Tag Archives: Val McDermid

Incoming Thoughts…

It has been about a month since I shared some of the highlights of the books that have come through the Savidge letterbox and so I thought I would share some of the books (as I am being very tough on books that now come through the door unsolicited) that I will be reading over the next few months as the mood takes me. Though I have been thinking about how I might change things on Savidge Reads in the New Year, but more on that after I have mulled it further. Anyway back to the books that have come to Savidge Reads HQ and have made themselves most at home. First up some books which have come out quite recently…

Out Now

First of all, I have to mention the book that is causing some big buzz here there and everywhere at the moment and that is S by J.J. Abrams and Doug Dorst. I have to admit that initially I was a bit sceptical about the book because of all the hype. I knew it was written by ‘the man behind Lost’ and if I am honest I wasn’t sure about it because I stopped watching Lost after the first series as I got, erm, lost. However as I saw people discussing it and how the book houses postcards, napkins with maps on, letters and much more my interest was officially piqued. When it arrived in the post last week I will admit I did do a little dance of glee. As yet I haven’t dared open it, I am planning on spending the day with it next weekend – as I don’t want to lose the pieces inside or put them in the wrong order. This is partly why I still haven’t opened Building Stories by Chris Ware, it is still wrapped on the top of my bookshelves.

Elsewhere in that pile are some new to me authors such as Ismail Kadare (who won the International Man Booker Prize, and its short so worth a punt), Jorn Lier Horst (who I was recommended I would like for giving a very different twist on the cold crime genre) and Nadifa Mohammed (whose Black Mamba Boy I have always meant to read and haven’t and is one of the Granta Best Young British Novelists), all of whom I am going to give a try.

There are authors I know too of course. M.R.C. Kasasain’s The Mangle Street Murders was one of the books I mentioned in my ‘books to look out for in the second half of 2013’ on The Readers, I love a Victorian mystery and this looks like a great start of a new series with a duo with a new dynamic and looks at the roles of women in Victorian society, ace. Val McDermid I have been a big fan of for ages and am very excited to read the next Tony Hill and Caron Jordan series after how she left us with The Retribution, this time Tony is prime suspect in a crime. Kishwar Desai’s series is one I often tell myself off for not reading more of, this is her third so I really must read her second.

The last two books are from more famous authors I suppose you would say. Donna Tartt really needs no introduction at the moment as The Goldfinch has had more press and social media buzz than I have seen in a book in ages. It has really put me off and after hearing the last episode of The Readers, her publishers sent me this to see if I could be tempted. We will see. I loved The Secret History so I am not sure why I am so anti this one. Finally there is the memoir of Anjelica Huston (who I like to call Jelly Who-Who, and have been slightly obsessed by since she played the Grand High Witch in the adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Witches and as Morticia in The Addams Family) I can be a bit funny about celebrity memoirs but I find her a fascinating woman and apparently her mother was a great writer and it runs in the family by all reports. Actually a bit giddy about this one.

Next up, some more books to keep your eyes peeled for in 2014…

Coming 2014

Oh actually Essie Fox’s latest The Goddess and the Thief, another Victorian delight, is out at the start of December my mistake. Louise Welsh is back with A Lovely Way To Burn the start of a new trilogy which sounds like a crime set in a dystopian London from the blurb. Tim Winton is back with Eyrie a novel of a man who has shut himself off from the world and whose past comes to haunt him through some neighbours he meets. Kinder Than Solitude by Yiyun Li (who I have meant to read for some time) also sees the past coming back to haunt three friends, now living continents apart, who were involved in a mysterious accident in their youths that saw a woman poisoned.

Eat My Heart Out is meant to be the debut of the Spring as Zoe Pilger has apparently written The Bell Jar meets The Rachel Papers, intriguing – Sam Byers loves this book. Lost tribes are hunted in 1950 in Hanya Yanagihara’s The People in the Trees which Ann Kingman of Books on the Nightstand has been raving about. If you like your books with a dark disturbing twist and sense of malice The Bear by Claire Cameron looks amazing as a camping trip goes horribly wrong and five year old Anna is left to fend for her and her three year old brother as her parents have disappeared and something is lurking in the woods.

Ray Robinson’s Jawbone Lake is one that will intrigue me personally as it is set in the Peak District, which is of course my homeland, and you know I love a good tale set in the countryside and a literary thriller, which apparently this is. I actually spent some time with Ray when he was writing it and we hunted murderous spots in Matlock – though I’ve noted there are no thanks for this tour in the author’s acknowledgements, the bugger, ha! This is probably going to be my next read.

Finally, blimey I have gone on, three books I bought when I fell into a second hand bookshop the other day…

Second Hand Treats

You will read my thoughts on A.M. Homes May We Be Forgiven in the next few weeks and suffice to say I am a bit on the fence with her. I think she’s an incredible writer but almost too good. That might sound crazy though it will make sense when you see my review; I decided to grab Jack as I want to try more of her work. Tove Jansson is an author many people, especially Simon T of Stuck in a Book, have recommended so I thought I would try her short stories. Paul Bowles The Sheltering Sky I know NOTHING about but it was a silver Penguin Classic and so I thought ‘oh why not?’ and snapped it up.

Phew – that is more chatter than I had planned, I do apologise. So do tell me your thoughts on any of the books that are out, the ones that are coming and any of the authors mentioned. Oh and if you think this is a showy off post go here and see my thoughts on that. Also do let me know what books you have got your hands on lately or what you are keen to read, I look forward to hearing all about them.

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Novel Insights on Savidge Reads #2: Reading Apathy Strikes

A few months ago I was a little bit gutted when the lovely Polly of Novel Insights decided that she wanted to give up blogging, especially seeing as I nagged and nagged and nagged for her to start one in the first place – can you tell I am not quite over it yet? Anyway I felt the blogosphere would miss Polly’s ‘novel insights’ into the books she has been reading and so I have bribed her (the things I know after twenty seven years being friends) to come and do a monthly post on Savidge Reads of the books she has been reading and rather enjoying. Well Polly has been a bit rubbish and not bothered for a few months (excuses about weddings, new jobs, looking for a house, training for some charity thing, etc, etc) but now, bloody finally, she has come crawling back to share some of her bookish thoughts over the last *cough* three months.

img_5742-fixedWell as I start typing this post I am wondering whether Mr Savidge has decided to disown me or whatever the blogging equivalent is! So if you are reading this then I have hopefully been forgiven for being tardy in the extreme with my second guest post on Savidge Reads. (She thinks she has been forgiven, dear readers, she forgets I am in charge of her hen weekend!)

Being completely honest, I am not sure that ‘Novel Insights’ is an appropriate pseudonym for me at the moment. I am definitely experiencing a kind of reading apathy. The symptoms for a book lover like myself are worrying, but the cause is clear. At the moment I am planning a wedding, in the process of finding a home to buy and six months into a rewarding but demanding job. Oh, and silly me signed up to do a 12 mile gruelling obstacle course called Tough Mudder, which took place this weekend just passed (involving lots of running, mud ice etc), so I have been training for that too.

All of these things are both exciting and major life events and I’m not sure how I am going to return to a normal speed of activity once this year is over. I am extremely grateful for my good fortune but none of this leaves much time for reading. I did go to a very enjoyable Penguin Bloggers event with Simon a few weeks ago and the wonderful Foyles and I enjoyed listening to the author’s readings, but have to admit that my mind was still in several different places and it wasn’t an immersive experience for me. I did take away copies of those that sounded promising though so perhaps over the next few weeks/months I will flick through those and see if there is anything I fancy.

Having said all of this, I have read a small handful of really excellent books. Anyone who is in Riverside Readers with me will recognise that three out of five of them are book group choices! I have mixed feelings about this as I’m sure most book group members do at some point, because when you are not reading as much as you would like, it can feel as if you are only reading books selected by others. On the other hand, without it perhaps I would have read much less and two of my favourites of this year are book group choices…

‘The Snow Child’ by Eowyn Ivey swept me away to Alaska, with a mix of magic, human struggle and the feeling of a raw frontier experience that reminded me of the Laura Ingalls Wilder novels that I used to read as a kid. My Uncle and Auntie sent me The Little House in the Big Woods and then each subsequent book (some may remember The Little House on the Prairie TV show that was based on the most famous in the series). It is a beautifully conceived novel, with a moving plot line and charming characters and I would recommend it to anyone to read.

‘Under the Skin’ by Michael Faber (who also wrote The Crimson Petal and the White), is probably the most original and surprising novel that I have ever read. I dare not say anything more about it for fear of ruining the reading experience for others, except to say that it is a fascinating piece of literature. It is also apparently being made into a film with Scarlett Johanssen, which I am a little dubious about.

I chose the infamous ‘The Life of Pi’ by Yann Martel to read, when I went out to meet my photographer fiancé who was travelling in India and Philippines. I spent a wonderful week with him on a little Philippine island called Boracay and dipped into this book now and then. I bought The Life of Pi partly because I was looking for reading inspiration and saw it was 20p (Simon tuts VERY loudly in the background) and also because I always thought that I should get around to reading it. I became quite involved in the story and genuinely wanted to find out what would happen to the hero but I found his narrative voice to be quite superior sounding which irritated me at times. Overall, it was an excellent read and was left pondering at the end, which I liked.

  

I raced through Val McDermid’s ‘Wire in the Blood’. I am proud owner of a signed copy, which I procured at an event that Savidge Reads hosted in Manchester Waterstones. I thought the plot line was totally ace and the villain, a monster almost on a par with Hannibal Lecter.

The last book that I finished was ‘The Twin’, by Gerbrand Bakker, also chosen by Armen for our book group. I won’t talk about it as we haven’t discussed it yet, and somehow I don’t think that’s the done thing! It was the kind of book that puts one in a sombre, contemplative sort of mood. I can’t wait to discuss it.

 

So, I suppose it hasn’t exactly been a complete reading drought, but when I went to my shelves the last time to choose my next book, I didn’t feel exactly enthusiastic. Perhaps this is because I still have a stack of books from when I was blogging or perhaps it’s because I keep thinking I should read my piled-high work emails on my commute instead of taking a more vicarious pleasure in reading a novel.

One thing that I will say is that it has been therapeutic writing all of this down, and perhaps one of you kind people might suggest a book that might deliver the reading rush that I am looking for?

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Why Does Literature Seem To Snub Genre?

I seem to have a backlog of random posts on my thoughts about the book world and reading at the moment. It seems I am having a phase where every book I read sparks a question about my reading habits or reading in general. I hope you all enjoy these posts because there is going to be quite an influx of them over the next few weeks. The first of these that I want to talk about came from my review of Penny Hancock’s ‘Tideline’ yesterday when I said it was ‘the sort of thriller that I want to put in the path of anyone who doesn’t deem thrillers as literature’ because this is something that seems to be a common misconception in the book world or in bookish circles. Why can’t a crime novel, and indeed any work that is deemed genre, also be deemed ‘literature’?

My initial line of thinking is the fact that on the whole crime novels are not particularly known for being flowery, you can’t really make a dead body picturesque can you – though you can make it haunting and atmospheric, yet flowery prose doesn’t mean that a book is literary either does it? Crime novels, and I am focusing on these as they are the genre I read the most outside what people deem ‘literary novels’, by their nature have to focus on plot and they have to have pace. This doesn’t have to come at the expense of good writing though as I find with authors like Kate Atkinson or Susan Hill the writing that they use in their ‘crime’ novels (atmospheric, observational, vivid) is the same as they use in the novels that would be put in the ‘fiction’ section and which are deemed to be much more literary because they lose the crime tag.

I have just recently given up on a very ‘literary’ novel because while the writing was stunning the book itself wasn’t going anywhere. The plot was there but it was fizzling out, it was dragging, and I was getting increasingly bored. So I gave up. That very rarely happens to me with a good thriller. With literary novels you often here the phrase ‘a multi layered novel’ have any of these people read the aforementioned Kate Atkinson (whose use of small coincidences to twist a tale is fantastic) or Sophie Hannah by any chance as both these authors created tales which are definitely multi layered, whilst being gripping reads with big stories at their heart, and I do think every reader loves a good ‘story’. Many people will say that genre fiction is train station or airport reading, but isn’t that in itself interesting that when people go away they want those sorts of books? Here we could go into the dangerous territory of ‘readability vs. literature’ so lets move swiftly on…

The other misconception I have often heard is that crime novels, or any genre novel actually, often feature one dimensional or rather stereotypical characters. I always find myself wanting to shout ‘what about Sherlock Holmes, people actually wrote to the man, they thought he was real’ to this, but I suppose that’s classic crime so doesn’t fit in with my discussion on modern crime now, though it was deemed literature in its day. If I was discussing chick-lit I would here use the Jane Austen argument and how at the time it was not deemed as ‘literature’ and look at how she is hailed now, Charles Dickens is another one, paid per word as a regular newspaper serialisation, now heralded as one of the greatest writers ever to have lived by many.

Let’s get back to the characters in modern crime though. I think we could find the ‘stereotypical’ characters in almost every novel we read, does ‘stereotypical’ therefore actually mean the true to life people who live next door or you might pass by on the street? What of one dimensional characters? I read few crime novels where this is the case, they wouldn’t work for me as a read if they were. Again there are a number of authors, including the above, where I could say this statement was untrue; Tess Gerritsen (I read the Rizzoli and Isles series because I want to know what they are up to, I like them, I feel I have gotten to know them over a series) and Val McDermid (Jacko Vance might be my favourite serial killer ever, if one can have one) for starters.

Val McDermid once said to me ‘it’s not the crime that’s the really important thing to me, it’s what crime or murder does to the people surrounding it that truly motivates me’. I have paraphrased there, sorry if you read this Val, but I think is one of the true signs of why crime can be counted as literature, it looks at how humans are conditioned to react, emote and deal in extreme circumstances. People say ‘oh but crime stories are so farfetched’ but they happen and often it’s the most bizarre crimes that have us sitting watching the news and saying ‘oh you couldn’t have made that up’ and ‘how would you deal with that, can you imagine?’ With a book you can from the safety of your sofa, just as you can being in a war torn country, having been bereaved, experiencing dictatorial leadership or simply being in a very dysfunctional family. All these things people are experiencing all over the world but just because it’s not happening to us or those we know doesn’t mean it is ‘farfetched’. Also thanks to crime in translation we learn about other cultures through the subject matter dealt with by the novels of the likes of Henning Mankell or Natsuo Kirino.

Of course there is some badly written and one dimensional drivel out there on the crime shelves, but the same applies to literature doesn’t it. We also all have different tastes. I have always found it interesting when I have reviewed an M.C. Beaton and then had emails saying people won’t read my blog any more as they thought I only read ‘proper’ books. What constitutes a ‘proper’ book I do not know, any ideas?

I am fully aware that I can fall prey to the same issues with other genres (aliens… like they exist) though I have just read a stunning werewolf novel (no, really) and indeed I have been umming and ahhhing about reading Jojo Moyes ‘Me Before You’ because I have heard rave reviews from people I trust and think the premise sounds interesting, but from just looking at it my mind says ‘chick-lit’ and I switch off, this has happened whenever I have been recommended Marian Keyes, which has happened a lot. Am I then adding to the literary snobbery myself, I hope not, and may now rush and get ‘Me Before You’ just to prove a point.

This might be one of those posts that often appear on Savidge Reads where I start with a question that has been buzzing around in my head, write about it and end up asking more questions than I can answer and coming out the other side without a conclusion. It is a subject that interests me and one I would love to have a good old natter with you all about, so your thoughts please…

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Savidge Reads Grills… Val McDermid

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting up with the lovely Val McDermid for a good long coffee and catch up thanks to the joys of twitter and knowing she was in the vicinity. I hadn’t seen her since she came and talked at Bookmarked Literary Salon last year, so we had much to discuss. When I got back I suddenly thought ‘hang on, didn’t I do a Savidge Reads Grills… with Val?’ It turned out I had last year when her latest novel ‘The Retribution’ came out and then very naughtily hadn’t used it, probably because I had done an interview with her for We Love This Book. Well ‘The Retribution’ is out in paperback now, you can see my review here, and so I thought that I would post it today as it seemed timely.

For those crazy people who haven’t read a Tony Hill novel yet, how would you describe the series of books he features in?

The Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novels are dark psychological thrillers that explore the extremes of what human beings are capable of doing to each other.  Tony is a psychologist who profiles for the police, Carol is a senior detective. Tony explores crimes by worming his way into the head of the killer; Carol uses more traditional detective techniques. He is motivated by compassion and empathy, she is motivated by justice. And at the heart of the books is the relationship between them, a relationship that is complicated by the damage they have both sustained in the cases they have worked.

Do you think people can come into the series at any point, especially with ‘The Retribution’ which sees one of Tony Hill’s old adversaries’s returning to the scene?

Each book in the series can stand alone but if you start at the beginning and read them in order, it will be a richer and more complete experience.

Have you ever liked one of you criminal characters, you see I think Jacko Vance is a brilliant psychopath… though that might say more about me as a reader maybe?

I don’t like them in the sense of wanting to go out for a beer with any of them. But I feel a sense of satisfaction when I think I’ve achieved a villain that feels like a three-dimensional character. Even if all three of those dimensions are pretty dark!

Each of your books is very different, be they in a series or a standalone, where do the ideas generate from? Does the murder come first or the story itself?

Occasionally it will be the murder, in the sense of a scenario for the crime or even an unusual method (such as the murder of the footballer in Beneath The Bleeding). But mostly it’s a situation or an interesting piece of information that sets me off on the ‘what if?’ game.  Sometimes it’s an anecdote told by a friend, or a throwaway line in a radio programme or a magazine article. It could be anything, as long as it piques my interest.

And how do you know if the story is one for a series or one that needs to simply standalone?

I can tell from the shape of the story, pretty early on. Rule of thumb – if it’s a serial killer, it’s probably Tony & Carol. If not, it’s going to need a whole new cast of characters.

Do you think Lindsey Gordon or Kate Brannigan will be coming back soon? Is there another series waiting in the wings?

I don’t know. And I don’t know. It depends what shouts loudest inside my head. I know the next two books will be a standalone followed by another Tony & Carol, and that’s all I can say right now.

How did it feel when Wire in the Blood the series was made, is it hard to see your work adapted?

I was very well served by the adaptation. I thought we ended up with excellent TV that felt like it occupied the same fictional landscape as the books. Coastal Productions took an unusually collaborative approach in the development and making of the show, and that is a large part of the reason it ended up being something I was very comfortable with.

How relevant do you think book blogging is to the publishing industry? Do you ever pop and see what people have thought of your books or is it something you avoid at all costs?

It’s a great way of getting the word out about books that excite and fulfill readers. There are so many books out there and relatively few are reviewed in the traditional media. There’ s a huge range of bloggers but once you find a few who are in tune with your own tastes, it can be a fast track to finding new writers to enjoy. I have my own personal preferences, and yes, it’s gratifying to read good things about my work.

When did you first know that you wanted to be a writer? Was it an easy thing for you to do?

I first knew I wanted to be a writer when reading the Chalet School books revealed that being a writer was a proper, paid job, not just something people did out of the goodness of their hearts! I came from a very non-traditional background for a writer – I grew up in a working class family in a mining community. But I was always encouraged to read, to educate myself and to work hard. All of which came in very handy. I had a couple of false starts in my creative writing career – including enough rejection letters to paper the bathroom — but once I began to write crime fiction, it all came together.

Is there anything you wish you hadn’t written in a book?

Nothing I can think of except maybe one dedication! And no, I’m not going to tell you which one.

You have always loved crime fiction, what is it that you love so much about the genre?

I love that it gives me the opportunity to put characters under pressure and see what that makes them do. I love that moment of delight when I finally get the plot to make sense so that all the other elements of the book can fall into place. I love that there’s room to write decent prose while still moving the story along. And I love that crime writers take their work but not themselves seriously.

Do you ever think a crime book will win the Booker Prize?

Why does it matter? Really, crime writers and readers need to stop being so chippy about this. We know the quality of the best of our genre. We don’t need the imprimatur of the Booker or any other prize to justify ourselves.

Which books and authors inspired you to write?

Elinor M Brent Dyer, Robert Louis Stevenson, Norman MacCaig, Agatha Christie, Ruth Rendell, Sarah Paretsky. And many, many others.

Are there any books you wish you had written yourself?

Treasure Island.

Which contemporary authors do you turn to?

Margaret Atwood. Ali Smith. Reginald Hill. James Sallis. James Lee Burke. Kate Atkinson. Michael Robotham.  Andrea Camilleri. And many, many others.

Describe your typical writing routine, do you have any writers quirks or any writing rituals?

I get out of bed, I shower, and I drink two cups of coffee. I eat bacon and beans and a portion of fruit. I go out to the office, turn on the music and start the writing day revising what I wrote the day before.  That’s pretty much it.

Which one book must all Savidge Readers run out and buy right now, which is your very favourite?

I don’t have a favourite. I really don’t.

What is next for Val McDermid?

A standalone called The Vanishing Point. Then another Tony & Carol. And maybe another radio drama serial, because I really enjoyed the one I did this spring.

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A big thanks to Val for doing this. If you want to see any of the other previous Savidge Reads Grills then do pop and have a look. Reading this interview back and seeing Val last week has reminded me I must read ‘Wire in the Blood’ very soon. Which of Val’s books have you read? Have you stuck with the series, the standalones or both?

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Two Bookish Books I Think We Should All Be Reading…

I try not to bark ‘read this now’ as an order too often on Savidge Reads. If I really love a book then I hope the enthusiasm comes of the screen and you might want to go and have a look at it in a book shop or read about it more online. It’s very unusual then that I am pretty much going to bark the orders ‘read these now’ about two books that I actually haven’t read myself the whole way through…

 

‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’ and ‘The Library Book’ are two books from separate British publishers which are all about books, reading and libraries. Really that should be enough to have you rushing to your nearest bookshop or book selling website shouldn’t it, in fact it might already have done just that, however I thought I would tell you a little more about both – just to really push you over the edge.

‘Stop What You Are Doing And Read This!’ is an anthology which asks the question ‘why should you stop what you are doing and read a book?’ The ten essay responses collected here are from the likes of authors such as Jeanette Winterson, Blake Morrison, Mark Haddon and Zadie Smith, along with Jane Davis founder of ‘The Reader Organisation’ and Carmen Callil who founded Virago and rather famously quit the International Man Booker judging panel. These ten essays simply tell you, in varying ways, the power of the book and the joys of reading. I have only dipped in and out of a few so far but from what I have seen it’s only going to make my love of reading and desire to read all the stronger. I know that Simon T of Stuck in a Book loves this book.

There is a different twist on the joys of reading with ‘The Library Book’ as this book is of course celebrating the library itself. Some of my favourite authors like Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Alan Bennett (there are lots more Kate Mosse, Julian Barnes, China Mieville, Stephen Fry – I could go on, there are 23 pieces in this collection) have all contributed works to this book, not all of them are essays though as of course we go to libraries for fiction, and so some of the authors have made fictional shorts along with the other essays throughout – all about the library, of course. Again, I have only had a glimpse at this book (as it only arrived this morning) but I am very, very excited about what’s inside. In fact what am I doing here writing this? I should be reading them already!

What I think is another thing that’s special about these books, if I haven’t sold these two you by now you may be a lost cause, is that they are working with the charity The Reading Agency (all the proceeds of ‘The Library Book’ are definitely going to this charity, it doesn’t say with ‘Stop What You’re Doing And Read This!’) which encourages people to read in all sorts of ways and is developing exciting library programmes. What could be better?

I am hoping some of you have stopped reading the blog by now and run off to find out more, or even gone and got the book. I am off to sit with my copies for a while. I will report back, I hope you will too!

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The Green Carnation Prize Longlist 2011

Sorry I have been off blog for a few days. Brussels completely relaxed me, though I didnt get as much reading done as I would have liked, and then I have come back to the whirl of books and been in the final discussions (through email, skype, phone, face to face meetings – you name it) and deliberating over the mass of submissions we had to make the Green Carnation Longlist 2011. So a drumroll please as here we have the thirteen books that have made this years rather diverse longlist…

  • By Nightfall – Michael Cunningham (Fourth Estate)
  • The Strange Case of the Composer and his Judge – Patricia Duncker (Bloomsbury)
  • The Proof of Love – Catherine Hall (Portobello)
  • Red Dust Road – Jackie Kay (Picador)
  • The Retribution – Val McDermid (Little Brown)
  • Purge – Sofi Oksanen (Atlantic Books)
  • There But for The… – Ali Smith (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Remembrance of Things I Forgot – Bob Smith (Terrace Books)
  • Ever Fallen in Love – Zoe Strachan (Sandstone Press)
  • The Empty Family – Colm Toibin (Penguin Books)
  • Role Models – John Waters (Beautiful Books)
  • Before I Go To Sleep – S.J Watson (Doubleday)
  • Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson (Jonathan Cape)

I am very pleased with the list indeed, despite a few of my favourites not quite making it through and I am looking forward to getting back to all the titles as the re-reading starts before the shortlist on November 2nd 2011. You can find out more on the website here.

So what do you think of the longlist? Any questions (I will try and answer any I can without breaking the submission clause) you have? Which books are you suprised to see on there, which are you surprised aren’t on there? Which have you read and what did you think? Any that you particularily fancy giving a whirl? As ever I would love your thoughts.

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Bookmarked Crime Night… The Report

Last week was the second Bookmarked Literary Salon and what a criminally good night it was. You all know how much I love a good crime novel so to have the legendary Val McDermid and wonderful debut novelist M.J. McGrath (or Melanie as I’m now allowed to call her) was bliss for me. I went and did that silly getting nervous thing again, fortunately it didn’t last long and we were soon chatting away between having our photos taken together before it all started off.

After each author had done a reading it was time for a good old natter, you may notice we changed the seating from last time so it’s less authors vs. hosts. The conversation flowed and it all went far too quickly.

Val had some really interesting insights into how crime is changing through technological advances and not just in the case of solving crimes but in what you write. Her son has been reading some of her earlier novels and after reading about Kate Brannigan hunting down a phone box for a few pages asked why she didn’t just use her mobile phone? We also discussed social media, how psychopaths are using it to their advantage. Apparently there is now a twitter account called Vance On The Run which is apparently Jacko Vance, Val’s own creation, who is trying to follow her! How mad is that? Mind you I follow Jackson Brodie on twitter, erm let’s move on…

Melanie had tales to tell from quite another world, the arctic, and how her friends can Facebook her and tell her they have a dislocated shoulder but can’t get to a hospital or drugs delivered because they are so remote. As she spent lots of time in the arctic as a journalist (and wrote ‘The Long Exhile’ which I am now desperate to read) she also had wonderful tales to tell of the Inuit life and how she became a figure of fun after locking herself out her house, with only ten minutes till she would freeze to death, and getting to grips with peeing when it becomes an icicle mid-flow. Oh and a brilliant semi-tragic tale about a hunter who met his match with a polar bear he was after. It was utterly fascinating.

Too soon and it was all over. Time to sign books for the wonderful audience who came along, including Polly of Novel Insights, and made it such a wonderful event we didn’t want to end.

In fact we loved it so much we might just be having another meeting of the same minds next year, we shall see. Val and Melanie have said they will and Melanie even wrote a contractually binding comment in my copy of her book, so I’ll be holding them to that!

Thanks again if you were in the audience, I did speak to some of you but not all. It was a wonderful evening and if you couldn’t make it I hope this post gives you a feel for the night. I’m loving this salon malarky, can you tell?

Bookmarked will be back in just under two weeks, time really flies, on Monday the 3rd of October for a Victorian themed evening (with two of my favourite books of 2011 and their authors) of ‘Sensational Stories’ as Jane Harris will be discussing ‘Gillespie and I’ and Carol Birch will be talking about ‘Jamrach’s Menagerie’, as well as all things Victoriana based, to say I am excited would be an understatement. I hope to see you there (if not I will report back again)!

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Filed under Bookmarked Literary Salon, M.J. McGrath, Val McDermid

The Comfort of a Series…

There is a real comfort in being able to open the pages of a book, cosy in your perfect reading spot, and being surrounded by a world that is familiar and where you are joined by some of your favourite characters. To me this is the joy of having an ongoing favourite series, and it’s been a saviour in the last few days after what had been a severe bout of readers block.

I had got myself into a vicious thought circuit of ‘why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything’ last week, something I seem to do which I am aware only adds to the pressure but it can’t be helped. I was well aware I had a few of the submissions for The Green Carnation Prize to get through, which has involved some stunning reading, as we announce the longlist in just over a fortnight – but I needed a break. I instantly thought ‘right time for something completely different’ and so pulled down the next of M.C. Beatons Agatha Raisin novels ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ (if anyone is sniggering, these are awesome books) and before I knew it I had devoured that and polished off the next one ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’. Then I got what I call ‘series guilt’.

In my mind ‘series guilt’, though maybe guilt isn’t quite the right word, is rather like when you have an author binge. You read one, want to read more and then think ‘hang on I have almost read all their books and I have no idea when the next one is out’. In the case of Agatha Raisin this doesn’t really apply, I have another eight (as I read two out of sync) to go. Yet I do get this with other series I read. Hence why I have stopped with Sophie Hannah, Paul Magrs etc, I don’t quite know when the next one will be so am saving the latest one for a while instead.

There are however three series that I will be playing catch up with as a bit of a reading treat for myself and because I know that I have quite a few more of the series of Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen to go. So expect to see these three books featured in more detail…

   

Isn’t it odd that these series are all crimes, well and one spooky-goings-on series? I think I need to be looking outside of the box. Though they are perfect for this time of year as autumn starts to show its true colours. I have also thought that the only way to not have to worry if a series is running out is to find some more to get into the swing of, and this is where you come in.  I would like your recommendations for some new series to find.

So I wondered if you would share your favourite series (or two) with me but also if you could let me know of any series of books which aren’t of a ‘genre’ so I can branch out. The only one I can think of at the moment is Anthony Trollope’s ‘Barchester Towers’. I know there are many more than just those, can you help?

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Murder, Mayhem, McDermid, McGrath & More… In Manchester Tonight

I don’t think that I could have fitted in any more words starting with ‘m’ if I had tried then could I? Anyway, no Manchester isn’t about to have another night of rioting, unless it is of the bookish variety, tonight is Bookmarked’s second outing and we have a line up that it would be criminal to miss. (Did I just hear a collective sigh at that bad cliched joke? Come on, how could I not use that one?)

Tonight we have two wonderful crime writers coming to Waterstones Deansgate in the heart of Manchester, and I know they are wonderful because I have read them both. You will all know its only been in the last year that I have started reading Val McDermid’s novels but what a treat, in a slightly murderous way, they are – so I am delighted that she is attending and am looking forward to having a good old natter with her before hand. We will also be joined by debut novelist Melanie McGrath, or M.J. McGrath, who Val recommended I read (which I have and it was brilliant – in fact I reviewed it earlier today) and has kindly invited as a special guest. So it should be very, very good.

If you are in the area do pop in and say hello, it will be a night of much bookish banter and delights. If you can’t make it I will report back in due course. Ooh, the nerves are starting again. For more information visit the Bookmarked website here.

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White Heat – M.J. McGrath

If you are looking for something a little bit different in your crime novels then you couldn’t go wrong with ‘White Heat’ by M.J. McGrath. I admit that I don’t think I would have heard of this novel or its author unless it had been recommended by Val McDermid, who also kindly invited M.J. McGrath as her guest for tonight’s Bookmarked. But then again I am not yet a crime buff, even if I am working on it. What is it then that makes Melanie McGrath’s, for that is her full name, crime fiction so different?

Mantle Books, hardback, 2011, fiction, 381 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

Crime novels should be chilling shouldn’t they? Well ‘White Heat’ is chilling in more ways than just the murder, or murders, at the heart of it. The setting is the snowy and ice laden landscapes of the Canadian Artic and in every scene there is a sense of the coldness and almost other worldliness of which the characters of this novel inhabit. Our protagonist is hunting guide (which I have to say almost put me off her) and part time teacher Edie Kiglatuk, she might not be a detective but she’s inquisitive an observant, and you might say has a little too much time on her hands.

The book starts on one of Edie’s trips which suddenly goes horribly wrong when one of the men, Feliz Wagner, on the outing gets shot and, being stuck in the middle of the snowy barren land during a slight storm, dies before he can get to hospital despite all the efforts of Edie and her step-son Joe. You would think that a police enquiry would follow, but this is not the case in a place like Autisaq where the elders (seemingly lead by Edie’s ex-brother in law) decide what’s the outcome is and they don’t want trouble or the hunting tourism affected and so the death is labeled accidental. However Edie isn’t happy, in part through guilt as she doesn’t say much at the hearing, with the verdict and so decides more needs to be done and contacts Derek Palliser, a police man from nearby, who she once worked with unofficially before.

“His case illustrated precisely why the elders preffered not to involve police unless they had to. Almost everyone in Autisaq, including Johnnies own parents, thought it would have been more humane to deal with him the Innuit way; take him up to the mountains and, when he was least expecting it, push him off a cliff. No one said this to the then Constable Palliser, of course, but he’d picked it up anyway. His insistence on bringing the case to trial had made him enemies.”

It’s this conflict of modern vs. the old way which adds to the books point of difference (sorry rather a business like word there) alongside the setting of the book and the inclusion of Inuit lifestyles and sets it apart from a lot of the crime fiction I have been reading. It comes as no surprise to know that Melanie McGrath has written several non-fiction books (including ‘The Long Exile’ which I now really want to read) which have focused on the Inuit lifestyle, and her passion/interest in this shines through as you read on. It added a certain something to the proceedings as the novel went on, and I found myself chilled in more ways than one.

Edie is also a great character. It took me a while to get my head around the fact that she hunted, but then she is doing the job so her step-son can do and study nursing – her ex husband isn’t supportive particularly even though he invites himself round at the drop of a hat. I admit when I read that Edie was an ex-drinker I did think ‘oh dear this could be another detective with a drink issue cliché’ but actually it’s more a background to the character and the situation than anything else. Edie has a certain drive too which you just can’t help respecting and liking.

I am certainly glad I was pointed in the direction of ‘White Heat’ and am thrilled to learn that this is the first in what is going to be a series of Edie’s unofficial investigations, she’s a character to watch from an author I hope we will be hearing a lot more about. If you want a crime with a bit of a twist then give this a whirl, I really enjoyed it… if you can enjoy a good crime.

M.J. McGrath will be at tonight’s ‘Bookmarked’ with Val McDermid at Manchester’s Waterstones Deansgate with me hosting, you can find more information here, it would be a crime to miss it.

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Filed under M.J. McGrath, Mantle Books, Pan MacMillan, Review

The Retribution – Val McDermid

The more crime fiction I read the more I find I love the genre. It’s not because I have some secret desire to become a serial killer but probably because on of the jobs I thought I might end up doing was to become a criminal profiler. It didn’t happen, but since I have read more and more crime novels I think I have found a way of living the dream vicariously through fiction. In Val McDermid’s series featuring psychologist Tony Hill, I think I have found the perfect outlet and so I was really looking forward to reading ‘The Retribution’ even if it meant jumping from his first case to his latest, and therefore breaking my rule of reading every series in order.

Little Brown, hardback, 2011, fiction, 402 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘The Retribution’ is the seventh novel in what is becoming one of Val McDermid’s most popular series featuring psychologist Tony Hill and DCI Carol Jordan. Here the past comes back to haunt our two protagonists as Jacko Vance, a psychopath that Tony and Carol have dealt with before, escapes from prison with nothing but revenge on his mind.

That really is about as much of the plot as you can give away with this novel. It is fair to say that both Tony and Carol, along with his ex-wife Mickey, are high on the list of people who he wishes to seek vengeance. How he goes about his revenge isn’t the way you would think, he doesn’t want to kill his former foes, he wants to inflict as much hurt and devastation as he can on them. No one is safe and for once Tony Hill finds he can’t quite second guess this killer. If that wasn’t enough, there seems to be second serial killer on the loose too.

Is it wrong to say that I quite liked Jacko Vance as a psychopathic serial killer? I have a feeling it might be, and yet that is how I felt. I wouldn’t want to be his friend or anything, but I really liked reading him even when he was utterly evil. He really does the most awful things and yet I couldn’t help but admire his plotting and planning, which has been going on for years, and the way he utterly disregards emotion. He doesn’t really want to kill, yet he has to in order to inflict pain not on his victims but on those around them. It’s a very clever psychological twist and one that I found somewhat weirdly fascinating. Oh come on, don’t be shocked, people who read a lot of crime all think like that even if they don’t admit it.

I can’t really tell you how Tony and Carol’s relationship has changed in the series so far because I have to admit I have gone from the very first on, ‘The Mermaids Singing’, to this one, with a quick pit stop at a McDermid standalone in the form of ‘Trick of the Dark’, because I am interviewing Val in just over a week. I can say that should you have missed any of the other series, including Jacko Vance’s previous appearance as I had, you can still read this as a story all of its own. It actually made me want to turn straight to ‘Wire in the Blood’.  If I had one small criticism then it would be that the second serial killer did seem to play second fiddle to Jacko. I would have liked a little more of that storyline, I would have been happy to read another 50 or so pages to see it happen. It’s a small niggle though because that storyline does add something in its own right too.

I found ‘The Retribution’ a truly great crime novel. You have an utter psychopath in Jacko Vance, and one who doesn’t do the obvious and really keeps people on their toes and scared. You also have a great mind in the form of Tony Hill and there continues to be an interesting relationship between him and Carol Jordan (which gets really tested in this book). You had both the mixture of knowing one killer but never knowing who they would kill next and also a whodunit with the other serial killer which I liked a lot and didn’t guess at all. I think this shows what a great crime writer Val McDermid is, along with the fact that never in my life did I think I would be so on the edge of my seat as to who would feed a cat. You’ll have to read the book to know what I mean, so go on, go and grab a copy.

I am now very excited about interviewing Val McDermid again (as I have already for We Love This Book) when she comes with MJ McGrath to Bookmarked on Monday the 12th of September, if you can make it do I think its going to be a great night. I am now wondering if I can somehow fit ‘Wire in the Blood’ and another of her standalone’s in before then. What do you think?

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Filed under Books of 2011, Little Brown Publishing, Review, Val McDermid

Trick of the Dark – Val McDermid

After reading my first ever Val McDermid and reviewing it back in March I knew that I wanted to read a lot more and so rather than follow the first Tony Hill, ‘The Mermaid’s Singing’, with the next I thought I would go for the latest standalone novel ‘Trick of the Dark’. Isn’t it funny what you expect with a novel, I thought this was going to be another disturbing dark whodunit, and yet instead I was greeted by more of a ‘howdunit’ (yes, that’s a new term thank you) which I wasn’t expecting at all…

Sphere, paperback, 2011, fiction, 544 pages, sent by publisher

The premise of ‘Trick of the Dark’ is a hard one to summarise, especially without giving the plot away so I shall try my best without any spoilers. As the novel opens we meet ‘disgraced’ psychiatrist Dr Charlie Flint who has been suspended from her job and is considering on leaving her wife Maria, a dentist, for another woman – one she barely knows but the chemistry is too strong. Over breakfast she receives a mysterious parcel filled with press cuttings of a recent murder of a groom at his wedding. Initially Charlie things this is nothing to do with her, until she recognises the dead mans wife, Magda, who was the daughter of Charlie’s old tutor Corinna when she studied in Oxford. Are you still with me? Good.

 Charlie decides to investigate, she has the time and she wants to redeem herself for something we slowly learn about so I won’t spoil it, in doing so she goes back to her old life in Oxford to meet Corinna who believes her daughter is now having a lesbian affair with a murderer, Jay Macallan Stewart. Jay is now a multi-millionaire of the dot.com era, she is also the best seller of misery memoirs and, if Corinna is to be believed, she is also a serial killer from murdering a fellow student that got in her way back at school to Magda’s husband Philip and countless in-between. Sounds far fetched doesn’t it, Charlie certainly thinks so and yet she decides to investigate anyway opening secrets from the past that might be best left alone.

 

I admit, though it might be a poor explanation from me above, that the story does sound rather complicated and far fetched. Val McDermid makes this all sound highly believable, gripping and yet doesn’t loose the reader in the twists, turns and possible red herrings she plants along the way. I was worried I wouldn’t get far enough in to find out though and was actually feeling most despondent when it started. I thought I had found a new favourite author but I didn’t think this book would grab me. I didn’t instantly warm to Charlie, the fact she wanted to have an affair made me cross (oh the moral high ground) and I couldn’t like her or feel for her. Slowly she was someone I warmed to, I don’t think I ever really liked her, but I liked what Charlie was trying to do. 

I also didn’t think I would gel very well with a ‘howdunit’. I mean if you think you know who killed the people from pretty much the start of the book where is the fun for the reader if you can’t guess who the culprit is? Well I was proved wrong here too, as rather weirdly I was hooked going into the mind of a possible psychopath and Jay Macallan Stewart is a fascinating character (in fact out of the whole book she is the one you want to read the most). But did she do it… you would have to read the book to find out.  

 

Where ‘Trick of the Dark’ also excels is in the fact that this is a crime novel dealing with a lot more than some cold case deaths and a possible psychopath. It’s very much a book that looks at how someone’s background can make them who they are, it also looks at the ‘misery memoir’ and how true or not they might be. It also deals with sexuality as most of the characters are lesbians, not in a racy way (though there is some of that shenanigans) to entice readers with something salacious, but looking at the serious themes of people who in recent decades, and even now, are scared to ‘come out’ and are even faced with homophobia in their own households. This added a further dimension to the book.

‘Trick of the Dark’ is one of those crime novels that treads both the path of the thriller and that of the social commentary of people today and merges the two together. It is a bit far fetched (I am thinking of the rock climbing scenario for those who have read it), but then what’s wrong with some escapism? It had me gripped for the first three-hundred pages, a little unsure for the next hundred, and then up late for the next hundred before surprising me greatly in the last twenty. It wasn’t what I was expecting and proved to be a pleasantly gripping surprise.

I am now going to have to buck my trend completely and go from having read the first in Val’s Tony Hill series ‘The Mermaid’s Singing’ to the latest, and seventh, ‘The Retribution’ as we are very lucky to have her at September’s ‘Bookmarked’, it will be an interesting reading test for me to see if it stands alone or if I feel I have missed anything. I am also very, very excited about meeting Val. Are there any more of her standalone books I should read beforehand if I can?

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Filed under Little Brown Publishing, Review, Sphere Books, Val McDermid

Bookmarked Debut Night… The Report

It’s been over a week since an idea I had became a reality and the Bookmarked Literary Salon opened its doors in Manchester’s Waterstone’s Deansgate for its debut night. I thought I would give those of you who couldn’t be there a report on the event, which started with me being unusually nervous. In fact have to admit I don’t think I have been that nervous before. I went all giddy at about lunchtime however my Mum and sister aka ‘The Girl Who Read Too Much’ (who read both books the weekend before, impressive) had come to visit, sadly no Granny Savidge Reads, and offered support and calming words like ‘get a grip’ before I had to leave to pick up our Bookmarked t-shirts and go and meet the authors off the train.

After an initial slightly shy hello at the station, I had met SJ before yet still felt rather nervous, I took Sarah Winman, SJ Watson and their lovely publicists Helena and Alison off to the venue in style… on the free bus. Soon we were chatting away like we had known each other for ages, then shared some pots of tea and chips before being joined by my co-host Adam and getting holed up in the Managers Office so that the authors could prepare and also so I couldn’t keep popping in the events room had actually turned up. You might spot the slightly nervous smiles from em and Adam just before we were ready to go and meet our audience…

We then went in and couldn’t quite believe out eyes, the room was pretty much full; people were standing at the back (though there were a few seats at the front, why does nobody ever want to sit at the very front), I have to say I could have done a little weep of joy, instead – like true professionals – we introduced the authors and started with a reading. Sarah had everyone in stitches with her reading from ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ and SJ had us all on the edge of our seats when he read from ‘Before I Go To Sleep’.

Adam and I then lead a sort of ‘grilling/conversation’ about some of the in-depth themes of each book and how the books compared and contrasted…

 

Which seemed to keep the authors on their toes, especially when we asked about their debut author journeys and their writing process (I cannot for the life of me remember what I asked that got this response)…

Soon we handed over to the audience (some not in the photo below, my Mum managed to hide somehow) who all had great questions to ask, one included my mother who almost had me saying ‘yes Mum, what would you like to ask?’ she asked about the grieving process that leaving characters behind might cause. I don’t think the authors had been asked that before. The rest of my family who included my aforementioned mother and sister were joined by ‘The Aunt Who Doesn’t Read So Much’ (who had read ‘When God Was A Rabbit’ beforehand and has since read ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ in about three days and three sittings) and ‘The Bookboy’ kept unusually quiet…

 

These too kept the authors in great discussion as we discussed the second still in writing process novels, adaptations, and their previous books ever seeing the light of day and what their writing lives are like…

Then suddenly over an hour had vanished before our eyes and it was time to stop and also time for a quick photo again, can you see the mix of relief, joy and ‘oh no its finished’ on my face?

The authors then took part in a signing or several…

 

Before it was all over and we were saying goodbye as the authors headed back to the train station and I headed for a strong drink and a meal with friends and family. I did manage to ask Sarah which she preferred, a comfy chair with me and Adam or with Richard and Judy… I am too polite to share the response, hee hee. 

Thank you to everyone who came, we had a great time and we so hope that you did. I know Lucy has written up her thoughts, which was really kind, but Lucy why did you not come and say hello, in fact that applies to a few tweeters and followers who turned up. Oh and Emma, thank you for saying hello I am so sorry our conversation was cut short, email me and lets go for a coffee. We hope we will see you all on the 12th of September when we will be having a crime-fest with Val McDermid and a special guest. You can find out more here.

Right, I will stop waffling on and on but I am just thrilled it went so well. If you came, thanks again, if you didn’t thanks to those of you who wished me luck, it meant so much to me.

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Savidge Reads Gets Criminally Star Struck

As I mentioned on my book giveaway post this week it has been a funny old one. Some of it has been a bit rubbish for various reasons but there was one HUGE highlight. I found out quite randomly that Tess Gerritsen and SJ Watson were doing an event at Bolton Library. This is something I simply couldn’t miss, no work, no health issues, nothing would stop me from going. They were in Bolton, which I thought was miles away but is actually 20mins, to discuss their books at the library, little did I know I was going to be able to meet them after and have a natter (thanks to the lovely Alison at Transworld who I also had a lovely chat or two with). I was sooo nervous.

However it was lovely…

… Even if I did get rather star struck! It is something which very rarely happens in my day job, where I do ‘showbiz interviews’ and yet when I got the chance to meet Tess I went a bit shy and suddenly didn’t know what to say. I think it’s because Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles series (which I have just noticed is one of the only series I have started since blogging) have become such favourites. I have emailed her and interviewed her via email for her Savidge Reads Grills and yet still I went really shy and quiet. She was utterly delightful, really warm and friendly, happy to sign a book for me (and one for Polly, it’s in the post, of Novel Insights who first bought me a Tess novel) and we had a lovely chat.

However it didn’t stop there as the same thing happened when I met SJ Watson. I went all nervous in part as I was a fan of his debut ‘Before I Go To Sleep’ and both he and Sarah Winman were my two first choices for the ‘debut night’ of Bookmarked Literary Salon (so imagine my joy when they both said yes) but I hadn’t taken into account I would have to meet them. I know, I know. Anyway Steve was lovely and really excited about the event and now I am quite buzzing about it all. Though now of course I am very nervous about meeting Sarah Winman… and I haven’t even begun to think about Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah coming in September. Let’s move on before the palpitations start.

It did make me wonder why meeting an author you are a big fan of can make you so nervous? We have all had a moment like this (in fact me and Novel Insights had it together last year when we met Ian McEwan and both talked gobbledygook at him, lucky man) haven’t we? Is it because there is a worry that they won’t be nice and you will never want to read a book of theirs again? Or is it simply the awe of meeting someone who has created a world, or several, that you lived and loved? What do you think? Which authors have you met and gone a bit unnecessary over?

P.S I am slightly obsessed about that first picture of Tess, Steve and me, I feel like I could be a crime writer – though I’m obviously not, but one can dream.

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Filed under Book Thoughts, Random Savidgeness, SJ Watson, Tess Gerritsen