Wednesday, 21 December 2016

The Santa Klaus Murder - Mavis Doriel Hay

Ooh an Agatha Christie style murder mystery set over Christmas for our December book club (#oneruleofbookclub), and chosen so easily as opposed to previous December book choosings it had to be a winner!

And it was for some of us who loved the post war, upper class England setting. It had all the hallmarks of a classic whodunit (the country house isolated by the Christmas bank holidays, the family gathering, the changing of a will) and was peppered with Christmas festivities (do you send a second present if you can't remember whether you sent a first or do you risk not sending any at all?)

The book however created a great divide between the group and every 9/10 was countered by a 5 or 6 as those in the against corner couldn’t warm to the self-centred, money grabbing characters who too many times had forgotten something of vital importance as 'they didn’t think it was relevant at the time'. It's a murder investigation why would a car driving away from the scene of the crime moments after it happened be relevant? Others struggled with too many characters and the authors labouring over points that didn’t really move the plot along (who closed what door leading to what room when).

It was interesting that those who read the physical book as opposed to reading it on a Kindle thought the above points slightly less of an issue as the book contained a note of all characters and a map of the ground floor of the house which greatly helped who the second daughter was married to and whether you could access the kitchen from the study.

The ending was a bit of a let-down, I didn’t think the final scenes including the big reveal were tense enough for a classic whodunit and I also thought the Inspector wasn’t a strong enough character. So often these murder mysteries have a strong lead (yes I'm thinking Poirot but there are others) and Halstock just wasn’t one of them.

Overall we all thought it better than last years offering (A Gift From Bob) but only just. 5/6 out of ten

We were divided in opinion this month and next month we will be even further as we review two separate books. Half will be reading Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte, the other will be reading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. Which one will you choose?

Question of the month - what's your favourite whodunit?

Aftermath - Rhidian Brook

On paper (boom boom) this book was right up my street. British soldiers and their families in Germany following the second world war, an angle that I hadn't really read about before appealed to me.

However this book left me cold. I found it very predictable, I didn't like Rachel, I didn't get why Ozi and his crew kept appearing. There were too many characters and issues spread across too few pages preventing anything from fully forming.

There were good parts, I liked reading how the British wives shopped behind blacked out Windows and were allotted an inventory consisting of champagne flutes and butter knives depending on your husband's rank. I also found it interesting to read how the British dealt with the Germans, camps, questionnaires and cleaning processes are things you don't associate with England during the war.

Yet these issues were not given the space they needed to shine. Instead being submerged by German street kids carrying around their dead mothers (what was that all about?!?) Knicker revealing angry teenagers and people's reliance on gin.

I couldn't remember anyone's name when talking about the book at book club which is always a bad sign. Others however really really enjoyed the book, there were certainly lots of talking points and I think if you were to study the book it could perhaps be an interesting one to dissect but it just left me cold and its December I need warmth!

Book averaged a 7. I think my 5 hampered the 9's which were on offer.

Next book is Christmas (One rule of bookclub) book. The Santa Klaus Murder by Mavis Doriel Hay. First impressions very Agatha Christie.

Question of the month. This book was set just after World War 2, what's your favourite war story?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

David Copperfield Charles Dickens #inbetweeny

Haven't written anything for a while as I was reading the doorstop that is David Copperfield. 700 plus pages of small writing can often leave you loosing the will to live but this didn't once. Yes I wanted to get it finished but only because I had a stack of other books waiting to be read not because I was finding the book tedious or boring.

I believe that the book was initially serialized and I think you can tell as each chapter was a little interesting story all by itself. I loved the characters especially David's (or should I say Trott's) aunt.

I was surprised by Dickens at some points - noting that the food in London wasn't as good as the food in the countryside due to the environment the animals had been raised in was way before its time!

Yes there was a certain predictability in the book but I really didn't mind. There was enough going on around to keep the reader entertained until you got there.

There was humour, villains, tragedy and triump by the bucketload and I thought the beginning in particular was heart breaking.

I have a number of Dickens novels still to read following on from my Dickens buying binge at the beginning of the year (after watching Dickensian) and whilst I won't be reading one straight away (I have the Christmas book club book to read after all) I certainly won't dread reading the next one.

Enjoyable. Long but enjoyable and lets face it, you would rather have it this way than short but boring.

Monday, 24 October 2016

Honour Amongst Thieves - Jeffrey Archer #inbetweeny

It's been over a week since I finished this book and upon sitting down to write the review I find a lot of the names (and there were a few in the book) have escaped me so apologies if I refer to 'him who impersonated Bill Clinton' or 'the guy from Iraq who drove them to his village'!

My mum bought the book for a pound following on from the book club reviewing Only Time Will Tell and me liking it. Let me start off by saying this is not Only Time Will Tell, it is nothing at all like Only Time Will Tell, but I do like variety from an author as opposed to feeling like you have read the same book again and again and again.

This is one of the first books I have read that actually featured Sadam Hussein. Not just referring to him as this elusive figure but actually having him speak, being in his war room and witnessing those around him and how they acted towards him. Having just read One Night in Winter I found myself likening Hussein to Stalin (please don’t take that as a political statement, just a naive reader witnessing how fear and ruthlessness ruled the day in these two particular books).

I found it funny that Archer would choose to write about American politics. I either thought he would choose to write about things from an English perspective or stay away from politics entirely. He chose neither however with the White House, the Declaration of Independence, Bill Clinton, and July 4th all being at the heart of the book.

The plot was quite far-fetched (although the build up until you found out what the actual heist was quite good and the suspense Archer built around the heist actually being executed was also good). Impersonating the president, dissembling a classic car to be carried across a desert piece by piece and be reassembled with nothing more than a spanner however was ridiculous at best.

There was humour – Scott eating two meals at the restaurant when his date turned up late (sorry 'his date' I can't remember your name!) and there were also moments of sadness, I didn’t really expect big characters to die but Archer didn’t shy away from it (although being shot in a blaze of glory yards from safety seemed over the top).

I didn’t get the love story between Scott and the secretary who was a spy (again can't remember her name, Hannah?). Scott seemed like a sensible intelligent guy, to fall in love with someone and to want to propose to them after going swimming a couple of times seemed very Disney princess esque. It was only at the end where the previous female ("his date") was mentioned that I remembered I actually wanted Scott to get with her and not "the secretary".

I really liked Dollar Bill's character (ha I can remember his name!) however I felt he laboured the point that there is no honour amongst thieves and at times it was hard to keep track of what Declaration ended up where.

Overall it was a (surprisingly) very American middle of the road political thriller. I got the feeling Scott is a character who will/has popped up before/again but to be honest I would give it a miss if he did as there are better political thrillers out there.

P.S Have you read the Declaration of Independence? How scathing is it about King George III? I had no idea! (Like I said naive reader, please forgive.)

Friday, 14 October 2016

The Captive Queen – Alison Weir #inbetweeny

I was at first slightly daunted by this inbetweeny as it was quite a chunky book and the probability of me finishing it before the next book club was slim. However my daughter (upon being asked to choose a number between 1 – 44 replied with 'well number one of course what else do you start with') indirectly choose the book and wouldn’t have allowed me to swop.

I had never heard of Eleanor of Aquitaine, the main character in the book nor her husband Henry Plantagenet. I had of course heard of Richard III (their son) and loving anything historical settled in for the long haul.

I found it quite an easy read after initial doubts. Eleanor was a remarkable lady living to a remarkable age despite many pregnancies, imprisonment and many travels.

Weir really captured how powerless women of that time were especially bearing in mind a Queen probably had far more opportunity than most other females of that time. I felt the frustration Eleanor experienced by having to adhere to her husband at all times.

I also found Weirs interpretation of the relationship between Eleanor and Henry interesting. I did wish at times it hadn’t (in the latter part of the book) always reverted to sex but I appreciated how the characters grew with age and viewpoints changed.

I really felt for Henry and the death he suffered but found him to be quite a sly character and at times really wanted to throttle him (as did Eleanor).

I have resolved to learn more about the Kings and Queens of England. I had no idea that the same man who ruled England also held most of France which was unrecognisable to what we view as France today and although I had heard of Richard III all I know is he saved the day in Robin Hood by returning from some crusade or other and discharging King John/Sheriff of Nottingham? (see not even totally sure about that!)

Anyone got any suggestions as to where I should start?

Thursday, 6 October 2016

In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume

Surely everyone has heard of Judy Blume, the kids author who has been around forever (forever, get it?) But who in their adult life has read one of her books? Well quite a few in Cramlington after this month as our book of the month was her (fourth?) venture into the world of adult fiction.

There were quite a few characters in the book and, particularly at the beginning, it jumped around between the many characters quite a bit. A few of the group struggled with this and to be fair I could see why.

I however loved the book, right from the get go. I just really enjoyed it, I liked all the characters and couldn't believe it was based on real life events.

I remember getting really tense when reading about the plane journeys and genuinely didn't know which way it was going to go when Miri got on the plane. Eek!

The end was maybe the weakest part of the book. I thought it simply didn't need to go so far. I also didn't really agree with Rusty and the dentist - it was so out of the blue, and Miri's newspaper article wasn't the controversial piece I thought it was going to be but I loved the description, the small things, the visit to the underwear shop, the food and the clothes.

Quite a few of the group loved Mason's character. I quite liked how there wasn't a big show down/ending for Miri and Mason as children as realistically things aren't always tied off into neat sections. I'm not sure how I felt about the adult meeting, maybe because we had something similar in our last book - One Night in Winter, but it went down well with the group.

We kind of split into two packs, those that loved it and those who couldn't get past the skipping about of all the characters. I was the former and strongly recommend giving adult Judy Blume ago.

Question of the month - favourite children's author? Don't be afraid to add your comments/questions below.

The Bullet Trick Louise Welsh #inbetweeny

Going to be a quick one this one as I am 3 books behind on the blog front (shame!)

This was a random book my husband bought me as part of a random box of books one Christmas. I had never heard of it or Welsh but it sounded interesting and wasn't too thick.

The book was basically two stories (Berlin with its bullet trick and Glasgow with its murder) featuring one man (a magician) who wove the stories together into one ending. It was unusual in that both stories (including the bullet trick) didn't resolve themselves until right at the end so the reader knew something bad had happened but wasn't sure what for quite a long time.

I thought the murder element was weak - if the envelope implicated the copper and he was so desperate to recover the incriminating evidence then why try to blackmail someone with it in the first place?

The women in the book were interesting, it would have been so easy to make the lawyer a stuck up bitch, yet she wasn't at all. Sylvie and her 'uncle' were also characters to make you think - what was the uncle's back story? that could have been a book in itself but instead readers were left to their own devices to fill in the gaps.

I think overall it had potential but didn't really deliver. Maybe it was too short to really delve into two such different stories enough. The magician and Berlin elements were intriguing enough to make it 'ok', but no more, no less.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

The Axemans Jazz - Ray Celestin #inbetweeney

This has probably been my favourite inbetweeny so far. It was a present from my mum who liked the look of the cover. Based very loosely on real events it took place in New Orleans in the 1920s when jazz, racism and the mafia were rife.

I really enjoyed the three thronged approach used by Celestin. Who out of the three detectives was going to catch the killer?, could they all be right or were their clues/trails leading them down the garden path?

The 'catching' of the killer (sorry trying to not give too much away) was perhaps the weakest part of the book but I loved the ending and went away frantically googling Louis Armstrong to learn more.

I liked both Michael and Luca and wanted them to make up. I questioned early on how things would pan out for Luca – realistically how could he ever escape the mafia either in Italy or America?

Celestin really caught the flavour of New Orleans, the grizzly underworld of prostitution, opium and poverty coupled with the flair of its music and its general noise. I enjoyed the characters back stories even though they had no part in pushing the plot forward.

If you like crime stories but are sick of the old clich├ęs (burnt out cop, divorced, teetering on alcoholism, traumatised from a previous case) this is a refreshing change that is well worth a read.

It's a stay on the shelfer for me

Friday, 26 August 2016

One Night In Winter - Simon Sebag Montefiore

A signed copy for 1p on Amazon (plus postage)! Sorry, had to get my little boast out of the way. Now that that's done I can talk about the book. I had never heard of Montefiore before although a few of the group had read Jerusalem that by all accounts is quite good.

Book Club fact alert:
Did you know Montefiore is the husband of author Santa Montefiore who is the sister of Tara Palmer Tomkinson? That’s a lot of surnames!

The book was suggested by our Russian literature fan and is loosely based on the 'the Childrens Case' where children from higher ranking families are caught up in a murder in Stalin's Russia.

I really enjoyed reading about how the seemingly untouchable upper class children who really were quite innocent were embroiled in a conspiracy to overthrow the government and how skilled the interrogators were at twisting words and skewering the truth. This is where the group split though as at least 3 of the group couldn’t get past violence inflicted on the children with one skipping to the end and one giving up entirely.

Be warned if you do skip to the end you are missing out as the latter half of the book takes off in a totally different direction. It becomes a love story of two parts one involving the illusive Serafina (again loosely based on a true story), the other involving the Doctor, mother to one of the children arrested. I also really enjoyed this part and thought there were some really poignant parts towards the end (the uniform!)

Perhaps the idea of the fatal romantics and the Game was a little silly but then again that's kids for you. I like how Montefiore captured Stalin, I liked the descriptions concerning the dresses and the ballet, there were twists and turns (Andrei and his secret, Serafina on the train) and there was emotion.

I think where the book fell down slightly was the fact that the story differed so much from the original starting point that in the end the murder(er) gets lost. To Montefiore's credit he took me along. I only realised once the book was all finished that I hadn’t really solved the murder and thought that maybe I had missed a part somewhere. Some in the group thought this was a plus point loving how the book fluidly veered off course and I can see where they are coming from but I did feel slight disappointment when I processed the book post read. Perhaps there should have been two books dealing with both points in more depth?

One member pointed out that the book was really just about love and in many ways it was – a sons love to his mother so much so that he will become an informer to keep them safe, a families love and the ties that bind, passionate all-consuming love, multicultural love, unrequited love, enduring love, love of literature, love of life. They were all in there. As was cruelty, secrecy, violence, fear and suppression, which in a way was the point of the book. Even during Stalin's rule (the long winter) love, in its many forms, survives.

The book scored highly despite, one of us giving up on it and a couple of 5s. It averaged 7 and a bit with a mode and median of 8.

Next book is In The Unlikely Event by Judi Blume

Question of the month - I had a big discussion in the meeting as to whether to keep a book once you have read it or not. I'm of the opinion that if a book is good it stays, with some books that made me cry or left little imprints on my heart being high up on my list of items to pull from a burning house (don’t worry my children are on there somewhere). The lady I was speaking to was of the opinion books should be passed on as they just fill up a load of space. Which camp do you fall into? #sharethelove #supergluetotheshelf

The Man in the High Castle Philip K Dick (Inbetweeny)

Having seen this advertised on television (although I haven't watched it due to me not having Amazon) I was immediately interested in the concept of what the world would have been like if Germany and Japan had won World War 2. Not being a book club book or being aware of anyone who had a copy I could borrow High Castle was the first book in a long time that I had gone out and bought for myself. Well I hadn’t actually gone out I clicked a button on a computer screen.

Did you know Dick is the guy who wrote Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (Aka Blade Runner)?

Do you know Total Recall and Minority Report are also based on novels by him?

Do you know the K stands for Kindred?

Just throwing in a little lunchtime trivia for you there.

Anyway I found it very confusing at first, it jumped around a lot and took a while to seem to fall into place. Something that I've noticed is I always struggle when foreign names are rife in a text. Be it French, Chinese, Russian, Italian you name it, I struggle. This is especially true when it comes to surnames which a lot of war novels, that I like to read, have. I don't know why but I just have real difficulty recalling who is who. So a book that features German and Japanese military figures was a tax on my recollection skills.

I did afterwards read wikis account of the book and found the explanation as to how the world had been carved up and what the various acronyms meant (PSA, SD etc.) really helpful, worth a read if you're confused.

I also struggled with the writing style. I got that Dick was trying to portray the Japanese way of speaking and that Americans under their rule had picked up on this, however the inner monologue-ing (slightly Go Set A Watchman esque) made it hard at times to work out what was actually happening. For example Juliana and Joe in the hotel room in Denver.

The book went in a totally different way to what I was expecting. I don’t necessarily mean the ending, more the storey as a whole. I didn’t expect I-Ching, a novel within a novel (The Grasshopper) and handmade jewellery containing Wu. I think I wanted more of a thriller, more explanation in to the alternative history and the workings, uprises and resistance and it's not that at all.

I think it would benefit from being digested somewhat more and (although if I'm honest this is unlikely) another read. The book isn’t very long though, it took me about a week to read but as I have 44 books left on my bookshelf that are as yet unread and Judi Blume to tackle I might just have to leave it as is. An interesting concept but not the way I expected it to go.

Thursday, 25 August 2016

The Coffin Dancer Jeffery Deaver (Inbetweeny)

In return for leaving Too Good To Be True on the swop shelf of my hotel I picked up this one amongst the various Germany novels and rather bizarrely gardening books that were on offer.

I had watched the film The Bone Collector before but never read any of Deavers other novels.

I started this book on the balcony of my hotel room and finished it on the train to work having been able to squeeze it into the suitcase on the way home (well we had no toiletries to bring back with us so more suitcase room).

I really enjoyed it especially the endless twists and turns in the cat and mouse game that was Rhyme v Coffin Dancer. I liked the characters, the information about flying a plane, I even liked the Sachs/Rhyme twist.

The book slightly threw me when the Kall twist came to light (trying very hard to not give too much away) which perhaps was one twist too far but really enjoyable and a step above the usual American cop thriller novels. What's the next one?

Ann Cleeves - Too Good To Be True (A teeny weeny inbetweeny!)

So when your main criteria for packing a book to take on holiday is how thin it is you're not necessary expecting a masterpiece to accompany you to the sun lounger (ha who am I kidding with three children, I would be lucky to even see a sun lounger!)

Being the smallest book on my book shelf (page wise not size wise although that probably too unless you take into account the endless Mr Men stories) it was somewhat half-heartedly I packed Too Good to be True.

Cleeves is the author or Vera and Shetland the latters of which this book was a kind of spin off of. It was given to me by my Auntie who had received it free as part of the Quick Reads for 2016.

I enjoy watching Shetland, hadn’t read any Cleeves before so was interested to see what could be delivered in so few pages.

I'm struggling to think of anything to say other than 'yeah it was ok'. Cleeves did a good, neat job. A who dunnit with a clear beginning, middle and end coupled with a slightly dramatic near miss towards the end for good measure. Other than Stephen King (see previous blog!) I'm not really a fan of short stories but totally get behind the Quick Reads concept and if you're not a reader, you like Shetland, or like me your husband insists on taking one suitcase on holiday for a family of 5 then this book is a pretty good contender.

I'd like to read more Cleeves, particularly the Shetland series so will be keeping an eye out for them in the future. In the spirit of Quick Reads I left Too Good To Be True at the hotel on the swop shelf so that someone else could read and pass on. So it’s a kind of stay on the shelfer!

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Inbetweeny - Alan Sugar - What you see is what you get.

So what did I make of Lord Alan Sugars autobiography – What you see is what you get?

I enjoyed it. It was very detailed and genuinely written by him in his direct no nonsense style we are accustomed to in The Apprentice. I didn’t realise how much I didn’t know about him being an avid watcher of the Apprentice for quite a few years I had picked up about AMSTRAD and his electronics background but I had no idea in his involvement with Tottenham, his involvement with BSkyB and his involvement with Curry's.

He doesn’t hold back, friends, staff, family and celebrities all get a bashing. I was left thinking it would have been interesting to have read the headlines at the time and read the other guys (or girls) side of the story to get the overall picture of events, particularly in relation to the football and the several law suits (I am a lawyer after all) but he did seem to be fair in his criticism and reflection.

It was refreshing to read an autobiography – this was my first one in a long time and to read one where the author is obviously not out to make friends or money but to get his side of the story across and has a bit of a life story to tell – not some 18 year old who has shot to stardom overnight and has nothing to say other than he loves his mam and dad and wants a better life for them.

I was slightly disappointed about the fact The Apprentice was slightly glossed over. That’s not to say it wasn’t mentioned but in contrast to his earlier part of his life The Apprentice did seem to be rushed through. Perhaps that’s because this part of his life is already well documented as YouTube, Skyplus and the internet have risen in popularity or perhaps because there is another autobiography (two in fact, The Way I See it and Unscripted My 10 Years In Telly) that covers this part of his life in more detail but overall I would recommend it, even to those non Apprentice/football fans as an interesting read.

It's certainly not a light hearted read – it took me a while to plough through even with the pictures! But Sugar does a good job at keeping the technical level just right and the names of the massive amount of people he has met thought the years in check.

Don’t rush out and buy it but if you come across it don’t pass it by.

PS Sky if you are reading this, please will you sell Alan Sugar the rights to AMSTRAD back?

Monday, 25 July 2016

Go Set A Watchman - Harper Lee

I first read To Kill A Mockingbird many years ago whilst at school. As it was a set text the obligatory pulling apart line by line was done complete with pencil notes in margin which is the kind of thing I love. Unlike some school texts (Far From the Madding Crowd, Macbeth) this one escaped my teenage loathing and I look back on it with fondness rather than with a shudder of exam stress.

We had clocked this book as soon as it came out but being price conscious (and carrying hardbacks on train adverse) decided to wait until it was out in paperback. I was surprised to note it was written in the 50s and had only been released very shortly before Lee's death. This made me suspicious as I was immediately dubious as to whether she wanted it released. Why wait so long? It didn’t stop me though and I approached it as you would meeting a long lost friend.

I initially enjoyed the train ride with Jean Louise and viewed the folding bed incident to similar trouble she would have gotten in to during Mockingbird. As the book enfolded however the plot seemed to falter. Viewing the return to ones home town through changed eyes and meeting old characters became an attempt to impress political views upon an audience that now had little recollection or understanding of the time. I don’t know the American constitution, I don’t really know of the political/race struggles that went on in that part of America in the 50s and whilst I'm not adverse to learning more, in a book that is very slim in the first place trying to encapsulate that in amongst recollections of childhood and deliberations about marriage proposals was just too much.

The book then swerved and became about Jean Louise and her idolisation of her father that needed to be severed so she could become her own person. All very well but to do this it felt like the Atticus in this book was totally different to that in Mockingbird. We discussed how he was always about justice and how if this went against white people so be it but phrases such as the Negro population is backward made him appear as a racist bigot something he simply wasn’t in Mockingbird.

What also didn’t follow was if Jean Louise was so straight laced black is black, white is white and we are all equal why would the book end with her agreeing with her Uncle that she wouldn’t marry Hank because he wasn’t her type – not because she didn’t love him but because he was trash. I think this is the part of the book I was most disappointed with. It was a throw away paragraph at the end of the book despite Hank and his attachment to Jean Louise being one of the main parts of the book.

I found at times the writing style hard to follow. The third person narration shifted haphazardly and I had no idea what Jean Louise's Uncle was talking about half the time. We discussed that this was how Jean Louise found him frustrating and full of riddles but it was just one more negative in a list that was becoming quite lengthy.

We all loved the parts where Jean Louise became Scout again and we reminisced with her. The school prom and Scouts 'pregnancy' were particular highlights. We also enjoyed the parts between Jean Louise and Hank – will they/wont they, should they/shouldn’t they. I loved the part where she questioned whether she should marry him as she would only go off and have an affair with the man she should have married had she had waited.

We definitely all learned something during our meeting. One of the group came fully armed with text books from the 50s and even pictures, brilliant! The biggest shock of the night to me was the fact it was written before To Kill A Mockingbird. We spent quite some time discussing this and the fact Trueman Capote was rumoured to have written Mockingbird. Dill is supposedly based upon Capote as a child! We concluded it felt like a draft that had been written and scrapped as the spark of Mockingbird emerged from its ashes.

Our scoring was very complicated this month with marks being given for plot, enjoyment, characters and writing style. Plot came out worse, characters the best but they all pretty much hovered around the 5/6 mark. It’s a shame in a way it was published as it almost lessens Mockingbird. The epic that is taught in schools everywhere the stoic moral rights compass that is Atticus, the hope of emerging racial tolerance are all stamped upon. Perhaps somethings should just be left as they are.

Question of the month – biggest shock for me wasn’t the book but the fact it was written before Mockingbird. What shocking facts do you know about literary giants?

Friday, 15 July 2016

The Jewel of St Petersburg by Kate Furnivall

This is a prequel to excellent The Russian Concubine and if you haven't read it or its follow on The Concubines Secret please do. Oh and while you're at it read Under A Blood Red Sky as well, no Lydia or Valentina but still good.

It has been quite a few years since I had read either of the Concubine books yet Lydia had stayed with me over the years and I was looking forward to reading about how her mother and father got together.

I really enjoyed the book and found it gripping from the get go. What I loved the most about Concubine were the characters and I was delighted to find old faces pop up in this book, it felt like I was meeting old friends. I don't want to spoil things by giving too much away but the book was tinged with sadness for me. Having said that I did find it tense even though I knew whether certain characters were alive or not by the time Concubine starts. I loved the description of Russia and its descent into chaos, the love story, the villans and the description of Valentinas work at the hospital.

I'm not sure in which order I would recommend you read Jewel and Concubine. There was enough in this book to not make me regret reading it last but I could understand how you would perhaps get more out of it reading them the other way round.

In any event I found it a real page turner, easy to read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I haven't read any other Kate Furnivall books and have just had a spy on her website to check out her back catalogue as if her other books are half as good as these ones you're on to a winner. I'm fancying The White Pearl, has anyone read it?

Also let me know whether you are team Lydia or team Valentina. For me Lydia will always have a place in my heart.



Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Inbetweeny - The Penguin Book of Classical Myths - Jenny March

I'm interested in history so was looking forward to reading this book – I actually picked it from the 30 plus unread books waiting for me on the bookshelf. My knowledge of Greek myths is/was very vague and I was keen on being to say to my children "ah yes Zeus, God of thunder do you know he …"

I realised pretty early on however that this wasn’t going to be the book that allowed me to do that and fell out of love with it once I realised the introduction was pretty much the theme for the rest of the book.

I didn’t like the way the book was presented – for example (sorry if this is a stupid question but having read 500 plus pages I still don't know) do some people actually believe this is how the world started? Virgil, Homer and all the other people she quoted, were they just waxing lyrical or is it them explaining what they believed to be a true account of how Athens came about or how a constellation came into being? This wasn’t made clear to the reader. Some sort of background/introduction to Virgil, Homer etc. would have been useful to help put their works into context. There wasn't any kind of conclusion either, in fact I found the ending quite abrupt (I actually turned the page expecting to see more). What happened to all these Gods that the author spent 500 pages naming?

That brings me to my next point – names – how many! The book literally read like this 'A married B and they had C, D and E. C met F and raped her to produce G. D had sex with E then with H and I and had 3 sons J, K and L. K married M who killed K and then married N. N was murdered by D. M murdered D in revenge and then killed herself in grief for her lost husband. And that’s just one paragraph!

That is pretty much what the book is, a list of people having sex (consensual or not), having children, killing (each other or themselves) or turning into trees, rivers, animals and so forth. I get that that is in essence what the Gods did but it was too list like. I wanted little things like why Helen is known as the face that launched a thousand ships, or why we wear laurel wreaths as a sign of victory to stand out rather than be swamped amongst the endless names. What made it more difficult was the fact all of the names were unfamiliar to me – Apollo yes I've heard him before but add Kynossema, Apsyrtos and Anaxarete in to the mix and you can appreciate why it was hard to remember who was who. Again I understand the author couldn’t suddenly start calling everyone Dave (that too would have been confusing) but she needed to someway make them memorable, more recognisable instead of another name beginning with A whose face made Zeus fall in love with her in an instant.

What a randy bugger Zeus was by the way and how much of a bitch was his wife? See I wanted more of that!

It's not that the book went over my head. I just found it boring, cold and repetitive. Maybe too many topics were covered and not enough word count devoted to each. Towards the end it did feel like she was trying to squeeze in as many people as possible just to have included them. There were also repeat references to certain people and it felt at times as thought I was reading the same thing twice so maybe the overall structure needed to be looked at and fine-tuned.

I totally believed that this book would be a #ontheshelf book to refer to at various points when homework or random conversations sparked the need. I'd even cleared a space for it in the read section of my little library. However I disliked the book so much that I've decided it's going nowhere near my shelf – I have Google if I need to answer who Athene was and 30 or more unread books that are more worthy of the space.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

In a Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware

It's not very often the words 'it's a generation thing' come from my lips. I'm lucky enough to still be of an age where 'it's a generation thing' usually refers to something/someone before my time and I am too young to remember. This month however I found myself saying those very words 'it's a generation thing' as the book was an adult version of the Point Horror books I used to read as a kid. When me and two of the other group members (both of similar age) commented on this, we were met with blank looks from the other slightly older members of the group. I did say slightly, please don't be offended!

For those of you who are slightly older (again slightly!) Point Horror was a series of very formulaic teen reads set in America where (a) A group of teens went off to camp/stay in a secluded house/break down in a remote area (b) someone injures themselves and is unable to move/the phone line is cut/they can't get a new brake disc until Monday and then (c) one by one they begin to die until only 3 are left - two possible suspects and the lead character. There is a big showdown, the hero is usually injured in some way, the killer is either killed or arrested and the other suspect is either killed or coupled up with the hero, all past thoughts of them being a possible multiple murderer forgotten (ah the memories!). And in describing your typical Point Horror book I have just described In A Dark Dark Wood to a T.

Most of the group didn't like the book finding it silly, unbelievable and not authentic to the Northumberland location. I, having read many a Point Horror in the past, took on a somewhat nostalgic view. I didn't (unlike most Point Horrors I can remember) really care for the lead character. I found her to have no warmth and I struggled to reconcile her decisions (going to the hen party, not leaving when she had the chance) with the adult she was supposed to be - this wasn't after all a bunch of teenagers but a bunch of middle class, arty, university graduated adults. I think that was the crux of the problem for me, what teenagers may do on their own is one thing but what engaged, house owning, washing machine familiar adults do is entirely different. This book didn't make the distinction.

I did read the book in record time - pretty much in 24 hours which for me is always worth a point when it comes to marking. All of the group read the whole book (which doesn't happen too often) and all found it easy to read. We commented on how the book again contained a group of middle class, university graduated, arty people which. Our last book The Versions of Us was set amongst a crowd of similar people as have a few the group have been reading lately. It certainly seems to be a trend reflecting the lives of the new batch of authors making their way on to the bestseller list.

My favourite quote about the book came from one of the group who described the book as "shit, entertaining but shit" and it kind of was. I enjoyed it for what it was, but if you start picking at it, it falls apart and if it had taken any longer than a day to read my rose tinted nostalgia may have worn to beige tinted boredom.

We tried the mean, mode and median method of marking the book this month as believe that sometimes the trusty 7 is not representative of the book. The results were 5, 5 and 4.9 so really - a resounding 5!

Next book is Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee (very excited to be reading it!)

Question of the month - Mean, modes and medians are not really for us book worms so next month we have decided to change the scoring method again, splitting the scoring into 4 categories. How much we enjoyed it and how well we thought it was written were 2 suggestions. What do you suggest for the other two categories?

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

A Storm of Swords Part1: Steel and Snow by George R R Martin Aka Game of Thrones

Where do you start reviewing the epically popular Game of Thrones? This was part one of the third book that I decided to read as an inbetweeny before our Book of the Month, A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware. Yes I know it was an epic ask given the fact it's about 600 pages but I read DDW in record time (pretty much 24 hours) so thought if I was going to squeeze this one in at any point this was it.

Series 6 is currently showing on TV so my timing was perfect to help me with placing the various names to faces. It actually helped my understanding of the current series as when Lord Beric suddenly appeared I was able to recount to my husband exactly what had gone on between him and the Hound as I had just read it.

I really enjoyed the book and surprised myself by how quickly I read it, so much that I actually got to start another inbetweeny! (The Penguin Book of Classical Myths by Jenny March but more on that in another post once read). I do think the watching and reading at same time helped and I enjoyed revisiting the characters. I found myself arguing with Robb about the Frey’s and arranging the infamous 'Red Wedding' and willing Sansa to like Tyrion. I was surprised at how knowing what happens didn’t spoil my enjoyment in the slightest.

Overall I enjoyed being in a little Game of Thrones bubble and will carry on reading the series. Although I may give my arm a break from lugging about the doorstops that are Martins books (no before you say it I don’t need a Kindle!)

PS I don’t normally recommend things other than books but if you are familiar with Game of Thrones head over to YouTube and search for Game of Thrones The Musical. I first watched it probably a year ago now and it remains the favourite thing I have ever seen on social media.

Saturday, 28 May 2016

The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett

A literary version of Sliding Doors is the quickest way to sum this one up. But where Sliding Doors gave the impression of hope and happiness I found The Versions of Us to be filled with sadness and grief. The overall message seemed to be love never lasts, even if you are meant to be together it will end in sadness, you hurt the ones you love and even to some extent have a better career when you are apart. Whilst in the most basic sense - we all die - Barnett is correct I found it depressing to read.

I think I fell out with the book (well Jim and therefore the book) in version 1 when he cheated on Eva. I appreciate that a version of them doing nothing but living happily ever after would be boring however I was shocked when I read it and it really spoilt the book for me.

My favourite version was number 2. I thought everyone would have a favourite but most in the group didn't which surprised me. Whereas I didn't like the book for the overall message, most stumbled on the versions and keeping track of them all. Two people commented on how they would have liked to have gone back and just read all of version 1 then all of version 2 then 3 and it would be interesting to see if this improved their overall reading experience. I did slightly lose track in the middle but found trying to read each time period in one sitting, for example all of 1970 helped.

It had some great supporting characters however the number of names at times became confusing especially given that the children in the various versions had different names. I see why this was done, various things influence us over our lives and the names I would have for my children when I was 20 are not the names my children ended up with. Still the group struggled with the large amount of characters dotted about.

I thought at times the book was very cliched. The tormented artist, the OTT actor, the writer with writers block, the commune and one member commented if was all very Oxbridge darling.

Following on from my dislike of Jim, I thought he was a very weak person, terrible to his mother who although was testing he seemed to leave behind and never look back. I loved Sinclair by the way, yet there was another example of love ending unhappily.

The group's scores ranged between 5-9 with the average being 7. Next book is In A Dark Dark Wood by Ruth Ware.

Question of the month - what book is your favourite happily ever after?

Thursday, 5 May 2016

Annabel by Kathleen Winter #inbetweeny

Time for another quick inbetweeny book before our book of the month The Versions of Us. Annabel was given to me by my auntie who had really enjoyed it. Being about a hermaphrodite it was quite topical (I'm thinking about the whole Caitlyn Jenner transgender thing which I appreciate is a totally different issue but still made me think of it) despite it being released nearly 6 years ago.

Initially it was very interesting and I liked the slow paced descriptive tone. I really enjoyed the parts about Labrador and could have read more about it.

I felt the suffering of Jacinta and even Treadway and liked the supporting characters however I feel like the book started to taper off when Wayne decided to leave Labrador. It felt like wasted pages.

I also didn't get Wally and why she didn't speak to Wayne but then seemingly welcomed him with open arms years later. Tomasina was also a funny one - meddling then taking off to ramble before meddling again. My affection for Treadway grew as the book went on but I felt put out slightly at how everyone kind of got a happy ending. Even Jacinta who was rescued from a sea of depression by a hotdog and a take away coffee. The baddies exited without any comeuppance and overall I felt like what got off to a good start became a bit wishy washy.

Potential but didn't fulfil. Won't be staying on the shelf!

Friday, 22 April 2016

A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

I had never heard of this book. It’s a Swedish translation first released in the UK sometime last year. Apparently it made its way to Sainsburys last summer where someone in the group picked it up and as they had just started to read it last month put it forward as a suggestion. The pressure to choose a good book was great as we have had a couple of stinkers recently so the first page was read with as much tension as a Wimbledon Andy Murray final.

I clicked with this book immediately which quite a few of the group didn’t. It took them a few chapters to get into it and appreciate Ove and his ways. Someone mentioned that they found the writing style quite abrupt but I liked it as I felt it mirrored how Ove was – he wasn’t a man for putting spin on things or waxing lyrical about sunny mornings.

I guessed very very early on about his wife and as I was reading I thought I knew how it was going to end – he was going to die surrounded by all these friends that he had made along the way. I didn’t mind this as I really enjoyed reading the journey but in the end it didn’t end quite how I thought it would and for that reason I liked it even more.

There were many laugh out loud moments and some brilliant one liners. I loved Ove’s description about runners. I’m paraphrasing but it was loosely ‘they jog about demonstrating to the world that they can neither walk properly nor run properly and feel the need to dress up like a member of a bobsled team whilst doing it’

In addition to the laughs there were also tears, I think from pretty much everyone in the group. The ‘grandad’ moment particularly got to me but there were moments littered throughout the book. I really really felt for Ove – when his house burnt down and the insurance man in the white shirt came, when the guy at work (was it Tom?) accused him of stealing, when the bus crashed. I loved him when he travelled for hours in the wrong direction just to sit next to Sonja and the reason behind why he bought the I-pad.

I could practically re-write the book by mentioning all the parts I loved. What are your favourites? I won’t though, I will try to give more opinions instead of just saying what about when the whole SAAB v Volvo debate and all the glorious moments with Rune or where he expected the cat to sit on a newspaper in the car?

Ove was just such a brilliant character but there was a great supportive cast. Special mention must go to ‘That Cat Annoyance’ I loved him. I also liked how Parvenah was with Sonja – taking her flowers and thanking her for letting Parvenah borrow him.

We talked about how Sonja would have coped if the roles had been reversed. The group was split between thinking she would have had to go into a home as it was Ove who carried her up the stairs every day and drove her to the shops however she seemed to be the much more sociable of the two and I can imagine Parvenah invading her life just as much as she did Ove’s.

I was reminded of The Rosie Project and whilst there was no suggestion that Ove had any sort of autistic tendencies I could certainly liken the two characters set in their ways but pushed out of their comfort zones by women. Nobody else in the group saw this connection so it may have just been me. Anyone else pick up on this?

The book got a very high 8.6 with quite a few 9s handed out making it easily our best book of the year so far.

Question of the month – nice and easy one – what was the last book that made you cry?

Next book is The Versions of Us by Laura Barnett. It’s been knocking around as a suggestion for a few months now so if you have already read it let me know your marks out of ten.

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith #inbetweeny

So time for another inbetweeny before my review of our book of the month A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman. This time I'd chosen to read Career of Evil by Robert (JK) Galbraith (Rowling).

I've read both previous Strike novels and whilst I loved the character's I was slightly dubious on Rowlings ability to write excellent crime novels. Don't get me wrong, I still enjoyed the books but had definitely read more edge of the seat stuff. This one came highly recommended and as I had enjoyed the other two I was looking forward to a change from the not so good books we had chosen at book club so far in 2016 (no pressure Ove!)

I really enjoyed it - I tried to write that all fancy but couldn't think of a better way to put it.

I loved the character's and think the story between Strike and Robin did move forward (although I do question how long the will they won't they can be kept going).I loved the journey round northern England/Scotland and the Royal Wedding and that band who came third on the X Factor. Rowling just has a way of capturing things that reads so well.

We've always known that about Rowling though and the crunch with a detective novel is in the detecting and this time I think she upped her game. It was grizzly, gritty stuff (biting frozen fingers for sexual pleasure springs to mind) and although the reader could have become confused with 3 similar suspects Rowling was aware of this and gave each a sufficient backstory and enough reminders to keep the reader on track - massive tick for that.

In short I just really enjoyed it and will look forward to reading any new installment. When does the tv series start?

Oh and a special request to Rowling - please can we have more of Shanker - totally loved him. She really does write some stonking characters.

#wouldstayontheshelfbutitsonloan #inbetweeny

Saturday, 2 April 2016

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Well I’m not sure what to make of the book and really unsure what score to give it. I haven’t read anything by Ishiguro before and avoided reviews or opinions about the book so really went into it blindfolded.

At first I found the book enjoyable and was very surprised when reference to ogres and dragons popped up. These are not words that historically have gone down well with our book club (read the review on The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett) so it was with interest I read on wondering how many of the group would fall away by chapter 5 and who would hate it on the spot as soon as the word pixie appeared on a page.

I found it very Tolkein-esque – the two main characters although human live underground in warren like rooms connected by passages. They set off on a long journey and end up embroiled in destroying a mysterious mist threatening all mankind.

The storey in itself was quite simplistic but I as a reader felt the whole time there was a hidden meaning, the characters merely symbolic to portray some higher message which although I couldn’t work out what it was, would become clear by the end of the book. The boatman was totally going to reappear.

I liked how the book illustrated how one persons version of events or memory of an event differs to anothers and how memory isn’t always accurate. It was also an interesting point to develop – how memory makes us what we are and what happens when those memories disappear.

So here I was enjoying the book. The characters were a little annoying – Beatrice with her repetitive pleas to Axl not to leave her and Axl with his repetitive referring to Beatrice as his Princess and overall the book was a little slow but I went with it and as I say enjoyed it. Until I realised I had finished the book and still didn’t have a clue about what the hidden meaning/analogy/allegory/metaphor/whatever the hell it was that I was supposed to have got by now but hadn’t was. I had read it all (and checked for an epilogue) but still felt like I had missed the whole point of the book.

So I googled (I swear those guys should give me shares considering the amount of googling I do) and it seems like I was not alone in the ‘ok so what was it all about then?’ category.

I found reference to Gawain and the Green Knight, a poem about the nephew of King Arthur who was undertaking a mysterious quest. I found some vague notion about how it was vague and shadowy deliberately to reflect the knowledge we have around the time the book was set – the Dark Ages where myth and legend are whispered and we have only scraps to rely upon. I found some half interesting discussion about whether it is best to remember and learn from our mistakes ‘those who forget the past are bound to repeat it’ (George Santayana) or whether it’s better to forget and move on untainted by our mistakes but equally unpunished. I learnt that Axl is Scandinavian for ‘father of peace’ which he seemed to be in his earlier years and that Beatrice was Dante’s great love who embodied all that is best in the world (I just found her annoying) but I didn’t find THE explanation. The one that made me go ‘ah I get it now’ the one that made me think ‘wow that’s such a clever book’. I remember reading Animal Farm by George Orwell at face value and then having it taught to me by my Theatre Studies teacher and being astounded that a book could on the face of it be a childs farmyard story yet actually represent the Russian Revolution. I remember I was totally blown away and have looked for hidden meanings in books ever since. I was desperate to find such a thing here but just couldn’t.

I started to think what if Ishiguro really wasn’t that clever and there wasn’t really any hidden meaning? You would then be left with a simplistic, slightly slow, fantasy tale that was just ok?

Some have argued that it is deliberately ambiguous so you can give your own interpretation, I think that is perhaps people being kind. So my question of the month is this - If you have read it how do you interpret it? What’s it all about? What is the buried giant, is it memory? Who does Edwin and the Warrior and Gawain and Axl and Beatrice and the dragon and hell even the giant represent? What happened at the end? Give me your thoughts so I can have my ‘ah I get it now’ moment otherwise for me I’m afraid I can only say it was a nice tale but I am small and its depth went totally over my head.

I give it a flexible 6 – I’m willing to upgrade should the ‘ah’ moment occur. The group gave it a 5.5

Next book is A Man Called Ove by Fredrick Backman

Monday, 29 February 2016

The Unmumsy Mum by Sarah Turner

Another quick #inbetweeny for you before I review the book of the month for March. It’s The Buried Giant by the way and if you haven’t already started to read it yet there is still time. I’m only on page 5!

The Unmumsy Mum is my first experience of following a blogger right through to their first book being published and I was really excited to read it. Although maybe slightly worried that I would have read most of it before via the blog. This wasn’t the case - Ruth and fake tanned breast fed babies were nowhere in sight.

The book was really easy to read – nice short chapters (you can tell it’s been written by a mum right there) and made me laugh out loud on several occasions. I totally resonated with Turners true to life account of being a mum and recognised myself in so many pages. My only criticism would be that’s its very much a ‘you need to be experiencing it right now kind of book’. I’m not sure my mum would relate to references of baby sensory, Bubble Guppies and social media mumsy mum envy. I’m not sure whether even I would love the book as much as I do if I read it again in 10 years time when nappies, teething and weaning are all a rose tinted memory. I am however very much in the thick of toilet training, plank-esque tantrums and stopping the baby from choking on sylvanian family accessories and so give the book an 8 out of 10. That’s what blogging is all about after all ‘in the moment’

Yes it’s staying on the bookshelf (#shelfer). Whether it’s still there in 10 years time remains to be seen. It may be replaced with ‘How to be a brain surgeon’ and ‘A guide to the best Oxford colleges’ #socialmediamumcompetition

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

An inbetweener - The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry

So I’ve been thinking one book a month equals only 12 posts a year (well 13 if you count the Big Review of the Year) which is good but I want to give you lovely people more reasons to come and read the blog. So I’ve decided to post about the books I read in-between the books of the months. These ones are read by only me and as at the moment I am reading The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry this seems like a good enough place to start.

It was a random Christmas present a couple of years ago that I re-found when stocking my new book shelves (Handmade by hubby - thank you!)
I wasn’t expecting much, to be honest I don’t think I would have bought it for myself and I simply wanted to get rid of all the ‘old’ new books I had that I didn’t expect to be staying on my bookshelves – only the best get to stay!

I read it after Hemmingway and although I didn’t race through it reading something with normal size print was a delight. It was also beautifully written with quotes scattered left right and centre. “It is very difficult to be a hero without an audience, although, in a sense, we are each the hero of a peculiar, half-ruined film called our life.”

It does take a little bit of concentration. I have to confess I have a pile of books that I just want read and I seemed to have brought my skim reading that I adopted with Hemmingway to this book requiring me to re-read certain parts as unlike with Hemmingway stuff happens that you need to absorb rather than fast forward through.

I liked the unfolding of each character especially how Roseanne told one story about herself and the facts told another. I was at times unsure how Dr Grenes story was going to unfold (calls in the middle of the night that his dead wife answered?) but Barry pulled it back before he teetered into ghost story territory.

I hated father Gaunt and wanted him to gain his comeuppance. I won’t spoil it for you by saying whether he did or he didn’t.

Overall it was gentile, interesting and easy to read, such a refreshing change from Hemmingway that I give it a 6. It won’t be staying on my bookshelf but it gave me more than I thought it would. I believe there is a film in the works for this but that it may be on-hold. Let me know if you hear otherwise.

#inbetweeny #noshelfer

Monday, 22 February 2016

For Whom The Bell Tolls Ernest Hemmingway

I was really interested to read this as I was still buzzing about Ernest Hemmingway from Mrs Hemmingway a book we reviewed last year. It was also set during the Spanish civil war and war stories always interest me.

I ended up buying the book on ebay as Amazon worked out more expensive than my usual budget and I certainly wasn’t going to find a book first published in 1941 from the best seller section in Sainsburys.

The book was old and the print was small but I wasn’t put off and set about reading it straightaway.

The language was difficult ‘I obscenity in the milk of your…’ being a particular phrase that the group had issue with. Characters were referred to as ‘the woman’, ‘the girl’, ‘the gypsy’ and I also found the use of Spanish throughout the book confusing. Yes I understand ‘hola’ and other basic words but odd phrases kept on appearing that I couldn’t translate without google and lets face it the average reader in the 1940s certainly didn’t have google nor had been to Spain several times on holiday picking up a smattering of well known phrases in return. ‘Dos cervezas por favor’

It also wasn’t always clear in a conversation who was speaking when and the group as a whole particularly struggled with this. I had however read books where style was an issue (Wolfhall springs to mind) and War and Peace had so many names for each character I began to think they were fighting a war against someone entirely different from Napoleon and resorted to google to check. Good old google! But in both of these cases the storyline won out and I was rapidly thinking this wasn’t going to be the case with FWTBT.

I struggled not so much with the style but with what was said, or more particularly what wasn’t said. I read a quote on Good Reads that said ‘His speakers leave the impression that a huge amount has been left unsaid’ and I totally agree with this statement. So many times I re-read a passage as I believed I had missed something only to find I hadn’t, it simply wasn’t there and I was supposed to be intelligent enough to work out what was going on. I got the general gist but only just and found it frustrating that I simply couldn’t be given more as a reader.

I’m aware Hemmingways style won awards for being simplistic. I’m not an expert from books of that period but the group certainly didn’t find it simplistic.

The plot was almost too simplistic as very very little happened. This is where it really lost my vote. I found myself skim reading, I couldn’t get to grips with who was fighting who and I began to think the bridge would never be blown up. The book did perk up towards the end when the calvary appeared, and various other things happened but for a lot of us that was too little too late.

We all had obtained various versions of the book and one member commented that the ending was revealed in the synopsis on the back page. Yes the book is a classic but there will always be new readers so why give away the ending? I remember being devastated at the ending of Romeo and Juliet but so many times their fate is referred to casually with the belief you should know what happens to them. We all have to read something for the first time and Romeo and Juliet wouldn’t have been the same for me if I approached it already knowing the end. The group felt the same – there isn’t much point in struggling with a book if we already know what happens.

I did some research as so often with classics they are better if not simply read but studied to work out the hidden meanings and representations. I came out with actually very little. The forest featured heavily in the book and it supposedly was meant to represent the futility of war. The trees will still stand the same. The pine needles falling on the forest floor represent the fallen soldiers that simply get swallowed up by the forest as new needles grow.

Hemmingway did seem put a lot of himself into the book. Robert was a journalist helping out in the war – Hemmingway too experienced this. Roberts father shot himself with a gun Robert inherited. Hemmingways father shot himself and I believe Hemmingway also inherited the gun. Robert seemed to fall in love instantly and from Mrs Hemmingway that certainly seemed to be the case with Hemmingway himself so these aspects were interesting.

I struggled to like this book, plot was slow, characters unlikeable and style hardwork. I wasn’t on my own and we gave it a 3 out of 10. On a different note one of us read the wrong book – A Farewell to Arms and one gave up on the book and watched the DVD. It was different to hear their input to the meeting albeit neither could shed any praise on either.

Next book is The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Question of the month. There is an expectation that as a book is a classic it is good, but often to a younger audience that is not the case. Do you agree? Tell us which classic you struggled with

Monday, 25 January 2016

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler

I hadn’t a clue what this book was about when I picked it up and came to it off the back of A Clash of Kings (Game of Thrones) so initially found its pace and central characters quite refreshing. It’s not plot lead which in theory appeals to me as I like that sort of book but whereas the first half of Revival by Stephen King drew me in and never let go this one left me cold.

I didn’t dislike the characters as often puts me off a book, I just didn’t empathise/warm to them. My main criticism is that I found the book really shallow. Many attempts were made at possibly opening the book up – Susans true parentage being revealed for example but were cast aside in a throw away sentence. I was screaming for Nora to just crack and give us something other than a serene smile or to get in Dennys head and find out what exactly was going on and what he got up to when he swanned off but the closest we got was a phone call right at the end of the book and Nora serving hamburgers instead of lasagne.

One of the group commented that this was quite true to life – the lack of inner monologue from each character and no beginning middle or end of each point. Things were just put forward as and when they happened and then left. I do take on board that point and it was done quite well but it left me feeling like I was reading without a purpose. I think that sums it up for me - reading without a purpose. I knew nothing was going to happen, get discussed in depth or finalised.

I did find it easy to read which as I commented during the meeting always gets a point from me. If you can’t have me relating to the characters or you can’t have me gripped by what will happen next, the least the author can do is enable me to read it quickly.

There were some particularly good sections to the book, for example the beach house and the family who went on holiday at the same time as them but whom they never spoke to. I think everyone has a scenario a bit like that – the guy at the bus stop, the neighbour over the road, the lady who stands outside the butchers every Saturday morning but I felt this section also reflected the characters in the book – they don’t talk to the family who have the same holiday as them and who appear to be similar to them just as they don’t talk to each other, not really, not in any depth.

I also enjoyed Linnie and Juniors versions of their romance. Romeo and Juliet v being sprung upon in a boarding house but some commented that this jump in time made the book feel quite disjointed. There were moments of humour as well with the group particularly liking Reds deafness causing confusion over whether the neighbours cat or grandson had died.

The book is different to a lot on the market which I always appreciate and Tyler has written a number of novels so is obviously well liked but I won’t be returning. I think I was on my own as the group in general seemed to enjoy the true to life element, appreciating the writing quality rather than the story and marked it highly. It averaged a 7 to my 4.

Next book is For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemmingway

Question of the Month – next months choice is a result of us reading Mrs Hemmingway a couple of months ago. Have you ever read a book that has made you read another one? Not follow ons but another book entirely? Which one and why?

Monday, 4 January 2016

BIG FAT REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2015!

It's that time again. A run down of all the books we have reviewed this year followed by the most eagerly anticipated Book of the Year award! Books are in chronological order starting from January 2015

I am Pilgrim by Terry Hayes awarded 9.5
I think with the exception of A Christmas Carol which was awarded a festive 10 out of 10 this has to be our highest scoring book EVER. Reading the review back now makes me want to re-read the book again. Its lowest score was 9 which never happens in our group so if you haven't read it yet DO IT NOW

Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins 7.3
Weak female characters resulting in us not really caring what happened, film rights have been sold and its very on trend. Most likely to have been read by your non reading friend.

The Martian by Andy Weir 7.18
I'm going to science the shit out of this planet! Best quote ever and even resulted in our first ever Film Review

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton 7.3
Set in Amsterdam where a dolls house given as a wedding present to a merchants wife takes on a sinister turn. Frustrated by the miniaturist herself hence the big brother stylie 'Who is she?!?'

Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith 9
Murder mystery set in Stalins perfect Russia. Another book another film which apparently isn't as good but if your interested in TV check out the very good The London Spy a refreshingly different 5 part drama written by Smith shown just before Christmas.

Jamaica Inn by Dauphne Du Maurier 7
I think this is our only oldie of the year which is sad. A real life place and was probably the most evenly marked of the year.

The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett unscored
We simply didn't read it so couldn't give it a score. Better introductions to Pratchett than this one but think book club may be put of fantasy novels for life!

Keep Your Friends Close by Paula Daley 6
This one had potential but failed to meet it. It's part of a set apparently and I could see it easily being made in to a TV series

Mrs Hemmingway by Naomi Wood 7
Probably the most interesting book we read loosely being based around Ernest Hemmingways 4 wives. Reminded me of the excellent Tigers in Red Weather

Revival by Stephen King 7
Most of us couldn't get past the ending. I thought it had excellent characters and loved the setting. Surprised by how few of us had read any King before. Please read more, his short stories are brilliant.

The Ice Twins by S K Tremayne 5
Didn't care for the characters and for heavens sake which one is Kirsty and which one is Lydia!!!

A Gift from Bob by James Bowen I think this one was awarded a 6? Please correct me if I'm wrong
Childlike at times, we found it unrelateable and repetitive.

So our highest scoring book was without doubt I am Pilgrim

Our lowest scoring was The Ice Twins unless you count The Colour of Magic which I really don't feel like we gave enough of a chance

Most forgettable, for me, looking back was probably Keep Your Friends Close or The Miniaturist

and book of the year perhaps controversially goes to The Martian. I know, I am Pilgrim is the obvious choice but The Martian was a breath of fresh air to others on the market at the moment, it took me by surprise and I immensely enjoyed it.

Let me know if you disagree!

A (delayed) Gift from Bob by James Bowen

Sorry Folks, Christmas got in the way and before I knew it 2016 had arrived before I had even looked at a computer. So finally after the last mince pie has been eaten, the decs taken down and the obligatory January salad for lunch has been eaten here is the review of A Gift from Bob our Christmas choice for 2015.

Let me start by saying this book was actually my suggestion. I had seen the first Bob novel in the shops a few years back and had always been interested to read it but never got round to it. When I noticed Bob had a Christmas book it seemed a no brainer to put it forward as our December pick (#oneruleofbookclub!)

It was met with mixed reactions when I suggested it leaving me in doubt as to how well it would go down. I was slightly puzzled as we had read books involving animals before and enjoyed them so maybe we just has one or two dog lovers in the group.

Turns out the book wasn't from the point of view of the cat but from his owner James (also the author, yes it's based on a true story). Although some may view this as a positive for me personally it was a negative as I couldn't get away with Bowen. I appreciate that a good Christmas book should have an underlying message of hope, goodwill and love but I felt Bowen was very condescending and as I result I just didn't sympathise with his plight at all.

I think I was kind of my own on this point, however most of the group also didn't like the book for a number of reasons; one of the group found the book repetitive with the endless list of where Bob and Bowen went and how they got there (was it bus this time or metro?) Being from the North East we were unable to relate to the references to the various underground/bus stops in London which also didn't help. Some of us also couldn't get away with Bob - how HE wanted to dress up in a costume, how he told Bowen when he wanted to go to the toilet and how HE initiated the cute money making tricks he did when on the street selling the Big Issue.

At times the writing was very childlike and you almost felt like you were reading a children's book. We have reviewed children's books before and enjoyed them (last years Christmas offering The Polar Express springs to mind) however this one we just couldn't get away with.

So despite it being relatively short, having a message of positivity, new beginnings and the true spirit of Christmas which are all hallmarks of a good Christmas book we were left underwhelmed. A slightly disappointing note to end 2015 on given that it all started out so well (check out the Big Review of the Year coming up next!)

Next book is a Spool of Blue Thread by Ann Tyler.

Question of the month - I can't ask a Christmas related question given that we are now in January so it will have to be something unrelated instead. Seen as though it is January and we are all diet conscious the question is (drum roll please) Cook books, can they be classed as proper books worthy of a place on all fine book shelves or are they are a present doomed to the kitchen cupboard? I personally love Nigel Slater and would love to pass away an hour with one of his books but in general although I do love to cook and have loads of cookbooks I wouldn't put them on a bookshelf beside my dearly beloveds.

Happy New year