January – Milkman

Well, I was definitely set for this month. I received three copies of Milkman as gifts for my Birthday and Christmas. This is definitely the book of the year, the winner of the Man Booker Prize 2018 has been praised to the heavens, so it seems like a great choice for the first book club of 2019.

Milkman – Anna Burns

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It is a long time since I have read a book that challenged my stamina this much. Four times, FOUR I seriously considered putting it down and never ever picking it up again, and I’m still not sure why I didn’t do just that. Anna Burns writes without the use of paragraphs, which makes the reading more difficult than it need be. The book is set in Northern Ireland during the troubles (the late 1970s) and is a stream of consciousness narrative, which reads as the repetitive ramblings of an 18-year-old girl who cannot gather her thoughts well enough to just tell her story. The narrator goes off on a tangent regularly and then comes back full circle many pages later, leaving you wondering ‘what was the point of all that then?’ I gave up trying to find the point halfway through the book when it became clear that most of the narrative was utterly irrelevant.

The characters are given no names, they are instead given short descriptions such as: ‘middle sister’, ‘maybe boyfriend’ and ‘third brother in law’, this in itself was not a problem, but coupled with the repetition, long rambling prose and the lack of paragraphs and punctuation made for an overcomplicated read. I don’t know why I continue to buy books that won literary prizes, as more often than not I am left wondering what criteria the books were judged on. With Milkman, it’s possible that it won the Man Booker Prize because of the unusual style of writing, which I did not enjoy at all, or it could be that it fits with the ‘me too’ movement that is very relevant this year.

Whatever the reason, I would never have given this book an award, it is ‘The Emporer’s new clothes’ in a book, and I for one am happy to stand up and shout ‘THERE’S NOTHING THERE!’ It’s one of those books you know it’s going to take weeks to finish if you can even be bothered to finish it at all. I gave the book 2* but I’m not sure it deserves that to be honest. The group rated it from 2* to 3.5*, read it if you want, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

Human Acts – Han Kang

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I like Han Kang, her stories are a little dark and her writing deep and philosophical, having read ‘The vegetarian’ and loved it, so I was looking forward to reading this. This book is not an easy read, in May 1980, a student uprising in Gwangju, in a far south region of South Korea, was brutally repressed by the military government. A young man, Dong-ho is part of the demonstration. He is there along with a friend. When the soldiers start shooting, people start running in every direction. He is separated from his friend but he can see a bullet going through his ribs, Dong- ho then finds a place to shelter before setting out to find his friend. Human Acts does not break the reader in gently, starting with the horror of many unidentified dead bodies and the people desperately searching through them to find their missing family and friends.

The novel manages to convey the utter horror of one of the most infamous incidents in South Korean history. The Gwangju Uprising was bloody and brutal, there are 800+ bodies buried now in the memorial cemetery in Gwangju, and until I read this book I knew absolutely nothing about any of this. Gwangju is Han Kang’s hometown and she tells the story of that uprising from the deeply personal perspective of victims and survivors and, most poignantly, the mother of a 15-year-old boy who was shot by soldiers during the chaos. The book is well written and incredibly hard-hitting and I would definitely recommend this heartbreaking story. I gave the book 4*, as did the rest of the group, it is definitely worth a try.

Happy Reading!

Mel 🙂

 

 

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March – The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 years old

Turn the page book club meeting in March 2019, where comedy and Sci-Fi meet. Incidentally, this is a sub-genre I would very much like to explore in my writing one day. I’m sure Rob Grant and Doug Naylor are quaking in their space boots at this news! 😉

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen 83 1/4 Years Old – Hendrik Groen

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Hendrik Groen is in an old folks’ home in Amsterdam. He has decided to keep a diary “to give the world a little taste of the real Hendrik Groen.” He says he has always been a people-pleaser, always avoided confrontation, but now he’s going to shock everyone with “an uncensored exposé.” The diary is indeed warts and all and has some lovely little stories buried in amongst the daily ramblings of a fairly dull old man. I loved the ‘old but not dead club’ and could definitely see myself starting a similar club with my friends when I’m older, but generally, this book is badly written and tedious. In fact, the best thing about it was that I could count down to finishing it as each month passed.

The Secret Diary of Hendrik Groen had four and five-star reviews and the blurb called it an international bestseller. Irresistible. Laugh out loud funny. I did not laugh out loud and chuckled only once whilst reading this book. Aside from the adventures of the OBNDC the book is overwhelmingly bleak, family only visit the residents of the home because it is expected of them. All of the old people stereotypes are covered in this book and it seems that the author expects us to find these funny. Hendrik’s best friend Evert is actually a bit of a dick, and Hendrik seems to have nothing but contempt for everyone apart from his small group of friends.

This book was recommended as being ideal for fans of  ‘A man called Ove’. It is not in the least bit comparable to that book which is wonderful, funny, sad and poignant. Hendrik is whingy which is annoying enough, but he writes a diary even when there is nothing worth writing about, and he leaves the parts of the story that might be interesting undeveloped (more about his wife and daughter). I finished it, I wish I hadn’t bothered but I did and I gave it 2.5* because of the OBNDC and because I enjoyed reading about his relationships with the two women in the group, but I wouldn’t recommend it to someone I like. That said the other members of the book club gave it 3.5*- 4* so maybe just maybe you’d love it?

Sweet Dreams – Tricia Sullivan

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“Charlie is a dreamhacker, able to enter your dreams and mould their direction”. This is how the blurb on the back of the book starts, sounds good right? Wrong! For such a great idea to be so badly executed is a massive shame. Forget all the typos and the glaring error in the blurb which says the story is set in 2022 (it’s actually 2027). As irritating as they were, I can cope with sloppy publishing if the writing is good but it just isn’t. The author has put so many ideas into one book and written none of them well, the result is that it is confusing and I just didn’t care enough to try and work it out.

The story revolves around Charlie, who has taken part in a medical trial which has left her with the ability to enter other people’s dream when she sleeps in the same room as them and has given her narcolepsy. She lives with ‘O’ who helps her to find clients who need help with their dreams. Early in the book, we get insight into a death that has happened and that somehow Charlie is involved with, this is in the form of a police transcript of an interview with Charlie.

Charlie’s client is a famous musician who is suffering from extreme nightmares that are beginning to affect her career. She is visited each night by The Creeper – a mysterious masked figure determined to cause harm. When the musician dies one night, Charlie finds herself under investigation for the death, but also the Creeper’s next target.  At this point, the book seemed like it could be pretty interesting, I wondered what had happened to the woman and wanted to keep reading. It did not take long for this to change and for me to wish it would end, the story makes very little sense and is not very well written at all, I would not recommend it and gave it 2* but others gave it 3*, so maybe you’ll like it?

Happy Reading!

Mel x

February – Black Swan Green

I’m not going to lie, in January I was pushed to finish the books, so this month I got an early start and had one read by the first of February. Now I just have to remember what I read, eek!

David Mitchell – Black Swan Green

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David Mitchell is an author that I associate with fantasy, I have read one of his before (Slade House) and I had high hopes for this book. In the early part of the book when Jason falls and injures his leg, he ends up in the home of a strange old lady. At this point, I thought there might be some magic/witchcraft involved, but that storyline quickly ended and was referred to again only near the end of the book. Rather than the mystical magical world that I had hoped for, Black Swan Green is simply the story of a teenage boy’s childhood in the 1980s. Jason struggles with a stammer and with bullies and finds being a teenager tough, but apart from that there is not much to report, nothing much happens, and it takes a long time for that nothing to happen over many many pages.

Mitchell’s constant references to 80s brands were incredibly tedious and only served to remind me that this was fiction and that the author had shoehorned in lots of products/bands to show how much knowledge he has of the era. People simply do not say ‘my sister was listening to Rio by Duran Duran, and eating a trio biscuit’ in real life. This, and the fact that the story really went nowhere most of the time stopped me from falling into the world of Black Swan Green. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, and I had already bought ‘Number 9 dream’ so I will read another of his books, but I was incredibly disappointed in this book and gave it 2.5* (it would have been 2* but I liked the bits with the Belgian lady). The average group rating was also 2.5*, so unless you want to read a coming of age story that meanders over nearly 400 pages, I’d give this one a miss.

Erri De Luca – The day before happiness

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I had no expectations of this book, I saw it in Waterstones, read the blurb and added it to the book club list. This is a short novel by the Italian author Erri De Luca. A small book of over 100 pages which can be easily read in a day. The young narrator is orphaned but has been cared for by Don Gaetano, who is a mentor figure in the story. The story begins with the boy crawling into a cellar through a gap behind a statue and he discovers that this is a shelter in which Don Gaetano hid a jewish man from the Germans in 1943.

Early in the story, the boy is watching some older boys in the square playing ball, the young boy climbs a pipe to retrieve their lost ball in the hope that they will let him join their game. It is then that he sees a young girl at a window and he is captivated by her. Shortly afterwards, she moves away, only to return ten years later. The narrator looks back on his own life, and tells himself the profound stories Don Gaetano told him, about his own childhood, youth and manhood. I did not love the book, I found it slow and it did not hold my attention, however, it was well written and gave some insight into what happened in Naples during the war. I gave the book 2.5* but everyone else in the group gave it 3.5* so it is worth a try, you may love it!

Happy Reading!

Mel x

November – The Chaperone

Curling up on a cozy chair with a blanket, a latte and a good book is what winter is made for. November is where it begins…

Laura Moriarty – The Chaperone

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At first glance, it is easy to assume that The Chaperone is a book about Louise Brooks from the perspective of the woman tasked with looking after her. Surprisingly, this is not the main story in the book, it is really the story of a woman (Cora Carlisle) who uses the role of chaperone for Louise Brooks to delve into her own past. Taking Louise to New York gives Cora the opportunity to explore a part of her childhood that she has long since left behind her. Cora also has a chance to explore the New York that was out of her reach as a young child, and in contrast to her life in the city.

The most interesting storyline in the book is Cora’s relationship with her husband. I am not going to go into depth as I don’t want to spoil the story, but it is incredibly interesting for the reader, as it is far from straightforward. Louise is painted as smart, sassy, sexy and just a little bit too full of attitude for a teenager in the 1920’s, but as you read on there is a sadness about her that is hard to ignore, and I found myself feeling sorry for her and for the lack of love and guidance from her parents. The task of chaperoning Louise is not an easy one, but Cora strikes a good balance between guardian and confidant, allowing Louise a little freedom, but reigning her in when needed.

I loved this book because I lost myself not only in New York in the 1920’s, but also in Cora’s life, both present and past. I was so totally lost in the story, that I read it over two days and it was just perfect for a cold Autumn weekend. The book explores the themes of racism, sexuality, relationships, ageing, poverty and neglect in a well-written thought-provoking story, that I would highly recommend to anyone looking for a book to give them a great big hug. I gave the book 4.5*, the group rated it an average 3.5* so it was not for everyone, but it is one that I am very glad I chose it because it was just what I needed.

John Buchan – The Thirty-Nine Steps

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Being a Hitchcock fan, I was really looking forward to reading this book. The story is set just prior to the outbreak of the great war, and Richard Hannay arrives home one evening to find a stranger on his doorstep, the man is in trouble and fears for his life, so Hannay takes him in. The following day he returns home to find the man dead and fearing for his own safety, he dupes a milkman, borrowing his outfit to escape unseen by the killers.

Hannay goes on the run to Scotland, presumably because Buchan is Scottish and therefore found writing Scotland easier than sending his hero off to Norfolk. The majority of the book is the story of Hannay on the run, evading the ‘bad guys’ and attempting to find out why the stranger in his home was killed. The adventure is good, although the hero is somehow able to slip in to and out of danger with the greatest of ease and at times and with incredible luck, that after a while just gets silly.

I enjoyed the book for several reasons, firstly it was short, therefore there were no rambling descriptions and the story kept my interest. Secondly it did have an element of danger and I’m a sucker for Hitchcock/Agatha Christie, lastly, it entertained me, I actually enjoyed the ridiculousness of Hannay’s James Bond-like luck, it made me smile. I gave the book 4* and the others gave it 2.5* – 3.5*

Happy Reading

Mel x

December – Hitman Anders and the meaning of it all

How on earth I found time to read two books in December, with pantomimes galore to run at College I have no idea, but I did find the time and I thoroughly enjoyed the fact that the Book club meeting was at the end of the last day of work before Christmas.

Hitman Anders and the meaning of it all – Jonas Jonasson

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Having read and loved ‘The hundred-year-old man’ by Jonas Jonasson, I had high hopes for Hitman Anders. Sadly this book has none of the charms of ‘The 100-year-old man’, and actually very little charm at all. The three main characters are fairly well developed, though not at all likeable. Per Perrson is a young man who is dissatisfied with his lot in life and feels that he is owed more, he blames his family for his situation, and wallows in his misfortune. The disillusioned Priest, who has her head screwed firmly on, is the brains of the operation, always has a plan, whatever goes wrong, and takes control of the situation, dragging the others along with her. Hitman Anders is somewhat deluded (with his ‘ethical’ rules) this could have been funny, but it was kind of blah. This is an unlikely trio, and I kept hoping that perhaps as the book went on, they would show some development, as individuals and as a group, but it was not to be. In fact, there is a point in the book where the author adds the joke that they have come full circle and are right back where they were several chapters before, this was cute, but sadly only served to remind me that it was all a bit pointless.

The main problem for me with this book is that it is filled with danger, or the suggestion that danger is close, there is peril, there are guns and bombs and hitmen, and honestly, I should have been on the edge of my seat, but actually, I didn’t really give a shit. I didn’t care what happened to anyone in the book, I didn’t want to read on to see where the story would go, I just wasn’t engaged. Sure it was easy to read, and no it didn’t take much brain power and in that respect, I suppose it would make a reasonable holiday read, but it really wasn’t good enough for me to recommend it to a friend. I gave the book 2.5* and in hindsight, that was a little generous, the group were mostly in agreement with 2* – 2.5*, however, there was one who gave it 4.5*, so maybe you will love it? I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before! 😉

Alice in Wonderland – Lewis Carroll

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Alice in Wonderland is a story that I love, a story that I know well, a book that I… have never read. What? How did that happen, how could it be that a book that has been present in my life for 40 years is a book that I have never picked up? Never mind, that’s not important, the fact is, I know that story inside out right? Wrong! What I know inside out is the wonderful Disney film, the one which assured me that I could ‘learn a lot of things from the flowers’ and that there are 364 unbirthdays and in which Tweedledum and Tweedledee are present, not so the book. It turns out that those things happen ‘Through the looking glass’ and the film is a mishmash of the two, I am shocked.

Reading Alice in Wonderland for the first time at 46 years old was fabulous, the story is adorable, it is fantasy at it’s best. Who doesn’t love the idea of a rabbit wearing a waistcoat and carrying a pocket watch and a very mischievous disappearing cat? The story is dark but it stays just the right side of surreal, this allows the reader to disassociate from the things that happen and rather than being concerned for Alice, we are intrigued and excited to find out what on earth will happen next. If you want to read a story that explores Wonderland in a much darker way then I can thoroughly recommend ‘Beware the claws that catch Alice’ by Christina Henry, it’s not a light read, but it is beautifully written and offers a unique twist on Carroll’s world.

Alice is so well known that there is little more for me to say, other than to recommend that you read it, whatever your age because it really is one book that you can lose yourself in without having to commit to weeks of reading it. I gave the book 4* and the others all gave it 4* – 4.5*, even if you don’t read children’s books, pick this one up sometime and give it a go, I bet you’ll fall into the rabbit hole too.

Happy Reading

Mel x

October -The Tattooist of Auschwitz​

Every so often there is a book that you don’t want to read, but feel that you should, The Tattooist of Auschwitz is one of those books. I was certain that it would be a difficult read but equally certain that it would make for a fantastic discussion at our October meeting.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

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I read this book in a day, whether that was because I couldn’t put it down, or I felt I owed it to the characters not to, I am not sure. The tattooist of Auschwitz is the story of Lale, and the suffering and hardships that he endures in the camp, and of the strength of character and determination that get him through day after day of misery. Lale is incredibly charming and has an inner strength that is enviable, he uses both of these qualities to help others to survive and to make their daily existence just that little bit more bearable. The story is not just about one man’s survival in a dire situation though, it also explores the internal struggle involved with undertaking tasks that you have a moral objection to, in order to survive.

The love story between Lale and Gita develops throughout the book and adds a little hope to what would otherwise be a deeply depressing tale. The relationship is against the rules of the camp and puts both Lale and Gita in danger, and at times had me on the edge of my seat in fear for both of them. Lale was incredibly reckless and put Gita in danger a little too often for my liking, but I was pleased that they had each other in that awful situation. I was also interested to read about the mix of people that were brought to Auschwitz and loved the party of the story that focussed on Lale’s relationship with the Gypsy family in the camp.

This book is well written, it’s not perfect, but it tells Lale’s (true) story sensitively and in reading it I feel that I learnt a little more about Auschwitz. I am pleased that the story carries on after Lale left the camp, but disappointed at the end of the book which seems a little rushed. I will not spoil the end as it is a true story and fascinating, but you will see what I mean if you read it. I gave the book 4* and the group was unanimous in a 4-4.5* rating. It is definitely one to read if you want to gain a little more insight into the camps and those who survived the experience.

Little Fires Everywhere – Celeste Ng

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The book starts with a house on fire, a family leaving town and a missing daughter. There is no way that the opening of this book could be considered slow, it slaps you in the face and screams ‘read me!’ and I’m fairly sure you’ll be glad you did. Is it wonderful? No, but it is an interesting read which explores many relationships and makes great book club fodder. It is essentially a book about mothers, their relationships with their children, and their relationships with other people’s children.

Shaker Heights, at first glance, seems to be a peaceful, well-ordered upper-middle-class community. Then Mia and her daughter Pearl turn up, and we start to see the reality of what goes on behind closed doors. Mia rents an apartment from the Richardsons and Pearl befriends the Richardson children and seems to enjoy being part of a ‘normal’ family unit for a while. As the cracks in both families start to show, and a court battle about the rights of a birth mother to stop her baby from being adopted by someone else ensue, there is plenty to keep the reader turning the page. Mia’s history is interesting, whether you agree with her decisions or not, it gives food for thought, and a couple of the characters are well developed, unfortunately, this is not the case for all of them.

Unlike The Dry, this book finishes too quickly and could do with a longer ending, as it seems a little rushed. I gave this book 3* and the group all gave it between 3* and 3.5*, it is a great summer holiday read, as it is an easy read, with more depth than most.

Happy Reading!
Mel xx

September – The Dry

September is a crazy month, back to work after the summer, kids back to school and the holidays are a distant memory. Luckily I had the book club to keep me sane.

The Dry – Jane Harper

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This is supposed to be a ‘whodunit’ thriller of a book with a sympathetic lead character and a storyline that would keep you guessing and have you hooked right until the end of the book (according to online reviews). Set in the Australian outback, in the middle of a long drought, The Dry starts by setting the scene as bleak. The author does manage to convey the desperation of the life of farmers, trying to earn a living in a desolate, dying landscape. While setting the scene well, this only added to my desire to put the book down and go and read something a little less dour.

The main character, Aaron Falk, is a police federal investigator specialising in financial crime returns to his outback hometown of Kiewarra, to attend the funeral of his childhood friend, Luke Handler. Luke’s father has summoned Aaron to the funeral, and  although it is clear that Aaron does not want to be in Kiewarra and has secrets in his own past, he shows up. Luke’s father asks Aaron to investigate the death of this son and family, in spite of it seeming to be a cut and dried case, and Aaron reluctantly agrees to stick around and ask some questions. The author creates intrigue by having Aaron take a note from his pocket that reads “You lied, Luke lied, be at the funeral”

I wanted this book to be great, and for about 50 pages I thought it might pull me in, I had hoped that it would twist and turn in a way that would leave me feeling dizzy at the end, but actually I found it weak. The characters were dull, the story was longwinded and tedious and the plot lines were so obviously constructed to misdirect the reader that I was unsurprised by much of it. The worst thing about this book was the time I invested in it. It was a slow read, over descriptive, clunky and well for want of a better word ‘Dry’.

I gave the book 2.5* which, looking back I think is generous, but the start of the book was well written. I think the Author should have spent some more time editing, at 300 pages it might have been a pretty good read. The group gave it between 2* and 4* and a couple did enjoy reading it, so if you have a spare week to kill, give it a go, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper – Phaedra Patrick

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Urgh…   Sorry, that wasn’t very positive was it? It was a ok read, honestly, though, this was not even close to  being as interesting as any of the ‘old man’ books that I have read in the past decade. ‘A man called Ove’ was wonderful, with a fabulous (if grumpy) lead character, great writing and a lot of heart. ‘The hundred-year-old man who..’ was glorious, and took the reader on an epic journey. ‘Water for Elephants’ has a spirited lead character, who you cannot help but fall in love with, and ‘The unlikely pilgrimage of Harold Fry’ was adorable, and brought me to tears. The curious charms of Arthur Pepper is like ‘Ove’ light. The title seems wrong (the charms were not Arthur’s), and the writing did not engage me, however it was easy to read.

The book is filled with unlikely occurrences, and though I am not opposed to a bit of fantasy, these storylines were fantastical beyond the realms of the story. One example of this is Arthur’s encounter with a ‘pet’ Tiger which would have taken a chunk out of his leg in the time he was alone with it. I found the fact that a telephone number written on a charm decades ago was active and connected him to the same family a bit too much of a stretch. I liked Arthur, and the fact that he decided to go on this adventure, I liked his meeting and spending time with a homeless man in London, and I think that more could be made of that relationship. The best thing about the book is the concept, the idea is a good one; man goes in search of his dead wife’s past. I am a little sad that this was not what it could have been, it could have made me laugh and cry, but instead it was so sugary sweet that it gave me a toothache.

I gave this book 3* and this was also the group score. If you want an easy read to pop in your suitcase, it will not disappoint. If however, you read the online reviews and expect some deep, meaningful, heartfelt story of devotion, please look elsewhere, because you won’t find it here.

Happy reading!

Mel xx

August – Caraval

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

Caraval – Stephanie Garber

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I had such high hopes…

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

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

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

The Invisible Man – H G Wells

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

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

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

The Vanishing Futurist – Charlotte Hobson

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

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!
Mel x

June – Eleanor Olyphant is completely fine.

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

Eleanor Olyphant is completely fine – Gail Honeyman

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

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

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

Brave New World – Aldous Huxley

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

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

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

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

Happy Reading!

Mel x

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