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

June – Flowers for Algernon

The sun is shining and I can’t wait to get some serious Summer reading done. This month’s meeting was the smallest ever, with only three of us, but we had plenty to talk about, and a cool G&T so all is good. The two books that we read this month both pose a ‘What if….’ question FFA asks ‘What if we could make people more intelligent?’ and TFPCFH asks ‘What if we could talk to our dead loved ones?’ both very thought provoking.

In other news, I launched a Facebook version of our book club. With 30+ members already signed up on the first day, it looks like a winner! Members will read the same book as we do and discuss these in a virtual event at the same time as we have our meeting, I am really excited to be able to allow friends who don’t live close by to join Turn the page, and hope that it will keep growing.

Flowers for Algernon – Daniel Keyes

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Flowers for Algernon is a modern classic, it appears on a couple of the 50 books to read before you die lists, yet so many people (Bookish included) that I  know have never read it. The first thing I need to say about this book is “GO AND READ IT!” and I mean that wholeheartedly, it is an absolutely astounding book. Algernon is a mouse, the subject of a test operation to see if scientists could improve intelligence with breakthrough surgery.

Algernon becomes really intelligent after the operation, so Dr Neymur chooses Charlie to be the first human to undergo the same surgery. Charlie has a very low IQ and does not really understand the world around him, but he does know that he wants to be smart. This book is beautifully written from Charlie’s perspective, so we see first hand the results of the operation, and we see when all is not well.

Flowers for Algernon is a book that everyone should read, immediately after our meeting I passed it to my daughter, who is 17 and now absolutely captured by it. It is not an easy read, as it is very deep, a little dark and more than a little sad, but for me it is every bit as much a must read as ‘Of mice and men’, ‘One flew over the cuckoo’s nest’ or ‘To kill a mocking bird’. At the meeting, the three of us gave the book 4.5* & 5*.

Basically, if you do not read this book, you are really missing something wonderful.

The first phone call from heaven – Mitch Albom

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From the author of ‘the five people you meet in heaven’, our second book this month was promising. I loved ‘the five people..’, so much so that I recommended it to everyone I knew, and I have to say, it doesn’t compare, the writing is inferior, as is the plot, so I am going to complete this review without comparing the two again. I was intrigued by the idea of the dead calling the living, it was an interesting concept, but it played out pretty slowly.

People in a small town in America start receiving phone calls from their dead loved ones.  The whole town is thrown into chaos, and we watch as some fully accept and believe this phenomenon, some blame the network provider and others remain sceptical. It is an interesting concept, but really not particularly well written and a little predictable. We gave the book 3* which was probably generous, it wasn’t awful, but I wouldn’t recommend it to a friend.

Happy Reading

Mel x

Almost 5* – Our favourite books so far

Hey! Did you know that Turn the page book club is 2 years old? I feel like we should have a party with Jelly and Ice cream and party games, but I can’t be bothered to make Jelly and my freezer is shite, so I have decided to celebrate by sharing a list of our favourite books. Here are the book that scored a collective 4.5* out of 5.

Holes – Louis Sachar

I gorgeous wee book, intended for kids, but written so beautifully that adults are charmed by it too! I gave this my first 5* rating.

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Elizabeth is missing – Emma Healey

Fast forward to August 2015, and this was our 2nd book for the month, it was and unexpectedly beautiful wee book, and all who read it loved it.

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Room – Emma Donoghue

A tough read, with a lot of heartbreaking moments, we fell in love with this book as we fell in love with 5 year old Jack, and wanted nothing more than for him to experience the world outside his room.

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Station Eleven – Emily St John Mandel

The book with the beautiful cover, this post apocalyptic story was a big hit with the group. It isn’t what I’d call gritty, but it does make you ponder the future.

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A man called Ove

Wonderful with a capital W, my second 5* book came in December 2015 in the shape of Ove. I loved that cantankerous old git, and cared very much about his life and the fact that he was ready to end it. It was funny, it was sad, it was pretty damn near perfect!

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The boy in the striped pyjamas – John Boyne

It will come as no surprise that we rated this highly, it’s always rated highly, and there is a reason for that, it is so utterly heartbreaking real that you cannot fail to be moved.

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The language of flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

It wasn’t heartbreaking, but had a lot of heart. It also had a lot of flowers, and we found ourselves hoplessly intrigued by the meanings of these flowers. It is not perfect, but I think that the best word for this book is spellbinding.

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Stoner – John Edward Williams

It’s the book where ‘nothing happens’, well nothing significant anyway. Stoner simply lives his life, and we watch him do it. In theory this book sounds dull, but it really pulls you in. This is a remarkable book because it is is beautifully written that it doesn’t matter that there is no plot, we loved it anyway.

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The Rosie Project – Graeme Simsion

The Rosie Project is a joy, it’s funny, it’s full of heart, and it kind of succeeds in explaining to some extent what Asperger’s Syndrome is like from the perspective of someone with it. Think Sheldon from TBBT and you’re part of the way there, it’s just lush.

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The Universe vs Alex woods – Gavin Extence

You’re 17 years old and you have just been stopped coming back into the country with a dead man in your passenger seat and a glove box full of dope, that’s how the book starts, enjoy!

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The Kite runner – Khaled Hosseini

A gorgeous, beautifully descriptive book. The Kite Runner paints a thousand pictures, some are beautiful, exotic and romatic, others are dark and violent, but all evoke emotions. This is a roller coaster ride, and you will be glad that you got on it.

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In cold blood – Truman Capote

This book is really chilling, it’s the story of real life story of Perry & Bobby, who killed a family in Kansas in 1956. The book is written as though it is a work of fiction, but it is not, it is a true life crime and the story was written after Capote spent many hours interviewing the two boys.

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The vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

One of my favourite books EVER! I read this years ago and loved it, then it went on the book club list and I worried that on reading it again I would feel differently, I didn’t. For me this is an easy 5*, I adore the characters and the plot is fantastic, the rest of the group loved it too luckily.

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I let you go – Clare MacKintosh

A thriller that thrilled at long last! We were all absolutely thrown by the plot twist and just thought that it was so well written that we all gave it really high scores. There was one part of the plot which I didn’t love so I gave it 4* but it was a definite hit.

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After 2 years and 50+ books we have fourteen 4.5* rated books, I’d say that was fairly successful. Of course we have read some utter crap, but I have only given up on 2 books and to be fair Karen even finished Lolita, so we are a hardcore group of bibliophiles. So, as long as people keep writing them, we’ll keep reading them, and who knows maybe one day we’ll find that illusive 5* book.

Happy Reading!
Mel x

May – My name is Leon

TWO YEARS!!! Turn the page book club is two years old! I am such a proud Mama!

My Name is Leon – Kit De Waal

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Wow, what a ride! The story is written from the perspective 9 year old Leon. Leon is mixed race, growing up in London in the early 80s. His life is turbulent, his father has long gone, and his mother struggles with depression. Leon is a lonely boy trying hard to take care of his new baby brother, to keep the family together. When his brother Jake is taken away to be adopted and Leon is put into foster care, he misses his Jake terribly and dreams of seeing him again.

Leon is well written, we cared for him, and we wanted a more stable life for him. De Waal has managed to write Leon’s Mum so well, that in spite of her aparent neglect of her parental responsibilities, we feel sympathy for her. This is a woman who clearly has many many issues, it is difficult to judge her, though we do want her to get her life on track and get her kids back.

The race riots of the time are written with a great deal of honesty, and I did find myself feeling a little ill at a description of the police brutality aimed at blacks in London at the time. Leon is finding it hard to find his place in the world, and then he gets a bike, and his world opens up.

We all thoroughly enjoyed this book, with it gaining an average score of 4/5, and that is what I would give it too. A really lovely tale of growing up, finding your way in the world and building a ‘family’.

A Hologram for the King – Dave Eggers

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What a strange book, to spend to much time reading about the life of someone who is waiting around for something that feels like it’s never going to happen is frustrating. It was reminiscent of ‘Waiting for Godot’ but without the humour, and with a few more characters, who mostly brought very little to the story. Did I hate it? no, I didn’t, but I don’t feel like I gained anything by reading it. It kind of just left me cold, I am struggling to find suitable adjectives to describe the story, I think books like this are maybe what the word ‘meh’ was invented for.

Ok so the plot, Alan Clay is waiting to see the King (King Abdullah) to sell him a sophisticated IT solution that he doesn’t need and can’t afford. Alan has pinned all his hopes on selling this hologram to the king, he is a 54-year-old failed American businessman in serious debt, evading his creditors and anguishing over how he will pay for his daughter’s next year in college. Here’s the thing I really didn’t care, I didn’t love Alan, he was a bit useless (I am being kind), and I just wanted to shake some sense into him.

I gave the book 2/5, and was alone in having read it. Honestly, there are many many better ways to spend your time, maybe jus watch the film and save yourself a few hours of tedium?

Happy Reading!

Mel x

April – Atonement

We read three books this month because we had the Easter holidays, and one of the books was very short. The meeting was small, with only 6 present, but it was good fun, and most people had read at least 2 of the books.

Atonement – Ian McEwan

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Having watched and hated this film years ago, I was far from keen to read the book. In fact, it had been on our book club list for 18 months and I had done a damn good job of navigating my way around it. I finally picked the book up to read it a week before the meeting, and I didn’t put it down. There is something mesmerising about this story, and even though I knew what was coming, still I couldn’t stop reading.

Most of the book club girls disliked the beginning of the book, they found it slow, or disliked the main character Briony so much that they were getting annoyed whilst reading. I did not have this issue, I think possibly because I read it in a day and therefore moved quite quickly to the second part. I can absolutely see why this self absorbed, drama queen teenage girl would irritate the reader, but I wasn’t that bothered by her (perhaps because I live with teenage girls).

Briony’s misinterpretation of the relationship between her sister Cecilia and Robbie (the cleaner’s son) causes her to act with malice towards Robbie. As readers, we are not entirely sure if that is out of a desire to protect her sister, or out of jealousy, but that does not matter. She behaves very much like a 13 year old would, but in this instance the results are catastrophic for the young couple.

Briony’s immaturity is evident right from the beginning of the book. The belief that she is capable of anything, and that she can control everyone around her, is naive. McEwan writes of lust, loathing, revenge and guilt, his prose is beautiful, and enables the reader to empathise with the characters, whether they like them or not. I did not like Briony in the first part of the book, but as a nurse during the war I loved her. This is a very emotional read, the basis of which is that saying/doing something is much easier than unsaying/undoing it, a tough lesson to learn at 13.

I would recommend this book, and surpisingly, given my hatred of the film, I rated it 4*. The whole group rated the book 4-4.5*, so we were in agreement on this one. PLEASE don’t just watch the film, sit down and enjoy the story as it was written by the wonderful McEwan, you wont be sorry.

The Catcher in the Rye – J D Salinger

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‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a book that appears on many of the top books lists, it is famously the book that Mark David Chapman was reading when he shot and killed John Lennon, and as such, it is one that I thought I ought to read. The best I can say for the book is thank goodness it was short, nothing of any real interest happens, the main character Holden Caulfield is neither particularly likeable nor villainous, but he does say ‘goddamn’ far too often. The author’s use of ‘goddamn’ ‘sonofabitch’ and ‘chrissakes’ in every paragraph became tired very quickly, they did not offend me, the problem was they bored me, and the over use of these started to grate when I had only read about 40 pages. As Aimée observed “it’s like a parody of a teenager”.

The writing isn’t great, the main character is a bit of a dick with a chip on his shoulder and the other characters aren’t interesting enough to pull the reader back in. I do wonder if Salinger drew inspiration for Holden from the character of Pinky in Greene’s ‘Brighton Rock’ (Published 13 years earlier and released on film 4 years earlier than TCITR), but Pinky is really well written, and shocking, Holden is neither. I did not hate the book enough to give up on it, but it left me cold, I don’t even think I can be bothered to have much of an opinion on it at all, which is a really odd feeling. I believe I chuckled once, but I really cannot remember at what, all in all it was just meh. I gave the book 2* and the group almost all agreed, with only one person enjoying the book and giving it a 4* rating.

The Guest Cat – Takashi Hiraide

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I cannot think of a single good thing to say about this book, oh wait… It’s really short. It really is utter nonsense, firstly there’s a cat, that belongs to somebody else, it visits a young couple. Then there’s no cat, there’s a tree that the couple want to be near. There’s a peaceful garden and a big house that also belong to somebody else. That is about all there is to it. The writing (or translation) is bad, it is dull, and there are long descriptions (sometimes pages) that end up being irrelevant. Seriously, do yourself a favour and don’t bother! I gave the book 1* and that was probably generous, Karen gave it 1.5* and Alex (who liked it enough to read it twice) gave it 3*, nobody else read this one, and I envy them that.

Happy reading!

Mel x

March – I Let You Go

The March meeting has literally just finished and I am buzzing with excitement. Firstly, I am really touched that Steph chose to be with us on her Birthday, it shows how fantastic our wee group is, and how much of a bond we have built over the (almost) 2 years that we have been meeting. Secondly it was a big meeting with lots of members in attendance, and plenty to talk about.

I let you go – Clare Mackintosh

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I knew ‘I let you go’ was a thriller, and I do like a good thriller, the problem is I rarely find a good one. On the back of the book it said ‘If you liked ‘Gone Girl’ and ‘Girl on a Train’, you’ll love…’ the problem is I didn’t, I really didn’t enjoy either of those books at all, so at that point I lost all hope. I picked it up anyway, because I always give the books a fair shot, and I was pleasantly surprised, the first few chapters were pretty good, so I read on.

This is a tough review to write, because for the first time in years of trying I found a thriller  that was not predictable, and I do not want to say anything to ruin that for potential readers. The story was beautifully written and totally floored me with a magnificent twist, I actually stopped reading and said ‘wait?……wtf?’ and then readjusted the plot in my mind and carried on. I literally could not put this book down, I was taken on an emotional rollercoaster and I did not want to get off.

I am actually not even going to mention the plot, the characters, the twists or anything about the actually content. What I will tell you is that with 9 members of the group that were at the meeting the book was rated a strong 4.5*, the lowest rating being a 4* and several giving it 5*. This book was a huge hit with everyone and that is rare, so I implore you to go and get a copy and give it a go, I seriously doubt that you will be disappointed.

Cinderella Girl – Carin Gerhardsen

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I got myself in a muddle and read this a month early, so had to try to remember enough about it at the meeting to join in the discussion properly. With so much going on in the book that was tough, but I soon remembered the main storylines, if not all the character’s names. I struggle with thrillers, because I love reading them, and I want to feel all of the emotion involved in murder investigations, but usually I finish the book and am unimpressed. This was definitely not the case with Cinderella Girl, I read it over two days, I did not put it down for long and I was, again taken on a rollercoaster ride of emotion.

Cinderella Girl, I discovered after reading it is the second in a series of books by this author, this did not matter, the book stood alone well, although a couple of the stories running through this book look likely to carry on through the next. Was it totally believable? Not always, but there are several stories running through it and each had me hooked. At times I found myself yelling at the book, then feeling a little bit sick at some of the descriptions, and in the end, welling up with emotion (yes I very nearly cried at a thriller of all things).

There are several characters in the book that had my sympathy; Barbro, Petra & Joakim mainly, though I really wanted someone to offer some wisdom or guidance to Sandén, Elise and Jennifer, and I was terrified for Hanna right the way through the book. I have read so many books where I just don’t care what happens to the characters, to care so deeply about so many shows that this author has a great skill. I gave Cinderella Girl 4* and would definitely recommend it as an ‘edge of your seat’ thriller. The three other members of the group that read it gave it 4*, 3.5* and 2* so it didn’t appeal to everyone, but if thrillers are your thing, give it a go!

Happy Reading!

Mel x

 

 

February – Beloved

February has been cold, dark and dreary, the only joy of this is that it is perfect ‘snuggle up with a good book’ weather, but were the books this month good? That, as you will see, was very much a matter of opinion.

Beloved – Toni Morrison 

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I expected Beloved to be epic, I expected it to be powerful, I expected it to blow me away ( in a ‘the color purple’ kind of way), I did not expect it to make me want to throw it in the bin and read something just a little less dire instead. Yes, I struggled with this book, I struggled with so many things that I just wanted it to end, I’ll try to explain.

Firstly the copy of the book that I have is printed really badly, the typeface is a poor choice and it’s really dark, almost like it’s all in ‘bold’ type, so it wasn’t pleasant to look at. Secondly it was hard work, the language and the way it was written meant that reading it was slow, the number of pages in no way equates the time you need to spend reading to finish the book. I did get used to the style of writing after a while and was able to pick up my pace a bit, but I didn’t like how it was written, and found it over complicated. Yes it’s a pulitzer prize winner, a modern classic and highly rated, but I am really glad that I have finished reading it, it really dragged on.

The subject matter is depressing, and whilst I realise that slavery was depressing, this book is intentionally heavy and dark. Some of the imagery is good, and very effective in evoking sadness in the reader, some is so confusing and left open to interpretation, that the four of us who rated the book all interpreted it completely differently. The story lunges from one character to another, back and forth in time and goes from being really descriptive  to leaving huge gaps in the information given.

I feel I should address the whole ‘Beloved’ baby ghost/reincarnated teenager thing, but if I’m honest I cant be bothered, because this is the thing that bothered me most about the book. I love a bit of supernatural fiction, magical, mysterious, thought provoking as it can be, this was none of those things, it was unbelievable and just detracted from what could have been a really honest, heartbreaking story of life as a slave. For the wonderful imagery (there was some) and the sensitive and honest tackling of the tough subject of black slavery in America I gave this book 2*. The group were completely divided by this book, with ratings from 1.5* to 5*, and having checked online reviews this seems fairly normal for the book, you either love it or hate it, I’m just glad I never have to read it again.

Eleanor & Park – Rainbow Rowell

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It is hard to explain just why I didn’t love ‘Eleanor & Park’, but I didn’t,  at times this book captivated me, at times it just didn’t hold my attention, but mostly it just didn’t annoy me enough to stop reading. I struggled somewhat with the fact that Eleanor was so obviously inspired by Andie from the movie Pretty in Pink, I rolled my eyes at the similarities between the two. I am not surprised that an american author born in 1973 would be heavily influenced by the movies of John Hughes, but I would have loved to see Eleanor as her own person, and not a second rate copy of a character that I know and love from one of my very favourite films.

The good: The development of the relationship between the pair was very sweet, I particularly loved Park’s turning the pages of his comic book more slowly to allow her time to read over his shoulder. The importance of music in the relationship and the inclusion of the mix tapes as a way of sharing music with each other, was very reminiscent of relationships that I had at that time, and made me feel nostalgic. I loved Park, and the way that he loved Eleanor, and yes I wanted life to be easier for them, but the complications of family were good, and it felt real.

The bad: To be entirely honest there was nothing really truly bad, but there were times when the writing was just trundling along, easy to read, but not compelling, for want of a better word a bit ‘meh’. On finishing the book I rated it 2.5*, personally I wouldn’t recommend it to people, but it was sweet and I don’t regret reading it. The others in the group rated it 4* so it might be worth a read when you don’t fancy anything too deep?

Happy Reading!
Mel x

January – A Spool of blue thread

It was difficult to read the books this month, mainly because I got myself stuck in the wonderful ‘Miss Peregrine’ trilogy over Christmas, but I did manage it. I spent two full days cramming the Anne Tyler book ready for what was another fairly small, but great fun meeting.

A Spool of blue thread – Anne Tyler

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I have read several glowing reviews of Anne Tyler’s books, and I honestly thought that this was an author that I should take notice of. I am now wholly of the opinion that this is an author that I should avoid at all costs. I cannot believe this book won the Pulitzer prize, or any prize for that matter. It is only a few days since the meeting and already I have again forgotten the point of this truly forgettable book.

Let me start with the good, because frankly there’s not much of it. There is a really quite lovely chapter which is set in the past and tells the story of Junior and Linnie Mae, it came at a point in the book when I just wanted to quit reading, and I thought that maybe it would pick up from here, it did not. Linnie Mae is a woman with spirit, and she is the only character in the book that I had any interest in at all.

As for the rest of the book, it’s just utterly dull, I was bored, and while I was bored I was actually counting the hours of my life that I was losing to this book. It wasn’t well written, the characters were grey and dreary (apart from Linnie Mae) and nothing much happened. It started badly, it ended badly and it went on and on for 460+ pages. Denny who is one of the main characters is secretive about his life away from the house, which is ok, because I didn’t care much anyway.

I was worried that perhaps I was being a little cynical, or the fact that I had just read a very good book made this one seem so very bad, but when the rest of the girls agreed with me at the meeting, I felt justified in my dislike of this book and of Anne Tyler’s writing. It felt like she has under contract to write another book, so just sat down and wrote whatever came into her head to keep the publishers happy. I gave the book 2*, the group gave it 1.5* as an average, with Alex (who couldn’t even finish it) awarding the book a token 1* because ‘it was written’ which did make me laugh.

Honestly….don’t bother!

Alice and the Fly – James Rice

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I read Alice and the Fly first this month and it was a real page turner. This little known book was a great wee discovery of mine, the subject matter was dark, but the book was beautifully written, with some really intriguing storylines running through the book. The story about obsessions was a difficult read at times, we watch as the main character, Greg struggles with a phobia that manifests itself in hallucinations that cause him to behave erratically and puts others in danger. The descriptions had the ability to make me feel empathy with this poor boy, who is struggling with his fear, and with his obsession with Alice.

His mother is not loving in a maternal sense, there seems to be no warmth in the family at all, but she does ensure that the home is cared for and that the family are fed (albeit the same thing for days at a time). His Father is obsessed with breasts, and as a plastic surgeon likes to share images of his work with his family, at utterly inappropriate times, like during a family meal. The rest of his time is spent in his locked office, or conducting affairs with women who seem to have no self worth. The narrative, which is mostly in the 1st person has the ability to evoke many emotions, at times the descriptions made me feel sick, and I had to remind myself it was only a book.

In amongst the narrative are some transcripts of police interviews, which give us a picture of what is actually happening from a perspective other than Greg’s, and that is a lovely addition to the story. The change of tempo and writing style in these sections adds a new dimension and keeps the reader interested. This is a fantastic book and I would happily recommend it to anyone looking for a gritty book with a lot of heart. We gave this book 4* at the meeting, which was also my rating, I believe it deserves some recognition.

Happy Reading!

Mel x

December – The Vanishing act of Esme Lennox

Merry Christmas lovely readers! This month we went for the triple again, two books as normal and a Christmas book. The Christmas book that I chose resulted in a spin off movie night watching ‘It’s a wonderful life’ in our pyjamas, whilst supping Mojitos next to the Christmas Tree, it was definitely a ‘wonderful’ night with the girls.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell

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When Steph chose this book, I happily added it to the list, I say happily because I had read it before. Ok time to confess…..not only had I read it before, but I had recommended it to many many people because…it is my favourite book. I did not tell the group this before the meeting, and I read it for the second time with a little trepidation. What if it wasn’t as good as I remember? What if, having read many more books since, it didn’t hold up? What if I didn’t even enjoy reading it the second time? There really was nothing to worry about at all.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is a wonderful book, it drags you in and holds you tightly with every turn of the page. The story is told from three perspectives (Esme, Iris & Kitty), and even though it doesn’t have any chapters, it doesn’t confuse at all. Esme is, when the book begins, an elderly lady, who has spent the last 60 years in an institution for those who were mentally ill. The institute is about to be closed down, and her next of kin is her great niece Iris, so she is contacted regarding the rehoming of Esme, the main problem being that Iris has no idea that she even has a great aunt.

The story covers the travesty of women in the 1930s being sent to institutions with no real reason, it covers Esme’s past life, Iris’s past and present relationships and Kitty’s (Esme’s sister) past. I was sad, shocked, horrified, I laughed, I almost cried and I simply couldn’t put the book down. I cannot explain quite how emotive this book is, I can only say that it just felt real, I went on the rollercoaster ride with both Esme and Iris, and I was so utterly satisfied by the ending that I did a little fist pump.

Here is an author that isn’t afraid to write the book that she wants to write, she wrote from the heart and I can only commend her for this. I don’t say this very often, let alone shout it but.. PLEASE READ THIS BOOK!! I happily gave the book a 5* rating, as did a couple of the others who came to the meeting, I think the group average was a high 4.5*, I hope that you read it and that you love it as much as I did.

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby

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Funny Girl is simply wonderful, I could not put it down, nobody writes characters like Nick Hornby. Well I say that, but this is the first Nick Hornby book I’ve ever read, however I feel like I know him from his films, ‘About a Boy’ has wonderful characters, as does ‘High Fidelity’. Here we have a story about a woman, a woman who knows what she wants, and is not willing to compromise, which, considering that she is young and the book is set in the 60’s is quite something. Barbara is a strong woman, in a man’s world, and she takes life by the balls and says sweetly in it’s face ‘You are MY life, I will make the decisions’, and I fell in love with this character.

The book begins with Barbara winning a beauty contest and promptly deciding that this is not for her, she does not want to be just a ‘pretty face’, nor does she want to be known for her bombshell body, she wants to be an actress, and make people laugh. This is not just a book about Barbara, the other characters have solid story lines, and I came to care for everyone (well maybe not Clive so much), and was invested in their lives. I loved the photos throughout the book, there are not many, but those that are there really add to the story.

The real joy of the book for me is that Hornby writes characters when they are young and when they are older, and does both beautifully. I just loved this book, I gave it 4* and the others in the group pretty much agreed.

The Greatest Gift – Philip Van Doren Stern

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or ‘The greatest disappointment’? I am totally glad that this wee story was written, and even more glad that some absolutely amazing scriptwriters took this very short story and made such an epic film based on it, but I was disappointed by the book. Firstly the book took about 35 minutes to read, it is such a small part of the story in the film ‘It’s a wonderful life’ and adds nothing to the story that I know and love. Secondly the book is quite expensive (if you don’t have a kindle), and it is so very short it is not worth buying. Thirdly, there is little in the story of how much George Bailey actually did for the town he lived in. In short, it’s too short. This is a great concept, the idea of showing someone the differences that they made on others by simply being in their lives, but the writing isn’t fabulous, and it lacks the heart of the film it inspired. My advice would be to watch It’s a Wonderful life, enjoy the wonderful performance of James Stewart, see, feel and hear Bedford Falls, and remember that it was inspired by this short story, but don’t bother reading it, because the film is just perfect, this story is not.

Happy Reading & Happy Christmas!

Mel x

 

 

November -The Art of Being Normal

It’s one of those ‘If I don’t do it now, it won’t happen’ kind of weeks, so straight after book club tonight, here is the November blog post!!

Lisa Williamson – The Art of Being Normal

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The Art of being Normal is book with a really interesting premise. If you have never wondered what it would be like for a child who was born one sex, but identified as the other, you will do while reading this book. The main character David is a 14 year old girl who was born male, she knows that she is a girl, and has done since she was young, but is living as a boy, and trying to fit in. There are some really sad moments in this book, such as the times when David is able to dress in women’s clothing, when nobody else is at home, but then has to put it all away (the wig, the make up etc) when the family is there.

David meets Leo at school, Leo is a new kid at the school and stands up for David when ‘he’ is bullied in the lunch hall. We know that Leo left his last school for reasons which are kept quiet, so at this point in the book we wonder, and are lead to believe that he is fiery/violent, but we do not know his story. The rest of the book revolves around David & Leo’s friendship, David’s relationship with his family, and Leo’s relationships (or lack of) with his Mum, her boyfriend and his sister, his Dad and the girl that he has fallen for at school.

I loved parts of the book, but it fell down for me in other parts, one of the group described it as a bit ‘John Hughes’ at the end, for me it really didn’t satisfy at all and I LOVE John Hughes movies! I love that there is a teen book about this subject out there, and hope that more teens will educate themselves about what it is to be transgender, but I wish it wasn’t so safe. It was a little ‘life can be tough, but only a little bit, don’t worry, nothing too bad will happen’ at times, luckily the story behind why Leo left his last school was at least a more realistic, if heavy going.

There are 353 pages in this book, and until page 352 I was giving the book, even with it’s shortcomings a 3.5* rating, and then the last two pages happened, and I’m sorry but my rating dropped significantly at that point and I gave it a 3*. A worthwhile topic, and some reasonably likeable characters, but a bit far fetched and seriously why would you end it like that???? Anyway the group gave it a 3.5* rating, read it if you aren’t busy, it’s alright I guess!

Jean-Paul Didierlaurent – The Reader on the 6.27 

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The reader on the 6.27 is an odd wee book, when I first started to read it, I didn’t think I wanted to continue, it was only because it was so easy to read and relatively short that I continued. The first 40+ pages were ok, but seemed to labour on descriptions of the ‘monster’ at Guylain’s work place, and it did not intrigue me. Then I read chapter 9, the end of which was so beautifully written that I thought ‘now here is a book that I can read’. The fact that Guylain reads out loud on the train is interesting, and incredibly brave, but the story behind what he reads and how he reads it is very sweet.

I loved , later in the book when Guylain visited Magnolia Court, the chapter revolving round this visit made me laugh out loud and I truly got hooked at this point. Guylain’s search for an entire print run of a specific book,  his search for the owner of a diary that he finds, and the characters, all unique and, for the most part likeable, make this book a real page turner. A feel good book, which is not overly romantic, has many funny moments  and leaves you with a warm fuzzy feeling, I would happily recommend this book. The average rating for the group was 4*, this is also my rating.

Happy Reading!
Mel x