Tag Archives: Nevil Shute

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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Other People’s Bookshelves #70 – Thomas Otto

Hello and welcome to the latest Other People’s Bookshelves, a series of posts set to feed into the natural filthy book lust we all feel and give you a fix through other people’s books and shelves. This week, for the (fanfare) 70th post in the series we are going through the shelves of a very special guest, Thomas Otto. Thomas is not only my co-host on The Readers but he is also one of my best bookish buddies and someone I have known since my blogging began, or at least it feels like that. So we head to Washington D.C where he doesn’t just have shelves but an entire library, one which I will be having a gander at in four weeks when I spend a few days in DC after Thomas and I go on a road trip around America to Booktopia MI. So let’s all grab on of John’s pina colada’s, give Lucy a pat and find out more about Thomas and his books.

A puppeteer and demolitions expert by day, Thomas Otto has been blogging since 2006. Okay part of that first sentence is true, I will leave it up to Simon’s readers to figure out which part. But seriously, I live in Washington, DC with my husband John and our dog Lucy. I blog about bookish stuff at Hogglestock.com (formerly My Porch), and I co-host a bookish podcast with some guy in England.

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

My reasons for keeping books aren’t very straight forward. The only thing that is a constant is I don’t keep books I don’t like and I keep books I like. I know that sounds straight forward but there is a middle ground of books I am somewhat ambivalent about that fall under other criteria that aren’t always the same. At some point, if I need to start getting rid of books, I will probably keep stuff that is harder to find because they have been long out of fashion. I hate the thought of those books disappearing. Lately I’ve been thinking of my will. My collection may not fetch much money but I want it to go to someone who will appreciate some of the oddities I have rather than having my next of kin pulping them when they find out they aren’t worth anything.

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?

With a few exceptions, all of my fiction is organized alphabetically by author and then chronologically by title. I used to have my TBR on separate shelves, but since we moved back into the house after the renovations I have mixed them with everything else. I can’t bring myself to break up my Persephones into alpha order, so they are all together as are my collection of Melville House novellas and those little old Oxford World Classics that can fit in your pocket. My nonfiction is roughly divided into memoirs/letters, books on books and literature, books on music, books on England, etc. One day I will organize John’s collection of garden books, but for now they are grouped rather higgedly-piggedly.

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I also ‘face’ my shelves. That is, I make sure all the spines are lined up at, or near, the edge of the shelf. It drives me bananas when they are pushed to the back of the shelf and the spines of the various sized books are uneven. I should also note that I got to customize the dimensions of my shelves and I made them shallower than the typical bookshelf which I find far deeper than what I need for fiction.

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

One of Helen Cresswell’s Bagthorpe books, but I don’t remember which one. It may have been Ordinary Jack which is the first in that series. My copy of it disappeared over 30 years ago, but oddly enough I just bought it on my recent trip to Powell’s Books in Portland. There was a small, very short-lived bookshop in my hometown when I was a kid. For some reason I bought the Cresswell and was wildly confused by all of the Britishisms in it that I didn’t even realize were Britishisms at the time. I guess even then I was an Anglophile.

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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?

Although I don’t feel any guilt about them, I think that the non-Buncle D.E. Stevenson novels probably fit this category. They are overly twee, chaste romances that are not very well written, and some of the 1970s paperback versions are definitely embarrassing to be seen reading in public. I also have most of Nevil Shute’s novels. He tells great stories but his prose can be a little embarrassing. Still, I never feel guilt when I read them, only pleasure, and they both hold pride of place with the rest of my fiction collection.

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?

Many of the books on my shelves are not expensive but they are hard to come by, so it is hard to think of which one I would save in a fire. There is a whole class of books on my shelves that fit that category. However, if I had to choose just one I would have to go with a limited edition of Sinclair Lewis’s Main Street. Not only is Lewis one of my favourite authors but this edition has colour illustrations by Grant Wood and is numbered and signed by the artist. It was also an insanely thoughtful gift from my husband.

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

Although my parent’s read quite a bit, there really wasn’t a bookshelf, it was more of a library existence for us in those days. The first adult book I read was Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews. I was far too young to read it but that didn’t seem to bother anyone even though my mother and older sister read it first.

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 haven’t borrowed a book in many years, but if I did and loved the book, I would definitely buy my own copy.

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

I just bought 61 books at Powell’s Books in Portland, Oregon, but they are being shipped so I haven’t added them to my shelves yet. I did, however, recently add Sybille Bedford’s Jigsaw. I have never read her so I hope I like it.

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

I still need to find about 20 D.E. Stevenson novels as well as more R.C. Sheriff and Richmal Crompton.

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

Unless they have tastes similar to mine I think their eyes would cross as they tried to find books or authors they recognized.

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A huge thanks to Thomas for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. I am beyond excited about heading over to the US to see him and go on our road trip, I am counting down the days. If you would like to catch up with the other posts in the series of Other People’s Bookshelves have a gander here. Don’t forget if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint as without you volunteering it doesn’t happen) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Thomas’ responses and/or any of the books and authors that he mentions?

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Gone But Not Forgotten…

It is two years today since the wonderful and bookish influence on my life that Gran was sadly passed away far too young and far too soon – we still had so many books to talk about and bookshops to go to. It’s weird in some ways as it feels at once much longer since she died and also like it was yesterday. The raw bits from the final few weeks have gone and the happy memories (of which there were many) are  much stronger now which is lovely. I still miss her hugely and still think of phoning her when I finish a book or ponder what I should read next or when I read one of her favourite authors latest books and wonder what she would have made of it. Or kick myself that she couldn’t have seen me judging a prize like Fiction Uncovered and have come to the party where she would have been in her absolute element. None of this will ever go or fade, especially when she makes spooky appearances in copies of her books I have inherited as I mentioned recently. God love her. I’m just still slowly acclimatising I guess.

Me and Gran

I was umming and ahhing about how to make her reading influence mine again this year; I delved into Graham Greene after she died (which was hit and miss) and then last year finally read  (and even met) Rose Tremain and fell in love with her prose and stories as Gran had many years before me and kept urging me to read her. So I was pondering who might be next, if I was going to do it. Well I am, and the answer came to me when I was moving books on shelves earlier this week, as I have three shelves of books I inherited from Gran… and one author I suddenly realised was in quite abundance.

Oh Shute!

Oh Shute!

Nevil Shute! I have myself only read one of Nevil Shute’s novels, On The Beach, which I was dubious about reading way back when it was chosen for a book group I was a part of in London. As it was, and despite the fact it is set on a submarine which is even worse than a book being set on a boat, I thought it was a marvellous novel which as stayed with me longer than I thought it would, I remember being very emotional at the end. Anyway Gran had quite a collection, which as I cannot ask her I am assuming she had read as I remember one particular cover of his novels from my childhood as it was on her bedside shelves in Matlock Bath for years and years and years. Weirdly it is the only one that I cannot find…

The memories...

The memories…

I wonder if my aunty Alice inherited it, it was probably the fact we had an Alice in the family that made it resonate in my brain. So I am going to track down that edition of A Town Like Alice in the next few weeks and get a copy, I know it won’t be Gran’s but the image has a nostalgia. I am also slightly miffed I can’t find her edition of Requiem for a Wren which I know is meant to be amazing. Anyway… I haven’t decided which of these books, or his books, I will read or in what order yet but I will be reading some Shute over the autumn and probably the winter and would love it if any of you would like to join in. I would also love it if you had some recommendations for me on which Shute novels are particularly brilliant. Thank you – and thanks Gran… I hope!

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Books of 2010 Part One…

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

Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte (Vintage Classics)

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

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago)

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

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

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

The Drivers Seat – Muriel Spark (Penguin Classics)

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

Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks (Vintage)

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

The Loved One – Evelyn Waugh (Penguin Classics)

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

Skin Lane – Neil Bartlett (Serpent’s Tail)

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

Stiff – Mary Roach (Penguin)

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

On The Beach – Nevil Shute (Vintage Classics)

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

Firmin – Sam Savage (Phoenix)

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

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

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Thank You Dear Readers

If you are interested in the Man Booker prize then you can go here, but if you a bit over it already then here is post that’s not booker related at all, its very book related though. Firstly a big thank you for all your thoughts and comments (and emails too) after I had a small grump ‘moment’ last week. I am still working on my review policy and my guidelines to Savidge Reads; it’s harder than you think, they will be up before the end of the week though – there’s just a lot of brainstorming going on at the moment.

My second thanks goes to five of you lovely readers who wish to remain nameless (you shouldn’t be so modest as what you have done is a lovely thing, but I have emailed you with individual thanks) who have sent me some books which are…

 

The Cat Who Could Read Backwards & The Cat Who Ate Danish Modern by Lilian Jackson Braun – I had not heard of this possibly cosy crime series which not only has an amateur detective by the name of Jim Qwilleran but an even more unusual one named Koko… a Siamese cat! I will be tucking into the first one of these very soon.

On The Beach by Nevil Shute – Well I have already recently read this but I had gotten mine from the library, a reader very kindly sent me one of their old copies which is now sat on my lovely new shelves.

My Turn To Make The Tea by Monica Dickens – I saw this a while back on Kim’s blog and as a journalist myself this sounded right up my street, well I couldn’t buy one but a lovely reader sent me their old copy, another book I will be reading swiftly (I have so many books I want to read RIGHT NOW its getting a bit out of hand).

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter – I loved ‘The Bloody Chamber’ and when I was asked if I would take a copy of a readers hands I thought ‘oooh why not’. I wasn’t expecting it to be this lovely green Virago Modern Classic edition.

David Golder by Irene Nemirovsky – I seem to be a changed man after rather disliking ‘Suite Francaise’ but really liking ‘Jezebel’ so am hoping this book also falls into the latter camp, I seem to be gaining a Nemirovsky collection now as I managed to get her short stories published by Persephone from my local library.

What a lovely haul! I am really chuffed with these and can’t thank you enough. Has anyone read any of these, where would you recommend I start… or what would you like to hear more about and see me read, though it will be done on whim?

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On The Beach – Nevil Shute

Nevil Shute is an author that I have always wanted to read, so when Polly of Novel Insights chose ‘On The Beach’ as the latest book for the Riverside Readers book group I was really pleased. However as soon as I learnt it featured two of my least favourite things in books, submarines (or boats) and nuclear apocalypse which has freaked me out since childhood, I wasn’t quite so sure. Unusual then that it’s possibly one of the most incredible, not perfect but incredible, reading experiences I have had in quite some time.

9780099530251
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.

In Australia, in the city of Melbourne and its surrounding areas, we meet Peter Holmes his wife Mary and baby Jennifer. Peter becomes a worker on a submarine set to find any signs of survival in on last major mission under its American captain Dwight Towers who he invites for the weekend when they start working together. Mary invites her friend Moira with the sole idea of her entertaining Dwight a mission it seems Moira is more than happy to undertake. From this point we follow these four characters and those close to them as the radiation draws nearer and nearer.

Nevil Shute has created possibly one of the most brilliant ‘tart with a heart’ heroines in Moira, who from her first drunken arrival on the pages (and soon followed up with a hilarious ‘accidental’ bra loosing moment which made me laugh out loud) promptly steals any scene that she is in. You could actually say to a degree it is the tales of Moira and Mary that in part make the book such a special read. I found the men rather one dimensional and a bit dull, rather like the scenes they had in the submarines, and this is where the book lost something a little for me.

I could never actually get into Peter’s thoughts and even Dwight, who has a very interesting story as he buys presents for his deceased family and still believes himself to be married (oh poor Moira), never seemed to quite walk of the page like Moira and Mary. Mary and her naïve denial actually had me laughing, which I am not sure is the intent, such as scenes where she fears that a cat may get in Jennifer’s cot and suffocate her and you the reader are thinking ‘forget the cat Mary, there’s nuclear fall out to consider’. I thought the characters made the book all the more real and readable, they felt like people you knew and could weirdly identify with them which of course led you to the question and impact that underlies this book ‘just what would you do at the end of the world?’ oh it gives me the creeps just thinking about it.

I did have two more minor quibbles the first was that I couldn’t actually believe everyone would carry on going to work and living daily life as normal without freaking out after a nuclear war, which is the depiction that Shute seemed to create. Not one character seemed to have gone completely barmy or had a breakdown which seemed odd. I will also say around page 190ish I got a tiny bit bored as those pesky submarines got a little samey, but maybe that was the intention and designed to add to the build up as the book comes to an end. Of which I shall say no more about and simply say… read this book.

I know I have picked a few holes in it but I still ended up coming away from ‘On The Beach’ feeling very emotional and its made me do quite a lot of reflecting and thinking which all the best books should do. It’s one of those books that will stick with you for days and days, I am sure I will be mulling this book and the question it raises over for weeks and weeks to come. Like I said before ‘On The Beach’ is not the perfect book but it’s an incredible one. 8.5/10 (The submarines didn’t ruin the book but they slowed it down along with their inhabitants.)

Have you read ‘On The Beach’? What was your reaction to it and what impact has it left on you? Which other post-apocalyptic books have you read that have had a lasting effect on you? I still can’t get images from ‘Children of the Dust’ which I read at school from my head, that book freaked me out so much. I am definitely going to be reading much more Shute, which of his other novels can you recommend I turn to and why?

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Filed under Book Group, Nevil Shute, Review, Vintage Books, Vintage Classics