Tag Archives: Richard & Judy

Other People’s Bookshelves #5– Shelley Harris

This week on Other People’s Bookshelves we get to have a nosey through an authors book shelves as we are joined by the lovely Shelley Harris. Shelley was born in South Africa and emigrated to Britain at the age of six. She has been a local journalist, a secondary school teacher, an assistant in a wine shop and a bouncer at teenage discos (no, really). She likes slapstick humour and salted caramels. Her first novel, Jubilee (Weidenfeld and Nicolson – which I have on my shelves) was shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize and picked as a 2012 Richard and Judy Summer Read. So let us have a nosey through her shelves…

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 tend to keep all the books I read – except the atrocious ones. Those go straight to Oxfam. My favourites never leave unless by mistake, when I lend them to someone who doesn’t give them back (see also: Behind The Scenes At The Museum, A Christmas Carol).

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?

OK, this is a bit complex, but here goes:

Most of my books are upstairs, in the room I write in; three walls are covered in shelves, and most are mine (I allow my husband a measly three shelves – he’s very good about it). One of the walls is for non-fiction, and within that there’s history (chronological), auto/biography (alphabetical by subject) and general non-fiction (autobiographical by author). My fiction used to be alphabetical by author too, but this summer I decided to arrange it by colour, and it’s bee-ootiful. I should admit here that it’s sometimes just the teensiest bit hard to lay my hand on exactly the book I want, but – did I mention it’s bee-ootiful? I’ve also got very un-arranged shelves connected with whatever I’m writing at the moment or want to write next. My To-Be-read pile is downstairs. It’s four shelves big.

I do cull my books from time to time, and it’s a curiously double-edged thing for me. I feel that liberation you always get when you shuck off some of your possessions, but also the anxiety that you might be throwing out something you’ll want next week. That actually happened once; a novel stayed on my shelves for two years unread, so I got rid of it. The next week, someone told me it was brilliant.

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

I’ve racked my brains, but I can’t remember. What I do know is that at the age of ten I read two books alternately for months on end – maybe I bought them, I don’t know. They were Antonia Barber’s The Amazing Mr. Blunden, and E. Nesbit’s The Railway Children. At some unsentimental moment in my life (stupid early adulthood) I threw them out, but now have replacement copies on my shelves.

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?

Oooh, now I’m really interested in your Hidden Shelf. I don’t have one; I’m not at all ashamed of anything I take pleasure in, and that includes books which are…what would people scoff at? Stuff that’s considered lowbrow? Erotica? It’s all good.

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?

That’s a tough one, but I think I might try to save the books my students gave me as gifts when I finished teaching them (they were so relieved, the poor mites). I’m massively proud of having taught, and to have been called ‘a WICKED English teacher’ is one of the best things anyone’s ever said about me.

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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?

I remember being transported (as many girls my age were) by Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights, and read the book soon after the single was released. I was maybe eleven at the time. But my parents were responsible for lots of the books I read – grown-up and not-so. Dad used to quote a lot of Shakespeare and poetry at me, using a voice he thought sounded like Laurence Olivier (it sounded like a Dalek). And my Mom read and loved The Women’s Room and passed it over when I was about seventeen – it was a really important book for me.

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?

If I love it I tend to want to keep it – some of my Oxfam purchases are novels I’ve borrowed and loved but want for myself. I read Jane Harris’s Gillespie and I on Kindle (very rare for me) and now have the hardback on my shelves.

Beige books

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

A copy of A Christmas Carol which I bought from Oxfam because it’s weirdly disappeared from my shelves. I suspect our resident twelve-year-old reader.

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

Yes – I want to magic the next Sarah Waters onto my shelves right now.

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

I don’t mind what they think, but my best guess is that they’ll notice I mainly read contemporary novels, that I love books passionately (I have lots of them), and that they may suspect I’m borderline OCD.

Red books

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A big thank you to Shelley for letting me grill her and allowing us to nosey through her shelves. 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 Shelley’s responses and/or any of the books she mentioned?

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Filed under Other People's Bookshelves, Shelley Harris

Simon’s Bookish Bits #32

Today is the first day I actually seem to have stopped still for weeks and weeks and so I thought I would do a little ‘bookish bits’ post as I have been rubbish at commenting back to you all or even visiting other book blogs (though I have spotted Polly and Jessica are back, yippee) between going and seeing Gran in Derbyshire, reading for the Green Carnation longlist, helping change a magazine from print to online and then manically reading, re-reading and prepping for the Manchester Literature Festival events I had earlier this week. That said I did manage to fit in a dash to A&E in the small hours of Saturday morning as I thought I was having a heart attack, turned out to thankfully be a rather large panic attack resulting in an almost phantom angina attack, lovely.

I have to say the staff at the hospital were great, so good I don’t mind the fact I am covered in bruises from the blood tests, turns out though that I have to have some rest and calm down, too many projects (which I think keep me going) have ground me down. Bed rest was ordered and so I am spending the next few days chilling out. Lots of writing and reading to do ahead then, shame! Now speaking of reading and readers, tenuous link I know, but The Readers Podcast was actually one year old yesterday, the birthday blog should be going up shortly/be up now – the biggest episode of absolute rambling yet.

That deserves some cake really or maybe several Jaffa cakes, doesn’t it?

Since everything stopped the one thing I have noticed is that my TBR has gotten completely out of control, like really badly. There are piles of books in places you didn’t think books could accumulate. The Beard believes I have let them breed (he actually said like bacteria but we will over look that) and so the next big task, apart from catching up on your comments on here and other blogs is a full on TBR sort out. I am actually quite excited about this. Then I can have a good old rummage and decide what random whim reads I want to treat myself too for a week of no work based reading. Exciting.

Speaking of work based reading. I thought, as they have just happened and yet the festival is still in full flow, I would give you a quick round up of the two events I hosted at Manchester Literature Festival this week. The first was on Monday night when I had the pleasure of being in conversation with Patrick Gale and Catherine Hall about their latest books in front of a packed out audience in Waterstones…

I had met Catherine before and so got my ‘fanboy’ moment out of the way with her but I have to admit I was really nervous about meeting Patrick. Fortunately a) so was Catherine and b) Patrick was utterly lovely. We all had a lovely few drinks before the event looking over Piccadilly Gardens in his hotel cafe in the afternoon before wandering to the event chatting about utterly random nonsense (I admit I grilled him about Richard and Judy) before sitting and having more fun, if more structured, at the event. I felt a bit like the cat that had got the cream and was one a little bit of a bookish high, can you tell?

Isn’t that t-shirt fancy? Then yesterday, dragging The Beard along in tow, I had was in conversation about all things Victoriana with the lovely Jane Harris, who I have gotten to know and adore, and Essie Fox who I have interviewed before and had a hoot with too. It was actually Essie’s first visit to Manchester and the venue could not have been more apt as we had the banqueting hall at Manchester Town Hall (which they use in a lot of the Victorian period dramas as it looks just like Westminster on the outside and hasn’t been tampered with inside, perfect). It was a really enjoyable event that could have gone on for hours longer and had me weeping with laughter and dumbstruck with fascination all at once.

So that has all been lovely, and a big thanks to all of you who came and said hello afterwards, really nice to meet several of you at both events. Maybe if we start The Readers Retreats I will see even more of you, but that is for another time.

Finally, before I go and try and sort out lots of books, I just want to say a huge thanks for all your well wishes; however I have received them, for Gran. Whilst everything with her has been going on I am trying to carry on as normal as it’s a good focus and the supporting emails/comments etc you have sent for her, myself and the family has been lovely. She has gone home today and so we will all be looking after her for the time that is left, I will be off there again for her 71st birthday and will keep passing on your kind words. I will also be buying her the BIGGEST birthday cake ever. But seriously thank you.

Right, best go and root through all these books before anyone trips over them and seriously hurts themselves, or indeed before a certain teething kitten chews any more of them. Hope all is well with all of you?

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One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four… and Five…

Well Simon of Stuck in a Book is something of a genius in the book blogging world isn’t he? He’s always coming up with great bookish bits and bobs on his blog and the latest meme he has created has taken the blogosphere by storm. I might be the last to the party but I simply couldn’t miss taking part as it looked like so much fun. So here are the five books that are or have been on my ‘reading radar’ at the moment, its made me realise just what an eclectic reader I am which I don’t ever see myself as…

The Book I Am Currently Reading…

I have not long started it but my latest read is ‘Apartment 16’ by Adam Nevill. It’s a little bit of a departure for me as I haven’t read a modern horror novel before so I don’t really know what to expect, I have been wanting to try new genre’s though. I shall report back in due course, is it wrong I am hoping this one makes me scared at night? I really fancy something really scary at the mo.

The Last Book I Finished…

‘When God Was A Rabbit’ by Sarah Winman which has been chosen as one of the Richard and Judy Summer Reads this year, along with ‘The Novel in the Viola’ by Natasha Solomons and ‘The Return of Captain John Emmett’ by Elizabeth Speller. Why mention those three particular books well…  I only found this out last night and am a bit spooked as I have these three books scheduled for reviews on the blog next week… how weird!!

The Next Book I Want To Read…

Well I am going to bite the bullet and finally read ‘Pride and Prejudice’ by Jane Austen. I am yet to read any of her work which always surprises people. I would normally have found this book the hardest to call however I have a special reason to have started it before the weekend, more on that soon.

The Last Book I Bought…

Well I simply couldn’t resist this old 80’s Penguin edition of ‘The Group’ by Mary McCarthy when I saw it at the local second hand book store only yesterday. It was a little bit naughty as I have just got the new edition out of the library but I wanted one of my own, although the print is very small so I might read the new one and have this one on the shelves. Isn’t the old cover wonderful? I love, love, love the tagline “Eight eager, innocent girl graduates starting life in 1933 – pioneering their way from sex and interior décor to cooking and contraception…”

The Last Book I Was Given…Well before book group on Monday my friend the author Paul Magrs kindly gave me a copy of his new book ‘Enter Wildthyme’ which is going to be a foray for me into some Doctor Who-esque sci-fi (I love a bit of Doctor Who) and should be interesting, especially as the companion to Iris is called Simon. I hope I will like it, though Paul did say ‘you know you don’t have to review this’ so if I don’t who will know? Ha, ha, ha. I think with the tag line ‘Time and space. Good and evil. Gin and tonic.’ this is going to be a treat.

Isn’t this a lovely way of having a nosey through everyone’s reading sights in a short space of time? You can see other people’s five books, if they have popped their links down, just here… do have a gander. A big thank you to Simon for coming up with this, I think its ace. Let me know if you have a go, or if indeed you have already. Any thoughts on my selection?

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Filed under Book Thoughts

What Arrived Before I Departed

I dont know how interesting other people find these but I have always loved seeing what fellow book bloggers have either been sent or been out and bought of late. If you are one of those people who dont like those sorts of blogs then you might want to look away now…

The latest books to have been sent from lovely publishing people to Savidge Reads Towers are (for those of you who cant see the picture well, or dont like reading sideways);
The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin
Home – Marilynne Robinson
The Invention of Everything Else – Samantha Hunt
A Long, Long Time Ago & Essentially True – Brigid Pasulka
The Earth Hums In B Flat – Mari Strachen (actually from a blogger not a publisher)
The Behaviour of Moths – Poppy Adams
Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie
Ask Alice – D.J Taylor
Devil In Disguise – Julian Clary
The Glass of Time – Michael Cox
Now some of you maybe thinking “he has already read Lilly Aphrodite” well yes I have and this was a suprise arrival from the lovely Caroline at John Murray who had sent a parcel only its was “To Simon’s Gran” c/o Savidge Reads not actually just another copy for me! This was a truly lovely thing to have done and I will let you know my Gran’s thoughts when she has read it. It has been mine (and Caroline’s) favourite read of the year so will be intrigued how Grans takes to it. I am slightly worried that through the amount of mentions that she gets in this blog Gran might suddenly become infamous herself. That would never do ha!
I am not going to give you the blurbs for all the books as I think that may over egg the pudding but it gives you a hint as to what is coming up in my reading in the rest of May. By the time I am home the rest of the Orange short lists should have arrived and this is one of my big reading plans for May before the winner is announced in June, I do have to say though that I think I might already have a definate idea of who will win just from a gut feeling having not read a word. Lets see if the reading changes my mind or proves that particular book is deserving of winning.
The other thing that has, oddly quite quietly, been announced is The Richard and Judy Summer Read which I am having a lengthly mental debate as to whether to do it as another challenge for the next few months or am I biting off more than I can chew… I am never as big a fan (bar The Island) of the summer books they choose but the list this year there is one I have already read (Mr Toppit) and several I would love to read (Guernica just sounds wonderful) I shall mull it all while I am away.
So of the new books which ones have you read (no plot spoilers please) or have you read others by any of the authors mentioned? Any Orange/Richard & Judy Summer Reads thoughts? What books do you have on the go?

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The Cellist of Sarajevo – Steven Galloway

Sorry for the fact that I didn’t blog yesterday but I had a weekend of being quite under the weather sadly, I am feeling a bit better today though. The good thing about being sick though of course is the fact that I spent a lot of the weekend in bed reading and finally got round to reading the final Richard and Judy book of this years selection The Cellist of Sarajevo by Steven Galloway.

The Cellist of Sarajevo is set during the siege of Sarajevo which took place in the 1990’s although with the level of atrocities I couldn’t actually believe that it had taken place so recently but then I suppose similar things are still happening now. The whole tale behind The Cellist of Sarajevo is a fictional work based on the true story of Vedran Smajlovic who actually played Adagio in G Minor for 22 days to mark the death of each of the 22 people killed in the street queuing for bread. Steven Galloway opens the book with the cellist going out and playing for the first time. However the book doesn’t actually focus on him, more three particular people who have the cellist and his music enter their lives in some of the hardest times in their lives.

The three lives that we join during some of those 22 days are Dragan a man in his mid sixties, Arrow a female sniper and Kenan a man in his forties struggling without life’s necessities. Each one of these characters has the cellist in their lives. Dragan for example, whose family had left Sarajevo whilst he has stayed behind to look after his apartment which sadly got bombed and now lives in his sisters house, can hear the cellist as he plays roulette with his life simply crossing the road to get to the bakers. Kenan does the same as he travels across the whole city with the possibility of being shot in order to collect fresh water as the resources are running low and he collects it for his family and neighbour (who is a wonderfully difficult disagreeable character). Arrow’s story is the one that I found the most interesting, that of a female sniper who gets the job to protect the cellist from snipers and in doing so protecting the people of the city and their hope.

Through these three lives we are given snapshots of what happened in Sarajevo and how people lived, well barely existed through it all. Galloway writes these characters and their situations with a grim reality but with wonderful lyrical prose. I know you can’t call the subject a wonderful one but you know what I mean I hope. I found seeing the world through these peoples lives opened my eyes to what happened in Sarajevo and how people coped. How they explained it to their children, how they avoided catching up with people as all they would swap would be depressing tales of woe and how strangers, who might not chose to see each other if they could help it, come together in these times of trial.

I was incredibly impressed with this novel and as a final read of the Richard and Judy Challenge I thought it was one of the selections highlights (and I am really chuffed that I read them all) and without the challenge I might not have read it and I would have been missing out on a gem of a book. Though this has been one of the most emotional and horrific books in parts, I actually had to put the book down every so often to breath and compose myself before reading on, it is one of the best books that I have read in ages and would urge everyone to give it a go.

Now what should I read next. I have a pile of six contenders at the moment I just cant decide upon. ‘Daphne’ by Justine Picardie, ‘The White Tiger’ by Arvind Adiga, ‘The Blind Assassin’ by Margaret Atwood, ‘The Reluctant Fundamentalist’ by Mohsin Hamid and two Salman Rushdie. ‘The Enchantress of Florence arrived in the post from Dovegreyreader this morning and I have been meaning to read ‘Midnights Children’ for ages. Oh its a quandry… any advice?

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Filed under Books of 2009, Review, Richard and Judy, Steven Galloway

No Time For Goodbye – Linwood Barclay

I have had this book on my TBR pile for ages and ages and finally have gotten around to reading it as I needed some serious escapism. Escapist reading for me can be one of a few things, a comedy, a who-dunnit or indeed a gripping page turning thriller. Everyone has different escapist reading, I know on person who can find no finer escapist reading than Mills and Boon. So as it was also one of the books on mine and Novel Insights books to read (I still have to conquer The Blind Assassin yet to have caught up) I decided that this would be my next read.

Linwood Barclay’s debut novel No Time For Goodbye is definitely escapist reading. It is also a very thrilling read with possibly one of the most unpredictable plotlines that I have come across (bar the immense Child 44) in some time. One day a fourteen year old girl wakes up to find her entire family have vanished. There are no traces of them anywhere they have simply disappeared. Come forward twenty five years and Cynthia is still none the wiser to what has happened, however when a TV show decide to pick up the story again things slowly but surely start to unfold and Cynthia may begin to wish that she remained in the dark.

I found this a real thriller, it’s a proper page turner and you are thrown some big red herrings and then random possible theories that turn up later to make much bigger plot twists. I have seen reviews of this that state ‘this is no literary masterpiece and doesn’t deserve the sales’ and I have to disagree with that. I am not a literary snob, I like what I like some of it isn’t literary and some of it is, it’s the same with books I don’t like. No Time For Goodbye is a book that I enjoyed thoroughly because the plot and pacing are fantastic. I quite liked the characters without being attached to them but most of all it did what I wanted and drew me in, took me on a thrilling mysterious adventure and most of all I escaped.

What I will say was a slight issue for me was that despite the blurb, I have issues with blurbs that don’t tell the truth (this one says a letter arrives that changes everything – that doesn’t happen), the book isn’t actually written from Cynthia’s point of view. The thrilling tale itself is told through her husband Terry’s eyes. I really wanted more insight into how she felt about it all rather than what she told him she felt throughout it all if that makes sense? He was a great narrator and got fully entrapped in the whole situation and scenario and I enjoyed reading it from his perspective I just think hers would have given the book an extra something.

I thought that the plotting was brilliant, the end of every chapter makes you want to read on. Yes, there are parts that go slightly beyond coincidence and what is and isn’t believable but that’s what makes a great thriller and also some things that happen to people in real life you couldn’t make up, I never myself stopped believing that the whole situation could have happened.

Other reviews I have seen say that the plot is over the top. Yes it is, that tends to happen in most thrillers and if you don’t like that then don’t you tend to stay away from these types of books? I mean I don’t believe in goblins so I have always avoided J.R Tolkien. In the same vain don’t we all like to have the realms of our beliefs pushed I don’t really believe in magic but I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books. Sorry I have gone off on a bit of a tangent.

Overall I found this a ‘thrilling’ thriller. I became completely engrossed in the whole story line and though I predicted some of the ending there were still lots of twists that left me reeling. I can understand why this book has sold so well, I think the fact it was a Richard and Judy Summer Read (which I can find hit and miss) probably helped, but even without that I think this book would have done well. It has a very original and unsettling storyline, and you simply cannot stop reading it… well I couldn’t anyway. 4/5

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Filed under Linwood Barclay, Orion Publishing, Review, Richard and Judy

December – Elizabeth H Winthrop

…And so onto the penultimate of the Richard and Judy Reads 2009. I knew very little about December or its author Elizabeth H Winthrop before this book was placed on the list and when the lovely people at Sceptre sent me a copy. I looked and saw that it has received slightly mediocre reviews on Amazon and in some ways I can see why and in others I can’t.

December tells the tale of a winter and in particular the lead up to Christmas Day for the Carter family. Husband and wife Wilson and Ruth are concerned with their daughter Isabelle who has not spoken for over nine months. There seems to be no reason as to why Isabelle has put herself under a self imposed silence that they can see. They have tried many different psychiatrists who have been unable to work out what is wrong and now Isabelle’s school are thinking of letting her go.

It is interesting for the reader to see this from all three parties’ sides. Winthrop looks into the minds of all three and how they each cope very differently with the situation and really gets into each of these peoples heads without melodrama which could have been quite easily done. The pressure put on the marriage and how it affects Wilson and Ruth is an interesting subject as they both have moments of denial, anger and unbound love about the whole situation. The voice I didn’t feel I quite got as much as I would have liked was Isabelle herself which was slightly frustrating as the story does in essence evolve around her.

I agree whole heartedly with two comments made by Farmlanebooks One was that it is a ‘gentle’ novel and that is an absolutely spot on word for this novel. This is a very delicately written novel that doesn’t pull out all the stops to dramatise or go over the top. The writing takes you a long without it ever being a page turner. That style leads me to another review that said it was in some ways very ‘like Anne Tyler’ and that is also spot on. In fact after reading Breathing Lessons and Anne’s writing about family issues earlier this year I was reminded of it again with this book. Winthrop looks at real life and writes about real people and situations and maybe that is why some people have found this a slightly underwhelming read.

I didn’t personally find it underwhelming, I actually quite enjoyed it without being blown away. In fact overall I would say it was an ‘enjoyable gentle’ read, even though really very little happens I still wanted to know more. For those who love a book with a punch and want to get lost in a great tale this is possibly not for you. Those of you who like books that looks into families and how they deal with things, observations of people and how they behave or just love Anne Tyler like I do then you will enjoy this I would imagine.

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Filed under Anne Tyler, Elizabeth H. Winthrop, Hodder & Stoughton, Review, Richard and Judy

The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite – Beatrice Colin

I have to say just from the cover I wasn’t sure what I was going to make of this novel. It looked like it might be a bit ‘chick-lit’ not that there is anything wrong with that by the way, just that it isn’t really my general cup of tea. I was actually sent this book ages and ages ago buy the lovely people at John Murray and despite a phone call raving about it from one of their delightful team I was still suspicious. It went to the bottom of the TBR I am ashamed to admit. However it has been this weeks Richard and Judy choice and as I am doing the challenge I picked it up, dusted it off and tried it out. I absolutely loved it.

Lilly Nelly Aphrodite is born just before midnight on December the 31st 1899; however she doesn’t actually take her first breath until one minute past twelve taking her first breath in the first minute of the twentieth century. Instantly you know that Lilly isn’t going to be your typical child and as a baby with her extremely vocal lungs she proves her point further. Things don’t start well for Lilly as within months her mother, a cabaret singer, is killed under scandalous circumstances. We then follow Lilly as she goes through her childhood as an orphan to becoming a major German movie star.

Now if your like me that final line would have made you think ‘chick-lit’ however with the background being Berlin and the timescale of the novel being from the start of the 1900’s until the mid 1940’s what you as the reader witness is war torn Germany… twice. Lilly is a wonderful set of eyes through this period as she has no real political streak, her only actual desire is to survive and through this you are given an insight (very realistically) into what life might have been like through such a horrific period in history for the general/poor public of Berlin. That isn’t the only historical facts that Colin focuses on, there is also the heyday of the Weimar Republic and the rise of Hollywood and its golden era. How she manages to make all this work is quite a feat but it does.

Lilly is a wonderful character. She rightly steals the show… well book as she is witty, manipulative, wily, funny, naughty, kind and incredibly strong. Though she goes through endless turmoil she doesn’t wallow in self pity, well only occasionally, and instead she fights resolutely and carries one. Naturally she is flawed and makes several mistakes along the way but all in all you can’t help to admire her and like her, maybe a little less towards the end, but I don’t want to give anything away.

If Lilly isn’t enough I have to praise the characters that come and go, and come back. Eva is a wonderful character though in the end completely dislikeable you want to read more and more about her, especially the more conniving and bitter she gets. Hanne however almost steals the whole story from Lilly; she is a wonderful character a fighter like Lilly only much harder and much darker with a real self destructive streak. In fact it’s the women all in all that shine and take the main roles in this novel. Though not in the forefront of the novel the men are all there and very complete characters, in fact sometimes Colin does a wonderful trick of having a character say one line and then following it with what happened to that one small character in the rest of his life in the next single sentence.

It was in fact this quality that made me think of great authors like Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins and Mary Elisabeth Braddon etc. In fact in many ways some of this novel reminded me of books like Moll Flanders or Tess of the D’Urbervilles in the fact that every character no matter how small has their part to play and their story to tell no matter how big or minor their role was in the general tale. The only other two authors I can think of that do that now are Sarah Waters and Jane Harris and if you like any of their work then you are sure to absolutely love this.

As you can tell overall this for me was an absolutely marvellous book. The setting richly painted like the make up on many of the wonderful characters faces. I simply cannot find a fault with this book and think its one that many, many people will be getting copies of for birthdays and one that I can’t wait to re-read and take it in all over again…Though with my TBR that may not be for some time.

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Filed under Beatrice Colin, Books of 2009, John Murray Publishers, Review, Richard and Judy

Child 44 – Tom Rob Smith

I don’t know why I haven’t read Tom Rob Smith’s debut sooner as it’s a book I have been meaning to read for ages. Maybe I was worried that after all the brilliant reviews, and all the discussion on the Booker Nomination, that I might be left disappointed? It could also be the fact I had the hardback copy and they tend to be slightly put of when I am doing a lot of travelling, though I actually read this partly on a train journey. I think in all honesty I was slightly worried that I wouldn’t be able to grasp or be interested in Stalin’s Russia, boy oh boy was I wrong. I couldn’t stop turning the pages let alone put the book down.

Child 44 is set in the 1950’s Soviet Union. A child is found dead with what appears to be soil in his mouth and his family are sure that this is murder despite the boy’s body being found on the train tracks. Leo Demidov of the MGB is sent to cool things over and persuade the family that this is nothing more than a tragic accident, a job he does begrudgingly as he feels it is taking his time away from his more important work. However when Leo himself goes through some very changing circumstances and another body of a child with soil in its mouth is found he begins to realise that there may be a serial killer out there.

Behind what is a very intriguing, if gruesome and quite dark, storyline is also the tale of Russia in the few years leading up to Stalin’s death. Russia is a place plagued with paranoia where the innocent are guilty and bad can be innocent if they go about things the right (or technically wrong) way. I was shocked reading this novel at just how corrupt people where and just how many people were slaughtered needlessly and made guilty without any way of fighting to prove their innocence. Leo himself is one of the people who imposes the regime and believes in it, until the regime turns against him and those he loves. I know this is fiction but it is clear Tom Rob Smith has done his research meticulously as the setting was so well written I could feel the cold icy snowy air around me as I read the book, and no, I didn’t just have the windows open. It became all became very real to me and when I had finished the book I went off to do much more research on the era.

One thing I have to say is what a wonderful character I thought Leo was. I was determined not to like him in the first few chapters and especially after a torture scene. He is a man hardened to life who though he loves his wife and family is more loyal to his country than anything else or anyone else who gets in his way. You wouldn’t think that a character like that would become enjoyable to read. However soon enough I was on the breathless never ceasing adventurous journey with him. Adventure sums up this book pretty well too, and you can see where Tom Rob Smith’s own love for Arthur Conan Doyle comes in, it’s a page turner but not in an airport lounge shop sort of way if you know what I mean.

There is quite a lot of gore in the novel and a few very uncomfortable scenes but their needs to be for the story to work. I can’t say that a book about a child killer is an easy or enjoyable read as its not, but it’s an incredible read non the less. My only slight dislike was the speech in italics, I have never personally liked that though I found myself forgiving it and will undoubtedly do so in the next novel The Secret Speech which I am looking forward to enormously. I didn’t think that this was written like a film screenplay (though it is being made into a film) though if it had been it wouldn’t shock as that was what Tom Rob Smith did before he turned his hand to novel writing. I thought it was a sparse engrossing book that deserves all the awards its been put up for and more.

Now for some very EXCITING NEWS! I am going to be interviewing Tom tomorrow (at his house – what biscuits should I take?) and so I wondered if any of you have any questions for him? This is open to everyone whether you have read the book, heard about the book, or would just like to ask an author anything at all? If so leave your comments and I will see what I can do!

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Filed under Books of 2009, Man Booker, Review, Simon & Schuster, Tom Rob Smith

Netherland – Joseph O’Neill

This is the seventh of this years book group choices by Richard and Judy and I have to admit as I said previously a while back I wasn’t convinced I was going to like this. Sold as a tale of a man whose wife leaves him to go back to England after the tragedy of 9/11 and then decides building a cricket pitch is what New York really needs alongside the unusual Chuck I thought that it sounded quite different. Especially with the twist that Chuck is pulled out of a New York canal hands tied behind his back and having been dead for quite some time I thought there might be some added mystery.

What the book turns out to be is more a description of New York after 9/11 and looks at the people living there and how they cope. It also looks at what affect this has one the marriage of our narrator Hans van den Broek and his wife Rachel who cannot cope in the aftermath and such atrocities, this was for me the most interesting story in the book. It isn’t Hans who has the plan to make a cricket pitch it is in fact Chuck a character with darkness who doesn’t seem to be all he appears. A great unreliable character though, he sadly isn’t in the book as much as I would have liked as I found him quite entertaining. The rest of the story evolves around what happens in the years between Rachel leaving and Hans hearing that Chuck is dead.

I didn’t really gel with this book at all. I started of liking it however the marital strife of a life changed by chaos and horror in New York is done and dusted within fifty pages or so. Then what follows is a succession of characters and incidents that flow through Hans depressing years after of which all bar Chuck and cricket come and go with no real relevance or point. This seems like a very long winded essay of the writer’s thoughts on America and the cultural societies in New York after 9/11 which drifts off at tangents that I couldn’t follow. I just didn’t care what happened to them again bar Chuck, I wont say the ending but I was left confused and slightly non-plussed and all in all quite nonchalant.

For me, though I know many people have absolutely loved this book, I ended up feeling quite disappointed and I wasn’t that excited about the book anyway. I didn’t feel I knew enough about Hans to want to follow his story and could actually see why his wife left him, though technically she was leaving the city. I did give the book a fair chance and I did finish it when at some points I didn’t want to, so I gave it my all I just don’t think it was quite the book for me. I’d be interested to hear other peoples thoughts though.

In the additional P.S section that Harper Perennial do in their books, which I think is genius and give you much more insight, the author says this book was hard to sell to publishers and kept getting rejected over and over again. I could sadly see why. It annoyed me a little that a book like this has gained such publicity, been long listed for the Man Booker and now is on the Richard and Judy list whereas wonderful thought provoking beautifully written books like State of Happiness (which I am still thinking about all the time) by Stella Duffy don’t and they should. Onwards and upwards though, hopefully next weeks book The Luminous Life of Lily Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin will be much better!

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Filed under Harper Collins, Joseph O'Neill, Review, Richard and Judy

The Bolter – Frances Osborne

Now you should all know that I have a small obsession about all things Mitford, which at the moment with the amount of books filled with letters, essays and diary entries from these sisters is very lucky for me. The Bolter by Frances Osborne has been on my book-radar for quite some time because of being part of my Richard and Judy Challenge and also because apparently the book is all about, Idina Sackville, was the inspiration for Nancy Mitford’s ‘The Bolter’ in three of her novels. For this alone I know I would like this book, even though looking at some reviews have been slightly underwhelming…

Well I won’t hold back on this… I loved this book. However I can understand why some people out there might not like it so much, but more of that later. The Bolter can be summed up pretty much by its full title ‘The Bolter: Idina Sackville – The Woman Who Scandalized 1920’s Society and Became White Mischief’s Infamous Seductress’. This book promises to be full of gossip and scandal whilst taking a look at just what was going on in the rich upper classes in the 1920’s and 1930’s. It does exactly what it promises on that front with some very insightful tales even of royalty. It also lifts the lid further on ‘The Happy Valley’ (which I had no knowledge of prior to this book – but I have been looking up on the web like mad) in Africa where bed hopping, drug taking, suicide and murder along with attempted murder all took place.

These things were great, Frances Osborne makes a lot of affairs and bed hopping very easy to keep up with and digest. She also brings in some really interesting social history such as what could and couldn’t constitute the rights for divorce and what counted as adultery. She looked at the women suffragettes which were something that Idina and her mother Muriel were very much involved with. It also looks at how war affected people not just in terms of rations but in terms of love and affairs of the heart. All this was wonderfully written and all over too quickly. However for me it was the background on Idina herself along with her childhood, parents and the society she grew up in and how they made her into the character which she became that I found so fascinating.

Yes she was a sexual predator in some ways, no she couldn’t be faithful, married and divorced five times, loved to party and left her sons and husband but deep down her story is of struggle and tragedy and how people react to that. Plus she in historical terms as Frances (who is her great-granddaughter) finds, from her family alone regardless of society back in the day, is blamed for this and getting the real insight your opinion is changed. Her first marriage to her true love wasn’t a happy one after the war and he ended up marrying his sister’s best friend Barbie. Some of the names in this book are wonderful. If all the things that happened to her happened to most people they would have given up aged about 21. However Idina is incredibly strong and fights and pushes to get what she wants which you believe is actually a quite settled life just with lots of sex.

This book also did something that very few books tend to do nowadays (unless I am having trouble keeping up) which is to make notes. There are some wonderful quotes such as when Idina describes why she married one of her husbands ‘he had broad shoulders, a long attention span and an endless supply of handkerchiefs’ and facts that I felt I wanted to chase up and learn more about. I also laughed and smiled quite a lot too thinking that anyone who loves the words and works of Nancy Mitford would be right at home with this. It does appear she very much borrowed from Idina and her real story for her own fiction. I also actually felt very solemn when the book ended and quite moved.

All in all a marvellous book which I would recommend to Mitford fans and particularly people who wouldn’t normally pick up a non fiction novel. This book has made me want to know so much more about the era and the other people mentioned as well as more on Idina herself and you cant ask more than that from a good book (this also happened with The 19th Wife which was fiction based on fact but a completely different subject) I am really pleased that Frances Osborne is writing more.

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Filed under Books of 2009, Frances Osborne, Nancy Mitford, Review, Virago Books

Mr Toppit – Charles Elton

As soon as this arrived from the lovely people at Penguin I knew I would have to read it pretty much instantly, and that is just what I did. After finishing David Ebershoff’s thought provoking The 19th Wife I wanted something a bit different and Mr Toppit looked just that. From the cover the book looks slightly gothic and ominous (more on the cover later) and that was exactly what I was in the mood to read. If that was what I was expecting it certainly isn’t what I got, however this book was a very pleasant surprise.

Luke Hayman has become world famous after his father Arthur Hayman’s death (this happens early on so am not spoiling the plot) when his series of children’s books ‘The Hayseed Chronicles’ go from being books that shift a few copies to books that become stratospheric selling bestsellers. The reason he becomes immortal is down to the fact his father called the main character, a young boy, Luke Hayseed. The Hayseed Chronicles also tell of a dark evil character called Mr Toppit who never actually appears, though his ominous presence drifts in and out of these tales, until at the end of the 5th novel when he comes out of the Darkwood ‘for everyone’. This to me promised a real mystery, which the book didn’t really deliver.

What it did deliver was two things. The first an insightful look at the trappings of fame, from those like Luke who really don’t want it but have it to his sister Rachel who craves it but isn’t mentioned in the novels. Luke’s story seems to reflect the story of Christopher Milne and his fame from The Winnie The Pooh books. There is also Laurie a woman who was with Arthur when he died and who suddenly becomes part of the family before going back to America and becoming part of the train of events that make The Hayseed Chronicles one of the biggest selling series of children’s books the world over.

The second thing that the book delivers is a fantastic family drama in the form of the Hayman’s and all they have go through when Arthur dies and then when the books become so well known in particular Rachel ‘the unknown sister’ who after her fathers death becomes dangerously obsessed with the books and their subliminal meanings and what could have happened next. It also looks at skeletons in all family’s cupboards and focuses on the fabulous Martha who is such a wonderful character even if she is cold, self obsessed and quite distant.

As for the plot… Hmmm, a puzzling one as I didn’t feel everything got quite wrapped up, which I know some books shouldn’t and I don’t expect all things to work out to a happy ending but I felt like some loose strands along the way were never quite chased up. I also had difficulty when Elton describes how people react to certain world famous scenes from the book that he never really describes them to the reader. I felt that more scenes from the book could have been entwined in the novel and also thought you could have had five interludes where the synopsis of each of the series was thrown in.

The characters, as well as their dilemmas and dramas in this book are undoubtedly what made it such a great read for me. I loved Martha as I mentioned and I loved Laurie’s cantankerous mother Alma equally. I also found the character of Laurie fascinating and in some ways her back story was the one that I found the most interesting as it deals with how childhood shapes us, which can also apply to Luke’s character.

Overall a very interesting debut novel and one that I would recommend to people who like a good family drama, just don’t be expecting the gothic story that the cover suggests. Speaking of covers what I did think was marvellous was the covers, yes covers. I take dust jackets of when am reading a hardback as I don’t like to tear or scuff it, when I removed it I was greeted by a cover of The Hayseed Chronicles which whilst on the tube made me look like I was reading a very big new children’s novel which doesn’t exist… which I quite liked.

I’d give this novel a 4/5. I actually closed the book wishing I had The Hayseed Chronicles to hand so that I could devour those to read next. Sadly Elton isn’t going to write them.

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Filed under Charles Elton, Penguin Books, Review

The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

So I finally get round to reviewing the latest Richard and Judy Challenge read which has only come in almost 4 days late… whoops. The thing is The 19th Wife is huge and actually didn’t take me as long as I thought it would but at the same time wasn’t as quick to read as I had thought it might be. Has that confused you yet?

When I opened this novel I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I was thinking ‘wow a Mormon murder mystery how unusual’ and indeed it is an incredibly different novel. There are really two stories running through it. Firstly there is the tale of Jordan Scott a young man in his mid twenties who sees in the news that his mother has murdered his father. Jordan has seen neither of his parents for quite some time, in fact since his mother drove him into the desert and left him on the roadside ‘at God’s will’. Jordan’s parents are in fact part of the First of Latter Day Saints and his mother was one of many wives, in fact she was his 19th wife. Jordan decides that he will go back to his home town and try and help his mother meaning he has to look back at his past and face some of his demons.

The second story of the book is all about Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young the second Prophet of the Mormon Church, who in the late 1890’s leaves her village and sect and battles for freedom and an end to polygamy in the United States. Ann Eliza Young was in fact a real person, which I didn’t realise until I had read the authors notes at the end which everyone should do with this book, and to me this made her story all the more compelling. Ebershoff tells her tale both from his fictional reworking of her novel (which she actually did write) through Brigham Young’s diary, letters from her son and through Kelly Dee who is researching the life of Ann and the fact that the Mormon’s one time biggest enemy actually helped create the Mormon religion of now and made the break between them and the ‘Firsts’.

Now this sounds confusing and I am going to admit that in parts of the novel I was somewhat lost. Especially as thrown into Jordan’s narrative keep coming press cuttings and news reports from Ann Eliza’s tale and I thought they should have been in the other sections of the novel as they related to that. As an editor himself I am surprised that Ebershoff didn’t have them moved. I also thought in parts the book was a little too long and yet, I am going to sound very contrary, I wanted so much more of Ann’s tale as I found it fascinating. This is actually what was bizarre, at the start of the book I really wanted to read more of Jordan’s story and by the end I wasn’t so bothered about the Mormon murder and was much more interested in Ann.

I think this had to do with the character or Jordan and the way he spoke and the two people he became attached to. He kept speaking in slang, so for example instead of saying something was boring he would say ‘same old blog’ and while I understand he is meant to be a young man ‘of the now’ it annoyed me. When he then meets Tom I found their relationship far too convenient and also quite unrealistic. After going to the cinema once they seemed to be a married couple. Then one scene where they are on the true killers heels they spend several paragraphs checking if the dog’s have the right toys and blankets. I just found that all quite ridiculous. However what Jordan’s character was good for was his story of being gay and the effects that causes in the ‘Firsts’ sects interesting and heartbreaking especially when his mother leaves him. It also showed how in the 100+ years since polygamy was outlawed that it is still going on as it the rape and grooming of children in these sects which makes for quite difficult reading.

I think what Ebershoff has done over all is quite spectacular. I know I had a moan about some of the Jordan parts of the book but that part was still a very good murder mystery and really looked at how children are affected by polygamy. I think really this was two separate books in one which is quite some feat. What this book has done that no books have made me do for quite a while is research. I have been trawling the internet looking to find out more about Ann Eliza and Brigham Young, reading about all the incidents she depicts. I think her story really sang out of the book and in a way the book could have been solely about her and still have been great. I think in bringing in the second tale helped to show that in all this time nothing has hanged for the ‘Firsts’ and they are still a law unto themselves which is slightly shocking and worrying.

If your looking for a huge book that will really make you think about things and want an insight into the life of ‘Firsts’ not Mormons (as I have learnt thanks to Ebershoff there is quite a difference) then this is a fascinating, clever and extremely well written book. I really enjoyed it and have come away wanting to find out much more about a woman I didn’t even know existed, and thanks to the authors notes I now have a list of more books to find and read. As for another Ebershoff… would I read one? No question, I would and will be. I thought Ebershoff was a new author however this is his third, randomly I found a copy of his debut novel ‘The Danish Girl’ in one of my favourite charity shops for 50p. I will report back on it in due course.

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Filed under David Ebershoff, Review, Richard and Judy, Transworld Publishing

When Will There Be Good News? – Kate Atkinson

I know its Booking Through Thursday day today but as I wrote about it before here (and I don’t mean that in a off way) I thought I would pop a link to it and mention it before discussing the latest Richard and Judy choice that is the superb and frankly brilliant When Will There Be Good News by Kate Atkinson.

Firstly if you haven’t read ‘Case Histories’ and ‘One Good Turn’ then frankly shame on you. Kate Atkinson has created something wonderful in fusing crime and mystery with literature without it being pigeonholed into either. She also has a fantastic plotting ability which deals with some very complex coincidences in fact coincidence has been the theme throughout these three Jackson Brodie novels however I think with ‘When Will There Be Good News’ she has surpassed the previous two, though they are both must reads. This book safely furthered Atkinson as one of my all time favourite authors. Now for me to describe it to without giving anything away from this book and the ones that came before it. I have to say that this is the darkest of the series and yet has an incredible humour to it too.

Jackson Brodie is a former detective and private investigator he carries a lot of baggage but is an absolutely brilliant and complex character though actually he isn’t in this book as much as in the later so if you become a fan you’ll want to read the others. Plug, plug, plug. Brodie is investigating something personal as we meet him, that ends in him getting lost in the Yorkshire moors and then on a train the wrong way which ends in a crash. Detective Louise Monroe has history with Brodie and is currently looking into a case of a man. In Scotland Louise Monroe is dealing with a missing homicidal manic, her new marriage and a convict fresh out of jail. Reggie is a sixteen year old nanny who has reported her employer Dr Hunter missing when no one else cares? How do their paths cross, how do they intertwine with the 30 year old case of Joanna Mason.

The start of the book centres on Joanna Mason and the horrific (and for the reader incredibly chilling I actually got frightened along with those involved) murder of her family on a walk in the countryside, she was the only survivor. It was shocking upsetting and also you wondered how it could affect the characters of the rest of the book. How does this link with all the characters above? You will have to read the book to find out… Speaking of characters though I must mention Reggie who I think is an amazing character, its very rare you find such a gem in a novel (though I mentioned Marianne Engel from The Gargoyle last week) and Reggie is a character I could read at least a dozen books about and I really hope that she is brought back at some point.

This has to be Kate Atkinson’s masterpiece to date (I never managed to finish Behind The Scenes at the Museum and must try to one day) and with each in the series she gets better and better, you begin to wonder how she can top this with the next one – she is actually giving the characters a rest for a while.

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Filed under Kate Atkinson, Review, Richard and Judy, Transworld Publishing