Tag Archives: The Readers Summer Book Club

Savidge Reads Books of 2012 – Part One…

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

10. The Claude Glass by Tom Bullough

I really liked the fact Bullough creates this sense of place and people and wants you to work with him on building the bigger picture and using all the things unsaid along with tiny tensions to create the full narrative tale.  I think by now you will have probably guessed that I thought ‘The Claude Glass’ was an unusual and incredibly accomplished piece of writing, silently impressive and one that rewards you in many ways.

9. You’ll Be Sorry When I’m Dead by Marieke Hardy

‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ is one of those books which manages to make you laugh out loud, feel ever so uncomfortable at its honesty, possibly makes you want to cry and then makes you laugh all over again. When someone writes their memoirs it isn’t necessarily that the full truth doesn’t come out, just that the author tends to look at things in a rose tinted way, highlighting their best bits – not so in the case of Marieke.

8. Days of Grace by Catherine Hall

What I also really admired and loved about the book is that even though we have one narrator we have two stories. These are told in alternating chapters throughout the book. This device is one that is used often and normally I have to admit one story will overtake my interest as I read on. Not in the case of ‘Days of Grace’. I was desperate to know what was going to happen with Nora and Grace as the war went on both in idyllic Kent and the roughness and danger of London but I also wanted to know, just as much, what was going to happen with Nora in the present, her health and the relationship with Rose and her baby. Both stories had me intrigued and I think that was because Catherine Hall very cleverly has the stories mystery foreboding the past tense narrative and shadowing the present without us knowing what it is until the last minute.

7. The World That Was Ours – Hilda Bernstein

‘The World That Was Ours’ shows the power of books, writing, journalism and memoir. When it was published back in 1967 it was a dangerous book to release and there were many people who would have liked to see it destroyed. Thank goodness it found a publisher back then and thank goodness Persephone have chosen it as a book to reprint for us to discover because it is just the sort of book that everyone should read. I will be re-reading this again for definite.

6. Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan

You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unraveling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly… and it stays with you long after you read it.

5. The Bottle Factory Outing by Beryl Bainbridge

There were so many things that I loved about Beryl Bainbridge’s writing that it might be hard to encompass them all, I will endeavour to try though. First of all is how much is in such a small book. At a mere 200 pages, and in fairly big print which could be devoured in a few hours, so much happens that when you have finished you find yourself recapping it all and thinking ‘did that all just happen in this book?’ There are funerals, hilarious seductions in cellars, hilarious seductions in a shared bedroom and a shared bathroom, a mother in law with a grudge to bear and a gun in her handbag, a fight in Windsor Castle, horse riding with the Queen’s funereal regiment, something awful on an outing which leads to a strange trip to a safari park, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

4. Never Mind by Edward St Aubyn

I always admire an author who can write beautifully and simply, an author who can create the most understated of melodramas will win me over. I also always admire an author who can write a passage that chills you before one that makes you laugh out loud and then another which horrifies you all over again. All these things are encompassed in Edward St Aubyn’s first Patrick Melrose novel ‘Never Mind’.

3. A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

I don’t think I have yet read a piece of fiction which seems to encapsulate the entire breadth in which cancer can affect people and not just those in the eye of the storm it creates. Ness looks at the full spectrum of emotions for all those involved, from Conor, his mother and grandmother to those on the periphery such as Conor’s teachers. He takes these feeling and reactions, condenses them and then makes them readable, effecting, emotional and compelling in just over 200 pages. The monster itself is also an incredible character being utterly evil in many ways and yet having hints of goodness amongst the chaos he creates so that you are never quite sure if he is friend or foe.

2. The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller

I wouldn’t normally say that I was a reader who subscribes to adventure stories or love stories and yet Madeline Miller’s debut novel ‘The Song of Achilles’ is easily my favourite read of the year so far. The reason for this is simple, she’s a bloody good storyteller, a great writer and I think the enthusiasm she has for classics becomes contagious somewhere in the way she writes. Madeline Miller has made me want to run out and read more books with this book, what more can you ask from an author than that?

1.  Kiss Kiss by Roald Dahl

I think ‘Kiss Kiss’ will undoubtedly remain one of my favourite short story collections, and one that I will happily dip in and out of again and again in the future. It has that delightfully dark, yet awfully darkly funny, essence to it that I just really enjoy. It has made me want to go out and read all of Dahl’s other adult work (especially with the covers in this new series by Penguin) and also dig out my old childhood favourites which I am sure I will now see in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend that you read this collection if you haven’t, they are mini macabre masterpieces.

So that is my first top ten of 2012 and all the books I really, really loved published before this year that I read this year. Make sense? I do also want to mention ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton, ‘Packing For Mars’ by Mary Roach (both of which I read for The Readers Summer Book Club and adored), ‘Persuasion’ by Jane Austen and ‘Great Expectations’ by Charles Dickens (both have been part of Classically Challenged and the latter of which I will be talking about tomorrow), all highly recommended.

So what about your what are your post-2012 books of 2012? Which of these have you read and what did you think? Any other books you would recommend you think I might like having loved the above? Do pop back for Part Two on Monday!

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Books of 2012

Pure – Andrew Miller

There are books that you mean to read for ages and ages and simply don’t get around to; ‘Pure’ by Andrew Miller has been one such book for me. With its cemetery setting (I do like a cemetery, I was even a tour guide for one) and the fact it sounded like a dark, brooding, sensational and gothic novel I thought this was going to be the ideal book for me from its release date. I didn’t read it. It then won the Costa prize and again ignited my interest in it. I didn’t read it. Then I begged Gavin to put it on the list of The Readers Summer Book Club titles and so had to read it. So finally I ended up reading it about a year after I intended to. How does this happen with books?

Sceptre Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 352 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The year is 1785 as ‘Pure’ opens and we meet Jean-Baptiste Barratte, a young engineer from the countryside who is put in charge of demolishing the oldest (and smelliest) cemetery in Paris, les Innocents, which many believe has become the blight of the city. In doing so Barratte faces one of the most difficult tasks of his career, initially it seems just from a logistical point of view, however as time goes on events unfold Barratte realises that this could be the most difficult tasks for many more reasons than professional, and that a place some wish to destroy is held dear by some.

That all sounds rather grand, gothic and indeed ‘sensational’ which was all part and parcel of why I was looking forward to the book so much. Within a few chapters I was hooked by Miller’s writing, from Barratte’s first meeting at Versailles to his first steps in les Innocents, which is incredibly atmospheric. The stench of the streets, markets and people around the cemetery which have become coated in the stench of death comes of the pages and you can feel it cloying at you. It’s hideous yet also wonderful to feel the place and its history coming alive before your eyes as you read on.

“She has watched it all her life and has never wearied of it, the market and – more directly in her view – the old church of les Innocents with its cemetery, though in the cemetery nothing has happened for years, just the sexton and his granddaughter crossing to one of the gates, or more rarely, the old priest in his blue spectacles, who seems simply to have been forgotten about. How she misses it all. The shuffling processions winding from the church doors, the mourners tilted against each other’s shoulders, the tolling of the bell, the swaying coffins, the muttering of the office and finally – the climax of it all – the moment the dead man or woman or child was lowered into the ground as though being fed to it. And when the others had left and the place was quiet again, she was still there, her face close to the window, keeping watch like a sister or an angel.”

I do love a really dark book and I like a good mystery and as I devoured the first part of the book, in almost a single sitting, I had this wonderful feeling of apprehension in my stomach as things in the Monnard, where Barratte resides, go bump and scratch in the night and whispers are heard and people spy on others sleeping. That and the mystery of those unhappy to see Barratte at the church in les Innocents were making a wonderful ominous concoction and I was thoroughly enjoying it.

I don’t know quite what happened in the second part of the novel, I am not sure if it was Barratte going home to the countryside to find his friend Lecouer, and his mining men, to help him with his task or if it was the introduction of several new strands such as a love story and then the actual task of demolishing, but I sort of lost my way. The writing stayed powerful, precise and completely atmospheric and yet characters names started to confuse me, which woman was which etc, and the task of moving the bodies, which was initially gorily interesting (with mummified corpses and random bones with stories to tell) started to bog me down a little, the mystery seemed to vanish with practicality for a while. Miller did pull it out the bag for me again after this when something completely unexpected and dark happens to Barratte (though it was resolved a little neatly and vaguely all at once) and within the final ten chapters the book had the pace and sense of menace that beguiled me at the start.

The middle did sort of interrupt my flow, partly because I kept having to re-read it and make notes of who was who and why there were there. Yet oddly this isn’t a book that is difficult to read or, again I must praise the writing, get lost in because of its atmosphere, I just wondered if it was trying to do a little too much at one point and so it spread its strengths out which slightly weakened it in the middle over all. Whinge over though because as I said the last third of the book completely won me round and I was shocked with the sudden few twists that came.

So overall I really, really enjoyed ‘Pure’. Without a doubt les Innocents as a place and indeed a character of its own is the absolute star of the show because of the stunning way Miller creates it in your head with his prose. I loved the darkness of the book, it is also darkly funny in parts, and indeed I was fascinated by the period in history which I feel I simply don’t know enough about. A book I would recommend but not sensationalise in case you were left slightly disappointed by the hype someone else had created, which I think was my slight problem with ‘Pure’, though a problem I think I had created in my own head. I will re-read it one day far in the future without expectations and see if it does better, as I do want to return to les Innocents and Miller’s writing is incredible.

Who else out in the ether has read ‘Pure’ and what did you think? Who has read any of Miller’s other books? Where should I go next with regard to reading him? I have been thinking ‘Casanova’ or ‘Ingenious Pain’ might be my next port of call maybe.

I read this book for The Readers Summer Book Club, if you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.

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Filed under Andrew Miller, Review, Sceptre Publishing, The Readers Summer Book Club

Redemption in Indigo – Karen Lord

One of the books in The Readers Summer Book Club that I am really pleased I was introduced to after Gavin suggested it go on the list was ‘Redemption in Indigo’  by Karen Lord. I have to admit I hadn’t really been aware of the book and whilst I loved the sound of it being based on an old folk/fairytale (especially after the success I had with Eowyn Ivey’s ‘The Snow Child’ earlier this year) I do admit the fact it has been labelled as ‘speculative’ or ‘genre’ fiction did concern me a little. I am not a genre snob; I just occasionally worry that if things get too outlandish I might lose the thread. There is a fine line, for me, between fantastical and fantasy but I thought “in for a penny, in for a pound” and so it was chosen.

Jo Fletcher Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 280 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

It has been said that ‘Redemption in Indigo’ is simply a retelling of an old Senegalese folk talk of a woman who married a man who couldn’t stop eating and then left him. However Karen Lord does so much more than that as whilst the premise of the novel starts out with Paama leaving her gluttenous husband Ansige the tale then goes off into a world of its own, and indeed its a world like our own yet utterly unlike it. You might be reading a newpaper in the local bar and turn and find a huge spider talking to you, you may be spied on by djombi (spirits) overtaking insects or small children to do so or you may end up being given what looks like a rather antique stick without realising it is the Chaos Stick, once owned by the Indigo Lord, which gives you magical powers. These are the things that happen to characters in ‘Redemption in Indigo’ in fact in the latter case it is really what the whole book is about.

I want to, and am indeed about to, use the cliché that this book had me rather spell bound, and I think that is all to do with the fact it is rather fantastical and magical yet also because I loved the way in which the book was written and the story told. You see the story is quite literally told to you in the form, most of us were lucky enough to have, of your parent/s telling you after they had tucked you in to bed at night. The unnamed storyteller even makes a joke of adding in ‘once upon a time’ a few paragraphs in. I found it rather beguiling and found myself lost in a mixed state of reading a book that I felt was reading itself to me, a rare and rather unusual experience which had a certain warmth to it.

In fact if you could call a book ‘warm’ then that would be exactly how I would describe ‘Redemption in Indigo’ full stop. It has the almost cosy-like warmth of the narrator, then there is the warmth of the setting of the book (I couldn’t work out if it was African or Caribbean whilst reading, I have discovered it was the latter) there is also a real warm humour throughout the book both with some of the scrapes Paama’s husband ends up in on his quest for food and with the narrator dropping in little asides as we go on further.

“I know your complaint already. You are saying, how do two grown men begin to see talking spiders after only three glasses of spice spirit? My answer to that is twofold. First, you have no idea how strong spice spirit is made in that region. Second, you have no idea how talking animals operate. Do you think they would have survived long if they regularly made themselves known?”

It is also a rather delightfully enigmatic book. As I mentioned before I couldn’t really place exactly where the book was set, in terms of continent as all the villages etc are wonderfully described. Nor, as I read on, could I quite determine the time period it was set in, one moment people are reading magazines in a busy city, the next they are going by horse and cart down dusty tracks in the middle of nowhere, oh and once the Indigo Lord turns up people travel by bubble. I also liked the elements of mini stories within the stories, it is very much a story about storytelling the more I think about it. My only slight quibble was that I wanted more, more about Paama’s sister, her life before and much more about what the Indigo Lord and the chaos stick before we meet them and maybe a little more chaos after we do. Here I should say that by more I don’t mean this book was lacking anything, I literally mean I wanted more of all the elements and more of Lord’s writing.

I’m still slightly puzzled by the labelling of ‘speculative’ or ‘genre’ fiction on ‘Redemption in Indigo’ for me it was simply a wonderfully told rather magical story, but the debate goes on and I don’t want to open that can of worms. If you like a fantastical folk/fairytale then I would heartily recommend it. I was more than happy to simply be taken along with the book, its narrator and its characters and enjoy myself with the magical moments as they came and went.

Has anyone else read Karen Lord’s debut? What did you make of it? Is it genre or literary? Does it even matter?

I read this book for The Readers Summer Book Club, if you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.

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Filed under Jo Fletcher Books, Karen Lord, Review, The Readers Podcast, The Readers Summer Book Club

Now You See Me – S.J. Bolton

I do really enjoy a good thrilling murder, in the fictional sense of course, and yet for some reason I never read enough of them. I think it is because I really enjoy them and so I treat them as a, erm, treat. This is not to be confused with a guilty pleasure. I am known for liking some rather cosy crime series but I am also partial to a dark tale of serial killers or something with a deep brooding psychological menace about it. That is why I wanted to read ‘Now You See Me’ by S.J. Bolton as part of The Readers Summer Book Club, that and the fact it had a Jack the Ripper element (which I have always found fascinating because of the enigma), oh and the fact that it was said to be a bit grisly and Gavin tends to shy away from those kind of crime novels. I am thrilled (see what I did there) that we did read it as, even though its only my first book with S.J. Bolton, I may have found a new favourite crime author at the start of a possible future favourite crime series.

Corgi Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 512 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

On the streets of London it appears someone has decided, on the 120th anniversary of his very first killing, copy the method of murders for which Jack the Ripper became so renowned. Detective Constable Lacey Flint happens upon the final moments of the first victim whilst working on a completely different case. Yet as the murders progress it becomes clear that Lacey Flint has caught the killers eye and so soon she finds herself embroiled in her first murder case but is she a suspect, accomplice or victim?

From that premise, which I have done in the usual crime blurb style, you know what you are getting as you start to read ‘Now You See Me’, or do you? One of the things that I loved the most about this book was the fact that I have to hold my hands up and say that I had no idea who the killer was, then when on a random moment I thought I did S.J. Bolton would pull the rug out from under me with a twist I couldn’t see coming. Yet for me this book is also much more than just your average serial killer book.

The first thing that really stands out, and sets ‘Now You See Me’ apart from many of its contemporaries is its narrator Lacey Flint. From the get go you are completely unsure about her. The fact that she finds the first victim in a rather gruesome and shocking way (the book can be a little gory, but with a Jack the Ripper copycat killer what would you expect) we feel a mixture of sympathy and suspicion for her, as does another of the main characters DI Joesbury, who also rather fancies her. Lacey is one of the most flawed characters I have met in a while and not in your stereotypical ‘alcoholic member of the police’ kind of way, it is much deeper than that and all lies in her past but you need to read the book to find out more.

The other element I really liked was the atmosphere. London in the present is a really dark presence in the book and shades that Bolton uses to recreate the Victorian London that Jack frequented are brought through to the presence, the Thames in particular comes across as a real murky vein running through the heart of an unsettled town, yet you can also tell Bolton loves the city too, it’s very deftly done. I also loved the Ripper elements both in the past (which showed some great reserach but never showed off, and a whole new theory on the Ripper I had never heard before) and the copycat in the present, am I allowed to say that reading murderers who have so much relish was weirdly entertaining? Is that the police knocking at my door, oh dear!

It is hard to say too much about ‘Now You See Me’ without spoilers or sounding too sycophantic. It is really a book of layers, you have the layers of the atmosphere of London (though the book does travel to Cardiff), the multiple facets and layers of the characters from the killer to Lacey and all the cops in between and also it is a book which has more than just a layer of murder, you get to know the victims and those affected by the horrific events that unfold you also get to look at some of the social issues affecting our times. ‘Now You See Me’ is a page turning thriller which carries a lot of additional twists, turns, emotions and punch to its contemporaries. I will be reading much more of S.J. Bolton’s books, if you haven’t started them then I suggest you do with this one. Clichéd as it sounds you will be utterly gripped, my thriller of the year so far.

Have you read this book or any other books by S.J Bolton? What is your thriller of the year so far? Do you have a favourite crime series that I might be missing out on?

I read this book for The Readers Summer Book Club, if you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Corgi Books, Review, S.J. Bolton, The Readers Summer Book Club

Ready Player One – Ernest Cline

Sometimes I think that we all need to read books that take us out of our comfort zone don’t we. In fact that can be a main factor of why people join book groups be they in the flesh, like the Manchester Book Club which I have just started reading ‘The Master and Margarita’ for,  or online, as I am with the Readers Summer Book Club. One title that I was insistent should be on the Summer Book Club list, because I wanted to read it and test myself, was Ernest Cline’s novel ‘Ready Player One’ which with its mixture of science fiction and dystopian themes I thought would be rather a test and a change from my usual reads.

Arrow Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 384 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

The earth we meet in ‘Ready Player One’ is not a pleasant one. It is 2044 and humans have consumed the entire world’s oil, famine and poverty are widespread and the climate is pretty much ruined. The world is such a dreadful place that most people find themselves escaping it by plugging into the OASIS, a virtual utopia where you can become anyone you want in one of the ten thousand planets available online.

Yes, humans are escaping their lives by living virtual ones. However when the founder of OASIS, James Halliday, dies he makes the OASIS an even more exciting and dangerous place by leaving all his money (billions) and control of the OASIS to whomever can find a hidden set of keys within the OASIS on the biggest, and most riddle filled, quest that the virtual world has ever seen. Our narrator, Wade Watts, a young guy living in the poverty ridden stacks (trailers piled high shared by multiple families) with his unloving aunty is one such man, and he has not long found the first of the keys.

Phew! That looks like quite a synopsis but actually there are no spoilers in that and really I have only given you the very beginnings of the story as you join it, though I won’t give much else away because part of the fun of ‘Ready Player One’ is following Wade and his competitors, some good some very bad, as they try to solve the riddles Halliday has left them in a virtual world of endless possibilities.

‘A small mirror was mounted inside my locker door, and I caught a glimpse of my virtual self as I closed it. I’d designed my avatar’s face and body to look, more or less, like my own. My avatar had a slightly smaller nose than me, and he was taller, and thinner. And more muscular. And he didn’t have any teenage acne. But aside from all these minor details, we looked more or less identical. The school’s strictly enforced dress code required that all students avatars be human, and of the same gender and age as the student. No giant two-headed hermaphrodite demon unicorn avatars were allowed. Not on school grounds, anyway.’

I have to admit that when I knew this virtual world held around ten thousand planets within it I almost let out an inward grown. I pictured in my head a book that would never end because it has these endless places that could be explored; this isn’t the case at all. Ernest Cline clearly had a framework set in mind, the plotting of this novel and its riddles must have been incredibly hard work and meticulously done, and so you go on an exciting journey where the possibilities are endless but because there is a goal the characters remain quite focused yet there are of course thrills and twists along the way too, all as Halliday had planned you imagine. There is also much humour thrown in along the way which really adds to the enjoyment and you almost feel like you are playing a game as you read. It reminded me of the ‘fighting fantasy’ game books I played as a teenager by Steve Jackson and Ian Livingstone where you had to chose which page you would turn to next and a scenario where you were the hero played out… I always died, I risked too much (I bet none of you would even have thought I would have played these games, ha). In ‘Ready Player One’ we the reader can’t decide or die but the characters can, the homage seemed to be there though.

I think actually this feeling of those game books is a purposeful one by Cline as this book is also really a huge nostalgia fest and homage to the 1980’s, as much as it is a geek fest to comics, video games etc. This could have been alienating, I was after all only born in 1982, yet I got a lot of the references (the fact She-Ra was mentioned in this book won it brownie points, I loved that fact Halliday’s funeral was superimposed over a funeral scene in ‘Heathers’ too) and even when I didn’t get all the jokes it didn’t matter. I was really impressed by the way Cline managed this and liked the additional twist this gave to the book, I think Cline’s passion came through and I found myself reminiscing and embracing my not so long forgotten inner geek.

If I had to draw out any quibbles I had with the book the first would be that just on occasion I sometimes couldn’t work out if we were in the OASIS or back on earth in 2044, and occasionally I did get a little lost in the OASIS but I was expecting this, in fact I was expecting to do it a hell of a lot more than I did. The other slight issue was that because the book is such an epic adventure and because so much of it is set in the virtual world I didn’t really feel like I got to know any of the characters, apart from Wade, as much as I would have liked to. You do get snippets of their back stories but I liked them and wanted more, which is a compliment, and as most of the time we know them as their avatars it is expected they might be a little one dimensional as they project who they want to be known as. That said there is a love story and a real tale of friendship in this novel.

I really, really enjoyed ‘Ready Player One’. I wasn’t sure it would be my kind of book at all but the adventure and story really took hold of me, along with the humour, and I was gripped. Ignore the fact that it’s got quite a sci-fi twist, or the fact it may be deemed as a tale for those who want the 80’s nostalgia because it is more than that. It’s a funny, rollicking and escapist read that I thoroughly recommend.

Who else has read this and what did you think? Had you initially been put off a little by the premise at all? If you are a diehard sci-fi fan what were your thoughts?

This was a book  I read for The Readers Summer Book Club, alas due to some complications we have had to postpone the show with Ernest, hopefully we will be able to record one soon.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Ernest Cline, Review, The Readers Podcast, The Readers Summer Book Club

Can a Book Group Be Bad For a Book?

Both whilst recording the latest episode of The Readers Summer Book Club and then compiling my post on the book, ‘Bleakly Hall’ by Emlaine Di Rollo, itself afterwards has raised a question in my head… Can a book group be a bad thing for certain books and the reading experience around them?

One of the things I love most about a book group is the discussion, the gossip; chatting and wine afterwards is all a bonus. I have found with book groups in the past that discussing a book I didn’t like and hearing everyone else’s thoughts on it can sometimes make me d a complete 180 with my opinion. It can also be an utter joy, and rather bonding as I found with ‘Mary Barton’, if you all loathe a book and can sit and pick it apart. Yet what if you really enjoyed reading a book and others pick it apart, can it kill it for you?

This has very rarely happened to me before in any book groups that I can think of. Why is this so? Well I think it is because I tend to be more critical about books I am reading with my ‘book group’ brain on, yes even more so than when I am reading a book to review. With reviews I analyse the way a book made me feel and the questions it raises itself of makes me ask myself, yet with a book group book I tend to pick it apart all the more. Or maybe I do this all the time and yet am only aware of it when prepping for a book club – yes indeed, I prep.

It is this very reason why I have never suggested reading a Daphne Du Maurier book as a choice of my own to any group I have been part of, other members have and I have always been quite fearful that my favourite authors work will be picked to death and my love of Daphers altered. Fortunately Daphne tends to be so wonderful that this rarely happens.

Yet for the first time ever recently as I read a book I was thoroughly enjoying, the aforementioned ‘Bleakly Hall’, I found that as I knew I would be discussing it in detail I started to pick it apart as I read not afterwards. Normally I always do this afterwards, not during, and I am not sure why it changed with this book but I ended up almost sabotaging reading it because I was pre-empting the questions/reactions/subjects that the book would raise. It had a house of cards effect/loose thread effect and I started picking.

This then made me wonder if some books are just not book group books. For example, and I am not comparing ‘Bleakly Hall’ to this series it is just an example, I would never take an Agatha Raisin mystery to a book group. It and I would be annihilated and those, for me, are just books I read for pleasure, no more no less and there is nothing wrong with books that you simply read and are entertained by the whole way through. I think ‘Bleakly Hall’ would have been just such a book if I wasn’t reading it in the context I did.

So I wondered if any of you had found that there are some books that simply should be avoided as book group choices. Obviously with book group books the idea is no one has read them and so there is always the risk it won’t work I suppose but maybe some experiences/titles stick out in particular? Do you agree some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not picked apart or should all books be treated with the same analytical internal eye of a reader?

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Bleakly Hall – Elaine Di Rollo

I have often spouted about the fact that whether you enjoy a book can be down to everything being aligned right, your mood, the weather, the seasons and other such things. Some people doubt this; I however think it is the truth. One thing I do forget about is that why you are reading a book can sometimes affect your thoughts on it too. ‘Bleakly Hall’, by Elaine Di Rollo is one such book. It is one that as I read it, I was utterly under its spell and yet because I was reading it for The Readers Summer Book Group I knew I would have to talk about it and so think I might have over analysed it and overly questioned it meaning in hindsight I traipsed all over its sparkle. Let me explain further…

Vintage Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 360 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

‘Bleakly Hall’ is really a book of two halves (which sounds like I am starting with a cliché) one half of the story is that of the people working and staying at a hydropath after the First World War, Monty and Ada having been two female comrades on the frontlines, Monty having been a nurse and Ada an ambulance driver.

Monty also nursed with a woman called Sophia who died yet left an old score to settle with a Captain Foxley who Monty learns resides at ‘Bleakly Hall’ where Ada now works, the narrative switches between Monty coming to the hall to confront Foxley, but getting beguiled and sidetracked by staff and the likes while there, and the story of the war unfolding to reveal what happened to Sophia.

What is wonderful about this novel is also what in the end causes me to pick some faults in it. I loved the fact there was a mystery to the novel, what on earth had happened to Sophia, how was Foxley involved and why on earth did Monty have such a need to settle this old score? I loved the characters, Monty and Ada in particular but also Dr Slack (who had such an appropriate name I could almost feel Elaine Di Rollo joining me in a wry smile as I read on) and even the odd Blackwood brothers, the good one and the bad. I also really enjoyed the humour in the novel; it was thoroughly entertaining and occasionally laugh out loud funny.

‘Monty followed the doctor’s gaze. She did indeed look dreadful. Her cap was awry on her head, her hair limp and bedraggled. She had a surprised look on her face, as though still stunned by disembodied buttocks, shoving between anonymous thighs like a naked gardener wrestling with a reluctant wheelbarrow.’

It also provides a real lightness against the horrors of the war and the effects it leaves on people, which through the back story of Sophia and through some of the issues with the characters in the present, like Foxley who we learn is suffering post traumatic stress disorder, is incredibly moving and sometimes rather harrowing.

‘The first man they reached was dead. It was impossible to say why, as he seemed simply to be sleeping, his face peaceful beneath the smoky sky. The second and third were also dead, one having bled to death of a wound to the neck. He lay as though on a rust-covered carpet, a circle of his own blood sinking into the earth around him. The other had been shot through the head.’

So if I liked these two strands of the book, and the prose and style, where did it not work for me? Well firstly as I said I did really enjoy the book however, without giving any spoilers, there are some wonderful almost fairytale like set pieces in both the modern narrative and indeed some of the non WWI flashback sequences, such as one involving a hat being rescued from a bear compound, which I thoroughly enjoyed reading throughout. Yet because these have a sense of the surreal, slightly farcical and magic this feeling is at complete odds with the utter horror which we witness through all the characters memories of war, these in turn making the book seem a little disjointed. It’s enjoyable but becomes implausible.

Now I know not all books should be realistic, I don’t expect them to be and enjoy escapism of all types, but the world they create be it one we know or not should feel fully formed or cohesive and yet the sections of the book in the war don’t match the ones in ‘Bleakly Hall’, yet Bleakly Hall’s whole story wouldn’t exist without the war, Monty knowing Ada and wanting to confront Captain Foxley. I hope all this makes sense because in over analysing it for a book club I think I may have over thought about it.

I think had I not been reading ‘Bleakly Hall’ as a book to dissect and discuss I would have enjoyed it a lot more. It’s a funny, dark and moving story brimming with wonderful set pieces and larger than life characters. It’s a book that entertains you and while it has a few flaws here and there (and not many books are flaw free) takes you to a slightly bonkers and bizarre world. Some books should simply be read and enjoyed, not dissected, this is one of them.

Has anyone else read this or Elaine Di Rollo’s other novel? I would love to hear your thoughts on the book, I will certainly read more. If you would like to hear the author discussing the book you can on this week’s episode of The Readers Summer Book Club here.

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Filed under Elaine Di Rollo, Review, The Readers Summer Book Club, Vintage Books

Packing for Mars – Mary Roach

I don’t dabble in much non-fiction it has to be said. I often worry that non-fiction equals boring, books of endless descriptions and facts don’t tend to work for me, and this includes fiction novels where the author is showing off the research, they feel like a lecture. I do like to learn about new things though. Not a contradiction in terms at all am I? Narrative non-fiction is good for this, as are books that make learning fun, conversational and occasionally a little bit naughty yet always with a sensitivity. Do such books exist? Of course, if they are written by Mary Roach, and ‘Packing for Mars’ is her latest book all about the great unknown that is space.

OneWorld Books, paperback, 2011, non-fiction, 312 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

I have to admit that when I heard that Mary Roach’s new novel was going to be about space the thought of ‘what, really?’ went through my head. She had already covered death (‘Stiff’), the supernatural and paranormal (‘Six Feet Over’) and sex (‘Bonk’) so space worried me slightly, I wasn’t sure th subject would hold me quite like the others.

I admit I was intrigued by the planets and stars as a youngster, but I have never had even the slightest interest in being an astronaut or humans travelling through the unknown. I certainly don’t rush to see films like ‘Apollo 13’ though the idea of aliens intrigues me. That said ‘Packing for Mars’ being packed – do you see what I did there – with wit, humour and the questions you would like to ask but probably wouldn’t dare to if you could, it was a real winner with me.

“Space doesn’t just encompass the sublime and the ridiculous. It erases the in-between.”

Being non-fiction ‘Packing for Mars’ doesn’t have a plot and so not only is it really hard to give you enough of taster, especially as the book is crammed with fascinating facts and true tales of space travel, it is is rather hard to write about it in depth. I don’t want to tell you all of my favourite stories and nuggets away because then you might not read the rest, though in truth I loved the entire book and that is because when you read a Mary Roach book you feel like you are having a conversation, full of giggling, with her. There are even knowing jokes and asides in the form of the footnotes. It is just a pure pleasure to read. It also makes the facts and information fun and who knew knowing more about things like gravity etc could be so much fun?

“To understand the Project Albert mind-set, you need to spend a few moments pondering the forces of gravitation. If you are like me, you have tended to think of gravity in terms of minor personal annoyances: broken glassware and sagging body parts. Until this week, I failed to appreciate the gravitas of gravity.”

This is not a case of dumbing down the scientific either, I do fear some people may read the blurb and think that Mary Roach isn’t taking this seriously as she looks at how people go to the toilet or vomit in a spacesuit (which made me laugh) and how they cope with no air, hot showers etc but it is her curiosity and interest in everything that can happen in a space ship that makes it so interesting.  It is not all jokes either. With scientific experiments come the tests, the accidents and the things that go wrong, and when talking about dead bodies, monkeys being used as test pilots and other slightly morbid twists, she is also incredibly sensitive and looks at it all from an emotional level too.

‘Packing for Mars’ is a book that levels with its reader, almost saying ‘I didn’t think space could be so interesting did you? But look at this… and this… and this.’ Her enthusiasm catches you through the pages and I bet you will find yourself saying ‘oh just one more chapter, oh go on then and another’, I know I did. I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, so do please give it a whirl.

Have you read this book? Have you read any of Mary Roach’s other non-fiction novels? Which non-fiction books, not including narrative non-fiction, have you been charmed by rather than lectured at? I feel very lucky as whilst reading this book felt like having a conversation with Mary Roach, I actually had one with her and Gavin for The Readers Summer Book Club which you can listen to here, and if that doesn’t convince you to read the book nothing will. She’s hilarious.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Mary Roach, Non Fiction, OneWorld Books, The Readers Summer Book Club

Half Blood Blues – Esi Edugyan

Sometimes you try a book and it can seem a little too dense at the time, you know there is something marvellous in there but the timing isn’t right, so you put the read ‘on hold’. These aren’t books that you give up on and leave, you save them for some unknown time in the future. ‘Half Blood Blues’ by Esi Edugyan was one such book for me and so when we were choosing titles for The Readers Summer Book Club I pushed this title, not thinking that Esi (having won so many awards) would say yes, but she did, and so it was time to try it again.

Serpents Tail Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 256 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

What really happened to Hieronymus Falk, a young black jazz musician full of talent who was arrested by the Nazi’s in 1940? This is the question at the heart of Esi Edugyan’s second novel. Yet, told through the narrative of one of Hieronymus’ friends – or Hiero/’The Kid’ as we learn to call him – retired ex-jazz musician Sidney Griffiths (which rings all the more authentic by the style as you will see below) we also have a tale of friendship, jealousy, love, race and war – quite a powerful combination.

The mystery of what happened to Hiero is really only part of the driving force. As Sid tells us of his time in a jazz band with Hiero and Sid’s long term friend-cum- enemy, dependent on mood and situation, Chip, Paul and Fritz we realise that Sid has been living with the secret of his possible involvement in what happened to Hiero. We also watch as jealousies arise around talent and women, when the enigmatic and rather elusive Delilah comes upon the scene.

I thought that mixing the strands of tensions between Sid and Chip as well as Sid and Heiro was, for me, one of the greatest successes of the book. Be a friendship new or old, if you have it for a long time at close range, regardless of the brink of war at any point, tensions will arise and Edugyan creates these brilliantly, especially when a very famous musician comes to town. Being a group of black men there is also the tension outside of the group, the rise and fall of jazz also seems to occur with the rise of the Aryan ideal in Germany and the fall of the Jews.

“Jazz. Here in Germany it become something worse than a virus. We was all of us damned fleas, us Negroes and Jews and low-life hoodlums, set on playing the vulgar racket, seducing sweet blond kids into corruption and sex. It wasn’t a music, it wasn’t a fad. It was a plague sent out by the dread black hordes, engineered by the Jews. Us Negroes, see, we was only half to blame – we just can’t help it. Savages just got a natural feel for filthy rhythms, no self-control to speak of. But Jews, brother, now they cooked up this jungle music on purpose. All part of the master plan to weaken Aryan youth, corrupt its janes, dilute its bloodlines.”

I have to admit that I had no real knowledge of what happened to black people in either of the World Wars or the time between them. This sounds horribly ignorant I know yet at school we were very much taught about the Nazi and Jew divide and how Britain and France joined forces to combat it. Edugyan opened my eyes, through her fictional version of events, to some of the horrors that I had no clue of. I found this grimly fascinating and also extremely important. I have often said, and I don’t mean this in an offensive way, that I am bored of WWII books. Here with ‘Half Blood Blues’ Esi Edugyan gives us something really different and a completely new insight into that period in history.

The other successful part of the book are also the atmosphere of the book as we move from America in Chip and Sibs childhood to both Berlin and Paris in the 1930s/40s and even the recent past as the books shifts in chronological order. You can feel the sense of unease on almost every page, both in a combination of the mystery of Hiero unravelling and war drawing nearer does give the book a slight thriller twist. If you think that is a negative thing it is not I promise you because Edugyan merges the literary elements of the novel with the tension and pace perfectly.

“Anxiety hung over the streets like clothes on a line. When we walked them cobblestones, we seen families huddled in their apartments, crouched over the wireless. Waiters was bent over counters, listening to static. Hell, in those first tender days it seem like everyone was hunched on up over some radio somewhere, it ain’t mattered where, staying put, like if they moved they might miss the war.”

What really sold the book overall to me was the ending, which of course I won’t give away as you need to read this book if you haven’t already, and how we get to it. I cannot think of a recent book where the author has so firmly and rather alarmingly emotionally and just in terms of storyline, thrown me by pulling the rug from under my feet. Emotional twist after emotional twist comes and it is all the more powerful because the build up Edugyan has created has been so expertly drawn out, I did struggle in the middle a little with so much story and scene setting yet at the end I knew why. What connects all the most successful elements of the book is Esi Edugyan’s of course her prose which is wonderful. I don’t know if you can tell but I really thought this book was rather incredible in so many ways.

The premise of Esi Edugyan’s second novel ‘Half Blood Blues’ might not instantly sound like a book you might want to read being the tale of a group of jazz musicians in the days leading up, and indeed the start of, World War II. It was something that would have put me off if I hadn’t heard so many rave reviews about it here there and everywhere and seen it get listed for pretty much every award it is eligible for. However do believe the praise (which I am now happily adding to) as Edugyan delivers a novel that is brimming with atmosphere, is hauntingly written and will really move you (this book, clichéd as it sounds, really kicked me in the emotional guts) and it stays with you long after you read it. I am late to this book; don’t let yourself be though as it is a truly marvellous read and one I am glad I returned to at just the right time.

As I mentioned above, I read this finally because of The Readers Summer Book Club which it was the first of the selection of. You can hear myself and Gavin interviewing the author and discussing the book with special guests here.

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Filed under Books of 2012, Esi Edugyan, Review, Serpent's Tail, The Readers Summer Book Club

The Last Werewolf – Glen Duncan

There were three reasons for me wanting to read ‘The Last Werewolf’ by Glen Duncan. First was the fact that Marieke Hardy, who I often mention on Savidge Reads, discussed it on The First Tuesday Book Group and said some hilarious, if rather negative, things about it, which of course made me want to read it all the more. There had been a buzz about the book, true, but for some reason that hadn’t put me off. Secondly, I wanted to read it because I have always been rather fascinated by the idea of werewolves. Thirdly, my friend, the lovely Emma Jane Unsworth had read it and couldn’t stop raving about it, she had also gone on and binged on all his books afterwards, a sign she was authorly smitten. So when it came time to choose a book for The Readers Summer Book Club, especially as Gavin is such a genre buff, I thought it would be worth taking a chance on. Would I love it or would I hate it?

Canongate, paperback, 2011, fiction, 346 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

Jacob Marlowe, or Jake, is ‘The Last Werewolf’ that the title of Glen Duncan’s latest novel revolves around. At 201 years of age he discovers that he is the very last in the line of his kind, which makes him a werewolf with rather a large sum on his head, as it were (pun slightly intended as werewolves, we soon discover, can only be killed by being beheaded or shot with a silver bullet). Not just from bounty hunters who see him as a conquest, we learn jealous, and incompetent, assassins also want him, as do vampires and not for the reason anyone might guess, in fact it was this twist that made me admire the book all the more. Alas, no spoilers, so really in terms of plot that is all you are going to get. Well almost…

You see one of the most fascinating things for me with ‘The Last Werewolf’ was Jake’s reaction to his impending death. You would imagine that his natural reaction is to go on the run and survive, not in the case of this werewolf. Jake is tired. He has had a few hundred years of killing people once a month, even if he does only try to kill the horrid ones and getting to know people only to outlive them and this of course includes loved ones. There are some superb, and shocking, twists with Jake’s back story and you will literally be finishing one chapter to start the next… but again, no spoilers. I am aware I am teasing you but that’s because you should read the book and I urge you to do so.

If any of you are thinking ‘oh another story with werewolves and vampires’ and rolling your eyes, please don’t. I may admit that I was concerned this would be the case but Glen Duncan is a literary author who turned his hand to vampires (I don’t think he would mind me saying this) because his previous books were getting great reviews but they weren’t turning into sales. The cynical ones of you out there, and was it the other way round I would be, will be thinking ‘oh so it’s a cash cow/wolf’ and rolling your eyes again. Stop, stop because Glen Duncan has managed to create a novel that merges literary and genre and is as far removed from ‘Twilight’ (thank goodness – I can say that I have read three of them) as possible.

I have mentioned that the pace is furious and there are so many plot twists and turns which you won’t see coming, if that wasn’t enough Glen Duncan has another trick up his sleeve. He is a bloody (pun not intended) good writer. The language in this book is masterful. Somehow a gory murder scene will read like sumptuous dinner party, that sounds a bit odd yet I am hoping you understand what I mean. This isn’t just bodies being torn into, there is a beauty in there, the very fact Jake can read their memories as he eats them I found oddly beautiful, heart breaking and downright clever. The language is incredibly graphic, within a few pages I had seen the f-word and c-word more times than I ever have in a book, yet it doesn’t seem to be done for shock. Jake is an animal, this book is animalistic so are the events that unfold and the language used to describe them.

If you haven’t guessed I really, really enjoyed ‘The Last Werewolf’ and will definitely be reading the next in the series if it promises to be as good as this one. Does the sequel have Jake in it? Well, you will have to read this one to find out and again I urge you to. It’s a real adventure story combined with a love story that will have you reading its beautiful prose at a frantic rate. It also has a compelling and complex protagonist who you will be rooting for to survive, even if he himself isn’t. I want to go and try some of Glen Duncan’s back catalogue too, have any of you read any of those? What did you think of ‘The Last Werewolf’ if you have given it a whirl?

As I mentioned above, I read this finally because of The Readers Summer Book Club which it was the first of the selection of. You can hear myself and Gavin interviewing the author and discussing the book with special guests here.

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Filed under Canongate Publishing, Glen Duncan, Review, The Readers Summer Book Club

(Some of My) Summer Reading…

As it is just two weeks away, I thought I would give you a reminder that The Readers Summer Book Club is just around the corner. I am not suggesting that you read every single one of the eight books on the list, though if you wanted to that would be lovely (and they are available in libraries here there and everywhere from what we gather, so we aren’t trying to flog books) as we would love to get as many of you, wherever in the world you are, taking part in what we hope is going to be a worldwide book club.

Here is a picture of all the books in the order we are reading them (I have read three now and liked every single one and I am not just saying that) with the dates below…

28th May – The Last Werewolf by Glen Duncan
4th June – Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan
11th June – Packing for Mars by Mary Roach
18th June – Bleakley Hall by Elaine di Rollo
25th June – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
2nd July – Now You See Me by S.J Bolton
9th July – Redemption in Indigo by Karen Lord
16th July – Pure by Andrew Miller

We are still looking for victims volunteers to join us on ‘the discussion panel’ part of the show, so if you have read any of these already, or you want to (and there is a free copy of the book if you do) and would like to speak to us on Skype with some other readers about them, love them or loathe them, then we would love to hear from you via bookbasedbanter@gmail.com you can find more out about the summer shows here too.

What has been lovely to learn is that people are meeting up to discuss the books in the flesh too, and there is proof if you look at one of our goodreads forum threads. I will be talking about how books bring people together tomorrow. Interestingly, and on a similar theme, Gavin and I (with our OH’s) will be meeting in Cardiff next week and actually spending time with him face to face rather than on Skype. I am so excited about it I could burst, and meeting Gavin too. Ha! And seriously, please do let us know if you would like to join in and your thoughts on the books.

P.S if you are a Readers listener the podcast will be up later today, there was a technical fault, oops (just as there was with a post saying The Green Carnation Prize would be relaunching today when it is in fact next Monday the 21st, dear oh dear).

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Filed under Book Thoughts, The Readers Podcast

Lovely London Loot…

The week before last I finally bit the bullet and went back to London for the day. Having left almost a year and a half ago, and not under the most favourable of circumstances, I will admit I was feeling very nervous about it. However, the day was mainly about books and if anything is going to make a daunting trip somewhere better then it is going to be books isn’t it? I had been kindly invited by Lynsey at Transworld to come to a dinner with S.J Bolton in the evening and as a trip down to London is rare for me now I decided to make a day of it.

I could bore you with the dreadful journey down, I had reserved seats (thanks again Lynsey) and yet the train was so overcrowded, from the start, they cancelled all reserved seats and so it was a fight for any seat going. Oh the grump I was in! Fortunately the man who decided to tell me his life story (and I had my best ‘I am reading’ expression/concentrated glare on too) got off after two stops by which point reading went out the window as I was too busy eavesdropping (see Dovegreyreader’s post on the joys of being nosey here) on the fascinating conversation between mother and daughter who were dishing all the family secrets. I actually had to hold myself back from say ‘oh she sounds awful’ when the mother had finished a five minute rant about her son’s new girlfriend and asked her daughter what she thought.  I do love a family drama, which was apt as my first meeting of the day was brunch with my aunty who was in London too. I then had the joys of meeting my friend Dom for lunch (who I hadn’t seen since I left, which was far too long) and then headed to meet some publishers, the first of whom reside in my favourite place in London, Bedford Square…

The reason I love this square so much is that it feels like Victorian London, be it the posh bit, is still weirdly living and breathing there. The area doesn’t seem to have changed and still has a certain atmosphere. If I could ever afford to live anywhere I could then I think it would be Bedford Square. Anyway the reason I was there was to meet Alice at Bloomsbury! I couldn’t actually believe that I have been emailing Alice for about five years and I had never met her before, and I even lived in London for a few years of the correspondence, shocking. We had a lovely brew and discussed lots and lots of bookish bits and bobs, both projects coming from me and titles coming from Bloomsbury. I also laughed when I discovered Alice knows me so well, she has speedily discovered ‘hmmm, I am quite busy at the moment’ means ‘I have absolutely no desire to read that but am too polite to say, thanks anyway’ – we both giggled about this as I was unaware, till she pointed it out, that I did it. It was too soon time to leave but I did manage to take some books, just a few…

Next up I headed only a few streets further afield to meet Frances and Corinna from Atlantic Books. Again, these are two of the publicists that I have had the longest relationships with (I am not showing favouritism here, it’s just true) and yet had never met even though emails and parcels often fly through the ether/through the joys of Royal Mail (any publishers reading this please stop using DPD couriers, you will notice I never receive these parcels because they are useless) and so it was lovely to sit and get to know two people, who I already feel I already know, all the better over coffee. We discussed some very exciting autumn titles and I came away with yet more gifts…

I don’t want to appear to have favouritism towards a certain book; however, Frances and Corinna had been discussing new books when Frances ran off to get an older book. She had suddenly thought of it and ‘just know you will love it, seriously’. Well as soon as I saw the cover of ‘Woman’s World’ it was love, however when I opened it I was spell bound. Graham Rawle’s debut novel is made from cuttings from magazines and papers used to make a story, it sounds bonkers so here is a picture…

Doesn’t that just look amazing? Even the page numbers are from magazines. It really blows me away. Apparently Rawle’s new book is experimental too, based on random cards he has found on the streets over the years, I am very excited about these and ‘Woman’s World’ is getting read very, very soon. So with my new loot I dashed off to meet the lovely Jane Harris, this is the joy of books – you sometimes fall in love with an author’s voice in books then meet them and they are just as lovely. We had a nice glass (or two) of wine, cackling away in the corner of a private members lounge.

I had to dash quickly after that to get to The Cage in Villiers Street to meet S.J Bolton for cheese and (more) wine. This was when I realised I had left my wallet somewhere during the day, would you believe it… I rang around and someone had handed it in (whoever you are thank you), isn’t that amazing? I didn’t even begrudge a round trip, lots of walking as my travel card was in my wallet, to get it, though I was embarrassed to then turn up to meet S.J. Bolton about an hour and a half/two hours late. She was lovely though, and it was nice to meet her before we record The Readers Summer Book Club which her novel ‘Now You See Me’ is one of the titles Gavin and I have chosen. I left with another goodie back of her books, a mug (which is in the dishwasher) and some other treats. Lovely stuff.

So a big thanks to everyone I saw, and apologies to some of the people I couldn’t see (next time I promise) but especially BIG thanks to Lynsey who treated me to such a lovely day out overall. It was nice to visit London, if briefly, and I am looking forward to returning in the not too distant future for something very exciting. I was shattered on the train back however I made a new friend, again thanks to books, but more on that later…

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness

Books By The Bedside #2

I meant to blog all weekend I really did, alas I just got to busy with other fun stuff. As I had intended to post something about what we are all reading at the moment I thought that I would back date a post, that’s allowed isn’t it? So here we have the return of ‘Books By The Bedside’, a peripheral view of what I am reading at the moment and planning on reading very soon, also a series I planned to make more regular, whoops!

20120423-104635.jpg

At the moment my main read, and book of contention if I am being honest, is ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell. Yes, I am still reading it. It’s a bit like wading through treacle (we’ve all been there). Despite a murder happening, which I thought might spice it up a bit, Mary has almost instantly worked out who it is so now we know. If it wasn’t the first choice for ‘Manchester Book Club’ I would have given up by now. But, like the characters in the book actually, I have the grim determination to see it through to the end against all obstacles… Like boredom. Shall we move on?

I am combating the above book with a favourite thanks to pure timing. Monday is World Book Night and not only will I be giving away copies of ‘Rebecca’ I will also be reading it at an event at Waterstones Deansgate from 6.30pm. I’ve been dipping into Daphers for some favourite sections! I do bloody love this book.

The two books I am planning to read are ‘Home’ the latest Toni Morrison novel, which will also be my first foray into her work, for a review in We Love This Book, I am intrigued to see how great she is. I know lots of people who love her work. It’s fairly short but I am hoping packs a punch. I will then be reading ‘The Last Werewolf’ by Glen Duncan, described by one of my favourite book lovers Marieke Hardy as a ‘very silly book’ and a ‘cock forest’. It’s also the first of The Readers Summer Book Club choices so I best crack on.

It’s rather a small pile of books for me I admit, but at the moment I am splitting my weeks between Manchester and Liverpool (more on the lovely reason for this soon), so only so many books I can lug about.

Anyway… Which books are you reading and keen to read? Have you read any of the above, or other works by the authors? Do let me know as always.

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Filed under Books By The Bedside

The Readers Summer Book Club 2012

One of the projects I have been working on while away from the blogosphere for some time is The Readers Summer Book Club. I am really rather excited about this particular book based project because it is one that myself and the lovely Gavin have designed to be able to include all of you, no matter where in the world you are.

I try not to mention The Readers too much on here. I worry you will either think it’s using the blog for self promotion or come across as being a bit smug. My intention is never to be either of those things, if I bang on and on about something it is no doubt simply because I am bloody excited about it… so there! Anyway, as I say only too often on the show, ‘moving swiftly on…’

Recording the readers over the last six months has become one of my favourite parts of every week. Whilst I have only met Gavin in the flesh once, briefly, through endless hours of recording he has become a true friend. Recording a show takes roughly 2 – 3 hours and lots of editing afterwards (though if you are a subscriber and got an early version of Mondays episode you will notice there was an editing slip up and me saying ‘I couldn’t be a****d to say goodbye’ – how rude, many apologies). I can guarantee in that two hours of recording I will laugh the most I do at any point during the week, with the exception of Sarah Millican’s TV show maybe, for as well as the bookish banter that makes the show there is at least one hour of gossip and general madness that we cut but which adds to my week. So a little bit of thanks and a shout out to Gavin there, he’s ace, erm shall I get back on track and stop with the schmaltz?

Back to The Readers Summer Book Club 2012 though. A few episodes ago we were waffling on about Richard and Judy’s Book Club and the TV Book Club. We like both, don’t get us wrong, but when we were talking about it I was thinking ‘why don’t we do a book club?’ After all we have listeners all over the world, thanks to the joy of the internet, and what an interesting way of bringing a real mix of people together as we could have some of them on Skype with us to discuss the books and send in mp3 reviews etc. So the idea was born, the publishers contacted for submissions, and blow me down we got 146 suggested titles! Now, a good few weeks later, we have the final eight…

I am a little in love with this selection of books, if I say so myself. I think they show exactly where myself and Gavin’s taste for books merge and also reflects the fact that not everyone wants a throwaway read on their holiday. Reactions have been interesting both on GoodReads and on blogs like Curiosity Killed The Bookworm, Dog Ear Discs and Alex in Leeds, and part of what we wanted was to get people talking about the list, we are all about book based banter after all, but we didn’t make them calculatedly or to particularly surprise anyone (apparently I said this, but don’t remember doing so) because we haven’t read any of them. In fact scrap that, we have now both read ‘Pure’ as we are interviewing Andrew Miller tonight as he is a very busy man, but we hadn’t read any books on the list before we announced it, we may have dipped in but it was all done on what we fancied reading and might test us both a little (the fact I chose Ernest Cline, for example), I would say, and not as a plug, that if you want to hear why we chose them have a listen to the latest episode and you will see.

So how can you get involved (and I really would love you all to)? Well, the way the show will work is that Gavin and I will interview the author for the first part of the show, asking any questions you have sent in (thanks for those of you who have sent in some for Andrew Miller later, keep them coming) the second part requires three guests who will join Gavin and I on Skype to talk about the book like a real book group, only recorded for 30 minutes. We need volunteers for this bit!!! We would also love mp3 reviews, or written ones we can pop on The Readers website which you can email to me savidgereads@gmail.com or bookbasedbanter@gmail.com  and discussion points too. So get involved!!!

For more info you can visit The Readers website, where you can listen to the special Readers Summer Book Club show (dates for each shows ‘airing’ will be up next week, we may swap some around due to international release dates). But while you are here, before you whizz over there, what do you think of the list? Have you read any? Keen to? Oh, and please spread the word, lets get lots of people joining in!!

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Filed under Book Group, Book Podcasts, The Readers Podcast