Tag Archives: The Readers Book Club

Mini Review Madness Part I; Arnott, Sloan, Grimwood & Richards

So as Christmas is now only a week away it means that New Year is a mere fortnight away and in an attempt to try and have written about nearly all the books I have read this year I thought  would write a couple of catch up mini-review posts. I would love to give them all a full review but I am running out of days to do that and all of the books have been featured on one of the three podcasts I co-host or host so links for more on them will be available below. For the first instalment (seeing as some of you have said they would like to see more ‘meh’ thoughts on books) we have two books I really wanted to love but sadly didn’t and two books I really, really liked but wasn’t in the best frame of mind to write about? Intrigued? Read on…

The House of Rumour by Jake Arnott (Sceptre, hardback, 2012, fiction, 403 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I have had an interesting relationship with Arnott for quite some time. His books either leave me feeling he is an absolute genius or they leave me feeling quite cold. The House of Rumour is a book which left me feeling both. It tells multiple tales which all interweave in various ways from a group of cult sci-fi writers in California to Ian Fleming as he spies for his country and is embroiled in an operation to use occultists against Hitler and the Nazi’s across the water. It sounds bonkers and indeed it is bonkers and I really should have loved it but overall I was just really, really confused. Initially I couldn’t work out how all the strands interlinked and started to resent Arnott for being too clever and showing off with it frankly. A shame for me as the story of Fleming and his days in the secret service which inspired Bond was absolutely blindingly brilliant and I could have read a whole book of. I just didn’t care about the rest, even when Arnott includes some brilliant short pieces of gender bending they lost their sheen when he almost repeated his tricks over and over again. Many people will love this, I just wanted the Fleming sections sadly – it is where the heart of this book really lies.

You can hear myself, Rob, Kate and Gavin discussing this on the second episode of Hear… Read This.

Mr Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan (FSG Books, hardback, 2012, fiction, 288 pages, bought by my good self)

A book about a bookstore, or bookshop as we Brits like to call them, should be the perfect read for me and initially this one was. Who could fail to fall for a book that centres around a mysterious bookshop and its mysterious owner, who Clay comes to work for after the recession hits his career, open twenty four hours with some members who take out the strangest books from the most secretive section of the bookshop? I know, sounds amazing. Until Sloan goes all modern world and technological on us, gets the object of Clay’s desires, Kat, to help him solve a mystery and the book then seems to be sponsored by Google every sentence as that is where Kat works. It began to get on my nerves, I wanted less about this one dimension modern youths and more about the strange old people reading the mysterious books in a certain order. Wholly unsatisfying and a wasted opportunity if you ask me, many people LOVE it though.

You can hear myself, Gavin, Kate and Rob discussing this on the first episode of Hear… Read This.

The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (Canongate, hardback, 2013, fiction, 359 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

The first of the two books that I really wish I had been able to write about after reading them, but Gran was sadly so poorly, is The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood. Set in eighteeth century France, which I know nothing about, I thought I would struggle with the life story of Jean-Marie d’Aumont but I was completely immersed as we followed him begging on the streets, and eating dung beetles (wonderfullt described), to his rise – through patronage and the military – to becoming one of France’s best diplomats and a spy. The period, especially all the shenanigans going on in Versailles, are brought vividly to life without ever having any ‘research’ or showy off detail being banged over your head which I think Grimwood is rather a genius for. The prose is as brilliant as the story, which I thought the ending of was superbly done, and Grimwood creates a heady atmosphere all through the descriptions of food. Subtly and deftly done, marvellous!

You can hear Gavin and myself talking about the book with Jonathan Grimwood on The Readers Book Club (rest its soul) here.

Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (Sceptre,hardback, 2012, fiction, 343 pages, kindly sent by the publisher)

I feel doubly bad about not mentioning Snake Ropes more as not only have I not given it a full review, I also couldn’t record the full episode of The Readers Book Club with Gavin, but family had to come first. Let’s not get maudlin though. So, Jess Richards’ debut is a tale set on an island somewhere just off the edge of any map where all the boys are disappearing. As the novel opens ‘the tall men’ come to the island bringing trade after which Mary, one of our two gutsy narrators, soon discovers her brother is missing and decides she must find him. Elsewhere on the island Morgan tells us of her life locked away from society, but how are the two stories linked? The mystery and tale that follows involves selkies (I loved the heartbreaking selkie tale so much), crows that turn to stone and the Thrashing House, one of the most scary and creepy created building houses I have fictionally stepped into. A wonderfully written, and incredibly emotive, magical tale for adults, highly recommended.

You can hear Gavin and I in conversation with Jess Richards about the book on The Readers Book Club here.

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So that is my first mini-review madness of the week. Let me know if you have read any of these books, or any of these authors other works and what you thought of them? Also let me know your thoughts on what you think about mini-review posts like these, is it nice to get a quick glimpse of some other reads every now and again or do you prefer the longer (and they are getting longer) fuller reviews?

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Filed under Jake Arnott, Jess Richards, Jonathan Grimwood, Mini Reviews, Robin Sloan

Other People’s Bookshelves #20 – Gavin Pugh

So this week’s Other People’s Bookshelves is a little bit late but that is because I wanted to do something special for its 20th post in the series and have a special guest and delayed it to match that special guests birthday (21 again). Yes this week it is none other than my bookish beardy best mate the lovely, lovely Gavin C. Pugh. Really he doesn’t need an introduction, many of you will have followed his blog or seen him around Twitter (where he is like a bookish Lady Gaga in terms of followers) as @GavReads.

He describes himself as a social reader and has only recently admitted to collecting books. He was the original co-host of The Readers podcast with me, and will be back at some point, though now does more behind the scenes producing The Readers and You Wrote The Book where he makes me sound better and less inept – oh if only you all knew! He is back with a new podcast called Hear Read This! with Kate and Rob from Adventures with Words any myself too. He’s mainly known for loving SFF but he’ll delve into reality every now and again. He’s currently running NoCloaksAllowed.com and going to be reviewing a piece of shorter fiction a day for the next year. So wish him luck. Now let’s go and nosey through his shelves…

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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?

That’s a huge question. Before I moved to university I had 3 tall book cases 10 years ago and at the time I squeezed as many of those books as I could into my car to take with me. I couldn’t store them all so I had a big cull. Don’t worry too much it was things like Patricia Cornwell and James Patterson, so books that I wouldn’t reread. But I did get a feel for culling books. And I can be quite heartless if I need some space. That doesn’t mean that I have room for books. Right now, I’ve got six tall and wide book cases at the minute and a couple of piles keeping my desk up.

Now, this is a confession… I worked out recently that I had 483 or so unread books in the house so my read books have to be extra special to stay. I’m not sentimental though I sort of wish that I did keep the Anne McCaffery and Robert Rankin books from my teens. I did keep my Terry Pratchett books and those really do need two shelves now especially with the new Gollancz hardbacks coming out as I’ve definitely run out of room. I’ve culled books that I loved as if I’m not going to re-read it usually goes unless there is some other reason. I’ve started collecting certain books so I am now especially keeping books to make collections. You might see Adam Roberts for example and I bought the first edition of Stone as I read it from the library and really missed not having a copy. I buy and acquire more books faster than I can read them. I envy people’s restraint who can do one in one out.

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?

My shelves are currently quite organised. I’d love to make them alphabetical but I think I’d have to cull them by half so I could see them all rather than have half of them hidden by double spacing as they are now. Before I had a bit of a tidy up the Neal Asher books for example were all over the house they are now all together even if they can’t all be lined up. And that made a big difference to how I looked at my bookshelves. Before it was a case of anywhere that I could find a space! Now I try and keep them together through some sort of link, hover tenuous that is. Though that does mean that Jim Butcher and Peter F. Hamilton have got buried. I do like seeing them together. The yellow-spined SF Masterworks are together but only I know what I’ve read as I don’t keep read and unread separated. And it’s lovely to see The Readers Book Club books all on the shelf together.

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I have this big shelf of writing-related books that’s quite scary to look at – does one person need that many writing books I wonder? But I can’t bear to part with them. Actually, I’m ignoring the elephant in the room. As a reviewer and book-cheerleader I get a fair few review copies and they sometimes get shelf space while they wait but mostly new ones are on the floor in front of the shelves. But without reviewing I’d have a lot of books. I buy a lot of ebooks (sorry Simon) rather than physical copies though I’m swinging the other way and buying physical copies if there is a change I’d want them around to look at after I’ve read them. The other thing I do, like with the short stories, is to be able to pull those books off the shelves and pile them on my desk for reference and easy grabbing.
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What was the first book you ever bought with your own money and does it reside on your shelves now? 

You know I honestly can’t remember. I got a lot of books from the library when I learning what I liked as a reader. I’ve always been a reader but I didn’t gain traction until I was 16 and that was all down to The Witches Collection that Gollancz published collecting Terry Pratchett’s Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters and Witches Abroad and that got me hooked and I devoured all the Discworld books and kept myself topped up as they game out every 6 months for a while. I don’t have it anymore but I do have the individual volumes.

The thing I’m really bad at is overbuying books. I’ve not read the Edmund Crispin’s Gervase Fen mysteries yet, but I like having them around. There are some books that I bought when I was first getting into books hidden behind others on the shelves. I’ve always gorged on books. One thing I don’t do is buy second hand books but there is a copy of Storm Constantine’s Stalking Tender Prey as I lost it in a move and couldn’t do without having it on the shelve as battered and smelly as it is.

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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?

You know, I’m a little embarrassed by my poetry collection. It’s very different from SFF that I’m known for reading. It’s probably that I don’t know many people to ‘geek-out’ with the same way I can do with you or with people on twitter. Though I think poetry is a powerful thing that I wish more people weren’t put off by in school.

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

I did have a no-burn shelf but since reorganisation they are a bit scattered. I don’t really go for signed books. I have a few signed books but almost all of those are mementoes of meeting an author and that makes a story and a connection. I have signed books by a few of my heroes Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Joe Hill, Mark Chadbourn, Storm Constantine, Neal Asher and Garth Nix for example. Some celeb books like Russell T. Davies, John Barrowman, and Barry Humphries. I have books signed by friends that I’d have to try and grab. The Terry Prachett hardcovers. And then there are some ARCS (advanced reading copies) that I’ve been lucky enough to acquire that are special to me like Horns by Joe Hill. Though a lot of books that I would grab because they are OOP have found a new life in ebook so I’d leave those until last like The Great Game by Dave Duncan and the Mark Chadbourn series – sorry Mark. Oh I almost forgot China Miéville – I’d grab those first as most are signed and he’s an amazing writer that I love seeing on the shelves.

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What is the first ‘grown up, and I dont mean in a ‘Fifty Shades of Greyway, that you remember on your parents 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 guess you’d say that was Stephen King and Dolores Claiborne. Stephen King for me is very hit and miss author. I’ve tried a good many of his books some like Gerald’s Game, which should be shocking didn’t grab me and some like The Stand I didn’t see why they were talking so long. I love Under the Dome but I don’t have a copy any more but Dolores Claiborne is the book that I’ve bought and given away about 5 times and it’s currently missing. I need to buy another copy soon as I like rereading it. It’s got no horror in it as such but tells the lives of two women as they grow old together.

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?

This is one reason that I’m really sad that libraries are disappearing as I’ve read some books when I was finding myself as a reader that are missing from the shelves like Martin Bauman by David Leavitt that I should have got around to re-buying but it’s not a book I want to read again mostly as it was such a powerful book the first time that I don’t think a second reading will live up to that. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman I did end up buying though I thought I would reread it much earlier than I actually did and then I listened to it as an audiobook so that doesn’t really count as I still didn’t open the actual copy on the shelves. I guess that’s one reason why I’m ruthless at culling is that once I’ve read a book I have to be honest  if I’ll reread them and that I’m not just holding on to books in the vague hope they’ll be useful later. Saying that though now I’ve admitted I’m a collector I have a much better excuse for keeping more books.

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

One thing I love about twitter is that it’s so easy to call out and get good book recommendations. I did that recently and got back suggestions of Murial Spark The Driver’s Seat and Gore Vidal’s Myra Breckingridge & Myron. I can’t remember what the criteria was now but I tend to ask for older books that people love.

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Are there any books that you wish you had on your bookshelves that you dont currently?

I’ve already mentioned Martin Bauman. I’m a little sad that I gave away Un Lun Dun by China Miéville  as that’s a proper collection gap. Also when I was a student I didn’t by Making Money by Terry Pratchett and a couple of weeks ago I bought a first edition hardback to fill that gap. I can’t find my hardback of Thud!, another Pratchett, and I could swear I bought the hardback so I might have to get a first edition of that soon.

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

Having a wall of books in the living room, which is four of the bookcases, is an impressive sight. I think it shows a person that loves reading. To be honest I’m sure that they’d know a fraction of the authors that I have. They’d probably be more impressed by the soft toys that have been placed here and there amongst the shelves.

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A huge thanks to Gavin for taking part in Other People’s Bookshelves. Also, without sounding daft, a huge thanks to him for being a brilliant bookish bud, he’s ace.  If you would like to participate (and I would love you to – hint, hint, hint) in the 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 Gav’s responses and/or any of the books/authors that he mentioned? Don’t forget to wish him a Happy **th Birthday too!

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Radio Silence/Radio Savidge

That blinking thing called work is a pesky so and so isn’t it? Every time I think I am going to get back into the swing of things something like an International Music Festival comes along and reading, let along blogging, goes out of the window. On a serious note – I am actually really, really loving my new job. Second to books in my life is definitely music (family and friends are somewhere along the pecking order) so to work on a new exciting project like this is bloody amazing really. If that wasn’t enough the people are also bloody lovely (it is all bloody lovely really) and they are being really supportive with everything that is going on with Gran, no change there at the moment.

The blog has been suffering a little though I will admit, though I think (blowing my own trumpet maybe, as you may all disagree) that my reviews have become more ‘me’ I think. Still a work in progress as always but I feel much happier putting them out, even if they are taking (and becoming) a bit longer. Let me know if you think otherwise!

Anyway, I realised that whilst my blogging has gone a bit more sporadic there are three other ways you can catch up with me being bookish and those are the podcasts I am on, and this got me thinking about Radio Savidge. You see there are the three podcasts I do (The Readers, The Readers Book Club) and also the podcasts that I am always listening to and so I thought I should share some of them with you so that, should you fancy, you can hear me waffling on about books or listen to a few of the podcasts I have in my ears at the moment.

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So as some of you will know I host two book groups, one which also has a monthly spin off. The first is ‘The Readers’, which has now gone fortnightly, which I co-host with the bloody lovely Gavin of Gav Reads. We subtitled it ‘Book Based Banter’ because generally we waffle on, and off on tangents, about books for roughly 30/40mins per episode. We also have a monthly book club which we have now made seasonal. For the summer selection we have gone for ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ by Tarquin Hall, which you can hear here and see my review of here, and for July we have ‘Snake Ropes’ by Jess Richards (which we are recording next Wednesday) and ‘The Last Banquet’ by Jonathan Grimwood in August. Each show features Gav and I discussing the book, being joined by the author and sometimes a special guest PLUS asking your questions. So, if you have any for Jess or John let me know.

The final podcast I am involved with is the one I host alone. You Wrote The Book! is a fortnightly ‘in conversation’ show where I (lightly) grill an author. Some people love author interviews, some people loath them, I love them as I find authors brains rather fascinating and I have been very, very lucky as already I have had Evie Wyld, John Boyne, Xiaolu Guo, Alan Bradley, Taiye Selasi, Joanne Harris, Patrick Ness, Damian Barr and Maggie O’Farrell on the show! Eek, squeal. If you fancy having a listen to them you can do here.

Sorry about that slightly shameless plug, I will now redeem myself by sharing three of my favourite bookish podcasts that I listen to every episode without fail and think you should be checking out too. First up is ‘Books on the Nightstand’ which I think I have raved about endlessly already on several occasions. Ann Kingman and Michael Kindness have become firm friends of mine, though we have never met, simply through hearing them and tweeting bookish stuff with them. They both work for random, know their books, love their books and are brimming with recommendations – recently they discussed ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon’ by
Anthony Marra which had completely gone under my radar and was absolutely amazing, A–MAZ–ING! Next up are another duo, who also happen to be boyfriend and girlfriend (does playground giggle behind hand) too, in the form of Rob and Kate who make up ‘Adventures With Words’, this is another weekly podcast and I often sit with a cuppa and listen, occasionally responding to them before realising I am not in the same room as them, oops. Finally, another duo, only this time related as Trevor of Mookse and Gripes blog now does a podcast with his brother discussing NYRB classics, with the occasional extra show thrown in for good measure.

I could of course mention the vodcast of the ABC Book Club, formerly The First Tuesday Book Club with my heroine Marieke Hardy, and also the Radio 2 Arts Show with Claudia Winkleman, who I am currently slightly obsessed by and who I would like to steal many an interview technique off as well as spend many hours with discussing books. They are two further goldmines of audio joy, well one is visual too. Oh, I mentioned them anyway.

So which podcasts do you listen to regularly that I should be adding to my own Savidge Radio Station? Do we listen to any of the same ones?

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The Case of the Missing Servant – Tarquin Hall

Not being funny but I would never have thought I would be recommended a book by both Gav of Gav Reads (his review here) and also my Gran, yet in the case of ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’, the first Vish Puri mystery by Tarquin Hall, these two recommendations came most highly. Had Gavin not chosen this book for The Readers Book Club earlier this month I would definitely have ended up reading it on their recommendations and the fact that this was a crime series set in India, a country I am rather fascinated by though I have not had the pleasure of visiting yet.

Arrow Books, 2010, paperback, 312 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Vish Puri is one of India’s leading private detectives, well that is what he would have you know although occasionally you are left to wonder how much of that is truth and how much is pomp. In the main Vish’s line of detection is that of families wishing for one of their offspring’s betrothed to be investigated for their background and if they might be an ideal addition to the family. It isn’t the most glamourous or exciting investigating but occasionally there are instances with twists. However off and on Puri gets a real mystery and in ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ Puri is hired to find the maid servant of Ajay Kasliwal, a prominent lawyer, who he has been accused of murdering since her sudden disappearance. It is cases like this Puri thrives on, they are also the kind of cases where one might make enemies which might be why someone is trying to get Puri killed.

One of the things that I most admired about ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ was how Hall created a genuinely intriguing mystery that managed to really look at Indian society and how it treats the classes/caste system in many ways. He looks at how things have changed in India over the decades and how the modern world is changing time-honoured traditions for everyone living in the country. It gives the book an additional depth, on top of the intrigue of the mystery that is at the forefront of the book. From the judicial system, or lack of it, to the situation with arranged marriages Hall manages to really encapsulate a country in a time of great change.

“In the old days, there would have been no need for Puri’s services. Families got to know one another within the social framework of their own communities. When necessary, they did their own detective work. Mothers and aunties would ask neighbours and friends about prospective grooms, and the families’ standing and reputation. Priests would also make introductions and match horoscopes.
Today, well-off Indians living in cities could no longer rely on those time-honoured systems. Many no longer knew their neighbours. Their homes were the walled villas of Jor Bagh and Golf Links, or posh apartments in Greater Kailash. Their social lives revolved around the office, business meetings and society weddings.”

Another thing that I really liked about the novel was that it is really a book of team detection. Puri might be the lead detective yet really he can, to a degree, be rather bumbling and without a team around him it would be highly unlikely that he could solve the puzzle by himself, though he would have you think the contrary. I mean without Facecream, who he sends to pretend to be a maid and spy on the Kasliwal family, or Tubelight and Flush who do some of the menial hunting (and truly dangerous and physical things) he wouldn’t be able to solve everything that came his way.

“Puri had positioned two of his best undercover operatives, Tubelight and Flush, down in the street.
These were not their real names, of course. Being Punjabi, the detective had nicknames for most of his employees, relatives and close friends. For example, he called his wife Rumpi; his new driver Handbrake; and the office boy, who was extraordinarily lazy, Door Stop.”

I also greatly admired Hall’s way of interweaving several mysteries all at once. In some crime novels we simply get one criminal on the run doing all sorts of horrendous things. With Vish Puri we not only get ‘The Case of the Missing Servant’, we also get three investigations into future spouses of families (one is ending at the start of the book, one sort of peters out and vanishes, one has a brilliant twist which I loved) and on top of that we get Puri’s own mother investigating who has tried to shoot her son. This strand for me, and indeed Puri’s mother, really stole the show for me and I loved every single chapter with her in it, in fact I am hoping that she gets her own standalone series.

 “Puri had learned from hard experience that it was impossible to hide dramatic elements in his life from his mother. But he would not tolerate her nosing about in his investigations.
True, Mummy had a sixth sense and, from time to time, one of her premonitions proved prescient. But she was no detective. Detectives were not mummies. And detectives were certainly not women.”

This I suppose is a positive way to tap into some of the flaws that I found in the book. Firstly I wasn’t sure if it knew what sort of crime novel it wanted to be. In some ways, particularly with its sense of humour and the bumbling and pompous Puri at the helm, it felt like it was a cosy crime novel (which as a fan of M.C. Beaton I have no prejudice about at all) yet with its additional depth and uncovering of Indian society it also felt like it was trying to be a more thought provoking novel too – yet in being both something was lost from both parts. I do wonder if having read Kishwar Desai’s Witness The Night’ first some time ago, which was the latter but very funny with its darkness, might have had something to do with this, maybe.

I also didn’t really think (and I wonder if this is why the Poirot comparisons have been made) that Hall liked Puri very much and was actually using him as a figure of fun in more than just a ‘ha, ha’ way. It could be, as Gavin mentions on The Readers Book Club (and we have a small tiff about it) that it is a debut novel. This could also link into the fact that I don’t think anyone could guess the culprit, as it felt a little bit like a triple twist thrown in at the end last minute, whilst I don’t expect to guess every crime novels denouement (I’m not that clever) I want to at least be able to try.

‘The Case of the Missing Servant’ leaves me a little conflicted. On the one hand I loved the fact that the book gave me so much more (I haven’t even touched on the fascinating bits about the history of Indian detection) than I was expecting and met the eye, all done without trying to prove a moral point or bash me over the head with research. Yet occasionally I didn’t connect and I am wondering if it was with Puri himself? Overall though I enjoyed it, see I am puzzled.

I think I will have to try another one to make my mind up about this fully which shouldn’t be difficult to do as they have become so popular. With two more already published, another on the way, and mentions in this book of Puri’s past cases like ‘The Case of the Missing Polo Elephant’, ‘The Case of the Pundit with the Twelve Toes’ and ‘The Case of the Laughing Peacock’ it looks like there will be plenty more to choose from, though as I like to read a series in order I should try the second, ‘The Case of the Man Who Died Laughing’, next – though I do know the ending having read some of it to Gran in hospital. Hmmm.

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Filed under Arrow Books, Review, Tarquin Hall, The Readers Podcast

Going Off The Beaten (Bookish) Path…

I am going to be heading off on a bit of a bookish adventure over the next few weeks and months I have decided. Having done less reading and more thinking recently, I decided that Savidge Reads needs to change its trajectory. When I started this blog five, very nearly six, years ago I started it as a diary of the books I was reading so I didn’t bore so many of my friends about books they really didn’t give a toss about – little did I know what a wonderful world of bookish friends it would earn me online and in the flesh all these years later! Anyway enough of all about you, back to me. *Cough* When I started these bookish thoughts and notes I had no real bookish direction. I would randomly read books that, if I am really honest, I knew very little about unless I knew the author already, liked the cover or the bookshop recommended it.

I had no idea of all the book prizes (ironic now I have co-founded one) and really didn’t know what the latest bookish buzz was, what a heathen! I just wanted to read good books, ones that simply appealed to me at that moment. I didn’t have a TBR that needed several rooms of shelves to house it, I simply went by instinct. I wasn’t aware of the big books on the periphery or any hype, nor was I part of the literary world really. Whilst I guess I am now through work, this blog and podcasts and it is all lovely and I love it, I do think it is time for me to have a blogger’s kind of GAP year and do some travelling off the beaten bookish path.

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This I have just realised all sounds rather final. It honestly isn’t, I can confirm that Savidge Reads is not going to disappear for a year. It might just mean I start talking about much more random books than I have been. This of course might mean lots of you decide you don’t want to read on, I hope not but if that is the case fair enough. Yet I personally am becoming a bigger fan of blogs that tell me about books I might not have heard of in the review pages, on prize shortlists or published by the latest ‘literary darling’ – and there are bloody loads of books out there that fit that category.

I think it was the Fiction Uncovered list that inspired this. Eight books, one of which I had read and the others heard about a little, that sound really intriguing and I am thrilled to have been recommended after all that is how I first read one of my favourite books, which I probably don’t need to tell you all about (but sod it my blog my rules) so I will, ‘The Proof of Love’ by Catherine Hall. Does it sound grand to say I would like to do my bit for those books too? I have already been scanning my shelves for copies of books publishers have sent that fit into that description. I am also planning on reading most of the Fiction Uncovered books which may seem ironic I suppose after all I say above, but I am a contrary Mary what can I say? Ha!

Speaking of irony… I have looked at what is currently residing on my bedside table and those books don’t, initially, reflect my new found state of mine. Let me explain them though if you will! I have just finished ‘A Constellation of Vital Phenomena’ by Anthony  Marra, which the lovely Michael Kindness raved about on Books on the Nightstand has been raving about so I decided I wanted to read it before the hype goes bananas, which I think it will as it is amazing. I have since started the new Evie Wyld novel ‘All The Birds, Singing’ but that is because her debut blew me away and I would have read it regardless of the buzz of her Granta listing and the reviews its getting (and the fact I asked her nicely to come on You Wrote The Book and she said yes). There is also an advance proof of a newish favourite author Niccolo Ammaniti which I am desperate to read and tell you about before everyone else does, ha! Then, below Niccolo, is ‘World War Z’, now seriously how often do I read books about Zombies, erm hardly at all if ever. It is a ‘new to me but known by pretty much everyone else’ book and a challenge, plus couldn’t be more removed from the previous titles. I am waffling now aren’t I?

Basically I am going to be doing the reading equivalent of interrailing or back packing, ‘bookpacking’ if you will. Along the way there might be the odd reading equivalent of treating myself to a regular hotel along the way, in this case The Persephone Project, Readers Book Group of prize winning novel that just takes my fancy (like ‘The Detour’ by Gerbrand Bakker currently is) if you will. I already have a book waiting in the wings to talk about tomorrow; I just hope you will join me on this random adventure, direction and destination unknown.

P.S Sorry this post is so late I started writing it hours ago but we have had Oscar bring in a baby Blue Tit (now called Bertie) who I have decided to rescue and the drama of it all took over.

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Back into Book Groups…

Thank you for all your nice thoughts when you popped round for tea and biscuits last week , lovely to catch up with some of you, even though I proceeded to vanish again I did read all your comments. Now that I have actually managed to be at home for a few days on the trot, though I am back off to Derbyshire to see Gran this weekend, and have actually managed a few days of no work and just ‘being’ I have to say I am feeling slightly more normal and caught up with myself a bit – not quite fully but not far off.

Anyway, today I am going to talk to you about book groups because back at the end of last year I said that I wasn’t going to join any more. In fact I think I said I would just stick to doing The Readers Book Club with the lovely Gavin every month, and we have. Oddly we had to have a small crisis meeting about this the other week as over the last few months we’ve been having a bit of a nightmare. Authors have vanished meaning we couldn’t record with them, three publishers promised us books then withdrew last minute making us look a bit stoopid and we thought ‘right, let’s sort this out’. So, we have decided to go seasonal and from now on every three months we will announce three books in advance so people have more of a change to read along and get involved. The summer selection was announced yesterday and here they are…

  • The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall (14th of June 2013)
  • Snake Ropes by Jess Richards (12th of July 2013)
  • The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood (8th of August 2013)

So hopefully this will entice some of you to read along, have discussions on our blogs on the same day and even (fingers crossed) get questions to us and possibly appear on the shows when they go live. What say you?

Thinking about book groups then made me realise how much I have actually missed being in one. To be fair when Gran has been lucid we are still talking about books but as she can’t read I haven’t been able to introduce the idea of an ‘End of Your Life Book Club’ ala Will Schwalbe which we had thought to, though as we are listening to the same audiobooks when together maybe that counts? Regardless of that I decided it might be nice to join one, something I am actually rather nervous about as I have tended to start (and then leave the city within months/a year) book groups in the past rather than join one with friendships already running through it.

Yet the lovely Rosario lives in Liverpool and had invited me to join the book group she is in when I moved over here and I initially said yes but then got too busy with everything. However now, after a slightly humble email from me, I have asked to rejoin and if I can get a copy of ‘Watchmen’ from the library in time I will be joining them next week. If not I will be joining the month after for ‘The Murder of Roger Ackroyd’. From Alan Moore to Agatha Christie, that sounds like my kind of book group! I also caught up with one of my best friends from secondary school, who I hadn’t seen for sixteen – yes SIXTEEN – years but now live two miles from, yesterday and we joked about one on the Wirral. Could I handle two? Well Gran was in three, so maybe it is in the genes?

So what are your thoughts on the Readers Book Club Summer Selection 2013? Have you read any and what did you think? Also do you have any tips for me as someone joining a book group that has been going a while? Are you in a book group and how are you finding it, and what are you reading, what have been your groups highlight reads? Any of you love books but can’t think of anything worse than a book club, just out of interest?

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Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

The Panopticon – Jenni Fagan

In the last few years I have become increasingly aware that blurbs can be a funny thing, sometimes they exaggerate and occasionally they just completely portray a different story from the book you actually read (though to be fair this could be the way in which you read the blurb I suppose). So in the last few years I have given up in the main. However there are times when a list of books is released and you have to find out more about the individual titles, this was the case when I first heard of Jenni Fagan’s debut novel ‘The Panopticon’ when it was announced as one of the Waterstones 11 last year. It sounded quite unlike any novel I had heard of with a fifteen year old ‘counter-culture outlaw’ who finds herself in The Panopticon escaping from ‘the experiment’. When we chose the title for The Readers Book Club this month I was looking forward to trying my hand at what promised to be my first delving into a sci-fi dystopian novel in some time, only it’s not a sci-fi dystopian novel, it is something quite different from that.

**** William Heinemann, hardback, 2012, fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

At fifteen years of age Anais Hendricks is someone who society has already given up on. As we meet her she has finally been found by the police who swiftly take her to The Panopticon, a home for severe young offenders, where she arrives covered in blood and with the suspicion of having put a policewoman into a coma.

From here we learn more about her current situation, her past home which may have lead her into the world of drugs, underage sex and crime (though many believe she is simply bad through and through, no further explanation needed). We also learn how Anais believes that she is being watched by ‘the experiment’, faceless beings who look human yet have no noses and remain nondescript, who she believes created her on a petri-dish just to see how many awful things a human can undertake.

Jenni Fagan asks a lot from her reader from the start of ‘The Panopticon’– and in doing so takes a lot of risks. The book is filled with swearing, violence, drug taking and underage sex from pretty early on (and it gets darker from here on in). You also find yourself, or this reader did anyway, not quite sure if you like Anais and if in fact she might just be a bad person through and through. Yet Fagan’s gamble pays off if you bear with it, a few chapters in and not only did I like and empathise with Anais but I enjoyed spending time with her. I found one minute she would make me laugh, then say something which would almost break your heart.

“…Also, there is the second time that you have stolen a minibus from outside Rowntree High School, but this time you,’ the woman scrolls her pen down the report in front of her, ‘drove it into a wall?’
‘I drove it intae the wall both times.’
‘Something was different the second time, Miss Hendricks?’
She raises her eyebrows, stops, like she is asking a pub-quiz question. The other three panel members look to see what I’m gonnae say.
‘The second time it was on fire,’ I respond after a minute.
‘Correct.’
Brilliant. A correct answer. What do I win? The woman’s running her eye up and down the charges again, looking for something. I hate. This chair. Their faces. That shite gold clock on the wall.”

She is a real conundrum. One moment she dreams of a quite life in Paris, the next she wants to kick someone’s head in, one minute she is reading a book about the supernatural with a naivety that is younger than her years, the next she is telling you about her last drug binge. She is an incredibly unreliable narrator and yet you cannot help but warm to her. Fagan plays a top trump here with the fact that Anais lets no-one into her life, apart from us the readers, which I found a really cleverly written aspect of the book.

 “Open my book, it’s mostly vampire stories just now, before that it was witches. I could handle being a vampire, an evil one with mansions everywhere. I’d fly, and read minds, and drink blood, until I could hear wee bats being born right across the other side of the world. I hear other people’s thoughts when I’m tripping, ay. I dinnae really know if it is thoughts actually, maybe it’s just voices. They urnay my thoughts – I know that much. It’s like tuning into a radio frequency that’s always there, but when you’re tripping you cannae tune it back out. I get voices in my head that urnay mine, and I see faces no-one else sees, but mostly it’s just when I am tripping, so I mustn’t be totally mental in the head yet.”

So what of ‘the experiment’, because after all this was what had intrigued me so much about the book and what I was hoping to be delved into. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t in the book as much as I was expecting or indeed would have liked. In fact if it hadn’t been for Anais, her narrative and her story, the book probably would have really disappointed me a little bit. Occasionally a sense of these mysterious men and the plan that Anais thinks they have for her appear on the periphery or are referred to, along with the rumour that Anais’ mother was only seen once smashing through a window of an asylum – where she promptly gave birth and escaped again – on a winged cat, yet I thought Fagan could have gotten away with doing it a lot more, making the reader question Anais’ reality and sense of reliability, even more.*

 “I dinnae say I’ll volunteer to help some old lady with her shopping, and her cleaning, and if I’m really fucking lucky she’ll take me under her wing and get tae like me and feed me apple pie and gin – and tell me her stories about the good old days. Those urnay the things I say.”

 As I mentioned, had Anais and her story not been the whole story, and therefore what made an impressive and thought provoking book (you cannot call a book like this ‘enjoyable’), then I might have been a tad disappointed by ‘The Panopticon’. However as it was I was bowled over by it. It is a confronting and occasionally horrifying novel that will make you feel as deeply uncomfortable as it will make you laugh – and that is all down to the strength of Jenni Fagan’s writing and the heroine that she creates. It is also a book that leaves you with a huge question but one I think I should leave those of you who go on to read it, and I do think you should, to discover and try and answer for themselves, I myself am still thinking about it all.

*Interestingly when recording The Readers Book Club on ‘The Panopticon’ last week with two sci-fi fans I was amazed to see that they didn’t think the experiment was real, where as I (the ‘literary’ head) completely did. But I think you are meant to question this throughout anyway.  they didn’t think the experiment was real, where as I (the ‘literary’ head) completely did. But I think you are meant to question this throughout anyway. You can listen to that discussion here.

Who else has read ‘The Panopticon’ and what did you make of it? Would you call it ‘literary’, ‘sci-fi’, ‘magical realism’ or, as I think, ‘gothic’? Does it even matter? Which other books have you read that had a blurb that didn’t quite match the book that you ended up reading? Are you like me and find you tend to ignore blurbs on the whole?

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Filed under Jenni Fagan, Review, William Heinemann Books