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?