February – The light between oceans

I am starting to write this on the evening of our February meeting, in the hope that the excitement of our wee group will be evident in my post. Such a fun meeting, with great chat and, for the first time ever, a vast difference of opinion on this book.

The light between oceans – M L Stedman

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The blurb read well, it could be a little bit thriller-like? maybe a twist that would keep you on the edge of your seat? I had high hopes, those were dashed pretty early in the book, and I ploughed through, what became for me a two week endurance test. I did not enjoy this book at all, I did not like any of the characters (with the exception of Septimus) enough to be anything other than frustrated by their inability to just do the right thing!! The story was longer than it needed to be, I got bored with life on Janus, and couldn’t care less if the boat was back with supplies. It was a romance, with no great passion, it was a character lead story with no great characters, and I was glad to reach the end, which was all a bit too Hollywood for me, BUT I did not say any of this whilst we discussed the book because It became clear to me quite early in the discussion that most of the group really enjoyed it, so I kept my mouth shut.

The group loved the characters, and felt some sympathy for the main characters, they loved the writing and the descriptions of the island. I asked questions and I tried to encourage chat, but did not offer much by way of opinion (which is really unusual for me), and I listened, to try and understand why they loved it so much. The story was certainly one of flawed humans, which can be fascinating (Ove for example), but in order for flaws to make a person interesting, you have to like the person beneath, the group did like Tom and Hannah, so they felt involved in the story where I did not.  At one point, whilst reading the book I googled to see if M L Stedman was Australian (she is), because to me it read like an author who was not from Australia, throwing in the odd very Australian word randomly, it did not feel authentic.

It was towards the end of the discussion that I noticed Sam giving me knowing looks, I have known this girl way too long to be able to fool her. I reached the end of the questions, she looked at me again, as if to say “well??? Come on Mel, just say it!” so I did, “I hated this book” to which she shouted “Me too!” and then we had our little rant, which surprised the others almost as much as their love for the book had surprised us. This was the first time that there has been such a division in the group, and that is a wonderful thing, everyone feels free to express their opinion. Usually we rate books and there is a small variation, tonight the ratings went from 1.5* – 5* and that is quite something. I gave the book 2* because I liked Septimus, and the science bit about the light in the lighthouse, and I thought the scenery was well described. I would not recommend the book, however 5 of 7 would, so I will have to let you judge for yourselves.

The picture of Dorian Gray – Oscar Wilde

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I chose this book for the group, as I thought I really ought to read it. I knew very little about the story, apart from the fact that Dorian Gray keeps a portrait in the attic which ages whilst he says young. The book is easy to read, and being around 200 pages it is fairly quick to get through, but my copy was hard going, with too many words per page, as is often the case with reprinted classics.

The story starts well, there are three main characters, Basil (the artist) who has fallen for Dorian Gray, and spends as much time painting him as possible, and Lord Henry (Harry) who is articulate and philosophical and lives a life of frivolity. It also ends well; on the eve of Dorian’s 28th birthday, the book takes a dark turn and becomes a bit more gothic horror in style, and from that point I was hooked. I did think of an alternative ending that I would have preferred, and another group member thought of a third option, which was also very good. There was a point, somewhere in the middle of the book where I lost interest, but it definitely got much better and held my attention.

For me the story (concept) was brilliant, the writing was not as good, and I do wonder if Wilde felt he needed to pad the story a little in the middle. The group rated the book a solid 3.5*, I gave it 4* and am glad I can cross it off my list of books that I really should read.

Happy reading!

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January – The language of flowers

January is a great month for reading isn’t it? Curled up in a blanket on my huge armchair with candles flickering, the soft scent of Jasmine filling the room (I do like a scented candle), and a Gin & Tonic in hand I started to read ‘The language of flowers’.

The language of flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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I have no idea which club member chose this book, but I am glad that they did! Victoria’s story is at times hard to read, passed from pillar to post as a child in the care system in America, she feels that nobody wants her. The book tells two stories, the story of her childhood, and the story of her new life as an ‘adult’, out in the world, on her own. Throughout the book, and both stories, we learn a little of the Victorian ‘language of flowers’, the meaning of each flower, and the fact that sometimes flowers have been given more than one meaning. I knew very little of this before I read the book, only that my Gran told me that yellow roses mean friendship, and an assumption that red roses mean love.

The book is charming, and heartbreaking at the same time. Victoria’s childhood was certainly traumatic, and I was exasperated by the injustice of a system that gave up on her at age 10. I was frustrated by Elizabeth’s inability to function as an adult on many occasions, and though her relationship with Victoria was far from perfect, I wanted her to do the right thing by this broken child. I loved Victoria’s ability, in spite of her past, to create a life for herself, even if she wasn’t fully able to function in a society that she didn’t feel she was part of.

I found myself imagining the beautiful bouquets of flowers that Victoria created, and how they would look, and wanting to learn more about the meanings of flowers. The lovely thing is that at the back of the book there is a flower dictionary, which I have since used a couple of times. Yes I liked the book, I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it, and I hated the end, it didn’t sit right for me. Having enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book so much, by the time I put the book down I was disappointed, however, I know that most of the members of the club did like the ending, so I think you should read it and decide for yourselves. As a group we gave the book 4.5* and I gave it a 4*, so all in all this was a good choice.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki – Murakami

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If ever a book was disappointing, this is it! Having read and loved ‘Norwegian Wood’, I was really looking forward to this book by Murakami, the reviews looked good, and the blurb caught my attention. Only two other club members read it, and the three of us were in agreement that this book fell flat, and didn’t even live up to the title, ‘his years of pilgrimage’ really were just a few weeks, and more a short trip than a pilgrimage, if I am honest.

The intrigue in the book is in the back story, just why did his friends freeze him out when he was a young man? Unfortunately I didn’t care, and when I found out, I still didn’t care, it made little sense, and, whilst I don’t want to spoil it here, is a huge plot fail. The story line was poor, the characters unlikable, the writing not very good (maybe that was the translator), and the pilgrimage was not a pilgrimage. In fact the best thing about this book is the cover.

OK, I admit I enjoyed a small part of this book, and this was the part where Tsukuru went to Finland. The description of Finland is glorious, and felt authentic, the characters he encounters here are, in my opinion, the most interesting in the book and I thought for a while that the story might be going somewhere, sadly not. This is not a book that I would recommend, I did however rate it slightly higher than the other two club member, purely because of Finland. As a group we gave the book 2*, I gave it 2.5*, my recommendation….go and read ‘Norwegian wood’ instead.

Have fun reading!

December – A man called Ove

December is a good month to have 3 book club books isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like anyone is busy in December right? WRONG! The daft idea to read three books this month, ended with me sat reading the third book on the morning of the meeting in a panic….lesson learnt.

Ove is grumpy, he does not like people, and in most cases, the feeling is entirely mutual, in most cases…

A man called Ove – Fredrik Backman

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I started reading this book, and if I am honest, I wasn’t feeling it at all, there was nothing that I disliked about it, I just didn’t get it. I carried on reading, and then somewhere around page 80 I got hooked, and I couldn’t put it down, and this was the joy of this book. The book is a lesson in reserving judgement on people, until you know their story, Ove is not just grumpy, Ove is miserable, irritable, impatient and, at times, mean spirited, but Ove is also extremely sad. Thanks to a new neighbour, who is unwilling to just walk away, and pushes her way in to Ove’s life, we, the readers begin to understand why he is so unfriendly and we start to sympathise with him. I adore Ove, and his wife Sonja, who incidentally, like me, teaches NEET learners (the line “they come in with a police escort and leave quoting Shakespeare” is wonderful), and I adore Parveneh (his neighbour) for just not allowing him to wallow.
As a group we gave this book a healthy 4.5* and I gave it 5*, it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it reminded me that I should be a bit more understanding, as most of people’s lives happen in private.

The boy in the striped pyjamas – John Boyne

I had been meaning to read this book since I was given a copy about 6 years ago, so when it was chosen by a book club member it gave me the excuse to finally give it a go.

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I was going to say that Christmas is perhaps not the right time for this very hard hitting story, but I’m not really sure that any other time would be any better. The subject matter makes it hard to want to read this book, but it is so highly rated everywhere, that I felt the need to see why. The story of the people in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, is seen through the eyes of a high ranking Nazi soldier’s son and is beautifully written. The fact that he is so innocent that he does not know who the people are, or why they are there and he wants to make friends with them is heartbreaking. This book is fabulous as a work of fiction, but also unique in introducing the atrocities of World War 2 to a younger audience in a way that is accessible, without hiding the reality of the situation from them. We gave this book 4.5* as a group and I agree, it is a beautifully written, horrifying book that everyone should read.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to read this book, I know the story, and it has a fabulous message, but I really didn’t want to read Dickens at Christmas.

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Yes, I know that it is about Christmas, so I can see why Aimée wanted to read it in December, but Dickens writes of hardship and misery, his works are bleak and dreary, and not at all festive. This is a short book, and not difficult to read in a day or two, the story is good, the idea that it’s never too late to make a change is beautifully illustrated by this tale, and I believe it is an important piece of literature. If I am honest, I don’t think that I gained anything from reading the book, I already knew the story, I had seen some fabulous film and animated versions, and the book added nothing to this. Only a couple of others read the book for the meeting, and they agreed. We gave the book 3*, but for me that was based on my enjoyment of the book, not on the actual story which is probably more deserving of 4.5* because it is a timeless moral tale. Basically, if you don’t know the story, read the book, if you do know the story read A man called Ove.

Have fun reading!!