August – Caraval

This was a long hot summer, but with three books to read this month lying around and melting has never been easier. Luckily my mint plant loved the sun more than I did, so a long cool mojito and couple of hours on the sofa with a book in my hand became the saviour of my summer.

Caraval – Stephanie Garber

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I had such high hopes…

Caraval promised magic and mystery with a touch of jeopardy, and it delivered very little. This New York Times bestseller soon began to irritate, with its blah story and weak heroine. I chose this book for the book club on the grounds that it was recommended as being in the same league as ‘The Night Circus’, which is a wonderful book. Caraval may well have been inspired by this book, or by one of Neil Gaiman’s fantasy worlds, but that is where any similarity ends.

I had not realised that it was young adult fiction, but that became clear quite quickly, as it is full of teen angst and fluffy nonsense. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that all teen fiction is fluffy shite, it’s not, and there are some YA books that are amongst my favourite reads ever (Holes and THUG for a start), but I can imagine teen girls going weak over Julian in a way that I never would.

The main characters are underdeveloped, the romantic interludes are tedious, and everything is over-described with an overuse of metaphors and similes. How somebody managed to use so many words to describe so little is beyond me, if you cut half of the content from this book, it might have stood a chance of being a nice little story. The most disappointing thing is that this magical world just didn’t have any magic for me (aside from one fairly interesting dress). We gave this book 2* and I think that was generous tbh. Do yourself a favour and read ‘The Night Circus’ instead.

The Invisible Man – H G Wells

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It was about time that we threw another classic in the mix and The Invisible Man, being short and easily squeezed into a stuffed suitcase fitted the bill perfectly. The Invisible Man doesn’t start slowly, it begins with an already invisible ‘stranger’ arriving at an Inn, heavily bandaged. As the story develops, we discover more about Griffin, who he is, and how he became invisible.

The story, another to explore the relationship between science and morality has a different take on this. Other books of this ilk tend to conclude that science and the power that comes with scientific discovery will lead to corrupt morals (Jekyll & Hyde), The Invisible Man turns this on its head. The story takes an already morally corrupt man and through science gives him the power to do as he pleases. Either way though, we come to the same conclusion; science in the wrong hands is dangerous

I will not give anything away here, it’s a short book and it does what it says on the tin. I rated the book 3* and everyone else at the meeting gave it 4*, so it’s definitely worth the few hours that it takes to read it.

The Vanishing Futurist – Charlotte Hobson

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Never judge a book by its cover! No, DO, sometimes, just sometimes it pays off. I would never have bought this book had I known the subject matter before I fell in love with the beautiful cover. A book based on the Russian revolution really wouldn’t have caught my attention, but I am so glad it did. The book started well and then drew me right in. I was not in the mood for reading when I started this book (yes it happens sometimes), and was just about to flip on Netflix and find something mindless to binge on. I picked up The Vanishing Futurist, in an attempt to avoid the last minute reading book club panic, and in three pages I was stuck firmly in the story.

Gerty is a lovely character, written well, with a great mix of strength and naivety. Leaving rural England as a young woman to work as a Governess for a wealthy family in Russia in 1914 took a great deal of strength. The changes in the country over the four years covered in the book are immense, and her life there is nothing like the life that she anticipated when she took the job in 1914. Life with the Kobelevs was comfortable, she was well fed, well paid and happily, miles away from the Mother with whom she had such a poor relationship. The journey that Gerty takes both physically and spiritually over her four years in Russia is a journey that would mould the rest of her life, though she chooses to tell it only when she reaches old age.

The mystery of Nikita Slavkin (The vanishing futurist), which is the story that Gerty sets out to tell her daughter was secondary for me, but I am really pleased with how it was wrapped up in the book. Gerty’s story is fascinating and gives a great insight into the beginnings of communism, and the ideals that gave birth to it. I loved this book for its story, it’s characters and it’s historical and political commentary, which I thought was hard hitting at times, but isn’t that the point? I don’t often share quotes in my blog posts, but this really hit home, it is as true when describing 2018 as it is in the historical context of the Russian revolution.

“If all that our imagination can summon up is some limp, apathetic, cynical vision of a world just like the one in which we now live, then frankly that’s all we deserve.”

I gave this book 4.5*, for enveloping me in a world of which I knew very little, and for keeping me on the edge of my seat. The rest of the group agreed, and we would all recommend the book.

Happy Reading!
Mel x

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June – Eleanor Olyphant is completely fine.

June is otherwise known as the ‘month of chaos’ in education, so for me even finding time to read was a challenge. I did manage to read both books but found myself with fifty pages of Brave New World left to read with only hours to go before the meeting.

Eleanor Olyphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

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It was one of those books, you know, the one EVERYBODY is reading this year. Everywhere I went it was being recommended, the reviews were phenomenal, and there were posters up advertising it, in fact being unaware of this book would only be possible if you were living on a deserted Island or perhaps on the moon. This is usually enough to make me run a mile away from any book, but for some reason, this time I gave in to the hype and I put this on the book club list.

The first thing of note is that the cover refers to how ‘funny’ the book is. I did not find this book funny at all, in fact, I was nervous as I read it, I was concerned and worried about Eleanor pretty much permanently, and this did not give me the room to laugh. The way I felt whilst reading this book is a reflection of how well written it is, and how well written Eleanor is. I cared about this wonderful oddball, I wondered why she was so socially inept, and I wanted only lovely things for her. Eleanor’s romantic interest in the singer of a local band makes her seem like a teenager with a crush and had the effect of making me feel very protective of her.

It is apparent early in the book that the relationship between Eleanor and her mother is destructive, and that there is a story there that we are not quite privy to, but it does give a dark undertone to the story. As this relationship unfolds later in the story we begin to understand Eleanor more and how the past has shaped her. I loved this book, and could not put it down, in spite of having a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as I watched Eleanor stumble through various difficult situations. I gave the book 4.5* and the rest of the group rated it between 4* and 5*, so yes, it did live up to the hype and I am very glad I read it.

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

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Brave New World is a Sci-fi classic and often appears on 50 or 100 books to read before you die lists. I would argue that it should be on a ’50 books to avoid for the rest of your life’ list. Having read 1984 with the group and enjoyed a fantastic discussion on how Orwell’s vision of the future is so remarkably visionary in many ways, I could not wait to discover Huxley’s take on the future.

This is a dystopian society, masquerading as a ‘perfect’ world. In their world happiness is fake, caused by being fed propaganda and drugs and never looking for new information or challenging the system. There are no books, and the information is limited. For us, happiness is found in family, in freedom, in being able to be different and being able to read books and think for and educate ourselves. Huxley’s world does not represent happiness, it merely shows how easily people can be made to conform and believe that they are happy. It is a dark take on the future and could have been fascinating, but it was not, it was just a bit dull and depressing.

It was the conditioning that was closest to life in our world. For the BNWers information  (a forced agenda) is repeated while they sleep, for us, it’s in social media and the gutter press. If you hear something enough more often than not you will start to believe it! 1984 is definitely a much better book, it is written well, and is so terrifyingly similar in so many ways to our world that it shocked me. Brave New World was more sci-fi alternate reality and not very well written. It had some interesting ideas but failed to capture my attention. I also didn’t care about any of the characters, they could’ve all died for all I cared.

I gave Brave New World 2* and the group mostly gave it between 1* and 2* with only one member of the book club enjoying the read. Personally, I’d suggest you read or re-read 1984 rather than waste your time on this one, however, it’s a free world, so read it if you want to, just don’t say I didn’t warn you! 😉

Happy Reading!

Mel x

January – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

I remember my Mum watching ‘Hitchhiker’s’ on TV when I was quite young, it was big, everyone knew about the book, the TV show and the Radio play version. Quotes from the book were part of my growing up, I KNEW that the meaning of life, the universe and everything was 42, people often said ‘so long and thanks for all the fish’, and I KNEW that Marvin was a paranoid android, but I never read the book until now….

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams

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The book started well; the bit on Earth was witty, and I had high hopes. I loved the way that Ford Prefect manipulated those around him, without seeming to be manipulative, or smarmy, he just knew how to achieve his desired outcome. This is seen early on in the story when the builder is trying to destroy Arthur’s home, and Ford has an unusual request. There are things that I liked about the book, it was easy to read and the characters, although not fully developed in this book are at least interesting. I loved the justification for ensuring that you pack a towel above all else when hitchhiking through the Galaxy, and I loved how resilient Arthur was given the circumstances.

Overall, I was disappointed! I remember it, I never read it, never heard it, never saw it, but it was there, pretty much all my life. I remember the names Arthur Dent and Trillion because it was HUGE, MASSIVE, everyone knew it, everyone quoted from it, it just was! SO I was sure I’d love it… I didn’t, it was okay, but not okay enough for me to want to read on! It did not live up to my expectations, and that makes me sad! I gave the book 3* and the rest of the group gave it an average of 4*, which makes it worth reading if you’re looking for something light-hearted and humorous.

Brighton Rock – Graham Greene

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Brighton Rock is a book that I first read when I was just 17 years old, at the time I loved it, I raved about it, I told everyone to read it, I have not read it since. I was a little concerned that it would not live up to my own hype, but it was only the 2nd book, so it’s not like I was forcing people to read it. I do remember it being pretty dark and that Pinky’s character was really well written, and I have read other Graham Greene books, and I know that he is pretty good at creating tension. I thought I remembered the end but was unsure whether I was misremembering, and worried that it wouldn’t be as powerful as I thought it was.

As soon as I started reading this book again, I was hooked. I love how well the characters are written, Ida is a force to be reckoned with. I love that the book has strong, female leads, as well as the obviously strong male gang members. I believe that Ida is inherently good, yes, of course, she is on a little adventure, but it is fueled by the need to uncover the truth. Something happened to someone that she connected with, however briefly, and she wants to make sure that justice is served, and that makes her morally superior to the other characters.

Brighton Rock is not a light read, it is gritty, it is dark and it is brilliant. I still love this book, I gave it 4.5* and was yet again blown away by the ending (no spoilers). The rest of the group rated it between 3.5* and 4*, and I wouldn’t recommend it to everyone, but it is definitely a beautifully written and emotive book.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

November – Time and Again

So apparently, Pantomime season is crazy busy when you work in theatre production, who knew? This being my first chance to catch up with my old friend WordPress in two months, means that I may well bombard you all with two blog posts at once. That said, if nothing else it will take double the time to read, giving you the perfect opportunity to whack the kettle on and chill for 10 blissful (if somewhat filled with the ramblings of a bookish woman with far too much of an opinion on everything) minutes. HAPPY NEW YEAR by the way..

Time and Again – Jack Finney

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I have wanted to read this book for years. I cannot remember exactly how long, but I read a quote in the back of Stephen King’s 11/22/63 (A very ‘hard to put down’ book, if you can lift it at all in the first place), that suggested that this was the ultimate in time travel novels. Jack Finney writes beautifully, describing the New York of 1882 in such a way that you can easily lose yourself in the city sights and sounds. Some of the group thought the descriptions of past New York were laboured, but I did not find this at all, and for me, this was the beauty of the book.

Let’s come back to the more recent past, to be precise, to 1970. The book was written in 1970 and was set in the present day, so modern New York in the novel is, from our perspective almost half a century out of date. To look at it another way, the twin towers of the world trade center opened in 1970 and 1971 respectively, so they were just being built when the ‘present day’ part of the book is set. For the reader, who has travelled to New York recently, this gives us three New Yorks to consider, the one we know, the one that is developing into our modern New York, and a whole other place, where Central Park is home to many farmers, and few of the buildings we now know and love even exist.

Simon Morley, our main protagonist, is going about his daily business, happily in a new and blossoming relationship, when he is approached by Ruben Prien to take part in a secret government project. He agrees to take part and goes with Ruben to a huge warehouse where the project and its secrets unfold. I doubt I am spoiling anything by telling you that the secret project is time travel (if this revelation has shocked you to the very core I apologise, and respectfully suggest that you read the rest of the post again). So in an attempt to be part of something fabulous, and secret (and who doesn’t like to be part of something secret), and to curry favour with the new woman in his life, Si sets off on a time travel adventure.

The book is the story of a changing city, mixed gently with romance, mystery and intrigue. The writing is lovely, and the story kept my attention, but, it did not blow me away, in fact, it was a little disappointing. I LOVED 11/22/63 and when Stephen King said that he was inspired by Time and Again, I thought it would be mind-blowingly good. It was good, it rolled along, but there were issues, there were little things that irked and the premise wasn’t strong enough to overcome these in my opinion. I gave it 3* and this was also the average rating from the group.

Giovanni’s Room – James Baldwin

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Giovanni’s Room is a short novel, but boy does it pack a punch. The story was written in 1956, a long long time before being gay or bisexual was in any way considered acceptable, let alone natural (yeh I know there are still many places where it’s not). The story centres around David, a young American man, who has moved to Paris to explore his sexuality.

David is Gay (or bisexual if you consider that he is engaged to and sexually active with a woman) but has locked those feelings away for years, his one time encounter with a male friend in his youth remains his dirty little secret. In Paris, David meets and falls for Giovanni, an Italian waiter in a gay bar (yes in Paris they existed). With his fiance away, David embarks on a relationship with Giovanni behind closed doors, and all the time fighting his sexuality.

The book is dark, the closet is a very dark place, and what becomes obvious throughout the book is that when you pretend to be something that you are not, people get hurt. Giovanni’s story is as heartbreaking as David’s, and I found myself being thankful that I live in a (mostly) more enlightened age, and in a progressive society. I surround myself with people who encourage freedom of expression, sexuality, speech etc, and find it unthinkable that anyone should hide who they are, and this book illustrates clearly why freedom and acceptance are so very important. I gave the book 4* and the rest of the group gave it an average of 3.5*.

Happy reading

Mel xx