October – The versions of us

Ohhh October already? I am not sure where most of 2016 went if I’m honest, but what I do know is that the colder it gets, as the dark nights set in, the book club meetings get a little bit busier. We all like to snuggle up in our pyjamas on a winter’s night with a good book, it’s just a shame that in October we certainly didn’t have a good book to read.

The versions of us – Laura Barnett

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I opened this book, knowing nothing about it at all, my mind was open and I was hoping for a book that would blow me away, because after last month I needed that. Unfortunately, this book was not destined to restore my faith in literature, in fact, it was only marginally more readable than ‘Never let me go’. As the title suggests, there are different versions of a relationship in the book, three versions to be precise, and the book jumps from version 1, to 2 to 3, and sometimes from 2 to 3 and then back to 2 and 3, missing out version 1 altogether, then 1 to 3, then back to 1 etc, so it was important to pay attention. The major problem for me was that I didn’t want to have to pay that much attention, because none of the three versions of the story had caught my attention particularly. Here I was with this fluffy, chick lit book that was just way too much effort to read.

The most important piece of advice I can give you if you want to this book is ‘read it quickly’, there is no way I could have remembered which story was which if I’d read this book over a month, and would doubtless have put it down for good halfway through. The book starts when Eva and Jim are nineteen year old students at Cambridge, Eva has a boyfriend (David) and Jim is single. Their paths will cross (or not) one day in October, and from there this book explores three different directions that their lives might take from that day. There were a couple of really good characters in the book, but unfortunately they weren’t Eva or Jim, who I just didn’t really care about enough. The writing was dull, not much really happens in any of the 3 versions that is particularly interesting, and I just didn’t think it was worth the effort.

On the night of the meeting I was cautious, as I am not usually a fan of chick lit, so I had assumed that the others would love it. I thought I would be the grumpy old git in the corner ranting about how many hours I’d wasted, and I was never getting back after having read this drivel, but it turned out I was wrong. The very well attended meeting was full of members ranting about how unnecessarily complicated, and yet dull this book was, and we were all in agreement. There were 8 people there and nobody loved it, so as a group we gave the book 2*, but there were a few (including mine) that were under, I gave it 1.5 because I didn’t give up on it. I am certain that there are better books that cover the ‘what if’ scenario in a way that would make reading them a pleasure, if you find one, do let me know!

The Rosie Effect – Graeme Simsion

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I wanted to love this, I really did, I loved ‘The Rosie Project’, it was fresh, and fun, and Simsion covered Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome) so well in Don’s character, but this book was just too much. It was over the top, too extreme, and Don was Don x 10, the subtlety of the first book all gone, and I got bored. I read 100+ pages, and to be honest, I was a little annoyed at the way that Don had become a characature of himself, and by the end of the book I actually didn’t care whether or not he and Rosie stayed together.

If I’m honest, I wish this book hadn’t been written, it really isn’t written very well, and it really adds little to the Don/Rosie story. The one saving grace was the other storyline, the Don helps his friends to sort out their lives story, this was touching and made me smile. I would give the book a 2*, which does not come close to equaling ‘The Rosie Project’ at all (I gave it 4.5*). The group gave the book a 3* which is ok, I suppose, but only if you have some spare time on your hands, and need a book that you don’t need to think about too much.

Happy Reading!

Mel X

September – Never let me go

Well I did at least manage to read both books this month, which is a miracle in itself. I did not love them both, but at least I didn’t walk away from either. The meeting was small, but as usual fabulous fun, and yes in celebration of surviving the start of term I did pour a G&T.

Kazuo Ishiguro – Never let me go

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I knew nothing about this author, or the book, but someone had given me a free copy, so it was already sat on my shelf, this is a good thing, because if I had bought it I would have been upset. I went into the book with no expectations, I read the blurb, it seemed like it could be interesting, it was recommended and reviews were 4* so I threw myself in to it. I did not enjoy reading this book, it was bleak, but not in a way that affected me, not dark enough to be thrilling, just kind of grey.

*Spoiler alert* The subject matter, the farming of children in purpose built schools to provide organs for transplant was fairly unique, and could have really caught the reader’s attention, but the story was written in a kind of real, but not real style where nothing really went anywhere (or nowhere worth being anyway). I read on, hoping that the children as they grew would challenge their situation, or that one would change the system for the better, I wanted to see rebellion, I wanted the story to shock me, I wanted to find something that made me glad I picked up this dreary, dull book.

There were only four of us at the meeting and all of us disliked the book, with Sam saying it was possibly the worst book that we’d ever read as a club (I don’t think she read ‘Love in a cold climate’ to be fair). I believe the book was supposed to make us think, think about the way science is heading, think about the ‘is it right to create people purely for the purpose of healing others?’ question etc. The failure of the story to intrigue us into discussing the state of the world, and life and death as a whole, is very telling, and explains our group rating for this book. I think the book was about 100 pages too long, and could have been improved by losing some of the unnecessary filler story lines. On average the group rated it 2* and I gave it a 1.5* purely because I did manage to finish it. There are a great many great books out there, this is not one of them, honestly just don’t bother!

Magda Szabó – The Door

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What a lovely little find this book was. I was shopping online and had one of those ‘if you liked **** then you’ll like The Door’ type recommendations, I cannot remember when or what the other book was, but I put this on my wish list, why? because I liked the cover! This story of the life of an elderly Hungarian woman is just beautiful, the writer draws us in and we get to know Emerence so well and to understand all of her quirks. I was emotionally invested in the life of this woman with whom I have literally nothing in common, I loved her, I got annoyed with her, I believed in her.

Magda Szabó names the other main character in the book after herself, she is an author, and has no children, just like Magda herself. Emerence works for the character Magda as her housekeeper, and the book revolves around their relationship, which is one that has a real honesty about it, they do love each other, but they drive each other nuts at times. I found the book slow to read, I am not sure why, it was hard work though (Perhaps it was the translation?), however I am glad I read it, because it was really lovely. I gave it 4*, the group gave it 4.5*.

Happy Reading!

Mel

August – The girl in the red coat

So I find myself well in to the month of October, and I still haven’t written the book club blog for August. I have no idea where September went, but I am sat now with a cup of coffee and some Salted caramels, and I’m all yours for the next two hours.

The girl in the red coat – Kate Hamer

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Aaaargh!!! Yes it’s ANOTHER missing child book, I don’t know how many books exist on this theme, but it does seem to be disproportionate. There were flaws, huge gaping flaws in the story, in what we were expected to believe, and in the writing at times. This wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, it wasn’t even the worst ‘missing child’ book, but it left me cold. I found the story a little far fetched, yes I know it’s fiction, but I just didn’t believe it, I didn’t believe that the little girl (Carmel) would accept the story that she was being fed at 8 years old.

The reason that she was taken, when that became clear, was an interesting twist, and could have kept my attention, but it just wasn’t written well enough (not awful, just not intriguing enough). This is not a thriller, not really, if that is what you are looking for, you need to look elsewhere, it is a weird book about relationships, it is a book about faith and it is a book about moving on with your life after experiencing the loss of a child. I was underwhelmed by the story, and then came the end, what the hell was that? So disappointing, it feels like a book that was finished in a hurry, the day before a deadline, so disappointing.

There was one thing that I really liked in this book, and that was the relationship between Beth, her ex husband and his new girlfriend, this was beautifully written and touching. I really can’t recommend this book, but I can imagine it appealing to readers who haven’t read several missing child books and are looking for something with a twist. I gave the book 2*, the average in rating from the group was 2.5*.

In cold blood – Truman Capote

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Now this is a book that I can recommend, happily, wholeheartedly, enthusiastically. ‘In cold blood’ is a masterpiece, it is an unusual book, in that it is a true story told in an almost ‘fiction’ style. Capote recounts the case of the murders of the Clutter family, starting with some background on the family, their lives and relationships. He then goes on the tell the story from the perspectives of the killers, the friends and family of the Clutters, and the investigating officer. Capote manages to report his findings without being judgemental about the killers, or the criminal justice system in the USA at the time.

This book makes it on to many of the ’50 books you must read’ type lists, and it is easy to see why, it is wonderfully unique, beautifully written and draws and keeps you in right until the end. Both of the killers’ characters are explored fully, and their personalities are so well written that I began to feel like I knew them, or at least understood who they were. The club members who read this book rated it an average of 4.5*, I gave it a 5* because it truly kept me gripped, Truman Capote is a genius, and this book is amazing, we loved it!

Love in a cold climate – Nancy Mitford

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I just can’t think of a good thing to say about this book. I usually manage to battle my way through most books, and despite trying to get it finished in time for the meeting, I failed. This is a story of privilege, set in high society in the world of ‘coming out’ balls, and arranged marriages of 1940’s upper class England. The characters have nothing about them, it is a ‘fluffy’ book, with no backbone, almost like watching one episode of ‘upstairs downstairs’ that has been stretched out to 5 hours long, with no ‘downstairs’ story.

For a book that only had 249 pages, it was long, it was dull and if I am honest it was a complete waste of my time. I stopped reading at page 210, which is damning, because let’s face it, the book has to be really bad for someone who has read 4/5ths of it to give up at that point.  I gave this book 1* and I think that was being generous, the group average for this book was 2*, If you have nothing else to do and no other books on your shelf, by all means give it a go, if not, don’t bother.

Happy Reading!

Mel

 

July – The Kite Runner

I didn’t choose this book, but I am very glad I read it, in spite of my initial reticence. The kite runner is not a book that I would have ever picked up, had it not been for our book club, and again, it made me grateful that all of these fabulous women chose to join the group.

The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini

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The first thing that struck me about this book was the beautiful descriptive quality of the writing. This was Hosseini’s first book and the first book that I have read by this author, however I am certain that it will not be the last. In my job as a college lecturer I have spent a lot of time with teenage asylum seekers from Afghanistan, and other war torn countries, and never really fully understood their journeys or their culture, I do feel that reading this book has taken me one step closer to that.

Amir tells the story of his privileged life in a pre war Afghanistan, the friendship that he has with his servant’s son, Hassan and the relationship that he longs to have with his father, Baba. Baba is very wealthy and therefore Amir’s upbringing is, we learn fairly early on in the story, not typical of the country at the time, however does have an honest feel about the life that Amir had, and the  lack of acceptance of his relationship with Hassan from his peers.

The ‘Kite running’ itself was a new concept to me, I have never heard of this, nor of covering the string of a kite with shards of broken glass, the thought of this tearing in to the young boys’ hands made me feel a little sick to be honest. I loved the imagery of all of the colourful kites darting around the sky at once, and imagined the clear blue sky filled with flashes of colour.

When the Taliban takes the country and thoughts turn to escape, it became more like what I know of Afghanistan, and the stories of life risking attempts to leave the country that they love is something with which I am very familiar. How hard those journey’s must be, and how strange to find yourself in a new country with a different climate, different culture, different language and a whole new way of life. The book deals with this well, and again I felt empathy for the main characters.

There is lots more to this book, relationships, deceit, danger…. but I will not spoil it, I loved the book and could not put it down, and highly recommend it, this seems to be how most of the group felt about it. the group gave the book an average 4.5*, with my rating being exactly that!

We have always lived in a castle – Shirley Jackson

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A strange wee book, easy to read and to understand, it might actually be a good one for young readers (12-15) to enjoy. The book opens with a teenage girl (Mary Katherine Blackwood) telling us that all of her family are dead, with the exception of her sister Constance and an uncle. It becomes evident quickly that Constance is suspected of the murder of the family by poisoning, and that the villagers do not trust her (even chanting a rhyme accusing her of the murder).

Mary Katherine aka Merricat exhibits very strange behaviour, stating in the opening passage that she would like to have been born a werewolf, she believes in magic, and is incredibly superstitious. Merricat mistrusts people, and avoids integration with anyone other than her sister, not surprising since the villagers are quite cruel to her on her trips to the shops.

It is a creepy little mystery, and it does keep the reader’s attention, however the plot twists did not surprise me and I really didn’t care enough about any of the characters to be glad that they survived the mass murder. The group gave this book a 4* rating, for me it was a 3.5*.

Happy Reading!
Mel

June – The Universe Vs Alex Woods

Summer is coming and I can’t wait, with lots more time for reading, I should be able to get through some of the immense pile of books that I have already bought this year.

The Universe Vs Alex Woods – Gavin Extence

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I must admit that although I loved this book the first time round, I was not particularly keen to re read it, luckily I soon got caught up in this great story again. The book begins with the ending, something that can work well, but often falls flat. Extence writes the beginning/end in a way that intrigues, without going overboard, and it certainly didn’t ruin the story at all. Having started with the ending, with a 17 year old Alex being detained at Dover docks, with a glovebox full of marijuana, the book then goes back in time and we see his life from the age of 10.

10 year old Alex is being raised by his Mother, who is a new age hippy who reads tarot cards and owns a shop selling all manner of mystical tat. He seems to struggle with friendships, and is a lonely boy, who shares his life with only his Mother and their cat, and he spends his time studying science and maths. A geek, with a very sweet temperament, and a love of classical music, Alex finds himself the victim of the school bullies.

A very unlikely accident results in Alex’s life being even more insular and his Mother helicopter parenting him to the maximum (though who can really blame her). There are a lot of references to Kurt Vonnegut in this book, and this made me want to go and read some myself, I chose slaughterhouse 5 and didn’t love it, but that’s another story. The book takes an interesting turn when Alex meets Mr Peterson, the archetype grumpy old man, and their relationship forms the basis for the rest of the story.

The Universe vs Alex Woods is a lovely book, I laughed, I cried, it was heartbreaking, it was touching and it was written beautifully. As a group we scored this book 4.5*, and I agree with that entirely.

Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov

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Aaaargh…. this was my choice and I am so sorry, particularly to Karen, who took it as a personal challenge and ploughed through it, determined to finish at any cost. I rarely ever completely give up on a book and I hate doing it, but having read 50 pages of this, in my opinion, incredibly over rated ‘classic’, I decided that I value my time too much to keep going.

I messaged the group to say I was struggling, all who were reading it agreed, but Karen refused to be ‘beaten by it’. I can only assume that achieved it’s status as a classic because of the shock value, and not because of the writing, which is honestly pretty dull. In the 50 pages that I did read it went nowhere, and not in a good way like ‘Stoner’ which was so beautifully written that the ‘nothingness’ of the story was not only forgivable, but gloriously unique. Lolita went nowhere in an ‘I can’t even be bothered to retain this’ way. 

So to the meeting: I said pretty much what I have written here, and the other clubbers who had given up on it agreed, but I also asked Karen whether or not she was glad she had stuck with it, and also whether it came to anything, she answered simply “no” but added that she was glad it did not defeat her, I think perhaps in a way it did, as it took hours of her life that she could have spent reading something worthwhile, but kudos to her for sure!!

We did not score this book as a group, sorry!

Happy Reading!
Mel

May – Daughter

It’s May, and a whole year since our first meeting!

I am so pleased that I started the book club, for several reasons, but mostly because, however bad my day has been, however much I think ‘I could do without this tonight’, each and every meeting has me laughing loudly. I love sharing thoughts about the books we have read, sharing other interests and chatting about life in general with this amazing, diverse group of women, that I am lucky enough to call my friends.

Well that’s the soppy stuff done, on with the blog..

Daughter – Jane Shemilt

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I don’t even know where to begin with this book, and I don’t know why I am ever optimistic of finding a great thriller in a best sellers list. This is not a great thriller, nor is it even a good one, in fact, if I am honest it’s total drivel, with a poor plot, a predictable ending and some thoroughly unsympathetic lead characters.

Daughter is a missing child thriller, with two narratives running through it, both told by Jenny (the mother) but set in two time periods, present day and the time of Naomi’s disappearance (about a year ago). Importantly, I must say that I didn’t like Jenny, so had little interest in her narratives, it might have made the book somewhat more readable if one of them had been from someone else’s point of view, perhaps Naomi’s friend or boyfriend.

In Jenny we have a mother who is rarely at home (working), telling us that this is a good thing as her children have grown up knowing how to be independent (the father is working long hours too). No surprise then that it turns out that she knows nothing about her kids’ lives, her insistence that she was close to her daughter and that she knew everything about her life was irritating since every time she asks her kids a question they ignore or don’t answer her.

I happened to be reading this one on holiday with another book club member, she said she wasn’t enjoying it ‘I think it’s because I don’t have kids, I can’t understand how she feels’, I told her that that wasn’t the issue, it was just badly written. You do not have to have a child to feel the depth of despair at losing someone you love, a good writer could have written this in a way that anyone could feel empathy, the fact was, even with 3 kids, two of them teenage I simply didn’t care. I didn’t care what had happened to Naomi, I didn’t care that Jenny lost the daughter that she spent so little time getting to know, I didn’t care that the father had an affair, I was just cross that this was the book that I was reading on my holiday and it was so dull!

If I write more I will spoil the book for anyone who might still want to read it, though I do hope that I have managed to save you from wanting to do so. I will say though that as much as I disliked the book, and myself and two others only gave it 2*, some of the group gave it 4.5*, and it is rated 3.5* on Good Reads, both of which surprise me, but who knows you might be one of the ones who love it!

A place called winter – Patrick Gale

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Ok, confession time, I really really didn’t want to read this book. I read the blurb and my usually easy going ‘I’ll read anything’ facade crumbled. I had picked it from a list sent by one of the club members months ago without really paying attention, simply thinking it was her turn to have one of the choices make the cut. So two weeks ago I picked it up, and I started to read…

I fell for this book, and I fell hard, I really couldn’t put it down. Why? because it felt real, which is because, as we find out at the end of the book, it is based on Gale’s own great grandfather. I loved the harsh reality of the difficulties of being gay at the turn of the 20th century, and the internal battle of feeling something that was considered so wrong. I liked Harry Cane (the main character) very much, he had guts, he went out and worked hard, having come from a privileged background and he took care of his family & friends.

The book is beautifully written, describing scenery and people beautifully, I could feel Harry’s despair at the bleak nothingness of his plot of land, and the epic work that he would have to do to live and farm there. I felt his sadness at having to leave the family he loved, and I felt his deep love for his brother. As well as his relationships with family, I  loved his bond with Ursula in Bethel and with Petra in Winter, and I was saddened by his inability to openly live his life.

I am a little weird, and I have a bee in my bonnet about books that have the typical crowd pleasing ‘Hollywood ending’, and I often think books could have taken my breath away by having a more shocking, less happy ending. Whilst reading ‘A place called winter’ I just kept thinking ‘this had better end well for Harry’, I truly did want nothing but happiness for him. I won’t tell you whether or not I was disappointed by the end, I will only recommend that you read it and find out for yourselves.

The group scored this book an average 4*, I was torn, is it 4.5 or 5*? In the end I gave it the 5* because it is such an absorbing book, and I fell in love with Harry and the fact (which I found out after I had read the book) that it is based on the real story of Harry Cane!

Happy Reading!
Mel x

April – The Rosie Project

The sun is shining, it is nearly a year since I started the book club, and we ventured into two very different genres this month.

The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

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Fans of the tv show ‘The big bang theory’ will understand when I say that ‘The Rosie Project’ is essentially ‘Dr Sheldon Cooper searches for a wife’. Don Tillman is a professor of genetics, he has been on dates in the past, but they never go well, his social issues make him pretty hard to date. If you have someone in your life with asperger’s syndrome, you will easily recognise it in the main character, though he does not.

Don is scathingly honest, irritatingly precise & extremely organised, and rather than seeing the overall picture, he focusses on the tiniest little details of each situation. He is incredibly likeable, even though you can easily understand why his relationships do not work out. His loyalty and willingness to go out of his way to help his friends, makes him the sort of lead man that you can’t help hoping that things will work out for.

Rosie is kooky, cool and significantly more interesting than most leading ladies, she is totally the opposite of his ‘ideal woman’, who, I hasten to add, probably doesn’t exist. I liked Don, but I loved Rosie, she was real, and added a lot of colour to the story. The main plot centres around Don helping Rosie to find out about her past, I will not spoil the book by going in to detail, but I loved how much he invested in helping her, time wise, financially and emotionally.

I was reading this book for the second time (not something I would normally chose to do, as there are so many books that I have yet to read) but again I yelled at the book, I laughed often and I could not put it down. There is something quite joyful about ‘The Rosie Project’, and having a son with Asperger’s syndrome myself, I think that Don is beautifully written, showing not only the extreme frustrations of trying to hold a conversation with someone so single minded (The ice cream incident), but also the lovely honesty of his life, and the deep way he cares for, and looks after his friends. As a group we gave the book 4.5*, this was unanimous and the girls asked if we could add the sequel to our reading list, this is a great fun, easy, lovely book.

The Ocean at the end of the lane – Neil Gaiman

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Sci-fi is not a genre that I normally choose, and if I am honest that probably won’t change based on my feelings for this book. I didn’t hate it or anything, in fact it was quite good, it just didn’t inspire me to read more Sci-fi. The marketing for this book says that is is for adults, but it did feel like it was written for a teenage audience, and although I am not opposed to reading kids books, I did not love this one the way I loved ‘Holes’ or ‘The boy in the striped pyjamas’.

I loved the thought that a whole ocean can be in a small pond, or in fact a bucket, and I loved Lettie and her family, who were so welcoming and protective of the boy who was only 7 years old and stuck living with a monster masquerading as a nanny (Ursula). I thought the story was pretty good in an ‘all is not what it seems’ way, and I thought that the descriptions in the book were fabulous, to the point of making me feel quite ill at times (the foot incident).The main problem, I think is that it wasn’t long enough, or it missed something out and I am not even sure what, but I was left with the feeling that it was all a little confined. It was like all of these incredibly strange things happened (or didn’t and the boy was insane) but only in a very small area, and the rest of the world was normal.

I will try again with Neil Gaiman, because I enjoyed the writing, if not the story, and I would recommend this book to teenagers as I think they would really like it. The group gave the book 3.5* and I gave it a respectable 3*, and I fully expect to find a Neil Gaiman book that I love at some point in the future.

Happy Reading!

Mel X

 

March – Stoner

I can’t believe that it is almost a month since the meeting, time  has slipped away and I am only just getting round to writing this, with April’s meeting on the horizon. March was a very small meeting, but really good fun, to be fair, it always is, whether there are four of us or ten, we always have a laugh. Stoner is a modern classic, which had gone largely unnoticed for years, and then suddenly it found itself in many lists of books that everyone should read, I found it in such a list, I think it was called ‘100 books to read before you die’, but I may be mistaken.

Stoner – John Williams

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I will start by saying that I loved this book. I loved it for all of the things it is not, it is not a trying hard to be funny comedy, a twisty turny thriller or a soppy romance novel, it is simply the story of a man’s life. Stoner’s life is not exciting, it is not remarkable, he does not change the world, but it is real, it is real in a way that books don’t usually cover, I mean really, who wants to read about a man who is nobody in particular, doing nothing spectacular? It turns out I do, and not only me, the other for book club members who attended the meeting loved it too. Stoner is a beautifully written, moving novel which recounts a life, an entire life, and does it in a way that draws you in and makes you want to find out more.

The most remarkable thing about this book for me is that it challenged my perceptions, I was convinced that, in order for me to love a book, I must first love a character in the book, this is simply not true. I felt no particular affection for Stoner, or for anyone else in the book, but the writing is so utterly wonderful that it truly didn’t matter. The rating from those of us that were here was an easy 4.5*, what was surprising though was that two of the club members who couldn’t make the meeting sent their ratings through and both gave it only 2.5*, so it would seem that Stoner is not for everyone, but I would definitely recommend it.

The Alchemist – Paulo Coelho

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I was looking forward to reading this book, not least because I got a gorgeous wee hardback copy for Christmas and it is just so pretty. I had hoped that The Alchemist would have some profound philosophical effect on me, that would lead to my wanting to walk barefoot through a storm, or give away all of my belongings or some such, it did not. It did not even hold my attention, Santiago embarked on an epic journey, and I just wanted to sleep, if I am honest I was bored, and couldn’t want for it to end, which thankfully didn’t take too long.

The importance of having a dream is the main message of this book, and it’s a good one, I agree, but i didn’t love the writing. I thought it was weak, full of cliches and not at all inspiring, in fact lines like “all the universe conspires to help that person to realize his dream…” drove me to despair. Oh and also the fact that the author calls the story a fable, does not make it so. I found ‘The five people you meet in heaven’ to be much more thought provoking and poignant. As a group we rated this book 3* I gave it 2.5*, in my opinion there are many better novels to read, and if it’s self help that you are after, there are many books of that nature around as well.

Happy Reading!

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

Light-Between-Oceans

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!

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!