Monday, 2 April 2012

The Alchemy of Murder Carol McCleary

A murder/thriller set in Paris in 1889 with a female investigative reporter who meets Oscar Wilde, Jules Verne and Louis Pasteur en route had potential to be a real page turner yet somehow I found that this and this book just annoyed me.

It turned out that I wasn't the only one as a few of the group actually gave up with the story quite early on. I did finish it but found myself reading it just to get it finished rather than to find out who the murderer was. Everyone of us thought the book was too long. Despite this however I found there were still gaps in the story - how did she get out of the mental asylum??? Why was her encounter with Jack the Ripper condensed to something like 2 pages???

All of this was covered in the first few chapters and because of this we did find the beginning quite disjointed. After reading about Nellies struggles to become an investigative reporter in America we were suddenly whisked to the murky sewers of Paris researching sewer gases with Pasteur.

We were also introduced to the Editors (who the hell were they?), with their random footnotes. It wasn't explained very effectively what was fact and what was fiction which was my biggest problem with the book. I didn't want to have to start researching the life of Oscar Wilde to see if he was ever in Paris and whether there was such a slasher ever working for Pasteur. I didn't understand why McClearly simply didn't add the footnotes instead of creating the editors. They were 'nowt nor something' as I say now and again. The famous people were interesting but distracting and the in jokes (such as imagine ever using any method of transport other than a horse drawn cart, or imagine a time where women will have the vote) were not funny

We also had a problem with Nellie - how realistic was it that she travelled and did as much as she did in the 1880s? Where did her seemingly endless supply of money come from? We were also disappointed that she fell for first man she came into contact with - would she really have done? The detective in her was more instinct which didn't make book great as clues were not there for reader. At the end of the day she was chasing a man with a beard which could have been anyone. She upped sticks to chase him from America to Paris based on nothing more than a rumour of slasher murders and somehow Jack the Ripper also became involved. McCleary didn't make it easy for the reader to believe any of it. I also found that I just didn't warm to her, I didn't care which you need to do.

As a historical book, we enjoyed it - the description of Paris was excellent and I'm sure that the book was well researched but as a murder mystery we didn't care who dunnit, which is vitally important in this genre of book.

We rated it a 5.5 which is one of the lowest scores in a while. Needless to say we wont be reviewing the sequel!

Thursday, 1 March 2012

Before I Go To Sleep S J Watson

So I missed the actual meeting as I had actually given birth earlier in the day (rubbish excuse I know) however I was kept updated with what score it was awarded and I have remembered so my New Years resolution has not failed yet.

The book is very new and 'of the moment' being a TV Book Club book and (correct me if I'm wrong) a Richard and Judy book something that we had generally steered clear of before, purely because of their mass popularity and I had created the book club to try to enlarge my sphere of usual reading. It was recommended to me by a work colleague who hadn't actually read it yet so was a bit of a risk all round.

The book is about a woman who wakes up everyday not knowing who she is due to an 'accident' a number of years ago. Everytime she falls asleep her memory is once again reset to her teenage/early adult years. Concept wise you immediately think of the film, 50 First Dates starring Drew Barrimore. The film is very far from the books take on this however.

The book only really has 3 characters but Watson managed to keep the interest and kept (at least me) guessing to the very near end. I was convinced the Doctor was feeding her lies just as much as I was convinced that her husband was not all he seemed as he said he loved her too many times to be believed (guess I'm a cynic). Yet I didn't guess the end and didn't feel that I had been lead up the garden path like I have done recently by other authors trying to keep the reader from guessing the end.  

I really questioned how I would cope waking up everyday not knowing who I was lying next to. Granted you would forget everything when you fell asleep but the despair you must feel by the end of the day to realise tomorrow you will have to learn everything all again must be overwhelming.

Similarly on the flip side having to be the one who remembers and who has to explain everyday to your spouse who you are must also be sole destroying. How any one could forge any sort of life out of that situation was beyond me and so looking back you could understand why Ben did what he did

I was also puzzled by Dr Nash. Was he leading Christine on? Or was this just Christines impression that was imposed on the reader? Was he just using her to publish his findings? I certainly thought his ethics were brought in to question on more than one occasion and that he was taking advantage of her isolation.

I was surprised to find out that a man wrote it. I had assumed that as the book was from a womans point of view the author was female. I found it interesting as Christine goes into dept about her body, dressing in certain clothes and even having sex from a womans point of view. Christine obviously feels her body is alien to her so perhaps being a man helped with this sense of alienation. 

The book all wound up a little bit too nicely, and I questioned how exactly a woman with no memory was released from the unit she was staying in by the man who put her their. But if you just went with it I found it a real page turner and really enjoyed the journey to the end point.

I know some people didn't like the fact that the reader was left wondering whether Christine remembered anything in the morning without her diary. I personally thought she would and if she didn't she had shown capability of remembering so with a similar diary she could get to that point again.

Perhaps it was because of these reasons that the group only gave it a 7. I personally gave it a 9. Just don't stop to think about it too deeply.

PS Thank you for the flowers, card and Edies first book - I absolutely loved the idea

Saturday, 21 January 2012

Dissolution by C J Sansom

At last a book where I have noted the score! New Years resolution? check! And a good job I did as it was a high one.

I confess that I had already read this book and not being able to lay my hands on my copy decided not to re buy it and therefore not reread it.

I remembered I wasn't too fussed at the time about it. It took me a while to work out which brother was which and I felt at times the book dragged on with the author being overly keen to describe the weather, the marshes, the monastery etc.

What I, and a number of the group really liked was the fact that it was set in the Tudor Court where Henry 8th was King however it wasn't about Henry or his wives. Don't get me wrong I love those type of books (Phillipa Gregory anyone?) and have read several but to read about the dissolution without having to regurgitate the usual Anne Boleyn saga was refreshing.

The characters at times were quite stereotypical - a brother who was interested in boys now theres a surprise. However the main character was a hunch back which we found very unusual. We questioned as to whether a hunch back would have risen to the place Shardlake had to in society but knew very little about that time to as to whether this was unusual or not. In an interview with Sansom that I had found on the internet he commented on how the hunch represented how he carried the weight of finding the killer, the situation he found himself in with Cromwell and the effect of the dissolution on him (I seem to recall he was a catholic who was raised by monks??)

We talked about whether he was attracted/loved Alice or was it just the fact that he had had very little contact with women (wasn't he an orphan?) and Alice was the only woman around and she showed him a little kindness. We also talked about whether she was manipulating him with her kindness and how most of us didn't want Alice and Mark to have survived. Cold hearted that we are!

This was our first trilogy since The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and a few of us have bought the Dark Fire which is the second book. Perhaps because we awarded the book an 8.3 with all scores either an 8 or a 9. Highest scorer in a while (yes I remember enough from past books to be able to say that).

Next book is Before I go to Sleep by S J

Time Flies

So I'm way behind with my blog and the book clubs most faithful follower (my mum) has threatened to stop following it unless I write something so here goes.

Looking back I was surprised to see how quickly the books had stacked up. Surely 4 months hadn't gone by already?

The first book I haven't blogged about was The Distant Hours by Kate Morton. I have to be honest I really didn't fancy reading this book to start off with. It was on 3 for 2 at Waterstones and just didn't sound like my cup of tea. In a nutshell, Edie finds a letter addressed to her mum during the war which opens up a can of worms as she retraces her mums past.

In many ways this book was similar in format to our last book The Poison Tree. Modern day stops to deliver a story from a number of years ago that involves a murder and is still affecting todays characters in some way that we will have discovered by the end of the book.

I commented in my last blog on how many books now seem to have to present the story in a split timeline. One, often the present day often seems to be a way to introduce the actual story and really doesn't serve much purpose other than sometimes spoiling any surprise ending as you already know the characters survive (think City of Thieves or The Island). It was therefore refreshing with this book to find the current story and characters were more involved than simply used as a vehicle to recall the past and then return at the very end to round things off nicely. You sympathised with Edies relationship with her mum, laughed at her Dad, cared about her boss and thought her Auntie was a bit nasty. All because the author devoted enough time to the present day characters whilst still developing the 3 Blythe sisters.

I loved the idea of the Mud Man storey and a few of us really would liked for the story to be real so we could read it. Alas this isn't the case.

The suspense in this story as to the who dunnit slowly crept up on you. As a reader you didn't really realise you were reading a murder mystery until you were right in the middle of it and the twists in the story kept you guessing in a way that Kelly in The Poison Tree seemed to have to manufacture. A few of us were surprised by the book not realising when we started out that we would be solving a murder and for this reason I ended up liking it a lot more than I thought I would.  

We talked a lot about the sisters as to why they didn't leave the house when separately each one of them at some point wanted to. The house seemed to give them nothing but sorrow as a lot of tragic events happened there yet they stayed, watching it decay as they did.

Again and I apologise I cant remember the score we gave it (New Years resolution to record scores!) but again recall it was an average scorer. 

The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald was next on our agenda. Suggested by me as the film is shortly to be released and I wanted to avoid another 3 for 2 at Waterstones. What initially surprised me was how thin it was and how little any of us knew about the story beforehand despite it being a classic.

The book I suppose overall is a love story although you have to stop to remind yourself that this is what it is. It's set in New York in the 1920s shortly before the Wall Street crash.

The main character is of course Gatsby who on the face of it seems to epitomise the American dream - emerges from an impoverished background to fame and riches which is confirmed by his father at the funeral. Very little is known about him though and despite seeming to have numerous friends that turn up at his parties you realise that no-one really knows him or cares. This is illustrated by the fact that no-one went to his funeral. The reader at the beginning is given very little to go on about Gatsby and despite his dodgy dealings and somewhat dubious past his motives were all to attract one woman - Daisy. He lived opposite from her and held lavish parties in the hope she would attend. He also took the blame for her with the hit and run which really lead to his death.

We thought none of the characters in the story were painted in a good light. Even the books narrator, Nick, a war veteran and somewhat green around the ears Wall Street novice. He initially came across as the best of a bad bunch however look closer and he did seem to be cheating on a possible fiancee tucked away back home. Perhaps he seemed to be the best morally as we were seeing the story from his eyes and you naturally don't paint yourself in a bad light.

We all thought the book could so easily be set in modern times. Although the book is now a number of years old it in many ways it is still very current and hasn't dated. New York is still a very happening place, celebrity parties are every other night, glamour is still as seductive and of course the book is set just before the Wall Street crash. Recession anyone?

In the end Nick becomes disillusioned by it all and returns home, disillusioned by the American dream?

I recall this scored slightly lower than usual as many people were put off by the characters.

Skipping Christmas John Grisham

This was our annual Christmas book. I've been blogging for hours now so this is going to be a quick one.

I had already read the book a few years ago as I am a John Grisham fan. The book however was so unlike John Grisham who has a very set formula. At times it felt like a chick lit and we were interested to see if he had written it as a challenge. Kind of like a dinner party bet.

One of our members really didn't like it and we had a hard time persuading her that normally Grisham is really worth the read even if his books are slightly repetitive in formula.

We then talked about how its all the little things that are a pain that actually make Christmas. Its very much a time for tradition and none of us would skip Christmas given the choice.

Being set in America we naturally started to talk about the differences between Americas Christmas and Englands. We all thought America did it bigger however as our American member pointed out because of Thanks Giving they don't really start celebrating it until end of November whereas mince pies were on sale in England in September.

In the end we talked more about Christmas than the book. It was light hearted and short enough to be read in the busy festive season and even though it was only last month I cant remember the score. Think i was average. It is a film apparently - Christmas with the Kranks which is worth a watch although probably not in January!

The Poison Tree - Erin Kelly

It's been a while since I read this book so apologies for the late blog.

Maybe this is a test for the book - how well do I remember it 2 months later? Well I had to refresh my memory when it came to the names of the characters as I couldn't remember them. Not a good start but then it started to come back to me.

We commented on how everyone in the book leaves Biba and Rex, the sister and brother main characters. Many people were drawn to the house where they lived but never stayed. In many ways Biba was the poison tree, turning those she loved against her by her demanding, selfish attitude that Rex, too afraid of her reaction if he stood up to her, encouraged.

We talked about why then, given above, did Karen stay. We understood why she was attracted to Bibas lifestyle, the total opposite to her boring straight laced in may ways pre mapped out life. Karen had come to a natural break in her life - university ended, flat mates moving on without her and tennis club boyfriend dumping her. In many ways she was at a loose end and Biba coming along was the perfect distraction/escape. We thought that Karen possibly would have left Biba and Rex when the summer ended and she continued with her studies however the events that happened put a stop to all that and she felt tied to Karen and Rex and by the injustice of it all.

I will warn you that the next section does contain spoilers as cant really discuss things in detail without giving certain things away!

Karen didn't feel tied to them because of Alice, as we found out later that didn't automatically trap her. She felt guilt at Rex taking Bibas blame and her allowing him to do it. We talked about how realistic it was that after 10 years she would have had no other man and still be willing to pick up where her and Rex left off when he was released from prison.

We liked the setting of the book - 1997 in London. It was often very descriptive and really caught the mood of the time. The house in Highgate was perfect, it conjured vivid pictures and totally fit Biba and her bohemian lifestyle.

I didn't like the fact that it was deliberately written so you would think one thing as opposed to the actual true story. It helped suspense and provided an excellent twist but it deliberately led you up the garden path which I found annoying. Kelly couldn't let you guess like a good who dunnit author does.

We all, surprisingl,y agreed with Bibas ending although thought it was too quickly dealt with. The summer in Highgate was very slow to pan out and whilst the quickness with which Biba was dispatched helped to add to the tension it for most of us was over too fast and convenient. 

This lead on to the fact that the book felt like 2 parts. The London story and the present day story. You initially thought you were going to be reading a crime novel which many of us were quite excited about and wanted more of. It then rewound 10 years to become almost a summer romance novel at times. I have noticed that a few times now with books. Authors keep dotting from past to present almost afraid to present one story to the reader. Does this represent todays reader? We either no longer have the patience or authors feel that they can't keep our interest so need to keep switching. Does it show lack of confidence in delivering a continuous timeline?

I cant remember what score we gave it but think it was average. As a side when googling for characters names I came across this link http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/a-poison-tree/ have a read.