Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Christmas Magic - Cecelia Ahern

Short and sweet this one as its Christmas and there are so many things still to do and so little time

I didn’t like this book and to be honest I think I knew I wasn’t going to before I started to read it. A collection of short stories all based in Ireland some of which feature Christmas some don’t. Which was the first part I found strange. Why call a book Christmas Magic but then make it not about Christmas? Nobody is going to buy this book in July with a title like that so why not call it something else with a story or two in about Christmas? Since the meeting I have noticed a flood of Christmas books in the supermarkets which leads me to think this is probably another one that is cashing in on the season.

I was only present (Christmas book club – present get it? Sorry!) for the first half of the meeting as a Christmas Party beckoned. I didn’t really get chance to properly speak to people about the book but in the short time I was there I got the impression that I wasn’t alone with my views. This is interesting when you consider some of our members don’t like sex and violence in their books and tend to like the more gentile choices.

Interesting then to compare it to the Little Village School by Gervaise Phinn, one we reviewed quite recently. It was similar in some ways – stereotypes, happy ending, girl gets boy, yet we really liked Village School and found it charming more than irritating. I think this is highly down to the short story aspect.

We all seemed to approach the book with an inward groan even though we haven’t reviewed a short story novel before. The author in the Afterwards said that short stories can be very formulaic – ‘2000 words split in to 1000 sections with a cliff hanger in the middle’ which I found disappointing as I found this was very true with the book despite her pointing out it was a fault with short stories.

I think we all found it predictable, boring and repetitive. None of the characters stayed with me, there was no grit, no emotion, just story after story of hard done to woman who suddenly has an epiphany and then either gets the tall dark stranger or rights the wrongs that have been done to her over many many years. I hadn’t finished it before Book Club and nearly didn’t finish reading it all (But you know me by now, have to see it to the end).

Anyone has anybody read any interesting short stories? I would be interested to hear if you have. We gave the book a 3.

The book did get me thinking about Irish literature. Let me make it clear I’m talking about modern Irish Literature not the greats of days gone by. The Maeve Binchy’s, the Marian Keys and the Cecelia Aherns – all who write much of a muchness when it comes to literature. There is a girl, a big family, perhaps an element of religion and tradition thrown in and some problematic relatives, perhaps with a big secret. In the end the girl always gets the boy despite him being hopelessly above her league, and she manages to solve all her problems in the process. Now I love Binchy – have read everything by her and grew up pouring over the Glass Lake and Evening Class but I moved on when I realised I had read the same book over and over again just with a different title. I also loved PS I Love You by Ahern which I thought to a certain extent broke the mould. This leads me on to my question of the month – ‘Irish Literature today discuss’

Friday, 22 November 2013

The Husbands Secret - Liane Moriarty. Warning this blog is a long one!

They say you should never judge a book by its cover but let us do just that in this case.

The cover is quite simple - a glass jar (not a box) holding a butterfly, a beautiful butterfly.

But oh how that simple jar and butterfly speak volumes (queue the media studies A grade A level student going into hyper drive)

Firstly the jar and how (as Moriarty was quick to inform us) it was a jar that Pandora opened not a box as so commonly quoted. And we all know that Pandora opened the box and let loose all manner of things. Cue Celia opening John Pauls letter

Secondly the jar is a glass one, designed to keep things in, yet so easy to open. Like an envelope.

Yet if the jar is smashed all we are left are its fragments that we have to try to piece back together, possibly injuring ourselves in the process only to find its not repairable. Like Celia discovering that really it’s impossible to recover intact from a secret like John Pauls

Next there is the butterfly, so fragile, so easily broken, like a small child. Cue Polly the helpless victim trapped by her Dads secret.

If you don’t release the butterfly it will die. A bit like Celia saying if she didn’t come clean it would infect her life like poison. So you release the butterfly – such a simple act like opening a letter and everything changes.

This of course is why the creature in the jar is a butterfly and not a bee or a ladybird because this book is magnificent at encompassing the butterfly effect. One small action changes everything.

Again the creature in the jar is a butterfly as it lives for such a short time reminding us that in the blink of an eye something can end, a marriage, a friendship.

But note that in the end what was left in Pandoras jar was hope. Hope that now it is out in the open people can recover from it. I think Rachel beautifully illustrates this at the end of the book by going to sleep at Robs house.

All that in the front cover that you maybe looked at for 3 seconds? Or as a Kindle lover maybe saw once when ordering and then never saw again? Makes you think again doesn’t it?

So I loved the cover but did I love the book?

Well the hidden meanings didn’t stop at the front cover. For example the seemingly unimportant Tupperware and persistent references to the Berlin wall. Both designed to keep things contained/ keep them in order. Yet look what happens throughout the book – as they come down/as they let things out, so everything else falls apart – the sesame oil where the smell lingers even after it has been thrown away just like the secret that has leaked out and is unable to be removed by simply destroying the letter.

I love it when you can stand back from a book and find hidden meanings. I’m not that good at it but really find it deepens my enjoyment to find there is so much more intelligence than first meets the eye. I think it is the sign of a really good author.

Hang on in there though I don’t just talk about hidden meanings. You don’t need to be Sherlock (Moriarty get it!) to enjoy this book. It’s brilliantly written, with twists, turns and emotion by the bucket load. One of our members said she guessed the secret quite early on but even then I don’t think it took away from the book as there was so much more than the reveal of the secret. Me personally I realised the secret about the page before it actually happened. I was driving the car when the thought suddenly came to me as to what the secret could be. I think I actually had my first ever true light bulb moment!

As well as excellent characters there were also some magnificent one liners – ‘Polly arrived into the world furious that her sisters had beaten her to it’ ‘we all make better parents when we have an audience.’ I could go on but I’ve already overegged the front cover so I won’t dwell here.

I think all of the group (correct me if I’m wrong) loved the epilogue as well. I could have almost understood if people didn’t like it but personally I loved it especially the part about Polly becoming a tennis star. It just linked back to the butterfly effect and the front cover.

It wasn’t just at the end though where the butterfly effect was highlighted. I loved the part where Moriarty informed us that if Janie had lived she would have been divorced, had IVF and so on – butterfly effect - front cover!

There were a few complaints – the characters at the beginning of the book were difficult to grasp but most of us found that we settled into it after the initial introductions.

We also all found Tess to be the weakest link in the story. Her story wasn’t as intrinsic as the other two. I was unsure at first where Tess’ story was going and thought for one horrible moment that she was going to return home and live as a threesome with Will and Felicity. If that had happened I would have chucked the book across the room. Luckily it didn’t, but I still felt slightly let down by her ending.

We all really felt for Connor and all believed he would have been left really struggling with Pollys accident. In many ways despite him being a big strapping PE teacher he too was the butterfly, an innocent trapped by other peoples actions unable to escape and move on.

There was always going to a difficult decision by Moriarty as to how exactly it was all going to end. I think she handled it really well. There was never going to be a winner or a clear cut last chapter where all ends were tied up neatly. Moriarty demonstrated very clearly in the book that life and people are not black and white. Just like John Paul was still a good father and husband despite him being a murderer and so she was right to therefore not give us a clear black and white ending.

In many ways it would have been better if John Paul had been convicted. Rachel wouldn’t live with Pollys guilt. Connor would have lived his life guilt free, John Paul would have served his sentence and have been able to move on. Now John Paul will forever live with the knowledge and be reminded every time he sees his daughter. I liked the outcome.

Rachel did seem to get some sort of release/closure as she went to stay at Robs house and connected with her daughter in law. But you were very much left with the impression that an eye for an eye didn’t solve much, it didn’t bring her daughter back or lessen her grief.

I found Rachels daughter in law interesting. She only appeared through Rachels eyes so we didn’t get to see how her mind worked. This was in contrast to Celia who on the face of it was the type of person I wouldn’t like (a know it all busybody as seen by Tess when she first met her). Yet because I saw things from Celias point of view I loved her. I loved her internal trauma – whilst showering she had killed John Paul herself, whilst drying her hair she was visiting him in prison having shopped him to the police and started a prison wives club, whilst making the lasagne she was keeping his secret forever to protect her girls. In so many books characters jump to decisions making them seem very two dimensional. Even if we know in our genes that something is wrong we all go through a reasoning process in our head so show us it authors!

The parts where Celia hadn’t opened the letter and she was jumping to conclusions in her head that John Paul was gay, he was depressed, he was attracted to their daughter were also really enjoyable to read and almost humorous at time.

I also loved how true to life certain parts were. Despite this massive revelation it was put to one side for a period of time so that Celia and John Paul could make Easter Bonnets. It just goes to show how your life can literally crumble but your children will keep you functioning

As a side though this was the first book based in Australia and written by Australian author that we had reviewed since The Slap. Couldn’t be more different could they!

Ooh just thought of another thing. Polly was going to have a pirate party. Strange theme for a girl who does ballet and doesn’t really appear as though she is a tom boy (She was wearing a pink sparkly crash helmet). Pirates who are renowned for wooden legs and having hooks for hands…..Polly ending up with no arm – another hidden meaning? It was all being organised by Celia whose reluctance to turn her husband in did indirectly help Polly lose her arm. Maybe I’m taking things a step too far now.

We gave it a 9 which is really quite a high score for us. Let me know if you found any more hidden meanings. I’d love to hear them.

Next book is Christmas Magic by Cathy Kelly

Question of the month – I really loved this book, and raved about it numerous times to my husband which prompted him to ask me why I didn’t give it a 10. My automatic response was oh I could never give it a ten there may always be something better. Which got me thinking, would I ever give a book a ten? I'm always reluctant as that means it can’t be improved upon and I always think something can, hence I always leave a spare one and score it a 9. So my question is this – have you ever given a book a perfect 10? If yes what was it and why?

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman

I’m calling this book ‘the creeper’. It got under my skin without me noticing it and suddenly I put it down one day and thought, I love this book! It’s strange as nothing really happens as such – it’s certainly not a plot driven book – but I really thought this worked. The book lounged on like you would in the heat that the author so brilliantly described. Despite this, it is not a boring book and you do want to know how it all works out. So much so that one member of the group didn’t come to the meeting as she hadn’t finished reading the book and she didn’t want to find out the end! I give real credit to the author for not to make it another murder/thriller book which it so easily could have ended up being. Instead it was a brilliantly written book based around 5 main characters all of whom had a section in the book.

I will start with Nick as I thought she (yes she not he) was central to the book. One member commented that she was like gravity, everyone pulled towards her even if it was unwillingly. She was like the light bulb and everyone else were like the moths (I liked this description of her as once again it echoes the heat that surrounded everybody). She was at her most happy at the beginning of the book, which was also the earliest part of the book. This was when her husband, Hughes, loved her most or at least Nick thought they were at their happiest. I found her character really sad in some ways as all she wanted was for Hughes to totally love her, for her marriage to be a happy one and although in many ways he did he just didn’t give enough (or could he give enough?). She seemed to desperately crave his love and I think a lot of her actions were driven by this. She could be seen as a bad character and a few in the group thought so, yet Klaussman made it clear that she hadn’t had an affair with Taylor and I think she did this to paint her as a good person deep down just one who was mixed up.

I loved the aspic story and how it summed up in its shining beauty how a perfect wife Nick could be when she tried. This then contrasting with the aspic being dropped and shattering into pieces illustrated that even when she tried hard she couldn’t save it - her marriage. Something so perfect that was beyond repair.

Helena was a bit too wishy washy for me. She needed a man to make her feel complete and when Avery turned out to be a horrible person (and wasn’t he just?) she just melted in to a world of drink and pills. I could understand her hatred towards Nick who had all the money and the lovely husband, she had what Helena wanted. I particularly loved the part where Avery had put a beautiful dress out on the bed for her to wear only for the Hollywood mogul to cuttingly say ‘make sure you return it to the wardrobe department’. She did have a hard life but I just didn’t sympathise with her and in general she was the one I liked the least. Even over Ed

Ed, Helenas child, was an interesting character. Obviously highly disturbed and we talked at some length as to how his upbringing affected him - his fathers obsession with a dead actress and just exactly what did Ed get up to all day whilst Helena was in a drug induced stupor? I really liked the fact that his part of the book was from his point of view whereas the rest of the book was written in third person. To the outside world Ed was a very cold, odd person and I think writing his section from third person just wouldn’t have worked. Seeing inside his head gave him new dimensions that I liked reading. He loved Daisy. Not in an incestuous way but she really seemed to be the one person he genuinely cared for. I think him taking Daisy to see the body that day was his way of trying to share his thoughts with her. She obviously reacted like any young child would have done and to his credit he didn’t then try to draw her into his sordid world any further.

Daisy was such an innocent and I really sympathised with her when she was describing how her mother just had ‘it’ and she didn’t. I loved how obsessed she was with tennis and the whole story with her and Peaches and Taylor. This was probably my favourite part of the book. Although cast as the innocent in many ways she wasn’t – she knew about Taylor deep down but choose not to admit it. Was this because she just wanted to see the good in people? Why? Well look at those around her. A mother who had affairs, a father who wasn’t man enough, an auntie who was an addict and a cousin who was a murderer. Her bubble of innocence was a lot better than the reality she would have found herself in. I think Klaussman described Daisy growing up just right – the stuffed unicorn that once was so important but now not so, the secret hiding places, her first crush all brilliantly captured.

PS anyone notice parallels with The Great Gatsby? Nick, Daisy, Parties, cocktails? It was littered!

Anyway Hughes. His affair made his character a bit more interesting as otherwise he could just have been a background stoic boring character. I wanted to just scream at him and Nick to wake up and realise that they both loved each other but they just couldn’t let go and move on. You can imagine that the pair of them would continue onwards until they ended up very bitter and hateful towards each other. I’m surprised actually that they hadn’t already reached that point by the end of the book yet they still seemed to have their moments of hope.

Overall a really really good book (can you tell I liked it?). One of us gave up after 4 chapters and I think this is a good example of why you should plough on even just a little longer. I couldn’t tell at that stage if it was going to be a thriller or not and I’m sure others at that point could predict how the book would turn out. This is a book I’m sure you could read time and time again and keep getting more out of it. You would keep realising more about the characters and seeing them in different lights, seeing different meanings in actions and words. So I guess I would say don’t just read it once read it twice!

We ended up giving it a 7. It did score quite a lot of 8s and even a few 9s but a 3 dragged the score down a bit (don’t let the 3 put you off, it was from the person who didn’t read it all the way through)

Next months book is The Husbands Secret – Liane Moriarty

Following on from last month here is this months question of the month – We have read 2 books recently where the weather has really mirrored the content of the book or played a crucial part in the writing (The Snow Child and Tigers in Red Weather). Can you name any books that you have read where weather similarly features? Sorry no easy questions here!

Comments to the book and answers to the question always welcome.

Friday, 27 September 2013

The Little Village School by Gervaise Phinn. Warmth and Kindness

I read a quote, I think from Amazon when I ordered the book, that said this book was warm and kind and I think that’s a pretty good way of describing it. I was worried going into the meeting that we wouldn’t have much to say about it as let’s face it, we all knew the outcome before we had finished the first page. Usually with similar books we say ‘yes it was nice’ and then talk about X factor (or Strictly as it starts properly on Saturday don’t you know!) but no with this one we chatted away for ages about it.

I suggested whether, being a warm and kind book, we thought children could read it/enjoy it. It’s based in a school, it didn’t have sex or swearing in it and although there was a death I thought it was quite sensitively covered by Phinn. We decided yes, it would make a good book for children. Obviously older children who are up to reading a few hundred pages or so but in many ways a good cross over book for those not yet old enough to read true adult books but are looking for something a bit more than Jacqueline Wilson and don’t want to go down the vampire/zombie route. It’s quite a positive book to read as it’s all about doing better, no one is a hopeless case, everyone has a talent you just have to find it.

This isn’t a children’s book though and we as adults enjoyed it and found lots to discuss. We immediately started talking about the characters. Phinn managed to create very memorable characters which must have been very difficult given that the book was set around an infant and junior school and had a potential cast of hundreds. We all liked the characters which included the nosey shop keeper, the precocious child. I particularly loved the vicar and his wife and how in conversations between the two of them there were 3 people present - the vicar, his wife and the conversation going on in the vicars head!

I think I criticised the last book for its over use of stereotypes. This book also had very heavy stereotyping however I think Phinn pulled it off by really making them fit in to the story and bringing them to life. There was no flimsiness here.

I loved the names of the characters and in some way it made me think of Dickens. Don’t get carried away a Dickens novel this by no means is but the names really fitted each character - what better name for the sour faced ex headmistress than Mrs Sourbutts? Or Dr Stirling the good solid English doctor. Each name fitted the face.

I can’t remember who, but I’m sure someone during the last meeting said this book was meant to be really funny. I’d never read a funny book before so was looking forward to it. Whereas it wasn’t quite the laugh out loud tear jerker some promised it did make me chuckle at one point - ‘Well I wasn’t going to put that end in my mouth after it had been in yours’.

We ended up talking about Phinns school inspector books. Only one in our group had read any of them and she preferred them to this book. In fact she did say that she recognised certain parts of this book, particularly the nativity, in his previous books. Another member of the group had read the second book instead of this one and one of us had read both in a month (good going!). From their comments it sounds as though it too was pretty similar.

So whilst I won’t be rushing out to read other books by him. If one happened to cross my path and I found myself with some spare time I wouldn’t say no, particularly if it was one of the inspector ones.

We gave it a seven which I always think is a rather bland score – we didn’t love it, we didn’t hate it, we thought it was ok and really I want a little bit more from a book than that. I think to sum up I would say nice little book, very English, easy to read, harmless.

Next book Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann

Totally deviating off point, I never stop reading a book half way through even if it kills me (Second volume of War and Peace). I’m eternally optimistic and believe even if it’s total rubbish if I just read to the end the last page will make it all worthwhile. I’ve come close (The Slap, The Road, Hannibal) and not necessarily been proved right but hand on heart, every book I have started I have finished.

However after taking 4 months on and off to read Kings of the North - The House of Percy in British History, I have now decided that I am never again going to start a book that I know I won’t like. For example, Barbara Eskine (apologies to lifelong fans of hers, I know there are a few). I have read two or three of her books and haven’t really enjoyed any of them. So after the mammoth effort of Kings of the North (which I did want to read and knew would take effort) I dived under my bed looking forward to reading something new only to pull out another one by her. I don’t know how as I really don’t think I have ever bought one by her but anyway, here it was in my hand. ‘No!’ I thought ‘I will not read this book, I will not enjoy it so what is the point?’ Instead I read Jodi Picoult ‘The Tenth Circle’ in a day then Harlan Coben ‘Play Dead’ in about 6 days and am now on Terry Pratchett ‘Reaper Man’. Yet I know if I had chosen the Erskine book I would still be struggling through it.

I’m all for having favourite authors, I have read every John Grisham and Mitch Albom book going, but if you read the same old things and you don’t like them, or you become bored reading them why stick to it? Why read the same formula over and over again when there are so many books out there? Get out there and pick something new. If you’re stuck, look at the ones we have reviewed and pick one of those! Phew this has become a bit of a rant hasn’t it?

Anyway to try to get people commenting more if you don’t necessarily want to give a whole blogs worth of comment, after every blog I will ask one question and those who wish can quickly post a reply. Comments about the book itself or my review are always welcome as usual.

This month’s question – Have you ever refused to read a book? If yes which one?

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

The Affair - Gill Paul

My first instincts were that it wasn’t my usual type of book but as it was summer and seemed as though it would be fairly easy to read I stepped in without too much hesitation.

And I was pleased I did as I found myself quite enjoying it. It was refreshing to read a (sorry say it in small font chick lit) book based in Rome in the 1960s. Yes I was still reading about fashion and alcohol fuelled dates taking place in various glam parties and restaurants however this was 1960s fashion where gloves to the elbow were out and capri pants were in and margarita pizza and cornettos were considered the b all in food. By the way I have no idea where that phrase actually comes from or what it means. Anyone? Apologies if it means something entirely different to that I envisaged!

Yes hands up, I also really liked the Taylor/Burton romance. I liked the parallel between the two affairs and now really want to watch Cleopatra and research Taylor and Burton to see what was true. I found myself really liking them which is funny as both spouses were presented as human/caring people and usually the reader would always go for the victim rather than the perpetrator but I was routing for Taylor and Burton to have a happy ending even if it did lead to divorce. Twice.

I thought the main problem with the first half of the book was the characters. There were quite a few who had pivotal roles in the book yet some were just too wishy washy for me, especially Helen. Her part in the story really needed to be gritty and hard hitting yet she flittered in and out of the book as and when the author remembered she needed to be there and Diana’s friendship with her was too flimsy. Were they really so friendly Helen would have got on a late night train by herself in Italy to ask her for money even though they had just had a massive falling out? The book didn’t give that impression and yet she did, much to her downfall.

Coupled with wishy washyness (making up words now) there was a big dose of Naivety. Where I could understand Scotts to some extent - big break wants to make his mark and so writes his first article that annoys half the Italian government. Helen and Diana’s were less understandable. Granted we are talking about the 60s but even then how could two girls who upped sticks and went to live in Rome by themselves be so naive? Even when in prison with Donatella Diana didn’t really seem to have grown up or leant anything yet she was a married woman who was obviously educated to a high standard.

The lack of progression or ‘learning of life’s lessons’ was also a trait found in Scott, particularly with his liaisons with the mob/Luigi. He was beaten within an inch of his life and was left permanently injured simply for talking to girl yet he not only had further dealings with them he practically police interviews Luigi whilst buying cocaine from him but walks away without a hair on his head being ruffled.

The group as a whole also didn’t think Scott did enough to help Helen. He seemed to be a decent bloke – could have bedded Helen on numerous occasions but didn’t yet even though the author laboured over how distraught Helen was at his last meeting with her he just gave her some money and walked off. Why when he bothered to take her to the doctors in the first place? It seemed a weak part of the story but I guess the author had to link Scott to Diana somehow.

There, for me at least, was also way too much stereotyping in the book. English, reserved Trevor wearing sandals and socks v handsome Ernesto the Italian lothario. Goody goody Hilary, the sinister drug dealing Luigi and the blonde young innocent Helen. You could practically list every characters traits before they had spoken a line.

Lastly to end our list of character faults we thought the characters lacked depth and as a result of this empathy. Diana was madly in love with Ernesto yet when she found out he was married she reasoned that she had never been in love with him as their whole relationship had been a lie. She seemed to recover/skim over the heartbreak immediately and as a result I didn’t really care. This was repeated again and again throughout the book. I don’t think anyone in the group was upset when Helen died and I feel this is because of how she was portrayed – a silly naive blonde who ‘just wanted a boyfriend’ instead of a tragic youth out of her depth far from home.

We talked a lot about Trevor. How we thought he knew about the affair when he asked Diana to wait until filming was over before making any decisions. How Diana viewed him as more of a father figure rather than a husband as he was a lot older than Diana and their relationship began shortly after her father died.

We all wanted Trevor to stand up and shout his love for Diana and were frustrated that he never did. We thought this again was down to stereotyping – it wouldn’t be the English university professors thing to declare your undying love to your wife would it. Yet his frost with Diana lasted just long enough for Ernesto to bed Diana. Convenient.

We felt there were a number of convenient moments in the book. As though the author knew where she wanted to end up and so wrote each chapter with the sole point of getting to that point regardless or not as to whether it made sense or felt right to the reader. Granted every book needs to have plot and an overall aim but this just didn’t take you along for the ride it felt as though it was cold heartedly ticking the boxes to get to the end – Trevor annoyed at Diana so she has an affair, check. Trevor reconciles with Diana so he can come and save the day – check.

In the end all we were reading was the stage being set and the characters being manoeuvred for the ‘murder’. This was the second half of the book where the author seemingly went off on a tangent and forgot she was writing a summer romance with the added plus of guest stars Taylor/Burton. I really have no idea why it went down this route as a typical thriller/crime novel it was not. It lacked punch, pace and anything else you can think of that starts with P.

I mentioned wishy washy earlier on and the second half of the book continued in this vain - Luigi disappeared presumed dead. Ernesto disappeared presumably back to his wife with his tail between his legs and good old Trevor saved the day. In the end the murder wasn’t even a murder!
The author then tried to squash years into 5 pages with Scott releasing a book after his story of the year was stolen by Truman Capote (yes really) and Diana and Trevor living apart but only two doors down and only after a period of time where they both went back to ‘normal’ life but in separate bedrooms.

It did leave us asking what sort of life Trevor and Diana would actually end up living. Would either of them find love again? Would Diana still do his washing? We all thought she would as lets face it this would be the predictable thing for her to do!

We gave it a 6.4 with its gentile summer style read prompting some people to give it higher marks.

Next book The Little Village School Gervais Phinn.

Wednesday, 31 July 2013

And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Hosseini including rather surprisingly Maeve Binchy and Victoria Hislop!

Well I finished the book which at one point seemed unlikely. I was surprised when I was informed we were reviewing this book. We have already reviewed A Thousand Splendid Suns and from memory I believed most of the group had also read The Kite Runner which meant a full house for Hosseinis novels. Let me start by saying I absolutely loved Kite Runner (I cried) and I very much liked Splendid Suns so I approached with this with slight intrepidation as surely the high standards of Runner and Splendid could not be equalled a third time. (They will be called Kite and Sun next so keep up) Initially it appeared as though it was going to be identical to the other two books – a poverty stricken family in Afghanistan, with two children as the main characters where something heart breaking happens to them early on. Sound familiar? I must admit I was a little disappointed at this stage. I had read and loved two versions of Afghanistan heart break, I didn’t want to read another. How wrong was I though! After believing we would spend the rest of the book following Abdullah and Pari and their no doubt tales of woe (would he accidently kill her? Would he be sucked in to the war and tragically killed before being reunited with her? (you get the picture)) the two vanished from our pages never to be seen again. Well not for pages and pages and pages anyway. The book became a collection of intertwined short stories, skipping backwards and forwards in time and continents. I’m not a fan of short stories. My main exposure to them has been Maeve Binchy (RIP) but whereas Binchy had the sense to call her books a collection of short stories and set each one in a separate Chapter Hosseini tried to paint his as one story leaving the reader confused, and frustrated. Binchy effortlessly intertwines her characters, you know instantly who is who. Hosseini needed 3 or 4 pages for you to catch up which you don’t want to be doing every third chapter or so. It is such a shame as once you are up to speed with who is who you fall for the characters, you fight for them as Hosseini really is such a wonderful story teller and character builder. There were just large portions of the book though that you felt were page fillers (the Doctors mother over in Greece with Thalia for example?). Although they were lovely to read, once you had stepped back you found yourself saying why did he put that in? How do they push the plot along? I found myself during the meeting comparing the book to Victoria Hislops, either The Return or The Island as they were similar, dip in and out with various characters over a number of years. However with her books there was a definite sense of purpose driving the plot forward with a reduced number of characters. I think with Hosseini we were two thirds of the way through and still meeting new characters. I kind of got that with each short story he wanted to deliver a particular message, there just didn’t seem to be an overall one. I particularly related to the cousin who was a Doctor who met the girl over in Afghanistan and came home wanting to heal her. Although obviously I have never been in that position I have come home from holidays feeling I didn’t fit in and wanted something different only for the effect to wear off after a few weeks of being home. We all loved the Jin story right at the beginning of the book – I could have had a whole book on that. There was also one beautiful quote from Pari towards the end of the book where she described her adoptive mother as giving Pari a spade with which she was expected to fill up the endless holes her mother had (sorry paraphrasing).I could go on as there are lots of individual examples of Hosseini showing how good a writer he is, again it just didn’t, for me, come together. One member of the group believed the book did have an overall theme - to explain how much of a global effect the Afghanistan troubles had. How natives scattered and rebuilt their lives all over the world. However I’m not sure about this as a message as a lot of the Characters we followed didn’t leave because of Afghanistan’s troubles (indeed Nabi and Pari’s adopted father stayed until they died) and I’m not sure it went into enough depth to have this as the message. I also questioned whether the book was trying to say everyone is bad in some way. The new leader of Shagbad who was doing lots of good had previously stolen everyones land, Nabi arranged the adoption of Pari so he could seduce her adoptive mother, even the Doctor who moved over to Afghanistan to help was a rubbish son to his mother. So many of the characters didn’t go on to better things – one of the Cousins was a gangster, Pari’s adopted mother was a drunk. Abdullah in the end suffered from some sort of dementia. If Hosseini was trying to paint everyone in a bad light – why? We did keep coming back to talk about the book during the meeting which is unusual for us (sometimes we struggle to come up with anything to say other than who is going on holiday where) and I love books that give so much discussion. We didn’t think Hosseini had another book in him about Afghanistan. Sorry that is a very abrupt statement and if you do have another one in the pipeline Hosseini please don’t throw it in the bin on our account! It would be interesting to see though what direction his next book (and I am sure there will be one) will take. I think we all agreed that the feather was a bit of a let-down in the end. I wasn’t disappointed that Abdullah didn’t remember Pari and they didn’t get their happy ending (in fact I quite liked it as life isn’t always like that and it linked back to the jinn story where the father forgot) but I think Hosseini wanted to give the reader something and really a token that Pari didn’t even remember fell a bit short. A couple of us in the book club really really loved the book giving it a 9 and I can understand why as he really is a brilliant story teller and paints such lovely characters. However I think this one missed the mark. I was left disappointed that it wasn’t a heart breaker (hypocrite I know) and that there wasn’t more of an overall story. If we in our group totally missed the point and you are screaming your way through this blog shouting ‘ITS OBVIOUS WHAT THE STORY WAS’ then please comment. I would love to hear your perspective and in some ways would like to be proved wrong. The book ended up with a 7 (or was it a 7.5?). With the exception of about two of our members I think we would all say do read Hosseini. Two of the best books I’ve read in a long time are by him, just not this one. Next one The Affair by Gill Paul.

Friday, 19 July 2013

The Snow Child - Eowyn Ivey

I missed this meeting as I was moving house. Looking back, this blog is also a really good way to record my momentous moments (second child, turning 30, moving house. Wonder what's next?)

I give the book a 7. I found it really easy to read and liked the fact the author left Fania open to interpretation as to whether she was real or made from snow. Whilst I liked the idea of the possibility that Fania was magical, I think coming down on this side for definite would have lost a few fans. I know when I was initially describing the book to people at the last meeting there were a few raised eyebrows when I explained that a childless couple make a snow child that comes to life but I'm pleased we stuck with it as trust me, its not that far fetched.

I also liked the way the book intertwined with the fairy tale that Mabel kept reading. I had a very vivid image of the book and really wanted to read it.

I think with this book that there was a main message to decide on - did the couple only settle and become happy once a child had entered their life (and therefore is the author saying a couple can only be happy if they have children?) or did they only settle and become happy once they had made friends with their neighbours?

I think the latter as they were prepared to leave even when the knew about Fania when Jack hurt his back until the neighbours showed up, moved in and helped them. At this point Mabel starts to write more to her sister and her letters are big events back home, she also starts to help around the farm which I think is instrumental. At the beginning of the book Mabel thought she was worthless - she couldn't have a child, she was no longer needed to bake for the hotel, she couldn't help her husband doing work that was slowly killing him, she couldn't even break the ice on the river to kill herself. Working on the farm I think was therefore the turning point for her.

Whilst I do think it was the neighbours friendship that saved Jack and Mabel in Alaska (sorry I can't remember their names!) I do think that Fania helped Jack shoot the moose. I think she was present in the woods at that point and somehow led/influenced him to it.

If you agree with me that the couple only settled once they made friends then I think the motto of the book is we can't survive in isolation, life is better with friends. We also have to have a sense of purpose in life. Good motto to have!
I wasn't sure about Garrett and Fania. Did Fania deliberately tempt him, is this why she was suddenly seen by the neighbours despite years of avoidance? If true why? It's not clear cut as she was very innocent in some ways (didn't know about being pregnant until Mabel told her) yet I do believe that it was Fania who pursued Garrett and not the other way round.
How symbolic was the swan - Fania trapped and killed this powerful thing of beauty then dressed as a swan on her wedding day. Was this supposed to mean that she was now the swan and that Garrett was now trapping her? Did she think when she was ill that it was somehow Garrett or the baby who was killing her and so made her escape?

Fania's end is very open to interpretation and again I liked this - it didn't come down strongly either way on whether she was magical or not. It was in some way a surprise that she didn't come back at all but equally you just didn't expect her and Garrett to have a perfect happy ending. The snow child had to return to the snow. Yes, I found myself humming along to Walking in the Air at serveral points! Although let me set this straight it was not in anyway a Christmas book.

I loved the descriptive element to the book. I've never been to Alaska yet had really vivid pictures of the surroundings. I loved how the author went in to detail about the food, the hardships, the work and even the snow - how it was beautiful yet deadly.

I found the book really easy to read despite it being a bit slow in points. The group agreed with my score and also gave it a 7. It's unique and certainly isn't just a rehashed version of a popular 'of the moment' book  (I'm sure there are now 50 versions of 50 shades and how many secret religious symbol books have I read since Dan Brown!)

Sorry if blog is short and sweet this month however I wanted to get it posted before next meeting which is on Thursday (I'm only half way through so better get a move on!)

Next book And the Mountains Echoed - Khaled Mosseini

Sunday, 2 June 2013

Half the Human Race - Anthony Quinn

I would say Half the Human Race was probably the least read book that we have reviewed in a while. When I say that, I don't mean it was a poorly attended meeting, it wasn't. Quite a few of us attended and quite a few of us had started the book, but a lot of us (including me by about 12 pages) hadn't managed to finish reading it by the time the meeting came round.

Now fair enough we all lead busy lives so time is always a factor. However you have to ask why when a book really isn't door stop size so many of us didn't get it finished. I have read books with just as many pages in mere days before. Books that despite working full time and having two children under 5 I would be willing to sit up until one in the morning to finish as I literally HAD to find out who ended up with who. It's fair to say then that a page turner this one was not.

When asked why people hadn't finished it the most popular answer was they simply couldn't get past the cricket! The first few chapters are indeed a lot about cricket so I found myself trying to persuade people to read past it as really the book wasn't about cricket at all. In fact as you read further into the book you do wonder why so much time was initially spent on cricket. Will, the lead male could have been a lawyer by the end of it for how important his occupation was to the story.

One of the women in our group gave up when it got to the suffragettes part - was this out of frustration? I did find myself getting annoyed when they were breaking windows - what good is that going to do to your cause really? I did find it interesting however to read about the starvation/force feeding and life in prison for the women as this is an area in which previously I had very little knowledge.

Inevitably this lead to a discussion as to what we would have been like in that period of time. We all found it hard to imagine. Initially we thought we would have been all for the vote and wanting to campaign however when you study Connies sister who simply wanted to get married and have a home and children and status and Ada's character who actually wanted Will to make decisions for her, a lot of women (some really passionately) didn't want the vote. We felt it was a lot to do with background and upbringing. Connies father being very influential in Connies thinking. He had never treated her differently and had obviously paid her way to attend medical school whilst he was alive which was unusual.

We talked about why, of all the inequalities, women chose the vote to campaign for. Really, having a vote wouldn't have changed their day to day lives. At least not initially. They still would have been paid less and jobs (such as Connie becoming a surgeon) wouldn't have opened up for them. We decided that whereas a lot of inequalities only affected a small proportion of women (for example not many women wanted to become a surgeon so wouldn't have campaigned for women to be able to become one). The vote was the one common ground that they could all come together for.

We also discussed about the fact that Quinn who male, chose to write from a womans perspective. I think the only other book where this has been the case (at least from the book clubs point of view) is Before I go to Sleep which was excellently written by a male from a womans point of view. Half the Human Race perhaps was not so successful at this.

Maybe that was the reason why I just didn't get the love story between Connie and Will. In the end it seemed as though she was starting to have doubts about not getting married and being too old, back walked Will in to her life again and she thought 'well I haven't found anyone else better'. Some members of the group said how the story showed how each of them grew and made them more accepting but I just didn't get it.

I also found the book very segmented. I didn't expect to start reading about trench warfare but I did. I didn't expect to read about a day in the life of a nurse tending to war casualties but again I did. Quinn took you into each part quite well, introducing interesting characters and details but then just left you standing as the next chapter whisked away to another time and place.

I think the biggest example of this was in relation to the vote. I really don't understand why when the book was supposed to be about women getting the vote and it initially went into so much detail about the suffragettes that it simply ended about half way through with Connie saying 'Do I look different? Well I am 30 now I can vote'. Why do this? It was vaguely mentioned after this point but left you feeling as though the first half of the book was a waste of time and you had been duped into really just reading a book about (a poorly written) love story that took a lot of pages to get to its inevitable happy ending.

I also didn't get Tam. I thought at one point Connie was going to fall in love with him or there was to be a love triangle however this never really materialised and after following him in detail for a bit (spoiler alert) he committed suicide. Quinn did use Tams unsent love letter as a moment of clarity for Will to realise he loved Connie but again Tam's character just felt like I wasted time and energy on him for him to be pushed out the back door.

The book split the vote with a few people giving it as high as a 9 (loved stuff about suffragettes and the overall pace/writing of the book). The points however did dip down to as low as a 3 (cricket, jumped about, too many pages to get to end). We mentioned having a recount next month if people found the time to finish the book and I think it would be interesting to do so as really the end book is a totally different book to the beginning.

We gave it a 6.5 overall.

Next book is The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

Monday, 22 April 2013

Life of Pi Yann Martel

I've had waited a long time to read this book. It had been on my hit list for a while and had come to my attention again when the film was released so when it was suggested I jumped at the chance to read it.

The story for those of you not familiar, is about an indian boy whose parents own a zoo but decide to up sticks and move to Canada. On route to Canada the ship they are on sinks leaving the boy, named Pi, alone on a lifeboat with a zebra, an orangutang, a hyena, a rat, several cochroaches and a tiger called Richard Parker.

If I tell you that only 5 of 13 members turned up to the meeting it may give you an idea of the general opinion of the book. It took me until the night before the book club to finish the book and that was only because I went to bed at 9 and refused to close an eyelid until it was done.

As I was receiving the texts from people unable to attend I knew that I needed to salvage the meeting from the few who turned up simply saying 'didn't like it let's move on' so I frantically spent the afternoon of the meeting thinking exactly why I didn't like the book and reading spark notes to research the various themes.  If I was going to spend a sleepless night getting the book finished I was damm well going to talk about it for more than 5 minutes.

So why didnt I like it?

Well I thought it took a long time to get to the shipwreck which was really what the story was actually about. It wasn’t as though we needed much of Pi's back story as his family died so reading 100 odd pages about them was irrelevant and didn't really add anything to the main part of the story.

I didn’t really get the religious parts either. Yes it was slightly funny the way Pi attended 3 different types of worship and he raised a good point – why can’t he practice all 3? But again I don’t really feel like it was useful to the story. He occasionally mentioned God further on in the book when describing the ocean etc. but just didn't see why all that time was spent at the beginning of the book on religion for it to be a non event later on.

I thought the book ambled along, we were told how long he survived for so you weren’t bothered as much about him living (I know the author was interviewing an adult Pi at the beginning and therefore knew that he had survived but when you are already struggling to get a book read and someone reminds you that he lives another 227 days all the hoo ha over whether he has enough water is pointless - he must have as he doesn't die!).

There were parts that we/I liked. A few of us commented about the argument with the 3 religious leaders and could relate to Pi starting high school and establishing his name as Pi and not Piscine. We also liked the parts about the zoo at the beginning where Pi was telling you about the animals, the things that humans fed to them, the escapees etc. I also liked the parts about Richard Parker and how Pi survived – catching fish, turtles, water and so forth – made it feel like I was reading Swiss Family Robinson a book I love.

However the book lacked direction which whilst in someways was realistic to how Pi would have been on the boat I just didn’t like. I felt like I wasn’t getting anywhere – the book had no purpose (I was treading water as I accidently said at the bookclub to some amusement - shipwreck, treading water get it?)

Then the book just got really really random – the blind man who was eaten by Richard Parker and then the cannibal island. I have to confess that by this point I was just reading to get the book finished in time for book club. A member of the group hadn't read this far into the book and when we started talking about the island that eats humans she looked on in amused disbelief. We talked about whether this was all Pi's imagination, he was dying, hallucinating and so forth but none of us really enjoyed this part or saw the point in it.   

We also talked about the interview that took place once Pi had been rescued. Why was it put there? To basically tell us it was all a dream or a made up version of a boy who was struggling to come to terms with the experiences he had survived through? The interview was stuck on at the end, rushed through and written so the reader was laughing at the interviewers conversations rather than grasping the point the author was trying to make. If the whole point of the book was to tell you how all of life is a story based on one persons version of events (poetically put by some reviewer as ‘the reader was left wondering whether Pis story is an allegory of another set of parallel events’) then why not make a bigger point out of it, dwell upon it rather than giving us 100 pages of preamble about a little boy in India who just wants to love God. The way it was so swiftly dealt with left me feeling as though I had totally wasted my time.
I also really didnt like this being another example of authors who do not know how to give stories a beginning, middle and end and so feel the need to set the novel in the present day with the main character reminiscing about the story you are going to be told. I really do not like this style of book as 9 times out of 10 the main character is put in a life threatening position in the memoir but we already know that they survive!  Bookending this is apparently called - killer of all known suspense and climax!

Why did Martell also feel the need to write himself in to the story - to make the story seem more real? Why? Yes it made me stop and check whether it was a true story or not but when I found out it wasn't it just felt like the author was being egotistical by adding himself into the story.

Overall with the exception of one or two individuals who were not at the meeting (please tell us why you liked it as we wanted the opposite view point) the Group was very disappointed with the book, it lacked drive, had a tendancy to go off on a tangent and had a very flimsy ending.

We gave it a 5.5

Next book Anthony Quinns Half of the Human Race

Monday, 25 March 2013

Me Before You - Jojo Moyes

I had missed the last meeting as I was sitting in the Sky Bar of the Hilton in London overlooking the Gherkin and the Shard drinking very expensive but gorgeous cocktails. Sorry, boast over, but it’s not every day a girl turns 30!
Missing the meeting meant I had missed why this book had been suggested/chosen and as I had never heard of it before I was totally walking in blind. My initial thought was that it appeared to be almost chick litty - the title, the cover, the synopsis on the back, however it had quite a few more pages than usually found in that genre and the saying goes ‘never judge a book by its cover’.

Let me officially confirm that the synopsis and the cover totally totally don’t do it justice. For a start a book about a quadriplegic who is wanting to exercise his right to die in Switzerland is a way more gritty subject matter than I expected to come across. I guessed what was going to happen about 2/3rd of the way through but it still didn’t stop me from crying bucket loads at the end – always the sign of a good book.

The book club thought so too.

We all really liked the characters, they were so vivid and really important to the story. It wasn’t just a book about two people with occasional friends coming along to provide a sound off. You felt for the outside characters, they were involved, important. I loved the relationship between Lou and her sister Treena. Moyes in general was very good at capturing real life – Dads stealing extra potatoes, sisters squabbling over hairdryers.

I even quite liked Patrick. I think it would have been very easy to paint him as the bad guy to make you squarely side with Will. Reporting to newspapers aside, Moyes didn’t make Patrick the automatic villain, he was just in his own little world with his running and you could see that he was genuinely hurt by Will and the effect he was having on Lou.

For being such a grim subject Moyes also managed to introduce humour – for example Lou when she inadvertently got drunk on Pimms, the splitting skirt in the interview and the neighbours arguing over an affair.

We all really loved the chapters that were from another persons point of view – Camilla and so forth. We really thought that Camillas chapter was essential in making us see her side of the story as from Lous eyes she came across as a very cold career minded woman. The same goes with Wills dad. His chapter showed how he was in catch twenty two. He wanted to be with his mistress but wouldn’t leave her whilst Will was alive. Yet to wish that Will would actually die would mean him losing his only son. He wasn’t just a ba$tard having an affair. (Sorry). I admit however I was quite worried that we were not going to get anymore from Lous point of view and was relieved that they were only short interspersed chapters.

We discussed peoples reactions to disabled persons and how unwilling people were to help. For example how Lou had to pretend Will was an ex-squaddie to obtain help in getting him over the sodden grass at the races. Is it really only ok to be a paraplegic if you are an ex squaddie/hero?

We also talked about how ironic it was that Will injured himself by taking the safe option – not taking his motorbike but trying to hail a taxi in pouring rain. How active he was before the accident and how that would have made things worse subsequently. That lead us on to discussing Will and whether he would have fallen for Lou as an able bodied person. We unanimously thought he wouldn’t have – Will even admitted this at the wedding. We also thought though that Lou would never have looked twice at him thinking that she was way way out of his league.

Inevitably we talked about Lou and the effect she had on Will. The prologue showed how attached he was to his Blackberry never truly turning off, yet in the Maldives he was content to just sit and watch Lou swimming. In a way he was much more open to life, yes I know that sounds silly when all he wanted to do was head to Switzerland.

Lou herself was an interesting person to talk about. She had always done things for other people and seemed to be quite happy in doing it. Only Will saw her for what she could be which lead to what, I thought at least, a couple of pretty woman moments – wearing a red dress to the theatre?!

We did worry about whether she would she still be putting someone else first now that Will had died given the fact that we left her in Paris following Wills instructions about buying a suggested perfume. Yes he left her money so she had the freedom to do things but he left instructions that she should use it to buy a house and study. Living for someone else is still not fully living even if you are able to buy a house and take trips to France.

We inevitably talked about Wills decision - could Lou have ever changed his mind? We doubted so. It was the one thing he had control of and for that reason he wouldn’t ever have changed his mind. I hated him at that point though. Lou put herself out there saying she loved him and he turned round and said you are not enough. For some people that is unrecoverable from. I did like however that she went to Switzerland in the end, cue the tissues

Thank you to those that choose the book. It’s books like this that make me love my book club. I had never heard of it and to be honest would never have looked twice at it on a shelf. The group had mixed reviews for her other work but this one is a star.

We gave it an 8.5

Next book Life of Pi - Yann Martel

Monday, 25 February 2013

Gone Girl - Gillian Flynn

Change of tack this month. In an effort to keep up with my blogging I am going to write this blog as I read it so I don’t end up with a big long thing to write later on and to give you my impressions as I go along rather than with the benefit of hindsight.....

My initial thoughts upon receiving the book -  too much like 'Before I Go To Sleep' granted this is American and you don’t know if the husband is the bad guy but the way it flittered between timelines made me grant the parallel.

Gut instinct I don’t like Amy – don’t like her pop quizzes, seems as though you are reading a magazine article rather than someone’s diary.  Too over romanticised (is that a word?) with the (literally) sugar coated first kiss and the single olive in joke. But then she is a writer for a magazine so could just be her style. 

RANT ALERT! I really really don’t like it when an author deliberately makes you think a certain person did it when they haven’t. It just feels as though it’s a complete waste of time investing in reading the pages and building emotions against someone to be told ha ha no! You got it wrong. Well no I didn’t actually but when you say something like ‘If they found out where I really was that night I would be in serious trouble’ what else am I supposed to think? The book seems as though it’s going down this path with you being lead to believe the husband (Nick) is the bad guy (what’s with the name Lance by the way?) For example he ‘gave a killer’s smile’, ‘this was the fifth lie I had told the police this morning’. Suspense can be built in other ways (like not showing us what the second clue was initially), I think it takes more skill but let us readers make our own conclusions, we have brains and would like to use them occasionally. Rant over. For now.

Even though Nick is being framed to be the bad guy I find myself routing for him and want him to give the right replies to the press/police etc. I did find it interesting when he said that was the fifth lie he had told the police. I wanted to go back and reread what he had said to see what the other lies could be. 

Ok first bombshell hit – Andie. I really really don’t like the fact he has a mistress. He was aware that we wouldn’t like it and she comes across (initially) as a needy/clingy/bimbo. It’s interesting that he is now either totally bad (killed wife and has a mistress) or now half bad (has a mistress) if it’s the latter there is no real hero anymore to the book as even if he isn’t the killer he isn’t a good guy anymore and so you lose a bit of wanting him to be ok. Is this a mistake by the author? Can there be any sort of happy ending?  Andie certainly hasn’t been introduced as the one true love of his life who he can be happy ever after with if Amy is dead and he is not the killer. Yet if Amy returns there now won’t be an automatic happy ending for him (us) either.  

I’m liking the two stories/sides starting to merge. As they get closer in time it’s sad to see the way each of them saw the other and misinterpreted what has gone wrong in their marriage. She thinks the route of it is him losing his job, resenting her having money as feeling less like a man and stops communicating. He thinks she resents moving to look after his mother, won’t do anything to fit in and be happy and just becomes a nag. Why don’t people talk to each other?

BOMBSHELL ALERT. Ok I’m really surprised with the twist (if you haven’t read it all look away now!) I didn’t expect Amy to have set it all up. The level of fore planning is really good but then obviously made up by author – just happened to take Andie and Amy to Hannibal, how convenient.  And so now I’m suddenly routing for Nick again even though I don’t really like him.

I feel like this section of the book (sorry when we are following Amy to the motel etc) is dragging slightly. Why are we being given details of Amys life on the run, her new friends? I'm not surprised when she decides not to kill herself. How overly dramatic of her to think that in the first place.

So now Desi is back in the picture and I’m starting to feel as though the book is turning another way and perhaps Amy will get her just deserts. Wouldn’t it be ironic if she ends up dead anyway and Nick gets done for it. That way neither of them gets their happy ending. 

I’m really really disappointed with the ending. No one has got their just deserts and WHY does Nick stay with Amy.  I know you’re going to say because he doesn’t want to be like his dad and he wants his son to not be raised by her but its just ridiculous. Why did he stay that long to give her time to get pregnant in the first place? It feels like a wash out.

Let me put it to you - basically Amy set up her husband, big time, kills an innocent man and is about to have her husbands baby that she managed to create using her husbands frozen sperm.  Even though the husband knows all of the above, he is still living with her playing happy families. It’s just so unbelievable.  Stupid.

Andie was just shoved out of the picture. Desi was killed but apart from the mother having a bit of a face off it seems to have been brushed under the carpet and they are now both massively in debt thanks to Amys credit card spending. I didn’t get all this hinting that Boney was on his side either . Really it was pointless in the end that she was as neither her, Nick or Go could manage anything other than pancakes for breakfast.

I was however really annoyed by her parents, how they turned. Nick was innocent (apart from affair obviously) yet they went on public record basically stating they thought he did it. If I was him I would want to scream at them see I told you so and never let them back in my house again. Them and my neighbours and the press who were equally horrible.

I feel like I have been pushed and pulled in so many directions that I’m left not knowing what to think. I think my overall feeling is that of confusion and disbelief – so, they are just going to carry on living together?!? I’m not one necessarily for happy endings, but this was just bizarre and annoying. 

Unfortunately the milestone of turning 30 got in the way of me attending the book club so I don't really know what was discussed other than it was awarded 7. More than me who would have given it a 5.

Not sure that I'm a fan of this 'write as I read' style as reading the blog back it's not entirely clear where abouts in the book I am. Apologies if it is hard to follow. Got to try new things now and again though but think will revert back to old style.

It's nice to see I have another follower. Please feel free to comment, do you agree with what I said? Did you miss the meeting and want to add something or ask what was discussed (can't help you this month but future months I will be able to). Do you have friends who although not part of book club have read book and have their own comments? If yes point them here!!!!!!!

Next book Me Before You by Jojo Moyes.

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Julian Barnes - Sense of an Ending

A short book edged in black promising to be about a group of boys navigating sixth form, girls and exams. It turned out to be about a retired man looking back on his life

We all thought how unsatisfied Tony, the lead character, was with his life although he was at pains to show that he wasn’t even to himself. He kept referring to how his daughter was fine and how he was still friends with his ex-wife and could go on holiday with her if he wanted to. It was though he was trying to reassure himself. There is a brilliant passage in the book about how being a realist turns out being safe and how time turns all well thought out decisions in to wobbly ones at best (sorry massively paraphrasing). The reader really got the impression that he thought he had lived a good life but now looking back he was slowly realising that he hadn’t and was loathe to admit it.

We also discussed whether he couldn’t live the present life he had because he was full of regret as to the few chances he didn’t take or let slip through his fingers. The irony being that he seemed to have a really lovely ex-wife who (despite cheating on him – I know really sounds lovely doesn’t she!) was still there for him and very much a part of his life.

I loved the history element of the book, and no I don’t mean Henry the 8th and his wives. The sections of the book where Tony is at school and the class are discussing what history is. There were a few really good lines in these parts – ‘History is the lies of the victors’ and this in some way really linked in to the book as all we were getting were Tony’s version of events. I also loved the way the book illustrated that one persons view point and memory is so very different from another’s. I thought this was really well illustrated by the letter Tony wrote to Adrian. Originally it is mentioned by Tony almost in passing yet when you actually read the real thing it’s shocking to see how different it is. It made you question whether Tony really wasn’t bothered about Veronica breaking up with him as he made out, in fact it made you question everything you had previously read. We talked about this a lot and how one persons actions can have such a huge consequence for another (butterfly effect?) without the first person ever realising it.

The book then sort of petered out as he became obsessed with sitting in the pub trying to see the boy again. It did show how little Tony had going on in his life and his obsessive personality. This part kind of mirrored his earlier life when he became slightly obsessed with Adrian. I use obsessive in a very loose sense of the word as he wasn’t a stalker or anything like that and he did downplay his attachment to Adrian, saying they all grew apart as they were so busy getting on with life. After reading the letter though was this true? We questioned why was he so fixated with the past and obtaining Adrians diary? Was it because life at that time was full of promise in stark contrast to the life he had now? Was it because although he didn’t want Veronica he didn’t want Adrian to have her. Or was he jealous that Veronica had Adrian at a time when he was ‘losing’ him? Was he so interested as he had nothing in his life at present to do other than to go over history again and again?

We commented on how it was funny the odd things you remember – Veronicas mother making him the eggs for breakfast. We also talked about Veronicas mother – seemed like she didn’t fit in with the family and perhaps didn’t like her daughter however given such a snap shot from an already unreliable source it is hard to judge.

I and a few other people loved the way the book was written – there were a few additions to go in my book of quotes. I also thought he captured a youths mind brilliantly and then made the change from young mind to old.

I loved the way Barnes captured 4 young lads spouting quotes to each other thinking they were the bees knees. I think this part of the book more than anything got us talking as virtually everyone was convinced the boys were attending either boarding or private school. One of us wasn’t (who interestingly enough grew up in America so went through a different schooling). The book didn’t specifically state which school they went to (and even said sixth form on the cover) however we were all convinced by the quotes they used and the fact they referred to their teachers as masters that they were not just at any old school. Given the period the book was set in when Grammar schools were still in existence and kids were schooled either to go to University or leave at 16 and get a job. These boys most definitely were not expected to go work in a factory with their dad and go watch the match every Saturday. Sorry to be stereotypical.

We obviously then had a lot to talk about so why exactly did we not like it? There were no redeeming characters, you were not pulling for anyone to come through. The storey on its own is very boring and doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or resolve anything. A lot of parts were also still misunderstood by the group – why did the mother give him the money? Why was his ex-wife saying he was on his own? Why was it called sense of an ending???

Overall we seemed to like the writing and the fact that it got us talking so much. In fact a few people gave it a higher score because of how much we discussed it. Story and characters though let it down badly. We gave it a broad range of scores but overall it totalled 5.5.

Next book Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

Lets get blogging again!

New year – new beginnings

It’s time I started blogging again. I think I have been putting off blogging for so long as there are so many books now that have been missed out. I’m just going to have to face it I am never going to blog all the books that have been read since the last time I blogged. This is a shame as I liked having a proper record of the book club and what we had read. 

Amongst others, we have reviewed the following in my time in non cyber space;

A Christmas Mystery Jostein Gaarder – Our annual Christmas book. I hated it. It was so very boring. Lots of people loved it however and imagined reading it to their children/grandchildren. It was interesting to read about the geography but I wanted maps!!!

Northanger Abbey Jane Austin – I loved it, loved it, loved it but this book totally split opinion. We wanted to review one of her less popular books but we really ended up falling in to 2 definite camps between love and hate.

House of Silk Anthony Horowitz – A new Sherlock Holmes mystery – I found it very boring and bland but some people liked that about it as said it was true to the originals

Thread Victoria Hislop – First time we have revisited one of our previous authors. The history parts about the War were really interesting as I didn’t know much about it but I just didn’t get the love story side of it

Gold Chris Cleave – We read this in time for the Olympics. Liked learning more about cycling. Can't remember too much about this book other than starwars, childhood cancer and messed up woman. Its not as bizarre as that sounds though.
50 Shades of Grey – E L James –  interesting to review that’s for sure! Especially when your mum is now a member of the book club. So pleased I was not the one to suggest this book. Very repetitive with unimaginative story line yet still read all 3.

The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – expecting it to deliver more. Started off as possibly being about racism and ageism then dissolved into a rose tinted view of the world. Think it could have been a lot more meatier however I look back on this book fondly.  

Anyway book club is still going strong we have swollen in size to about 12 people which really is amazing. We have stopped putting our signs up as don’t want to get so big that people don’t feel like they can talk or hear one another, especially across a sometimes busy pub. Two babies have been born (both girls, one to me) and several grandchildren, Santa visited the book club, the number of kindles in our group rose sharply (boo) and we braved rain, rain and a very icy car park once or twice in the pursuit of book reviewing.

See that wasn't so hard was it. Happy New Year.