Richard and Judy's Blog
The Spring Reads are here
Thursday 6 January 2011
Jeez, what a mission yesterday turned into. Just about struggled through my deputising for Chris Evans on his R2 Breakfast Show (almost no voice at all ‘cos of this bloody bug that’s zapping everyone right now; bit better today) and then it was off in a taxi to Soho for the launch of the R&J Book Club 2011. Well, it’s the same book club (the one with WHSmith) but with our next eight recommended great reads. Our so-called ‘spring selection’ (which in darkest January may seem a bit optimistic but we’ll be rolling them out for the next four months so it’ll be May by the time we put the eighth one on review).
We did the usual press and magazine interviews first and then separate interviews with the authors, for the website and other outlets. I keep saying I don’t miss doing the telly stuff, and I don’t, but it was nice to do some TV interviews again, especially with such interesting subjects. Four of the authors are debut novelists and they were so thrilled to have been chosen for our new list. So would I be! Richard and I really believe you will love the new books. They are all so different from each other and beautifully-written.
We’ll review one each week in a jointly written 500 word article, but here are the short reviews we have written for the WHSmith bookmarks that come free when you buy a book.
THE POSTMISTRESS, by Sarah Blake
This brilliant debut novel is the story of three American women in 1940. One is a radio reporter based in London during the Blitz. Her tales of suffering and tragedy in Europe are a desperate attempt to convince America to join the fight. Meanwhile,back in small-town Cape Cod, the young doctor’s wife and the town postmistress are increasingly affected by the war. A beautiful story of love and loss.
YOU’RE NEXT, by Gregg Hurwitz
One of the best thrillers we’ve read; page-turning suspense from start to finish. Mike Wingate and his family are plunged into a nightmare when a pair of psychopathic contract killers are hired to murder them all. Mike has no idea why, and his attempts to stay one jump ahead of the assassins and discover why they are determined to liquidate his family, makes for a riveting read.
THE BLASPHEMER, by Nigel Farndale
Moments after a plane crash, zoologist Daniel Kennedy instinctively and brutally forces his fiancé aside so he can escape the wreckage first. Although he goes back for her, he cannot forgive himself afterwards. Meanwhile whispers from his family’s past suggest his great-grandfather may not be the Great War hero everyone thinks. A gripping (and spookily supernatural) morality tale.
MAJOR PETTIGREW’S LAST STAND, by Helen Simonson
A retired army officer is falling for the Asian woman who runs his village shop. Can courtly love and impeccable English manners win the beautiful Mrs Ali’s heart? Major Pettigrew knows no other way, but will chivalry be enough to overcome local gossip, his ghastly son’s selfishness, and Mrs Ali’s hostile and devoutly Muslim nephew? We found this a tender (and very funny) love story.
THIS PERFECT WORLD, by Suzanne Bugler
Laura Hamley is haunted by her past. For years she was the ringleader of a playground gang who mercilessly bullied a shy, awkward schoolgirl, Heddy Partridge. Both women are now mothers, but while Laura is an affluent housewife, Heddy’s shattered self-esteem has led to a total mental breakdown and near-poverty. An intense, utterly absorbing story of guilt and atonement.
ROOM, by Emma Donoghue
Room is an incredibly moving book; told through the eyes of a five year old boy, it is the story of a mother and child held captive by a monstrous rapist in a locked, soundproofed shed. What shines through, though, is hope. Jack’s love for his Ma and their devotion to each other are described in the most compelling language. It’s inspiring and utterly original.
TRESPASS, by Rose Tremain.
An ageing antiques dealer whose successful business is failing visits his sister in the Cevennes region of France, and decides to buy an ancient house there. What follows is a murder mystery, although the themes of ageing, dysfunctional family, and bitter envy, make this book much deeper than that. Trespass, dark and compelling, conjures up a mysterious and ancient part of France. Beautifully written.
HOTHOUSE FLOWER, by Lucinda Riley
A brilliant concert pianist is devastated when her husband and son are killed in a car crash. She returns to her childhood roots in Norfolk to grieve alone. But in the depths of her mourning, secrets from her own family’s past begin to emerge. The trail leads to Thailand in World War Two, and a story of betrayal, passion, inheritance, and sacrifice. We loved it.
That should give you a general idea, at least. The writers yesterday were SO interesting about how the stories came to them; how they create them.
Everyone’s different. There’s a scene in the opening of The Postmistress (set in 1940) where one of the characters – a 40 year old unmarried woman from Cape Cod – goes to New York and asks a GP there to examine her and furnish her with a certificate saying she is indeed ‘intact’ so she can present it to the man she plans to marry. It’s a very funny, sweet, believable scene and we asked the writer – Sarah Blake – how she’d come up with it.
She said she’d literally made it up as she went along – almost like automatic writing. When she started the chapter all she knew was she wanted her character to be in a New York doctor’s office, and the rest just flowed from her mind, through her fingers, and on to the page without the smallest pause for plotting. Amazing. Interesting to remember that when you read it.
Others say they need to plot everything out meticulously, or at least have a clear idea of the beginning, middle, and end of the novel. The author of Room says she knew from the start the story would start in a soundproofed shed where a mother and child are being held by a rapist (inspired by the Josef Fritzl case), have an escape in the middle (don’t worry, this isn’t giving anything away, she talks about it happily) and end...at the shed. Room, by the way, is the most unusual, extraordinary, and moving book I have read in many years. Dont be put off by what sounds like a grim or dark storyline – it’s anything but that and you hearts will soar as you read it. I am not remotely ashamed to say I cried my eyes out when I read the last two or three paragraphs. In fact it has one of the best closing sentences I can remember; a beautiful, elegant, emotionally shattering use of words.
Well, you’ll make your own minds up of course, but please send your reviews here to the website. It’s great how a real debate has started to develop here over the choices Richard and I make; we visit your comments regularly and thoroughly enjoy reading them. By the way – sorry I’m such a lousy twitterer! I just keep forgetting to do it. It’s not in my DNA like it is Richard’s... I promise to try and send more tweets in 2011.
Don’t hold your breath...
No, really! Anyway, we must go – it’s deadline day for our D Express Saturday column: 800 words to write each.
I bags the story just breaking about that school dinner lady, the one DISGRACEFULLY sacked when she told parents their little girl had been tied up and whipped with a skipping rope because the school hadn’t levelled with them (described it as a skipping rope related incident; tried to gloss the whole thing over). Anyway, great news – she’s won her case (this lunchtime) for unfair dismissal. Hurrah!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bye then. Enjoy the books! (PS the first eight have gone down a storm, even better than our wildest hopes. Twice as many have sold than the most optimistic prediction: we are so happy for the authors, particularly the first-time writers, because it means they can become full-time writers, which is what they’ve always dreamed of. So on their collective behalf – thanks for your interest and support!