, mainly because we think we are more tolerant now, and yet is one that should definitely be acknowledged and learnt from.

There are of course a few other books I must mention, for example both winners of the Green Carnation Prize, ‘Moffie’ by Andre Carl van der Merwe and ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ by Patrick Gale, and also Kerry Hudson’s ‘Tony Hogan Bought Me an Ice Cream Float Before He Stole My Ma’ which was one of the debut highlights of the year for me, I will be reviewing/reporting back on all the long list next year, as they were all rather brilliant. Also ‘The Lighthouse’ by Alison Moore and ‘Swimming Home’ by Deborah Levy which would have been joint tenth with ‘The Lifeboat’ and my final two had I done a Simon’s Booker Dozen type of post. Overall it has been a great year of reading and I am looking forward to the next.

What about you? What have been your highlights of the year published in 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think?

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Books By The Bedside #5

This week’s posts have all been scheduled in advance, hence why I have been even worse than normal at replying, as with imminent Green Carnation longlisting this week, deadlines galore and visiting Granny Savidge Reads this weekend (who has had some bad health news but I want to talk to her before sharing it, if I do)  it is all a little bit bonkers. So I thought a post on what will be on my reading horizons after having had it somewhat guided in the last few months might make a nice post. Plus it means you get to tell me what you think of the books and authors on the list and then share what you are reading and want to read which I always love hearing about…

I had imagined that once the Green Carnation submissions were done I might be able to be a little freer in whim terms. Yet interestingly it’s not going to be immediately (in part as I will have to read the longlist again) because next weekend is the start of Manchester Literature Festival and I have two events in the first week which means rather a lot of re-reading but also some new gems.

First up is an event with Catherine Hall and Patrick Gale, so I have re-read ‘The Proof of Love’ and have now lined up her debut novel ‘Days of Grace’ which I have been wanting to read for ages. I am also re-reading Patrick Gales ‘A Perfectly Good Man’ (which I have read already once this summer) and pondering if I should get ‘Notes from an Exhibition’ as apparently this is a companion, not a sequel, to that one.

The second event is all about my favourite period of history, the Victorian period, and I will be joined by Jane Harris and Essie Fox. Jane, well a firm favourite book of all time ‘Gillespie and I’, is currently on my iPod getting a re-listen (well a first listen as I read the book last time) and if I have time I am planning on revisiting ‘The Observations’ next weekend. In fact I will make time. I have just re-read ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie and am getting very excited about ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ which looks to be a little bit magical and rather dark and twisty – perfect!!

Away from Manchester Literature Festival though, I am also re-reading the wonderful tales in Lucy Wood’s debut collection of short magical and delightful stories ‘Diving Belles’ as Gavin is returning from his podcast presenting holiday this week to record the second episode of the all new Readers Book Group and this is the book in question. None of all this re-reading is a chore at all, just a joy which is lovely.

Reading purely for me and less for events and the like is all quite seasonal and autumnal. Philip Pullman’s ‘Grimm Tales’ was a naughty purchase because I simply could not not, is that a double negative now? I think I might demand ask The Beard to read me one or two of these every night maybe? Susan Hill’s ‘The Shadows in the Streets’ I have had on my bedside table since last time and will definitely get round to (she is on The Readers in November, thrilled) as I will soon be three behind. Finally, yes your eyes are telling you the truth, I have the debut novel by Judy Finnigan (yes of THE Richard and Judy) called ‘Eloise’ which looks like it might be rather Du Maurier-esque. This could be a good thing or a bad thing, but I am excited to see which.

Phew, that’s my new few weeks/months of reading sorted. Have you read any of these and if so what were your thoughts on them? What are you reading and looking forward to reading next?

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