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