Tag Archives: Nicci French

Other People’s Bookshelves #40; Kim Forrester

ANZ-LitMonth-200pixHello and welcome to the latest in Other People’s Bookshelves, a regular series of posts where you get to have a nosey at other book lovers bookshelves. This week I have a special guest as we hit the big 4-0 mark with this series, more of which you can find here, with Kim who you all all know from Reading Matters. Kim’s was one of the first book blogs I started following avidly. Lucky old me through her wondering about a London book club, and spookily finding out we were working on the same street in London, we became mates and no trip back to London seems quite the same without a pint (or two) on the Southbank with her. This week saw the start of Kim’s ANZ Literary Month and so I begged her to share her shelves and in honour she has put out a wonderful spread of violet crumbles, Tim Tam’s and jarra tea. So let’s settle down with a cuppa and a treat and find out a little more about her…

Kim Forrester, also known as kimbofo, was born in Australia. She has a Masters in Journalism and after a few years working on local newspapers, she came to London in 1998 to try her luck in the magazine industry — and never went back. She’s always been a book obsessive and spent her childhood with a nose in a book. All these years later, not much has changed. She’s been blogging about books at Reading Matters since 2004, although the site also features reviews dating from 2001, which were originally published on a personal website. She tends to only read literary fiction, preferably from Ireland or Australia, but also enjoys crime, translated fiction and narrative non-fiction. She can’t remember a time when she wasn’t adding new titles to her always-growing TBR and wishes she could give up the day job (she’s a freelance copy editor) so she could make a dent in it.

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 simply don’t have the space to keep every book I read, so I tend to keep only those that have really made an impression on me. Most are passed on in some way: to Oxfam, to friends, family or work colleagues. I do, however, collect certain imprints — namely “silver” Penguins and “white” Penguin Modern Classics — so these are never given away!

Penguin-modern-classics

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?

Once-upon-a-time all my shelves were arranged alphabetically, by author surname, but I found I could cram more books on my (limited) shelving if did away with that system. So now I fill each of the “boxes” in my Expedit shelves three books deep according to a theme: I have a section for Commonwealth fiction, another for translated fiction, one for crime and another for British. Meanwhile the top of my wardrobe is filled with fiction from Ireland and Australia. And, just to be really controversial, the books in my TV unit are arranged by colour just to make it look prettier. Please don’t judge me!

Living-room-shelves

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

I couldn’t possibly remember what book I bought with my own money, but I suspect it may well have been one from the Trixie Belden girl detective mystery series, which I adored in my early teens. The volumes used to be sold in the local supermarket (I vaguely remember them being about AU$1 each) and as soon as I’d read one, I’d be saving up my pennies to buy the next. I no longer have any of them, and I suspect my mother chucked them out long ago!

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?

Afraid not. I don’t think anything I read is embarrassing. If I was to name a guilty pleasure, it would be psychological thrillers of the Nicci French variety, but I need to be in the right mood to read them.

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?

This is a good question. I’m not much of a material possessions person and as much as I love books, I always figure you can buy or borrow them again if you need to — even ones out of print can usually be tracked down via the wonders of the internet. However, I have to be honest and confess I’d be terribly upset if anything happened to my small collection of John McGahern paperbacks, simply because I have such fond memories of discovering his fiction in the summer of 2006, or any of the hardbacks I’ve had signed by various authors at book events, because I’d never be able to replace them.

London_books

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 think the first proper “grown up” book I read was probably Virginia Andrews’ Flowers in the Attic. However, I didn’t spy it on my parent’s shelves or the library; I saw it at my best friend’s house. It was her mother’s and I was allowed to borrow it. It then did the rounds of almost every teenage girl in my school. It was quite a raunchy book at the time; I suspect it’s pretty tame by today’s standards. I then went through a Beatles phase and read loads of biographies about the band, including Philip Norman’s biography about John Lennon, one of the most memorable non-fiction books I’ve ever read. I never owned any of these books — they were either borrowed from my friend or the local library — so they’re not on my shelves today.

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?

No.

Yellow-shelf

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

At Easter I bought an interesting French novella called Moon in a Dead Eye, by Pascal Garnier, about a gated community plagued by problems, which sounds suitably dark and Ballardian.

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

Well, I have possibly the world’s longest wishlist thanks to all the many recommendations I glean from book blogs, GoodReads and Twitter, so yes, there are a lot of books that I wish I had on my shelves. I’m particularly partial to the lovely bound volumes in the Everyman’s Library and dream of one day treating myself and buying the whole lot. I’m not sure I have the space to keep them though.

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

They would probably wonder why I’ve got so many unread books in my house, because about 90 per cent of my collection is actually my TBR. They’d probably also think my tastes were fairly eclectic — and they’d be right. Some may raise their eyebrows at the lack of pre-20th century classics, but I’m a modern and contemporary kind of reader — and am not ashamed to admit it.

Bedside-table

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A huge thanks to Kim for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. To find out more about Kim’s ANZ Literature Month head here. 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 forgot if you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the series then drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject Other People’s Bookshelves, thanks in advance. In the meantime… what do you think of Kim’s responses and/or any of the books and authors that she mentions?

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Savidge Reads Grills… Sophie Hannah

Sometimes you just have to be a little bit cheeky and when I emailed some of my favourite authors about books they would recommend for the summer I then cheekily followed it up with ‘you wouldn’t want to do a Savidge Reads Grills too would you?’ One of the authors who instantly said ‘yes’ was Sophie Hannah who has become a favourite with me ever since Polly of Novel Insights told me I simply had to read the short story collection ‘The Fantastic Book of Everybody’s Secrets’ (when I was a bit vaguer in my reviewing) and then I moved onto her rather addictive crime series, the latest of which ‘A Room Swept White’ comes out in paperback today, what a pleasant coincidence…

For those people who haven’t read any of your series (we can call it a series, can’t we?) of crime novels as yet, can you try and explain them in a single sentence?
They are psychological suspense novels with a police procedural element.  That was the single sentence; now here are some more sentences, because I’m a rebel and hate doing what I’m told: the mysteries in my novels tend to be ‘high-concept’, because I love impossible-seeming scenarios which are then made possible.  I might also describe them as emotional-psychological mysteries.  The mystery element is crucial to me – as a reader of crime fiction, the main thing I want is to be desperate to turn the pages and find out what’s going on, and so that’s the feeling I try to create in my books.  I have heard some crime writers say that their main aim is to make a political point or discuss social issues, or dissect contemporary Britain/America/Belgium (er, actually, no one says it about Belgium) in their crime novels, but I am all about story.  A great novel can manage without a politically relevant theme, but it can’t manage without a fantastic plot and complex, interesting, problematic characters (though it often thinks it can and it sometimes wins the Booker Prize for thinking so!)

They are all very different.  How does each book come about?  Where are the ideas born? 
Firstly, I’m so glad you think my books are all very different!  One of the challenges of writing a series – and, yes, they are a series, even though they are also standalones, because I like to have my cake and eat it! – is to make each book sufficiently different to the others so that readers don’t get bored, at the same time as making them similar enough to reassure readers that they are still in the same imaginative world. 

For example, Ruth Rendell can move from London to Kings Markham and back again in her fiction, and that’s interesting and creates a healthy sense of variety within her oeuvre, but if she suddenly wrote a novel set in Nashville in which all the protagonists were Stetson-wearing country and western singers, I might (as one of her avid readers) feel rather alarmed! 

To answer your question (ahem!), the ideas almost all come from my own life and (extensive) suffering.  So, I once nearly mixed up my baby with another baby (Little Face), once had a very problematic relationship with my mother-in-law (Little Face), many times have fallen in love with poisonous narcissistic tossers (Hurting Distance), have been a stressed and bitter mother of small children, wondering who invented the strange form of torture known as parenthood (The Point of Rescue), have been and still am obsessed with art and doomed love (The Other Half Lives).  In fact, the only one of my books that was not inspired by my own life was the latest one, A Room Swept White – that’s about controversial cot-death murder cases, and was inspired by true stories such as those of Sally Clark, Angela Cannings, Trupti Patel and others.  Though even in that book, there’s an autobiographical element – although, since the book is so new, I’m still at the stage of pretending the autobiographical bits are fiction! 

Do you find it hard thinking of the impossible and then making it possible?
Yes, I find it very hard – but that’s the challenge.  And you’ve neatly summarised my mission statement as a writer – well, almost.  It’s not so much about finding the impossible and making it possible, it’s about demonstrating, via gripping stories, that what most people believe is impossible is actually possible.  In our lives, we often say, ‘But that’s impossible’, or ‘I just can’t believe it’ – but once you know the full story, suddenly it’s a lot more believable.  I have a plausibility test that I use for all my plots, which is, ‘Could this story happen once?’  If the answer is yes, then the story is plausible, in my view.  Whereas I think, for a lot of people, plausible means, ‘Does this happen regularly and have I been told about endless instances of it by Huw Edwards on the BBC news?’

Do you mind your books being labelled crime, as they are more than that really, aren’t they? The fit into the Kate Atkinson and Susan Hill world of literary crime…
I certainly don’t mind my novels being labelled as crime – it’s a label I’m proud to wear.  As a reader, I like being able to head straight for the crime section of a bookshop, knowing I will find books there that contain mysteries.  I know a lot of writers protest about being labelled, but it’s useful for people buying the books if they are divided into categories.  ‘Crime Fiction’ is a category that contains, as you say, writers like Kate Atkinson, Susan Hill, Barbara Vine, Karin Alvtegen, all of whom are great writers.  I’m slightly uncomfortable with the idea of anyone’s crime novels being ‘more than’ crime fiction, because that suggests there’s a limit to what a crime novel can be, and I don’t believe there is.  Look at Iris Murdoch’s ‘The Black Prince’ – undoubtedly a crime novel, and also one of the best novels ever written, full of depth and substance and ideas.  I like to think that my novels are novels as well as crime novels – just as a Calzone is an Italian meal as well as a pizza.

Your novels are becoming a TV series – how much involvement are you having with it? Was it hard to say yes, because it’s something you created? Who would be your dream cast?
I’m hardly involved at all – I’ve had the odd lunch and phone call with the TV people, and they send me updates, but I’m definitely at one remove.  I feel rather like a parent of a child at boarding school, and Hat Trick and ITV1 are the house master and…  Hm, this metaphor’s getting too complicated.  It wasn’t hard to say yes – I love the idea of the books being adapted for telly.  The telly versions will be very different, but that’s fine, because the books will still exist.  My dream cast?  Well, the cast is being assembled at this very moment, so I know almost definitely who is going to play Charlie Zailer for example (can’t say, I’m afraid, in case it falls through!).  My dream cast will be the actual cast, once I know who they are.  I will be so chuffed that they are willing to play my characters – it’d be outrageous of me to prefer anyone else to them.

Are you working on any poetry at the moment? Have you always wanted to write both fiction and poetry or does one have a particular place in your heart over the other?
I am writing the occasional poem at the moment, but mainly I’m concentrating my energies on my crime fiction.  This isn’t as unfair as it sounds – I have written hundreds of poems, if not thousands, and only six crime novels so far, so I think a little bit of positive discrimination is in order!

Do you think that having two rather literary parents has anything to do with you becoming a writer either by genetics or the environment you grew up in?
Genetics – I doubt it.  Environment?  Yes, definitely.  Everyone in my family was and is obsessed with books.  I was a writer waiting to happen.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?
I was never aware of wanting to be a professional writer – writing was simply my hobby, what I did when I was supposed to be doing school work, college work, university work and then, later, secretarial work.  I never had the chance to want to write, because I was always writing.  Then, at a certain point, people started to suggest to me that I should send stuff off to publishers, and I did – and it was great when my work started to reach an audience, but I don’t remember ever thinking, ‘I’d like to be a writer.’  It sort of happened organically.  I always assumed I would never make any money from writing, and that was fine – and then, when I started to earn my living as a writer, that was even better.  But I will always write, whether people pay me to do so or not – I’m obsessed with writing.

How long have you been writing for? Which books and authors inspired you to write?       
I think I wrote my first poem when I was six.  It began, ‘However young, however old/a bear will never catch a cold’.  My free-verse-loving detractors might argue that my style hasn’t evolved much since then!  Many, many authors have inspired and continue to inspire me: Enid Blyton, Agatha Christie, Daphne DuMaurier, Iris Murdoch, Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine, Karin Alvtegen, Jill McGown, Wendy Cope, Edna St Vincent Millay, George Herbert, Robert Frost, E.E Cummings, CH Sisson, Douglas Kennedy, Diane Setterfield, Robert Goddard, Jesse Kellerman, Nicci French…  Oh, and my favourite newish writer: Tana French, who is absolutely brilliant.  I would advise anyone who cares about fiction and crime fiction to read her latest, ‘Faithful Place’.

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?
No – because I’d rather read my favourite books, in awe of the writers, than have written them myself and be unable to see them clearly and appreciate them.  One’s own books are always viewed through a veil of neurosis!

Which contemporary authors do you rate who are writing right now?
Everyone on the above list who isn’t dead, plus: Jane Hill, Sophie Kinsella, Tim Parks, Geoff Dyer, M R Hall – there are so many!

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?
I write between 11 am and 7 pm, with an hour’s break for lunch – weekdays only, unless there’s a deadline emergency!  Since giving up smoking, I have taken to chewing a needle while I write.  It’s a mental thing to do, but it’s non-carcinogenic.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your books or is it something you avoid at all costs?
You’re asking the wrong person!  I regularly complain that I can’t put a video tape into a machine any more and record TV programmes, and when people start talking to me about SkyPlus I nod and smile, but have no clue what they’re talking about.  I’m not against new digital thingies, but I’m too busy to find out what they are or take part in them – so I’m stuck with the technology that existed before I became too busy.  But I do sometimes read blogs, especially yours, because you say nice things about my books.  I also find time to surf property websites, I’m a Phil and Kirstie addict…

What is next for Sophie Hannah?
Funnily enough, my next thriller (out next Feb) has a property website theme.  It’s called ‘Lasting Damage’.  Here’s the blurb: It’s 1.15 a.m. Connie Bowskill should be asleep. Instead, she’s logging on to a property website in search of a particular house: 11 Bentley Grove, Cambridge. She knows it’s for sale; she saw the estate agent’s board in the front garden less than six hours ago.

Soon Connie is clicking on the ‘Virtual Tour’ button, keen to see the inside of 11 Bentley Grove and put her mind at rest once and for all. She finds herself looking at a scene from a nightmare: in the living room there’s a woman lying face down in a huge pool of blood. In shock, Connie wakes her husband Kit. But when Kit sits down at the computer to take a look, he sees no dead body, only a pristine beige carpet in a perfectly ordinary room…

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Summer Read Suggestions… From Authors

Earlier in my ‘Summer Reads Week’ I asked for suggestions of favourite summer reads from publishers pasts and the ones they were looking forward to having a read of over the coming months. So I then thought what about authors? I have noticed in the past some papers and the like get some authors to tell us just what they will be reading over the summer, so I thought why not do the same with authors? Asking simply what makes the perfect summer read for you and which book is your favourite summery read? Which book are you most eager to read over the summer months and why?

Rather than go off and just get any author I could to answer these questions I decided to go for some authors who have produced some of my favourite reads over the last few years of me writing Savidge Reads. I was most chuffed that they all said yes…

Maria Barbal

It depends quite on the time to spend. If I have a complete month it’s a good moment to read a long novel but also for a second rereading or for reading the whole work of an author.

I have read one book by Herta Müller and I would like to read some more.  Specially Tot el Que Tinc ho duc al damunt  (Atemschaukel, English: Everything I Possess I Carry With Me), because she has a poetic and piercing style, and reaches the reader with her writing.

Neil Bartlett

A perfect summer read for me is one which is utterly engrossing, but which I can safely fall asleep while reading on the flagstones of my garden, and then pick up the thread of at once, once I awake. Two contrasting examples currently in my pile; The Leopard (Lampedusa- perfect, as it makes the Visconti movie replay in my head) and My Memories of Six Reigns by Her Highness Princess Marie Louise – a junkshop find, full of great pictures and bizarre bejewelled stories.

Which book for this summer ? Andrew Graham Dixon’s new Caravaggio biog, which I think will piss me off, as he’s very determined to de-queer the paintings, but he’s a serious historian, and Caravaggio is an artist whose works I hope to spend the rest of my life looking at.

Stella Duffy

I read really widely anyway, and have never really bought into the ‘some books are for the beach’ idea, BUT I do like the books I’m hungry to get through in one or two sittings when I happen to have an afternoon free (we don’t have much skill at actually going away on holiday in our house!). I’ve had splendid summers in my garden where, after working all morning, I’ve spent the afternoon speeding through a friend’s very fast-paced dark crime novel or another mate’s bonkbuster.

I remember a great summer week of working every morning and reading Val McDermid’s Mermaid’s Singing in the garden in the afternoons. It hardly sounds summery, but there was something about the contrast between the warmth and sunshine and the darkness of the book that I really enjoyed.

I have Anna Quindlen’s ‘Every Last One’ on my TBR pile and I’m definitely looking forward to that. Unusually I HAVE been swayed by the quotes on the cover – Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Jane Howard, and Alice Hoffman in praise? It has to be good! I also have some newly released Janet Frame short stories ‘The Daylight and The Dust’ which I’m definitely looking forward to, and I do think they will need a long, slow, quiet afternoon or two to really do them justice.

Tess Gerritsen

The perfect summer read… A book that takes me completely out of my own surroundings and transports me to a different one.  I especially love being plunged into a different time period, or even a different world.  An historical mystery by Arianna Franklin, for instance, would be an example of a perfect summer read.  Or a fantasy novel along the lines of Tolkien.

I have a copy of Justin Cronin’s The Passage.  I can’t wait to dive in. And I also have a copy of Manda Scott’s mammoth work Boudica, which I’ve been putting off until I have the time to do it justice.  I’m looking forward to them both so much!

Sophie Hannah

The perfect summer read, for me, is anything that pins me to my sun-lounger long after I would ordinarily have leaped into the swimming pool – a book worth getting sunstroke for. I have lots of favourite holiday reads dating back several years – the one that springs to mind is ‘The Memory Game’ by Nicci French, which I read on holiday in Florida in 1999. It remains one of the most sophisticated, intelligent, sensitive and gripping thrillers I’ve ever read.

On my holiday this year, I plan to read the new Scott Turow, ‘Innocent’, the sequel to ‘Presumed Innocent’, which I have no doubt will be as stylish and compelling as Turow always is, and ‘The Disappeared’ by MR Hall, a brilliant new crime writer whose series protagonist is a coroner.

Hillary Jordan

My perfect summer read is a beautifully written novel that grabs hold of me on page one, pulls me into another world and doesn’t let go till The End. I think my best ever summer read was Lord of the Rings.

This summer I was hoping to read The Lacuna but am racing to finish my own second novel, Red…so I suspect that’s the only book my nose will be buried in over the next few months!

Paul Magrs

There are several novels I associate with summer – and I’d be keen to reread them at some point during the holiday… R C Sherrif – The Fortnight in September, a suburban family between the wars goes to the seaside. Nothing happens – from everyone’s POV. A perfect novel! Haruki Murakami – The Wind Up Bird Chronicle, it’s long, episodic and puzzling. I read it in Paris last summer and loved it. Scarlett Thomas – The End of Mr Y. This is another holiday read that’s all mind-bendy and completely absorbing and perfect for sitting at cafe tables with strong coffee and fancy ice cream. Jacqueline Susann – The Love Machine. Perfect sleazy soap opera set in the world of 60s television. Jonathan Caroll – The Land of Laughs, a wonderful supernatural thriller about a writer of children’s books.

And, of course, as many unread or favourite Puffins, gobbled up alongside all of these. The papery fragrance of Puffins *is* what summer smells of, to me. Too many, no..?

Dan Rhodes

My reading habits aren’t particularly affected by the seasons, although I did once give up on Kafka’s The Castle while lying on the beach in Majorca. I just couldn’t feel the cold. At the moment I’m going through a cop novel phase. Two in particular I’ve found supremely original and well worth a look: Bad Traffic by Simon Lewis takes a Chinese detective and drops him in the English countryside, and Pocket Notebook by Mike Thomas follows a ‘roided-up firearms officer as his life and career unravel quite spectacularly. Most cop novels are by whey-faced writer types who would run a mile from a genuine crime scene, but Mike Thomas happens to be a serving police officer, which adds a frisson of authenticity to proceedings. Should that matter in fiction? Possibly not, but either way it’s a cracking read. I’m impatient for more from those two.

I’m going to plough through my short story shelf. There’s still plenty of stuff I haven’t read by William Trevor, VS Pritchett, Katherine Mansfield, Paul Bowles, etc, etc. And just when I think I must be nearing the end of Chekhov’s fiction I always seem to find a bunch of stories I’d never heard of. And while I’m on the subject of short stories, may I recommend Rhapsody by Dorothy Edwards? I’m always on about this book, but it’s criminally overlooked. It’s one of the best things ever to have happened on Earth.

Natasha Solomons

I remember my summers by the books I was reading. The summer of 2000 wasn’t island hopping through Greece with a slightly dodgy boyfriend and his dodgier moped, it was ‘A Thousand Years of Solitude’. The August I left school was ‘Moontiger’ and ‘A Town Like Alice’  — (which did cause me to develop a slight obsession with the sarong). During summer I want a book that transports me — I want the story to be more real than the British drizzle and to be so compelling that I’m flipping the bbq burgers in one hand and clutching my book in the other.

The books I love this year are Irene Sabatini’s ‘The Boy Next Door’, which has already won the Orange New Writer’s Prize — it’s the love story of a mixed race couple struggling amidst the growing chaos in Zimbabwe. I love these kinds of books: the small and personal set against the vast and cataclysmic. The other is Emma Henderson’s ‘Grace Williams Says it Loud’, which made me cry. The book is inspired by Emma’s own sister who lived for many years in a unit for disabled people. Yet, this is a sweeping love story narrated with such verve by Grace that you forget she is unable to speak. You’ll also fall in love with Daniel — he’s so dapper and debonair. I’ll also be re-reading Jane Austen’s ‘Emma’ for the seventieth time. No summer is complete without a little strawberry picking at Donwell Abbey.

Evie Wyld

I love a really massive book for a summer read, and preferably something a bit spooky or scary, like Murakami’s Wind up Bird Chronicles. That was perfect. But this summer I’m looking forward to The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas. I’ve heard amazing things about this book.

Other things I’m taking on holiday are Larry’s Party by Carol Shields and The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon. I love Carol Shields and I’ve been meaning to read this for ages, and I’ve just been given a copy of the Trout Opera by my partner. He says I’ll love it, and he should know. All Australians I’m afraid!

So there you have it, on Friday and Saturday it’s a two parter of books that some other bloggers (some still haven’t responded tut tut, ha) have suggested for your summer reading TBR’s. Back to today though, anything taken your fancy from the selection of titles above? I am most intrigued by some of them I have to say. Did any authors surprise you with what they could be reading over the summer?

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