April – Days Without End

Having two weeks off in April is enough to make you wish that the days didn’t end, they did though, and back to work I went. while I was off I read the two books for this month, and a couple of others, this made me long for the summer, when I can really get my read on (hopefully in the garden, with a cool G&T in my hand).

Days without end – Sebastian Barry

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To begin with, I have to acknowledge that this is not a book that I would have chosen to read, I am not really a fan of historical fiction, nor do I enjoy books or films that involve war, but I gave it a chance. It is the 1850s, and Thomas has arrived in Missouri by way of Quebec, a journey that is revealed only in snippets that lightly inflect the novel, such as his brief explanation of the aptitude he and those like him show for soldiery.

Having teamed up with a boy named John Cole, he becomes a dancer, rigged out in women’s clothing to entertain miners starved of female company; a so-called “prairie fairy”. In working as a ‘girl’ Thomas realises that he is, in fact, happy this way, and often reverts to dressing as a woman. Given the time when this was set, I was surprised that nobody tried to take advantage of him (her) and then go crazy when they discovered it was a man, for me, it just didn’t ring true.

The book was incredibly disappointing,  I thought it was going to tackle the issue of being Gay or Trans in the 1800s and that it would go into the challenges of coming to terms with your own sexuality in an unaccepting society. The majority of the book is about civil war, fighting, killing and the battle between the native Americans and the white Americans. I am not overly keen on American history, and I am even less keen on war and war-related stories, and in this book, there are pages and pages of it.

There are inconsistencies, not least at the end which I will not give away because some of you might want to read it. Personally, I’d rather spend my time doing almost anything else (even housework), it felt like the book without end. So my advice would be don’t bother, and I rated the book 1.5* for the bits when the boys were working as showgirls, which could have been the basis of a really interesting story. The rest of the group gave the book between 1* and 3.5*, so not a total flop, but you know, there are many other better books out there.

Sleeping Giants – Sylvian Neuvel

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Sleeping Giants was a welcome distraction after the hard work involved in reading days without end, and a change of genre was just what I needed. The story is told by way of case files, transcripts, diary entries, and other documents; the novel covers four years, beginning with a prologue set when Rose (one of the main characters) is 11 years old. The style worked really well for this book, it made a welcome change from the first-person narrative.

The book begins when an 11-year-old Rose falls into a huge hole and finds a giant robot hand and follows the story of the giant; Where is the rest of it? What is it? Where did it come from? Some of these questions are answered in the book, others are conveniently left unanswered to lure the reader into reading ‘Waking Gods’ book 2 in the series. The story is reminiscent of ‘The Iron Giant’, but in my opinion not nearly as good. The story quickly fasts forward 17 years and we see an adult Rose working as a physicist, in charge of investigating the composition of the hand that she landed in as a child.

The team tasked with finding the other parts of the giant soon begin to unearth the other pieces all over the globe. This raises issues with international relations and there are the political ramifications of removing items from foreign soil to deal with. Who owns the giant? How can it be kept in one country, when it came from many? I do not want to spoil the story of this giant, so am loathe to go into detail about all of the issues that it causes. It is not as clever as it could have been, the author writes a mystery interviewer into the story to cause suspense, but I found this lacking, as I would have preferred a well-developed character with a twisted agenda. I found this book readable, it would be accessible to young readers, and easy enough to get into for a holiday read, but at no point was I tempted to buy book 2, which speaks volumes.

I gave Sleeping Giants 3.5* which I suspect was over-generous, based on the fact that it was not ‘Days Without End’. The rest of the group rated it between 1* and 4* so for ‘Sleeping Giants’ it is very much a matter of taste. If you like Sci-Fi and want an easy read, give it a go, if you want something with depth, skip this and grab a copy of ‘The Iron Giant’ instead.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

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July – All the Ugly and Wonderful Things

When you are busily writing the July blog post on the night of the meeting, you know this is a book that you want to shout about! All the ugly and Wonderful Things is that book! Also, I am totally aware that I am a little behind with my blog, so yes, I probably will post July before May & June, but that’s not the end of the world, is it?

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things – Bryn Greenwood

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What an apt title this book has, I mean it is just perfect. The book is indeed ugly and wonderful, as is the relationship it refers to. It was one of those books that you just can’t put down, I had to occasionally, but if I had a couple of days free and could just get stuck into a book, this is the kind of book that I could easily get lost in. Alex read it in two days, Steph read it in three days, it is easily done, you just want to know what is going to happen next.

The book tells the story of Wavy (Wavonna) from the time when she is 5 years old until she is twenty-one. When she is first introduced, we are certain that she is unusual, but not sure why. Wavy doesn’t talk, she doesn’t eat, unless she is alone in the middle of the night and the food is stolen from a neighbour’s house or from the bin and she doesn’t like to be touched. The book begins with narration from Wavy’s cousin Amy. Amy explains why Wavy is staying with them, she describes Wavy as a skinny, odd little girl, but with an adult way about her. Amy is the only member of the family that accepts Wavy into her home and into her life fully, the others all have their misgivings and feel awkward around her.

Throughout the book, we learn about Wavy’s home life, her family and their failings, and her relationship with a man called Kellen. Ths story is told by everyone in her life, with each new chapter being narrated by a different character. This works really well because it gives the reader insight into how each of the characters view her behaviours and their understanding of Wavy’s situation. She does not have a happy family life, being raised by a junkie mother most of the time, and by her father, her Aunt, her grandmother and other people when it suited. The constants in Wavy’s life are her brother Donal, her cousin Amy and Kellen. The others are less reliable.

The book is a tough read, but beautifully written, it would not be such a tough read if it was not written well. Whilst I did not agree with all of the actions or perspectives of all of the people surrounding Wavy, it was easy to understand them, they made sense as fully rounded characters and nobody was undeveloped. I would recommend this book to anyone wanting something that they can really get stuck in to. I gave the book 4.5* and the rest of the group gave it 4*- 4.5*, it is not lighthearted, it is not an easy read, but it is a bloody good book!

Murder on the Orient Express – Agatha Christie

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As a teenager I wasn’t that much of a reader, I read occasionally, and when required to for school, but rarely just because I wanted to read, then I discovered Agatha Christie and I was hooked. I devoured her books, and also watched all of the films, which fast became some of my favourites,  second only to Hitchcock.

Murder on the Orient Express is not new to me, but I last read it 30+ years ago, so there was no way I could get away without updating myself on the story, and I am so glad I did.  In spite of having read the book in the past, and having seen the film several times, I still could not remember ‘whodunnit’. The beauty of Christie’s writing is that there are many credible outcomes, and as you read the book you change your mind several times before eventually coming to (usually the wrong) conclusion. There are formulas in Christie’s writing, but not so obvious that the story becomes predictable.

The range of characters on the train is interesting, each character is well developed, and each could easily have been involved with the murder, what more can you want from a murder mystery? For me, I would have liked a last-minute twist on the twist, but maybe that’s because it’s 2018 and we are so used to being overstimulated by a story. I was not disappointed at all by the book, in fact, I really liked it, but I wasn’t challenged when reading it. I’ll try and explain, the whole ‘OMG somebody’s dead’ storyline is great, but there is no description of the murder, nor is there any recounting of the event by the murderer from their thoughts. It’s kind of like the films where a couple kisses, then they are in bed, the meaty bit is missing. That said I gave it 4*, I think Christie is fabulous and I  really love the naivety of her writing. The other members of the groups gave the book between 3.5* and 4*.

Happy Reading!

Mel xx

 

March – Where’d you go, Bernadette?

March is a crazy busy month for me, so I was glad to have two fairly short, very different books to read this month. I did find myself finishing ‘Into the wild’ an hour before the book club meeting, but hey there’s nothing like a deadline to make you stop washing up and sit down and read for an hour.

Where’d you go, Bernadette – Maria Semple

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At first, this book is a little hard to read, written in an unusual style, the story is told through letters, emails, phone calls and the first person account of Bee, and this makes it quite disjointed. However, when you get used to the style, and you develop empathy for the characters, it is unputdownable. This is not a massive problem unless you have something urgent to do because you should be able to read the book in a day, so it is not a major commitment.

Bernadette is fabulous, I mean, yeh sure she is cantankerous, and she is petty, but she is surrounded by the worst kind of people (fake, Stepford type Mums), so from quite early on in the book I was on her side. The arty side of me hated that she had once been so creative, and now was stuck in a house that could not be altered, in a life that was so mundane, with an expectation from the other mothers that she should ‘join in’ more with school activities. I have been there, there IS a very real expectation that you will volunteer for school trips, sewing days, and fundraising activities. Hell, I have baked the most amazing cupcakes for my kid’s school, only to see them sold for 20p each (Not enough to cover the cost of ingredients, let alone make it worth the 3 hours I put in). So I was with Bernadette from the start, when she simply said no, and didn’t even bother to explain herself.

Bee is a great kid, doing fabulously at school, and fully recovered from the heart condition that threatened her life for her first few years. She is totally and utterly there for her Mum, and that in itself is wonderful, I love her devotion to a woman who is a fantastic mother, but does not feel the need to prove it to the whole community. Audrey is a self-righteous bitch, and I have met her, several times in my life. If the book teaches us anything and teaches it well, it is that there are two sides to every story. Soo lin is a ridiculous stereotype (falling for the boss), but even that is written well enough for me to accept it. The joy of this book is that people are flawed, they are far from perfect, and yet you will find yourself cheering for them. The group scored this book a solid 3.5* and I gave it 4*, it was easy to read and lighthearted, but I am not keen on the ending.

Into the Wild – Jon Krakauer

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I am not a fan of ‘finding yourself via an epic adventure’ type books, and there was something kind of irritating about this ignorant of his surroundings, stubborn little brat, who had no interest in how his actions might affect his family, but I kept reading. I think that for me, the most important thing about this book was that it was written in a way that kept me reading. It was not chronological, and as such had the potential to be confusing, but for me, I think if it was chronological, I would have been bored, because I didn’t care much enough McCandless. The people that he met along the way, were the soul of the story, and some of these characters are great and well written, and the way the narrative jumped about, kept me interested.

Krakauer’s (narrator) own history as a young rebellious risk-taker seemed to colour his judgment of McCandless and gave him an understanding of what drove him on. Krakauer’s recollection of his own big adventure only made me think that he was probably not the best person to tell this story objectively. I was going to give the book 2.5* as it was neither great nor awful, but then it made me cry, yes, actual tears so I gave it 3*. The rating from the group was in and around the 3.5* mark, and I guess if you liked ‘wild’ you’d love this, but I wouldn’t recommend that you rush out to get it.

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

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

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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

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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

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

October – The watcher in the shadows

It was one of those months when I had already made my mind up about the books before even reading them. I KNEW I was going ot love the Zafon book, and I KNEW that ‘The reader’ would be a chore to read, but pre conceptions can be wrong…

The Watcher in the Shadows – Carlos Ruiz Zafon

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The watcher in the shadows is not quite Zafon at his best, but it is a reasonable little read. For an author with the skill to write ‘The shadow of the wind’ and ‘The angel’s game’ which are utterly outstanding, this is a little disappointing. It is important to remember though that, although this book was published in 2013, it was written in 1995, six years prior to TSOTW, when Zafon was still perfecting his craft, and was written for a teenage audience.

Honestly the book isn’t great, there are holes in the story, and we are expected to believe the unbeliveable ‘but Mel’, I hear you say ‘it is a fantasy novel, of course it is unbelievable’. The genre isn’t what made it unbelieveable though, it was the fact that even in a fantasy novel, this storyline didn’t gel, it didn’t work. The creepy clockwork toys and evil shadows just weren’t enough to make it worth reading. I gave the book 3.5* but that is very generous, and based on the target audience (13 year olds might love it) and my general love of Zafon as an author. The group gave it an average 2.5* which is more realistic if I’m honest.

Don’t bother, read ‘Shadow of the wind’ instead!

The Reader – Bernhard Schlink

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Three things I learned from reading ‘The Reader’ –

  1. I really love books with parts. Chapters are good, but when a book is divided into parts I actually love when one part ends and I really don’t know where the next part is going to take the story.
  2. I do not like book covers that are images from a film. I kinda knew this, but I actually couldn’t get this without a picture of Kate Winslet in the bath on the cover, this annoyed me intensely.
  3. Sometimes a book starts a bit meh, but it can still grab me. I also kinda knew this, and this is why I always try to get 1/2 way through a book before judging it, but this book reminded me.

I didn’t love this book when I started reading it, but I found it really easy to read, so I carried on. Part one of the book concentrates on the narrator’s youth, and a realationship that he had when he was a young teen with a much older woman. I found this part of the book uncomfortable (the relationship was a bit weird regardless of the age gap) and really didn’t want to read any more about this relationship, so was pleased when part 2 moved to another time in his life, and the subject matter (the concentration camps in the war) was fascinating, if incredibly sad. In the end I gave the book 4* and the group average was the same, it is definitely worth a read.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

 

September – The life we Bury

September started with good intentions, but for one reason or another nobody (myself included) managed to read both books this month. Rather than leave it, we have put the second book back by a month, so hopefully some of us will have had chance to read it.

Allen Eskens – The life we bury

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This is a great story, a lovely premise, with the added ‘did he do it?’ apsect. Joe’s college assignment to go and interview a stranger, captured my attention, as a teacher I thought this was a great task. The fact that he ended up interviewing a man (Carl Iverson) with such an interesting back story is fabulous. Then there is the added danger to Joe and Lila, when they decide to investigate deeper into the murder. Joe’s family situation is fascinating, if very sad, with an emotionally manipulative, alchoholic mother and a brother with developmental issues, his background has not been easy. Lila’s relationship wih Jeremy (Joe’s brother) is beautifully written, it is lovely that she was able to accept and understand him so easily, and gives the reader a deeper understanding of her as an empath.

What started as a fairly well paced book about a young man with an interesting college project, and a man who had been jailed for murder, fast became an ‘edge of your seat’ thriller. As the book progressed I found that I really wanted to know what happened to Crystal, and how Carl ended up serving many years in prison for a murder that he may not have commited. This is a great book with so many interesting storylines, and a lot of tense moments, where as a reader you are literally shouting at the book. The change of typeface for Joe’s assignment in chapter 23 is a really nice touch, it does interrupt the flow, but in a good way. The whole group loved this book, and the average rating was 4.5*, which was also my rating. Give it a go, I doubt you’ll be dissapointed.

Happy Reading!
Mel x

 

August – 1984

The summer seems such a long time ago already. For me it was filled with day trips, live music and a whole lot of reading. The good news is that I had time to read all three books in time for this month’s meeting, as well as many others (I recommend ‘Alice’ by Christina Henry).

1984 – George Orwell

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1984 is often high on lists of ‘books to read before you die’, it is a classic with a very dark theme, that actually made it a really tough read. Written in 1949, Orwell’s vision of a dystopian future in which humanity is quite frankly f*cked, features many predictions about the future that are scarily close to reality. There are many parallels to be drawn with the book and today’s society, and many lessons that could have been learnt. I was amazed by Orwell’s vision that a goverment would use technology to spy on people, alongside the recent  ‘investigatory powers bill’ which essentially removes the right to privacy from UK citizens, this seems particularly pertinent.

In Orwell’s vision of the world in 1984 people are brainwashed by the words WAR IS PEACE. FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH. The past is being rewritten continuously to suit those in control (the party), to deliver the message that they want to pass on to the rest of society. Party members work under the constant gaze of ‘Big Brother’ completing jobs that deliver the party message. They have no privacy and little freedom to escape from their rooms where the TV monitors their every move. Proles are the unwashed masses, kept uneducated, to keep them from challenging the system, or rising up against the party. They are kept numb and accepting of their reality with copious amounts of gin, which, along with Orwell’s descriptions of their homes and streets, paints a picture reminiscent of the poverty of victorian London.

I found 1984 fascinating, horrifying and really rather unsettling. It was an uncomfortable read from start to finish, and I found myself tied between wanting to put it down and pick up something a little lighter and desperately wanting to keep reading. I think it is unique in being beautifully written, yet so damn ugly that it hurts to look. What I would say is please don’t give up until you read a couple of chapters in part 2, as it does really grip you at that point.  gave 1984 4.5*  and would definitely recommend it, however it wasn’t for everyone and scores ranged from 2.5* – 5*.

Tell me three things – Julie Buxbaum

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So it turns out this is a book for teens, didn’t check that when I added it to the list, but hey some teen books are good right? Yes, yes they are, and this is one of them. This is not a work of art, it will not change your life, and actually it’s a bit too predictable, but it has heart. The story follows Jessie, her mum died, then her dad has remarried and uprooted her from her home in Chigago. Her new life in California is tough, she is not rich like everyone else at her new school, she is not a Barbie doll like Cali teen, and she has a new step mum and brother to learn to live with.

Jessie hasn’t been in California long when she starts to recieve messages from ‘a friend’ with the name Somebody Nobody (which is shortened to SN quite quickly). SN sends messages of support and guidence, and soon forms a bond with Jessie, and keeps her sane in her new world. The secret identity of SN is finally revealed right at the end of the book, but as with any good ‘who could it be’ plot, there are several characters who could potentially be SN. The big reveal is not quite as well written as I would have hoped, but I was satisfied with the identity of SN.

There is a lovely part of the book where Jessie visits her best friend in Chicago, this is beautifully written and really was a turning point for me, the book went from ok to yay! I gave the boook 3.5* and that was the average score from the group, but I do think that it would score higher with a teen audience. It’s a nice easy summer read that draws you in and keeps your interest, it is not life changing.

The Humans – Matt Haig

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The Humans is the story of an alien, who lands on earth and takes human form, think Mork and Mindy, except Mork didn’t intend to kill Mindy that I’m aware of. It starts beautifully with the alien ‘Andrew’ running around Cambridge naked, blissfully unaware of the fact that this is illegal, or in fact even strange at all. So our hero takes the form of ‘Andrew’ a Mathematics professor at Cambridge University and slips into his life and into his family. Andrew has a wife and a son, both of whom he has a strained relationship with.

This is a lovely book, with a lot of funny moments, but mostly with a lot of messages that remind us that life is precious and that we should be living it with more energy. There is a lovely part, about 200 pages in where alien Andrew tries to explain the week on earth to his superiors. He says that humans have 1 day that they repeat 5 times Monday to Friday, and 2 fun days, but he then goes on to explain that the 2 fun days are in fact only 1 fun day because ” Monday is to close to Sunday for Sunday’s liking” this made me love this book. The writing is great, some really great moments that made me think and some fantastic advice hidden within the text. My favourite quote is “I realised that if getting drunk was how people forgot they were mortal, then hangovers was how they remembered”

I properly enjoyed this book and read it in a day.I gave the book 4* and the group average was about 3.5* so it is defnitely worth a shot.

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

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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

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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