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Mary Poppins by P L Travers #inbetweeny

I have watched this film every Christmas, in fact I think we actually have the DVD somewhere but I have never read the book. It was a Christmas present from my in laws which I was surprised and delighted to receive as it had never occurred to me that there was a Mary Poppins book yet now I had it to read!
Not being aware of the book I researched (googled) Travers and discovered what an interesting life she has led. Books have been written about her (well at Least one – Mary Poppins She Wrote) which I would read if it happened to pass my lap.
Anyway the actual book – a pink candy striped hardback was slim with decent sized text so only took a couple of days train trips to work and back read. Included were the iconic parts of the film such as 'Tuppence A Bag' and Bert with his drawings that come to life but other parts were missed out, notably a spoonful of sugar and I missed the singing and dancing. Granted you can't really make a musical into a book but the spirit of the fi…

The Thirty Nine Steps by John Buchan

I suggested this book to the group. I read it in a day or so whilst on holiday in Scotland (did I mention I have been to Scotland recently?) after which my hubby picked up the book and read it himself. This is a rare thing indeed. Not only did he read IT ALL he ENJOYED it. Well, if it's good enough for hubby its good enough for the group so suggest it I did!

I think the general requirement for this book is to just go with it, don't question too thoroughly the premise for Hannay to go running off round the countryside, don't try to work out exactly how many miles he was supposed to have covered in a day or the convenience of him bumping in to an acquaintance in the middle of nowhere. If you do you are only going to be disappointed.

I love this style of book - pre-war (first) full of gentlemen retreating to smoking rooms, having supper in 'the Club' and referring to everyone as 'old chap'. Each chapter almost read like a short story with its own set of charac…

The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker #inbetweeny

I like post apocalypse books and I'm a runner. Not a quick proper in your face runner but an average 4 miler twice a week kind of gal. So this book was right up my street.

Walker was brief about the circumstances around the world coming to an end which I think worked, lets face it the end of the world has never come about so providing detailed science isn't needed when the book in question is about a running club after the end of the world has occurred.

I had two major criticisms of this book the first (and it's a common theme at present) was that the main character was simply not likeable. There is argument that Walker deliberately made him unlikable. Lets face it, allowing your lead character to admit to not liking his children very much is an instant turn off, but I didn't understand Walker's decision because you then simply weren't rooting for him to reach Cornwall. Edgar's character didn't evolve enough for me to change my initial impression and wh…

Scotland the Autobiography - Rosemary Goring #inbetweeny

A fresh take on Scottish history taking the reader from circa AD 80 to the late 1990s. In the introduction Goring (the books editor) states Scottish history is so much more than William Wallace, Mary Queen of Scots and Bonnie Prince Charlie and then spends 400 pages proving exactly that.

The book covers everything from how the Scots make haggis to schooldays in 1560s right up to significant modern events such as the Lockerbie disaster and Princess Diana's death. Delivered in short sharp snippets with sometimes only the briefest of introductory sentence the book was easy to read unlike so many other historical nonfiction books.

The diary entries, newspaper articles and interviews give unique insight into day to day life and despite their brevity I do feel like I have come out of the other side more knowledgeable. Unlike some books where I have trudged through 600 pages to be be none the wiser as I was so bogged down in names, dates and detail the book delivers the point then moves …

The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena

I can't believe I forgot to blog about a book, and not just any book but a book of the month!

I don't even know why I forgot to blog about it, was it because I was on holiday? No that was Thirteen Reasons Why. Did I miss the meeting? No I remember discussing it so it can't be that. Was it because it was rubbish and it fell from memory altogether? Well not totally as I liked the start and although I cant remember anybodies name I do remember the story line. No excuse then, plain and simple I forgot.

The book started brilliantly, a couple leave their baby next door (taking baby monitor and returning to check regularly) to celebrate a neighbours birthday. When they return home the little girl is missing, taken from her cot. The horror they must have felt, the blame, the anger. All of this Lapena portrayed really well. You found the parents initially sympathetic in a world where people are so quick to judge and Madeline McCann is still a name everyone remembers.

I thought the …

Coffin Road by Peter May

When in the Outer Hebrides what can you do but read a book set in the Outer Hebrides? This one is and I purchased it from a fabulous independent book shop in Ullapool called Ceilidh Place. Such a remote town yet it has two independent bookshops and two nearby (particularly good is Hillbillies in Gairloch where the linked Mountain Coffee Shop sells the most amazing mountain scones). I digress. Anyway we had just arrived fresh off the boat from Harris and Lewis and I was eager to read how such remote places could carry a murder hunt. The book started off really well, I liked the main character of Neal Maclean and thought the amnesia aspect was really interesting. I really enjoyed reading how he observed himself in the mirror for the first time, how he questioned whether he was quick tempered, clever, selfish and how he remembered somethings such as his dogs name but yet not others. This was different to other books I had read involving people suffering from amnesia following trauma wher…

Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher

Another book with a gender ambiguous author name (S. J Watson Before I Go To Sleep immediately springs to mind). Jay is in fact a male not a female. Yes I get that Jay can be a boys name but it can also be female and the presumption when reading a book set around a teenage girl is that the latter would be the case. I was reading an article the other day and apparently this is a trend right now with male authors in this genre being encouraged to create vagueness around their gender as to boldly state they were John, Dave or Rodger sells fewer books. Would you ever put a book down because it was written by a male (or female) author? Enough of us apparently would.
This wasn’t the only name changing going on here, the main character in the book Hannah was originally supposed to be called Anna with Mr Asher wanting the book to be called Bakers Dozen (Thirteen reasons, bakers, get it?) which I think I actually preferred.  Be the lead called Anna or Hannah I didn’t like her. I found her thirte…

GoT A Storm of Swords, Book 2, Blood and Gold #inbetweeny

So possibly the longest title ever for a book (and lets face it the title wasn't the only thing that was long about the book being quite a doorstop). I had deliberately waited to read this book until Game of Thrones resumed on tv. Yes I know I'm not up to date but I do find it easier to read alongside watching at least some of the characters who are still alive and in return I get more out of the tv series as I am reading what happened to a particular character three books ago and so straight away remember who Dondarrion is and where he fits into the story.

This is the book that contains the red wedding (not to give too much away) which was an epic episode on tv and whilst the book didn't make me gasp out loud (as I knew what was going to happen) I did get really tense and went into my fast reading mode which I do when I really want to know what happens (so much that I often have to reread as I've read it too fast and missed stuff).

It was interesting reading the diffe…

Mount by Jilly Cooper #inbetweeny

I'll start this blog with a warning, this post does contain spoilers. So if you haven't read the book then please don't read this blog, yet. Of course you should read this post just wait a little while until you've read the latest installment of Rupert Campbell Black (RCB).

Warnings out of the way I'll begin.

I was massively looking forward to reading this book having hugely enjoyed the previous ones. RCB is my (not so) secret trashy pleasure and has been for many years. This book had all the ingredients of a classic, pages of wonderfully named characters, a few tortured souls and of course RCB with all his horses, dogs and now grandchildren.

The book got off to a good start full of characters from old but also plenty of new ones to mix it up a bit. The horse's really played a starring role in this book but I also really loved Gav and at first Gala.

Yep only at first as she went strongly down hill and I bet you can guess why. RCB. Here is where I fell out with …

A Long Finish by Michael Dibdin #inbetweeny

SPOILERS

I have to say this is the first crime book I have read where the detective didn't solve the murder. Not only that but in the end it was the rats who did the job.

I was interested to read this book having watched the television series a while ago. This was a story not turned into tv (or if it was I missed it) and I loved the food, Zens flu, the wine and the eccentric doctor.

It was quite funny in parts. Zen was certainly a strange one, definitely a councelling session or two needed there but the book lost me in parts and I think the title was laboured. Minot's character was particularly good, an excellent murderer but as I said at the start I found it very strange to read a book where the detective doesn't deliver the goods.

It was book number 6 in the series and I didn't struggle joining so late in the day however you glimpsed there was content in the earlier books that would have added to Zens character.

I won't rush out to buy all previous 5 books but if…

Their Finest Lissa Evans

Another book another film deal making me think immediately of our recently reviewed Nocturnal Animals where a book that has been around for a while and has undergone a few name changes reaches a wider audience as the film hits the big screen.

The book had an original topic - England's film industry during World War 2 and I did really enjoy reading about the advertisements, Madam Tussauds and script writing.

There were quite a few characters and the book did skip around a bit between them all (a trait I am finding happening more often at the moment). A few of the group struggled with this and I must admit it did take me a while to remember who was who.

Evans characters were very likeable, particularly Ambrose however I love Bill Nighy (who plays Ambrose in the film) and I do question whether I liked Ambrose so much because I could envisage Nighy.

I found Edith and Arthurs story to be strange, the random proposal and the sudden 'Edie' moment. I also didn't believe in Cat…

The Yorkshire Shepherdess by Amanda Owen #inbetweeny

Another weekend in the countryside, another book about rearing sheep! This was purchased from Sedburgh, England's book town apparently. I had wanted to read it for a while but high pricing on Amazon had put me off.  A trip to a cheap bookshop in Sedburgh later and I was filling the holiday houses roll top bath and diving in to both book and bath.

I was a little disappointed given the books strap line 'how I left city life behind to raise a family and a flock' to find that Owens previous life took place in Huddersfield where she left at an early age to gain experience farming. I expected a solicitor or an accountant who gave up living in London not a trainee farmer who met her farm owning husband and moved into a ready made farm. I did however enjoy the early stories of her farming experiences.

Those of you following the blog will be aware I recently read the excellent Shepherds Life by James Rebanks and where this book primarily differed was with Owens birthing stories. In…

The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry

This was described as Dickens meets Bram Stoker and liking both of these authors I had high hopes.

The book was primarily chosen for its cover - especially nice in hard back, and whereas we hit gold with the Axemans Jazz chosen solely for its excellent cover The Essex Serpent didn't live up to expectations.

I liked the Dickensian parts, there were some excellent very Dickens like characters - Charles Ambrose, the man who lost his leg (was it Tom?) and the man who lived down by the marsh with his two goats (sorry can't remember his name either). Yet parts of the book were superfluous (Naomi and her disappearance) and the book seemed quite bitty at times - going to great pains to describe the ground breaking heart surgery despite it not being a book about medicine. Perry never really delved in to Cora's backstory with her husband other than to refer to her scar and how she envied how dogs were treated. It would have been an obvious point to expand and yet again illustrated h…

Exile - Richard North Patterson #inbetweeny

Ok I'm a couple of books behind on my blog so this is an effort to bash a couple of posts out before bedtime.

This book had been on my bookshelf for literally years and I can't remember whether it was purchased for me or whether I actually picked it up. The topic - the conflict in the middle east was something I, to my shame, only knew snippets about. The book provided a vivid portrait of Israel and its complicated politics, along with the West Bank and the Palestinian movement. I must admit I did struggle getting to grips with who was on which side but Patterson spelled it out as clearly as he could.

I guessed the twist very early on and was disappointed it took the lead character, David, some 600 pages to work it out (I won't spoil it for you) but that does lead to my other criticism of the book, it was VERY long. At times it felt like the page count (nearly 800) was needed - the trip to the middle east (although totally pointless for the trial) was really interesting to…

Nocturnal Animals by Austin Wright

I had heard of the film Nocturnal Animals as it was nominated for at least one Oscar earlier this year. I hadn't seen the film however and wasn't aware there even was a book. There are in fact two books, one called Tony and Susan and one then re-released under the more eye catching name Nocturnal Animals.

It was this name coupled with the tense confrontation and kidnapping at the beginning of the book that made me instantly think there was going to be vampires. Maybe it was because I had just watched From Dusk Till Dawn but I have to confess I was excited when I thought a bit of blood sucking was going to be done. Unfortunately to my disappointment no vampires stepped forward. I wasn't the only one of the group though to initially think an american Dracula (Ray) v Van Helsing (Tony) was on the cards.

The beginning of the book (Tonys part at least) made me think of Stephen King. The family were heading to Maine, they were driving through endlessly open America and it looke…

The Shepherds Life by James Rebanks #inbetweeny

I took this one on holiday with me as it was Easter, we were staying near a farm that would be lambing and it just felt like the right book for the right setting.

I have no particular love of the Lake District where this book is set, it's a very beautiful place but my heart lies in the highlands where I was staying over Easter. Nevertheless I was really looking forward to reading this true account of life on a sheep farm in Cumbria.

Briefly, the book is set over the period of a year describing the ups and downs of lambing, shearing, selling and wintering sheep with anecdotes and memories thrown in for good measure. I found the book really informative for me a total lay person, Rebanks style was very accessible with the right amount of detail v story telling.

I felt the book at times could perhaps have done with further editing, I'm not totally sure but it seemed as if one or two little stories should have been moved around a page or two to help with the flow and one or two o…

Left to Die By Lisa Jackson #inbetweeny SPOILERS

I've had this on the bookshelf for absolutely ages and in a concerted effort to get rid (or keep if good) some of the oldies, Left to Die was next on my hit list.

It seemed at first glance to be a typical American cop solves murder case but as time (and pages) went on there were a few subtle changes such as female cops and (spoiler alert) two killers.

I enjoyed Jillian Rivers story and at some points I was genuinely unsure who the killer was. I liked Zane and the way him and Jillians story panned out (although Jillians dream was very random and felt very 50 Shades of Grey as opposed to crime thriller). I was however disappointed by Jillians 'killer' I thought it the weakest part of the book. It was clever and could have been a good twist to have two killers but the reasons behind Aaron's wife suddenly deciding to kill Jillian, who was none the wiser to Aaron's deception and to try to pass it off as a serial killer seemed far fetched.

I liked Regan and her single…

Message from an unknown chinese mother Xinran

This was next to read on my bookshelf having been passed to me a while ago from my auntie. It was a thin book which greatly appealed to me following on from SPQR.

As a mother to three girls I found the stories of Chinese women killing their new born baby girls because they were not male absolutely heart breaking. This was a non fiction book and it honestly had me in tears at the thought of all those tiny babies being dumped in slop buckets or smothered by their own mother's.

I did find the structure of the book and the narration slightly weak. The arc of the book just didn't seem to fit right and the random letters at the end made me think it would have benefited from further editing.

There were some horrifically sad sad stories in this book, certainly do not read if you are feeling slightly emotional. I can't say I enjoyed the book (I challenge anyone who does) but don't think it was in depth enough to really provide the platform against the importance of a male hei…

SPQR Mary Beard

A doorstop of an inbetweeny about the beginnings of Rome written by the very knowledgeable Mary Beard. I knew it wasn't going to be light reading but boy this was a slog.

I've read a fair few historical slogs in my time but at the end of most of them I felt a sense of achievement and that I had learnt something. At the end of this one I didn't feel either, just relieved it was all over. I didn't get the structure of the book and why Beard chose to highlight the points she did. The main stories I knew about Rome, Julius Ceasar, the Colosseum, Nero, seemed to be glossed over with Rome's conversion to Christianity confined to a few pages in one of the last chapters.

I appreciate that Beard came from a purely evidential point of view but the whole 'we can't prove this, we can only guess' became slightly annoying and Beard referred so much to Livy in the first part of the book that I felt like I was reading his book rather than hers. Beard clearly loved he…

Big Little Lies by Lianne Moriaty

So this was our second helping of Moriaty having read the most excellent The Husbands Secret last year. We were dead on for the Witherspoon/Kidman tv series as well which was receiving rave reviews so I was really looking forward to reading this months book of the month.

In some ways it was similar to The Husbands Secret - set in Australia, with all women lead characters whose stories interlace along that of their children. Yet it was very different to THS. There was a murder mystery element for a start that kept you guessing throughout the whole book.

Moriaty really has her finger on the pulse when it comes to school parenting politics. I loved reading about the blonde bobs, the class stuffed toy and the etiquette when handing out party invites. Her observations about Facebook, teenage angst and step families were spot on and I loved the 'forgot the family tree assignment moment' (although similar to The Easter bonnet moment in THS?).

I really like how Celestes story unfol…

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanthi

I expected to be emotionally drained after reading this one and to be honest (in a weird kind of way) I didn’t mind the thought that I would be. This was backed up by the introduction describing a brilliant young man whose writing was breath taking and whose story was devastating. Emotional rollercoaster of epic proportions was surely in store.

I didn’t mind the beginning of the book although I was slightly surprised when we delved so deeply into Kalanthi's past in what was only a slim book. I was willing to gloss over the large number of references to his search as a youth to finding the meaning of life and what makes us, us as after all this was written by someone forced to ponder that very question. I also found the medical training he did vaguely interesting, I appreciated the reverence he placed in relation to the cadaver he was required to cut open as part of his medical training.

However when it became apparent the actual portion of the book to do with him receiving his …

Cockroaches by Jo Nesbo (inbetweeny)

This was my first venture in to modern literature for a while and I was looking forward to it. I had previous read The Bat (number 1 in the Harry Hole series) then rather randomly, The Redbreast (number 3), Cockroaches was number 2 so I was interested to see how reading out of sequence would affect my enjoyment.

It didn't and I think on this point I am with the majority (well at least my mum who read The Snowman first then The Bat and wasn't adversely affected).

As with a lot of books that feature foreign names I struggled with the Norwegian and Thai surnames which made following the book at times hard to follow. There were a fair number of characters which didn’t help but this is a reoccurring problem I have so don't take it as a criticism of Nesbo.

I would however say there were too many potential murderers, including at least one that we had never met. The investigation seemed to skip around so quickly from one suspect to the next that (coupled with the many names I w…

Agnes Grey by Anne Bronte and Wuthering Heights Emily Bronte (the book that wasn’t reviewed!)

We had a choice of two books to kick off 2017. Wuthering Heights, as one of the group really wanted to read it and Agnes Grey the alternative as most of the group had already read Wuthering Heights and weren’t bothered about reading it again.

Turns out only one person read Wuthering Heights for the meeting and was bitterly disappointed by a) the lack of anything happening and (mostly) b) Heathcliff. I think visions of a brooding Aidan Turner were expected. Poldark Heathcliff is not!

Wuthering Heights was therefore swiftly glossed over and Agnes Grey was put forward. It’s a very thin book which was refreshing given that most books of this era I believe are too wordy. Pretty much all of the group were able to read it quickly which always gets bonus points from me.

I read Grey off the back of David Copperfield and Bess of Hardwick so was slightly put off at the thought of having to read another similar book but the lack of pages really helped. I enjoyed the book, it was gentile if pre…

Bess of Hardwick: First Lady of Chatsworth - Mary S Lovell

I read this straight after David Copperfield and although I enjoyed David Copperfield I was concerned that going from one doorstop to another with a notes section amounting to about 50 pages might be too much. As a biography it certainly was the most factual book I had read in a while however where many biographers fail Lovell succeeded in presenting dates and facts without being tedious or dry.

Lovell was clearly on Bess's side showing her as a caring, generous, shrewd business woman and why not? Evidence was presented to back this viewpoint which opposes the perhaps more established portrait of a hard hearted, calculated, money grabbing woman who only married for financial gain.

Even though I consider myself relatively well read on the Tudors I learnt so much both about the era and of Bess herself. I want to see Chatsworth House and Hardwick Hall and I'm not a 'visit old houses owned once upon a time by a now dead person' sort of girl (I'm turning an old person…

Big Review of the Year 2016

Sorry, sorry, sorry its 13th January already and this far in people couldn't care less about what happened last year but a Big Review we have always had and a big review we will always have (13 little days and only a lunch hour to squeeze in 12 books will get in my way.)

We kicked off with A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Taylor. 7 out of 10
I have to confess I had forgotten all about this one and before I read back my review the words 'house, family and American' were all that jumped out at me. The characters lacked inner monologue which whilst being very true to life left the reader feeling like they were reading without a purpose as nothing ever went further than skimming the surface.

Februarys book was For Whom The Bell Tolls - Ernest Hemmingway. 3 out of 10
This was chosen following on from Mrs Hemmingway being reviewed the previous year. The difficult language (I obscenity in the milk of your____ ) made it hard to follow and very little actually happened. Looking back…