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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February – The Power

This highly rated, much raved about book was sure to hit our book club list at some point. I knew nothing about it, apart from the buzz (yeh sorry) about it being some great feminist instant modern classic. I had assumed that it was about Women finding their inner power, and ensuring that female persecution was a thing of the past. I expected a very deep, thought-provoking book, with some wonderful insight that would leave me with a book hangover for days, after all even Barack Obama listed it as one of the best books he read in 2017.

The Power – Naomi Alderman

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I thought it was a reasonably good concept, with the potential to address the issues of a patriarchal society with some element of wisdom. It was badly written, lacked the guts of a real storyline and basically teaches ‘yeh but if women held the balance of power, they’d be bastards too’. The only character that was developed properly was Tunde, and I felt that I understood him, and his motivation. Tunde’s character changed radically throughout the story, as and when things changed for him, in terms of his freedom and safety. I felt there was a huge hole in Allie’s story, as the situation with her foster Mum was never addressed when she dealt with her tormentor. I did get to the point where, if I read the work ‘skein’ again I was in danger of destroying the book, mostly I was just totally bored and couldn’t wait to finish it, but I did, so I’m proud of that.

I was really excited about reading this book, and then, urgh. Utter claptrap… I know that this is unlikely to be a popular opinion, but I really struggled to find a reason to keep going with this book. In the end, it was the fact that it was a book club book that made me plough through the dirge, that and the hope that there would be something (Come on the has to be SOMETHING) worth holding on for… for me, there was not! The book group seemed to agree on the fact that the story was confusing, even at the meeting some thought that the story was one thing, and some another. The ratings ranged from 1.5* (me) to 4.5* (Steph) and pretty much every rating in between, with nobody agreeing. I don’t know if this is a good thing, but it reminded me never to judge a book on behalf of somebody else.

The strange case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde – Robert Louis Stevenson

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The strange case of Dr Jekll and Mr Hyde is so well known, and so often mentioned in everyday life, that I felt that I already knew the story. I have never read the book, and I did not even know that it was only a short story, but I loved it. The story is so beautifully written, that the 55 pages gave us plenty to discuss. In contrast to ‘The Power’, the characters in this short book were very well developed. Robert Louis Stevenson’s ability to engage his audience so quickly means that none of the prose is wasted, there is no need for long meandering descriptions. We get it, and we buy into it long before there is any reason to believe that Jekyll has something to hide.

I absolutely loved this story, I did not feel sympathy for Jekyll, but I did understand how a scientist would get so tied up in an idea, that they might cross a line, and descend into chaos. The moral dilemma; if you could, without recriminations do whatever your dark half wanted to do, would you? is a fascinating one, and I believe that many would. The end of the book shows the consequences of 1) letting go of your morals/ethics, and 2) messing with science, both of which could do with being taught more readily in my opinion. I gave the book 4.5*, as did Alex, and the others have all gone off to read it. A great wee, thought-provoking story, that can be read in an hour, what’s not to love?

Happy Reading!

Mel xx

 

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

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

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