Simon Savidge runs the channel Savidge Reads on YouTube, is a broadcaster for Sky Arts and BBC Sounds, judges book prizes and cohosts the Frank Book Club with Frank’s Editor-in-Chief, Melanie Sykes. He is bonkers about books.
Magpie by Elizabeth Day
(Hardback, 4th Estate, £14.99)
When they are crafted just right there is nothing more I love in life than reading a really good literary thriller. Magpie, Elizabeth Day’s fifth novel, is the prime example of such a book. There is a slight problem in the proceedings though in that with a book that twists so much, it is really hard to give you too much info on it without either giving it away or making you expect the twists. It’s a hard life I lead sometimes.
The premise of Magpie centres around a swift love story of Marisa and Jake, who after not having known each other very long move in and start trying for a baby. This is what Marisa has always dreamt of. I know, as readers we are already a bit alert aren’t we? Yet things take a turn when Marisa and Jake take in a lodger, Kate.
It is from here that things start to get a little darker and more disconcerting as Kate takes an unhealthy interest in Jake and the baby he and Marisa are planning on having. But why? That is just what Marisa wants to find out… and hopefully you do too now, so run and buy the book immediately, well, once you have finished reading the rest of Frank.
As I mentioned earlier, this is a perfect literary thriller. There are twists and turns. There are unreliable characters, flaws and all. There is a brooding tension that builds throughout the novel that I loved even when it was making me ridiculously uneasy. On top of all that good stuff, what I think makes Magpie such a brilliant book are how it intertwines and discusses themes on possession and jealousy, as well as motherhood and mental health, all written oh so deftly.
The Book of Form & Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki
(Hardback, Canongate, £18.99)
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I just love a big stonking literary novel that pushes the boundaries of both what I read and what a book can be. That is very much the case with Booker-Prize shortlisted Ruth Ozeki’s latest novel The Book of Form & Emptiness, which takes the reader on quite the journey.
After the death of his father, thirteen-year-old Benny Oh begins to hear voices around him. These are not voices in his head. These are the voices of objects around him; a pair of scissors, a piece of lettuce, anything and everything could say anything and everything at any time, and as his mother starts to deal with her grief the voices start getting louder and more intense. Escaping to the local library, where the books whisper rather than shout, he meets a variety of characters there from the fringes of society and discovers one very special book, the book of his life.
In the wrong writer’s hands this book could go bonkersly wrong. I mean, at one point The Book narrates itself. Yet Ozeki crafts a book that in part feels like an epic adventure of self-discovery, whilst also being an ode to libraries, books, the plant, difference and human nature. It also looks at neurodiversity, the environment and climate change, faith, grief and love in all its forms.
If you fancy an inventive novel with vibrant characters, that brims with humanity and hope, and that you can get completely caught up in, The Book of Form and Emptiness should be added to your TBR ASAP.
Did I Say That Out Loud? by Fi Glover and Jane Garvey
(Hardback, Trapeze, £16.99)
One of my absolute favourite podcasts (alongside the aforementioned Elizabeth Day’s How To Fail) is Fortunately with Fi Glover and Jane Garvey, it has the power to be thought provoking/moving to utterly hilarious and everything in between. It is joyous, as is Fi and Jane’s new book Did I Say That Out Loud?
In alternating essays, Fi and Jane discuss, as the subtitle hints at, ‘notes on the chuff of life’. These can be subjects from divorce and middle age (not necessarily at the same time) to forgetting your password or having a good hair day. Or from prudent orgasm merchandise to judging other women. Not only that but Fi and Jane are on hand with essential life skills and advice such as why you should ‘never buy an acrylic jumper’ and why you should ‘always decline the offer of a limoncello’. All with humour, the wisdom of two women who have had many an experience (ha!), and wry wit which makes you just want to sit and gobble it all up in one greedy read.
It could be hard to make a book as entertaining and intimate as any podcast and that is where the added extra genius comes in. After each writes their essay on one of the above topics (and there are plenty more where they came from) the other gets a chance to write a reply, almost like a conversation… often it is with hilarious results.
I do not laugh out loud at books often but this made me splutter my tea on many occasions. I will be buying this for everyone for Christmas, which is another topic covered in the book funnily enough. A delight!
Beautiful Country by Qian Julie Wang
(Hardback, Viking, £16.99)
A tricky one to talk about as it is under embargo until publication but I couldn’t write about incredible books coming out in September and not tell you all that you need to read Qian Julie Wang’s incredible memoir Beautiful Country, A Memoir of an Undocumented Childhood. It is breath-taking and everyone needs to read it.
In China, she was the daughter of professors. In Brooklyn, her family is ‘illegal’. Qian is just seven when she moves to America, the ‘Beautiful Country’, where she and her parents find that the roads of New York City are not paved with gold, but crushing fear and scarcity. Unable to speak English at first, Qian and her parents must work wherever they can to survive, all while she battles hunger and loneliness at school. Thus begins an extraordinary story that describes, in vivid colours, days labouring in sweatshops and sushi factories, nights scavenging the streets for furniture, and the terrifying moment when the family emerges from the shadows to seek emergency medical treatment for Qian’s mother.
As you can imagine this is an incredibly harrowing and emotional memoir, Qian’s story is one that needed to be told and needs to be heard. Beautiful Country is a book that shows the harder and darker parts of life and society whilst also celebrating small joys.
It’s also an incredible account of one woman’s determination not to be invisible and keep her family afloat. A lyrical and breath-taking memoir indeed.
The Sweet Roasting Tin by Rukmini Iyer
(Hardback, Vintage Publishing, £18.99)
Totally different but also totally brilliant is Rukmini Iyer’s latest in her roasting tin series, The Sweet Roasting Tin, which has now sold over 1,000,000 copies. I think the main reason for this series success, and The Sweet Roasting Tin is no exception, is that you know whatever you cook from these books (be it in a tin, a pot, or a cake mould) you are going to get something that is utterly delicious and foolproof. Believe me,
I am a dreadful cook and have whipped up many a successful three course meal from these books and surprised myself and everyone at the table.
This latest in the series is, you guessed it, a cookery book of sweet sensations. From tray bakes to cupcakes, from dough to tarts, crumbles to cobblers there is something for everyone’s taste buds. I was lucky enough to get a sneaky sampler and can highly recommend the black forest cupcakes, triple ginger biscuits, coconut and mango yogurt cake, and baked mascarpone, cherry, and walnut brownies. All of them to die for.
Whether you have a sweet tooth, want to whip up something flavour filled and fancy, or expand your experiences with flavours (the apple, cheddar and clove galette – no really!) The Sweet Roasting Tin brims with fabulous recipes. The perfect ending to any meal and indeed to this month’s menu of bookish delights frankly.
Simon Savidge runs the channel Savidge Reads on YouTube, is a broadcaster for Sky Arts and BBC Sounds, judges book prizes, and cohosts the Frank Book Club with Frank’s Editor-in-Chief, Melanie Sykes. He is bonkers about books.
For savidgereads go here.
For the Frank Magazine bookclub with Melanie Sykes & Simon Savidge here
For more information follow Simon Savidge on instagram @savidgereads