Tag Archives: The TV Book Club

The TV Book Club Tonight; Blink & You’ll Miss Me

A quick interim post just to say that if you should happen to watch the UK’s TV Book Club then you might see me (unless they decided to cut me). I was asked to record two ‘readers reviews’ and the first was for tonight’s featured book ‘Girl Reading’ by Katie Ward. If you can’t watch it or get 4od I have popped a little still below…

I am sure it will be a case of blink and you’ll miss me (I am hoping the hosts don’t take the mickey) but it was lovely to be asked and hopefully it will make my book loving mother and gran proud.

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My Top Five Victorian Reads by Essie Fox; Part Two

After a wonderful guide to some of the literature of the times yesterday, today Essie Fox gives us her guide to her top five Victorian Pastiche novels. I have to say I have never been sure if I like the term Victorian Pastiche, it almost sounds like its work that is mocking or merely copying the original works when these modern novels can be a real treat. I suppose that ‘contemporary novels set in the Victorian era’ is rather a mouthful, though someone mentioned neo-Victorian yesterday in the comments which I quite liked. Anyway enough from me, over to Essie…

The Quincunx: The Inheritance of John Huffam – by Charles Pallisser

Oh, but this is brilliant. I really can’t begin to recommend this book highly enough. It is a very big novel in every sense of the word and one in which the story’s hero, John Huffam, bears the middle names of Charles Dickens, of whose inheritance this book is a worthy champion. Huffam’s story artfully reflects that of Dickens’ own creations, filled as it is with stolen documents, deceitful women, laudanum addicts, sewer scavengers, asylums and dens of thieves – but this pastiche also has modern sensibilities so that our narrator is not always the most reliable, and there are many ambiguities.

Affinity by Sarah Waters

This spell-binding story draws the reader into a brooding, slowly swirling vortex in which an unmarried well-to-do woman has suffered a nervous breakdown and is far too reliant on laudanum. Now seeking to become ‘useful’ in the world she is visiting those less fortunates in the gothic maze of Millbank prison. But there she is mentally imprisoned herself when drawn into the seemingly magical world of Selina Dawes, a young, disgraced spiritualist medium. Incredibly sensual, eerie and dark, this is a very clever book.

Note from Simon – I too loved this book, in fact out of all her works this remains my favourite though I haven’t read ‘Fingersmith’ yet.

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The sheer magic and dizzying prose of this post-modern feminist plot will enthral you. It is the story of Fevvers, a circus trapeze artiste who was raised in a brothel and who may or may not have a pair of wings sprouting out from her back.

Note from Simon – I had no idea that Angela Carter had written a novel set in the Victorian period, let alone that it was one of her most well known. I shall have to read this pronto, I always seem to pick up her dystopian works.

Angels and Insects by A S Byatt

This is actually made up of two novellas, both written in Byatt’s gloriously sensual style, weaving fact with fiction, and reality with magical romance. Morpho Eugenia is the story of a young naturalist, William, who finds himself immersed in the lives of the Alabaster family, gradually and naively drawn into their dark world of depravity. The Conjugal Angel is the tale of a group of spiritualists, one of whom is mourning her dead lover, the young man immortalised in Tennyson’s ‘In Memoriam’ – and Byatt’s own poetry is also woven into the plot.

The Meaning of Night by Michael Cox

An exceptional Victorian crime thriller which tells the story of Edward Glyver and his obsession with Phoebus Rainsford Daunt, a man who has stolen all that is rightfully his. The story continues in a sequel, entitled The Glass of Time.

Note from Simon – Sorry I keep bustling in on your recommendations Essie, I had this to read and it sounded so up my street, one of my old flats got flooded and which book took the brunt. Yes this one. Its 600+ pages soaked up most of the damage and saved a few others. Just a little bookish aside.

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A huge thank you to Essie for doing this, especially at short notice as I had been a bit lax, and sharing a wonderful list of ten books to get stuck into, especially as she is currently rather manic with The Somnambulist’ being on The TV Book Club tonight and all that entails. If you want to see the first part of the Victorian reads bonanza pop here, and for Essie’s wonderful Victorian-fest of a blog head to Virtual Victorian. Which of her recommendations have you tried and what did you think? Which Victorian Pastiche or neo-Victorian books have you read and loved? I must give yet another heard up for ‘Gillespie and I’ by Jane Harris, one of my personal favourites. Do share the ones you have enjoyed too. Who knows Essie might come and chat with you about them!

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The Somnambulist – Essie Fox

Some books catch your eye with the covers and ‘The Somnambulist’, Essie Fox’s debut novel, certainly did that when it came out in hardback because it was a rather vivid pink. My instant reaction was ‘possibly chick lit’ but I picked it up had a nosey and realised it was a modern take on the sensation novel. I love sensation novels, partly because I adore the Victorian period but also because invariably they are filled with mystery, gothic old mansions, illicit affairs and some melodrama. What a treat to read. The cover though would I read it on the train? What was I going to do about that? Well I left it however it was sent to me a few months ago, by the kind people at Cactus Productions along with all the other TV Book Club choices, with a new redder cover (and one a little less heavy) and so I decided it was time to settle down and get lost in it.

Orion Books, paperback, 2012, fiction, 400 pages, kindly sent by the TV Book Club

‘The Somnambulist’ is one of those really tricky books to review as you fear you will give lots away. Like all good sensational tales there are mysteries to solve and unexpected twists and turns in store and I wouldn’t want to spoil them for anyone else. Interesting then that as I started to read the tale of Phoebe Turner I guessed what was coming about fifty pages in.

At this point I briefly considered stopping, so many books to read and all that, but the writing and characters kept me going and I am so glad they did because the author has many more unexpected twists and turns in the narrative along with murky mysteries and spooky gothic moments to come which wrong foot the reader. Or do they? As with this book you sometimes think (or hope) another twist is coming and occasionally they don’t or sometimes they do and keep on twisting. I am aware I am being rather cloak and dagger but with books like this you have to be.

Phoebe Turner is a young woman growing up in Victorian London’s East End. She is a girl living with two very polar influences over her life in the forms of her mother Maud and her Aunt Cissy. Her mother is god fearing and restrictive, her Aunt is former stage star who makes occasional appearances at Wilton’s Music Hall and Phoebe finds herself being ruled by one and yet tantalised by the other. Things change in Phoebe’s life , though what of course I am not going to say, and she soon finds herself living in the sparse countryside of Hereford at Dinwood Court, where she becomes a companion for Mrs Samuels, a rather mysterious woman who has become somewhat of a recluse. Here in the old country house strange things begin to happen, some very creepy, and there are mysteries lying in wait which might have more to do with Phoebe than she could ever believe.

My initial criticism, and one which I actually thought might mean I left the book unfinished, was as I mentioned the feeling I knew what was coming. Yes there were some twists I didn’t see coming but the main one I predicted from the start. I should mention here that I was in the very lucky position of interviewing Essie Fox on the latest episode of The Readers with Gav and having talked to her I discovered she wanted you to know more while Phoebe didn’t so you had the feeling of watching something awful coming from the sidelines, and then being surprised further. Obviously I read the book before that and so didn’t have that knowledge at the time, so what was it that made me read on?

I hate to use the cliché of ‘page turner’ because some people seem to think this is a dirty word (why I am not sure, the point of a book is surely that you want to turn the pages and read on) but ‘The Somnambulist’ is definitely such a book. I read the first 120 odd pages, which makes up the first of the books three parts, in one evening simply seeing if this might all be leading the way I thought it would. I found myself really enjoying the company of the main characters, though Phoebe does remain somewhat of a mystery throughout, and the supporting cast of characters such as Old Riley who is Cissy’s right hand woman and becomes a marvellous fraudulent spiritualist medium (I find spiritualism, especially in the late 1800’s fascinating) and Mr Peter Faulkner who is wonderfully lecherous and stole any scene on any page he turned up on. Oh, how could I forget Mrs Samuels’ butler, Stephens, who came across most Danver-esque.

‘The Somnambulist’ was simply a pleasure to read all in all. I enjoyed getting drawn into it and the fact that I knew what was coming gave me a rather comfortable feeling weirdly. It was a perfect read for several very cold windy nights; I felt a certain safety with it despite the books overall darkness. Yes things surprised me too, which was an added bonus, but there was a familiar side to the book which I found immensely readable along with a bunch of characters I wanted to spend my evenings with. It’s a rather promising start to Essie Fox’s writing career and from what I have heard I will be enjoying her darker more twisted second novel when it comes out in the autumn. Mermaid’s, madness and brothels in the Victorian era, oh yes please.

Has anyone else read this book and if so what did you think? I will be watching the TV Book Club with interest this Sunday when they discuss it. I wonder what they will make of it. Oh and I should say that if, like me, you love all things Victorian do pop and read Essie’s blog on the era, it’s great. I have a feeling that you will be seeing a lot more Victorian based reads over the next few weeks and months on Savidge Reads as it’s given me the appetite for them again.

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Before You Go To Sleep, The TV Book Club Returns Tonight

Just a quick post to remind you book lovers that The TV Book Club is back tonight on More4, I think it is also repeated on Channel 4 tomorrow (I could be wrong but it will be on 4od either way which is normally how I catch up with it). The list is quite an exciting one I think, there are only a few in the mix that I am not that bothered about , I won’t say which, and I have already read a few of them too. The book that starts the series off tonight is one such book, its ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ By S.J Watson and I really enjoyed it when I read it last year, and who came to the first Bookmarked Salon.

The lovely people at the TV Book Club have sent me the whole list, so you might even get to hear a Savidge Reads mention on the show as they have asked me if I will review some of them, though this we have agreed will be based on whim reading and which ones I fancy. I have just finished ‘The Somnambulist’ by Essie Fox, which is one of the choices and was rather good in a sensational way, as she will be a guest host on The Readers Episode 19 (a Victoriana special) which we are recording tomorrow night. If you have any questions for her please feel free to leave some below and I will ask her on your behalf.

Here is the list of titles in full…

Before I Go To Sleep by S.J. Watson
The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt
The Somnambulist by Essie Fox
Into the Darkest Corner by Elizabeth Haynes
The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles
Girl Reading by Katie Ward
The Report by Jessica Francis Kane
The Family Fang by Kevin Wilson
Half the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
You Deserve Nothing by Alexander Maksik

Have you read any of them? I have heard Caroline Quentin is joining as a host this series (why so many comedians?) which I am thrilled about as she reminds me of my Mum (who is young and very funny, when she wants to be, so that’s meant in a nice way to both parties) interestingly and I just have a feeling she will be a great judge of a good book – yet I am not sure why. I did suggest to Cactus Productions that Gav and I would make good hosts, they didn’t comment…

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Books on the Bedside & the Great British Book Off…

This morning I woke up, stretched, wiped the sleep out of my eyes and as I looked to my left was greeted by a bedside table covered with books. It suddenly gave me some inspiration for a new random feature for the blog, but as (if you are like me) you are a fan of a bit of book porn I took a picture of the mass of fictional worlds I am in or have ahead of me, apologies it’s a little grainy it was early…

I was looking at them and realised in a weird way this almost like a snapshot of the inner workings of my bookish mind. You have three books I am reading (yes I have taken up multi reading, more on this unusual turn of events soon) currently; ‘Bereft’ by Chris Womersley, ‘You’ll Be Sorry When I Am Dead’ by Marieke Hardy and ‘The Beautiful Indifference’ by Sarah Hall – these naturally need to be close to hand as I am a dreadful sleeper at the mo and so they are the perfect company in the middle of the night.

The rest of the books are those on my periphery reading vision. I won’t explain all the reasons for all iof them now in fear of boring you (the Agatha Christie, Truman Capote and Dan Rhodes have all just been pulled out mount BR as I have been graving some friendly fiction faces, Elizabeth Jolley as an Australian Literature Month possible read) but I will give you a slight over view to explain what I mean. Sophie Hannah’s ‘Kind of Cruel’ proof has just arrived so it’s time to finally read ‘Lasting Damage’ as I like to read in order.  The same with the proof of Matt Haig’s new YA novel ‘To Be A Cat’ which one of the events guys at Waterstones sent me after I discussed YA the other day, so I pulled out ‘The Radleys’ –which I wish I had the hardcover of, so much darker. ‘Disputed Land’ by Tim Pears was on hand for a mention on this weeks recording of the Readers which has been postponed and Elizabeth Haynes and ‘Into The Darkest Corner’ has been lingering since the last recording of the Readers when we discussed the TV Book Club vs. Richard and Judy.

This might not interest you at all but I thought I would test the waters because it could become a future feature instead of my incoming book posts which I have decided to dump. I thought it might give people a small book porn fix whilst also showing you all the books new, old and in-between on my reading horizon, a bit like being even more in my reading head. What do you think?

Also I want to do something with the title ‘The Great British Book Off’ before someone else pinches it (this could already have happened 0f course) as this also popped into my head this morning, but I am stuck on what it could be. Might need more mulling though, what do you say?

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The News Where You Are – Catherine O’Flynn

Sometimes an author event can be the perfect nudge needed for you to pick up a book you have been meaning to read for ages. This is certainly the case with Catherine O’Flynn’s second novel ‘The News Where You Are‘ which I have been ‘meaning to read’ (those immortal words) since it came out after I read, loved and admired her debut novel ‘What Was Lost‘ back in those hard to imagine pre-blogging days.

Penguin Books, paperback, 2010, fiction, 320 pages, from my personal TBR

Frank is a local television presenter in the Midlands where he is seen as a bit of a joke, because like his predecessor Phil has built his career on making rather lame knowing jokes on air. The only difference is that Phil went from Franks job to becoming a huge tv celebrity, until he was killed in a hit and run. Phil’s death becomes another addition to the deaths that Frank becomes rather obsessed by, only these other dead people are the lonely souls forgotten by most who have no one not successful TV personalities, and who, apart from Frank, have no one show up at their funerals.

This could be easily enough of a story for a novel yet Catherine O’Flynn adds much more into the mix by bringing in Franks family. We meet his wife Andrea and daughter Mo, who show that Frank isn’t some death obsessed oddball, as well as his widowed mother Maureen who lives in a home. Maureen, who is one minute heartbreakingly sad one minute and hilariously wicked and vicious the next, adds a whole new strand to the story as does Franks dead architect father. Maureen represents the loss of youth and seeming happiness, his father a loss in general but as the buildings he designed start to be knocked down O’Flynn brings up the subject of the modern world and it’s obsession with ‘out with the old and in with the new’ both in the form of people and in the forms of the objects all around us.

I am hoping I am not making the novel sound too melancholy as whilst there are some heartbreaking moments (I would never have thought a scene at a car valet in an industrial estate could actually choke me up, but O’Flynn made it happen) it does have some moments of high humour and genuine celebration of life.

There are three other things that make this book stand out and excel. Birmingham is not used as a setting enough in fiction, and is a city at once beautiful and absolutely not, O’Flynn embraces this and makes the reader. The cast of characters in the forefront are marvellous and those on the periphery too are wonderful; the bad joke writer, the forgotten wife, the tv wannabe and the ladies in the bakery, whoever they are they live and breath. Adding the mystery element of a hit and run is just the final master stroke. In fact I kept thinking of Kate Atkinson only less mystery, more its surroundings and the people it effects even though you don’t think it would.

It would be easiest to describe ‘The News Where You Are‘ as a tale of a local tv news reader, who is obsessed with the past and lonely people being forgotten, trying to discover the mystery behind his predecessor, and now friend’s, hit and run whilst also trying to deal with his parental relationships I would make it sound like modern day mystery meets family drama. It is, yet that summation simply doesn’t do this superb novel justice. This is a novel brimming with as many ideas and characters as it brims with joy, sadness and comedy. It’s a book that encompasses human life and all those things, emotionally and all around it physically, and celebrates them. I loved it and will be recommending this, if rather belatedly, to anyone and everyone.

Who else has read Catherine O’Flynn and what did you think? I should mention I saw her talking about the book as part of Manchester Literature Festival and if you pop to the sixth episode of The Readers here you can hear me interview her after the event, and catch up with all the other events I went to and authors I met.

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The TV Book Club Summer Reads 2011

I realised I haven’t mentioned either the Richard and Judy Summer Reads or the TV Book Clubs summer selections. I did comment on Jackie of Farmlanebooks post about them saying if they had merged the two then it would be an ideal selection of books for me. Then a mystery parcel arrived…

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I admit I was hoping it was a huge contract offering me the opportunity of a lifetime to host a new tv show all about books, well it wasn’t but it was a bit if a book delight…

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Well… My initial reaction, on thinking ‘well I am going to have to read them all now aren’t I?’, was ‘phew, I’ve read two’. I loved Emma Henderson’s and, erm, really didn’t love Jennifer Egan’s. I’m wondering if that will be my reaction to the selection as a whole, maybe a 50/50 divide?

I’m excited by Matt Haig, unsure if starting with Camilla Lackbergs fifth book in a series is a good idea even though I’ve been wanting to read her a while, and am intrigued by Michelle Lovric because of the title ‘The Book of Human Skin’.

I can’t decide if Deborah Lawrenson’s book ‘The Lantern’, which they are discussing tomorrow (as it only came out this week they must think the audience has nothing to do but read swiftly), sounds very much like a retelling of ‘Rebecca’ which I think will either delight me or make me really cross! We will see. The other two I know little about, well apart from that the cover of Kristin Hannah’s looks nice, and the Lehane cover doesn’t compel me to read it at all. But I’ll try them all!

What are your thoughts on the selection? Would you have liked any other books featured? What about the R&J selection? Oh and keep your eyes peeled for another Summer Reading club that I will be announcing very soon, am bit overexcited!

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