December – Water for Elephants

Aaaargh I didn’t manage it! I put Water for Elephants on the list because I read it 5 years ago in another book club (Shhhh don’t tell my guys there was life before Turn the Page) and I wanted to read it again. Life got to me, and I failed, first I was crazy busy with work, and then I got a nasty virus, but I’m pretty sure I can remember enough to write something relevant-ish (if I go off track let me know)…

Water for Elephants – Sara Gruen


When I read Water for Elephants I fell in love, I had not expected to, and I had not wanted to read it at all, NOT EVER!!! Yes, I was a stubborn little pain in the arse, but I had my reasons: 1) They made it into a film starring Robert Pattinson, and I was still angry that he was a sparkly vampire, in a godawful film or three that I had been made to watch by my preteen children. 2) It was obviously a pile of romantic slush, I could tell this from the cover of the DVD, and I really don’t do sloppy stuff. So my reasons were sensible and valid…..right? WRONG! What I didn’t realise was that I very nearly refused to read a book that I would love so much that it would stop me from doing pretty much anything else for three days.

The story starts with 93-year-old Jacob Jankowski living in a nursing home where he has no freedom, is made to eat blended food, in spite of having the ability to chew solids, and is thoroughly fed up. The circus is in town, and he is keen to go, but his daughter doesn’t turn up to take him, so he sets off alone…

When we are taken back to Jacob’s youth, it transpires that as a young man he was in the middle of studying to become a vet when he receives news that changes his life completely.  Jacob leaves his life and jumps on a train, a circus train, and here he meets some interesting (Kinko & Camel) and some very dark characters (Uncle Al and August) and the woman that he hopes will one day notice him. This is the story of the circus, and Jacob’s experiences of it, and his internal battle with hating the brutality of the circus, yet feeling that he belonged there.

I was surprised at how dark the book was at times, not at all the light, frothy romance novel I expected at all. The Circus of the 1930s was certainly not a glamorous place, it was hard, uncaring, and quite frankly pretty bleak. Gruen researched the history of the circus in depth, and took inspiration from stories that she found, for some of the incidents that happen in the book. I gave this book 4.5* in 2012 and I suspect that I will still love it when I find time to read it again. The group gave it a solid 4.5* too, so it’s a definite yes from us.

Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey


I came to this book with no expectations, I had not read a synopsis, I had met nobody who had read the book, and I had no idea that it was released as a film in 2017. I was dragged into the book very early on and spat out again at the end, there was no point at which I wanted to put it down and read something else instead. I laughed out loud several times whilst reading this book, and considering that it’s target audience is ‘young adult’, that is quite something.

Jasper Jones is set in Australia and is the story of Charlie Bucktin, a 13-year-old boy who lives a pretty simple life, until Jasper Jones comes to his bedroom window one night to ask for his help. Jasper literally turns Charlie’s life upside down, dragging him into an adventure that no teenager is prepared for, and this is how the book starts. The people in the town believe that Jasper is a ‘bad un’, he has a reputation for making trouble, and they blame him for everything bad that happens. This reputation is unfounded and seems to be down to several things 1) his being mixed race, 2) his father being a drunk bully and 3) his quiet sullenness.

The relationships in the story are complex, the people are flawed and the friendships are vital. The story is well written and there are some truly beautiful little moments that warm the heart of the reader. I absolutely loved this book for exactly what it was, a gorgeous wee story, with charming characters and witty dialogue. I gave the book 4*, unfortunately, nobody else had read it, so I gave my copy to Sam (to be passed on to Steph) and eagerly await their reviews. I would definitely recommend this book for anyone over the age of 13, with a thirst for adventure.

Happy reading

Mel x


July – Shtum

What can I say? July has been really exciting, this month saw the first discussion for our Facebook ‘online book club’. The group currently has 34 members and approximately 1/3 of those joined in the discussion. As for the meeting at my house, it was a big one, everyone wanted to discuss these books, so most of the group turned up. We laughed, we cried (welled up), we made plans for our own ashes (Saving June), and we shared our experiences of Autism. The meeting over ran, because we each had so much to add to the discussion, and I was reminded of how wonderfully diverse our fabulous group is.

Shtum – Jem Lester


Shtum is a tough read, it takes us on the rollercoaster ride with Jonah’s parents, who are trying to get the right support/education for a child with Autism. This was incredibly well written on an emotional level, only someone who had actually experienced Autism first hand, and the effect it can have on a family dynamic could have written this well. It was clear that Jem Lester understood both the difficulties of living with a child with Autism, and also the issues with taking on the system, and getting the help that you need for your child in this country.

I identified with this story so much, as my son was diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome at age 6, and I could see in Jonah a lot of my son at that age. My son is now 12 and is doing well in mainstream education,  but there was a time when I worried that he would not. The violence unleashed on his family when Jonah had a meltdown was all too familiar to me, having spent three years covered in bruises myself when my boy was young, and to be honest revisiting this when reading such a perceptive book was really hard.

The attempts by the authorities in this story to shoe horn Jonah into a school that was wholly unsuitable for him was heartbreaking. I have seen this sort of thing happen, it always comes down to money, and families don’t get the support that they need because some authority figure with a limited understanding of the situation, and a perfect little life makes decisions based mainly on what is best for their budget, with the child’s needs coming second. Why people should have to fight such long and painful battles to get their children what they need is beyond me, but this book reflected that beautifully.

The characters in the book are all flawed, which made them interesting, if not always likeable. My opinions of characters changed often as the first person narrative revealed more information about each of them. The groups, both at my house and online loved this book, giving it an average rating over all of 4.5*, I gave it 4* personally, as although the writing was good in the sense that it felt real, it wasn’t a beautifully written book. Shtum is certainly a book worth reading, and particularly if you know little about Autism, as the insight is fabulous.

Saving June – Hannah Harrington


Saving June is the story of Harper and her journey to California to scatter her sister’s ashes. June has committed suicide, and Harper is determined to take her to the place she always longed to be. Harper feels that this will, in some way allow her sister to finally be happy and that she must take her there, to atone for being nasty to June the last time she saw her. Driven by survivor’s guilt, and the knowledge that her relationship with her sister could have been closer, June sets off with her best friend and one of June’s friends.

This journey is both physical and spiritual for Harper, an outsider, who doesn’t usually take risks. Travelling from Chicago to California in an old van with a guy you barely know and your sister’s ashes in the back, didn’t seem like something Harper would do, but this was a pilgrimage that she felt she had to make. En route to California, they attend a protest march and a punk rock concert (where the story kind of takes an unrealistic turn), and Harper gets to know Jake, and learns about his past. Meanwhile back at home, Harper’s Mum and Aunt are left wondering where the hell she is and what is going on.

Notably, this book is young adult (teen) fiction, and as such does not have the depth that an adult requires from a book with this subject matter. Suicide is not explored fully, the absolute despair and devastation that it brings to those left behind are not felt by the reader. This being the case, the readers in the group felt that it was missing something, although we pretty much all agreed that it was not terrible and it didn’t offend us in any way, so we gave it an average rating of 2.5* (which is what I gave it). The online group also gave the book scores of between 2* – 3*, it is a good book, it is not great, and it is not really engaging enough for adult readers.

Happy Reading!
Mel x