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It’s Christmas!

I can’t believe this was our third Book Club Christmas!! Some have come and some have gone but the hardcore group remains. Lol! We once again went to The Brit Pub in nearby Cwmafan for a very Christmas night out armed with parcels, chocolates and dingbats!! We pre-ordered from this delicious menu and I must say that the food was lovely.

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We briefly discussed our chosen book ‘A Gentleman in Moscow’ but only two the group had managed to finish reading it in the allocated time! However, we all agreed that we would continue to read as it is such a wonderfully well written delight of a read. I am at a stage where I am struggling a little as it seems that nothing is happening but the pleasure of reading the written word and conjuring up the images that is creates is worth the struggle. I also have it on strong recommendation that it is a roller coaster of emotions book and has its ups and down so keep at it.  I love the count. He is the kind of person that I would love to spend time with. He is such a humble gentleman and I’m sure it would have  been a privilege to know him and be his friend.

I can’t write too much about the book in this blog as I haven’t read enough but very briefly the book begins in 1922 Russia and spans 30 years all seen through the eyes of Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov. The Count has been placed under house arrest and is destined to spend his years in a luxury hotel, the Metropol. It is not, however, the luxury suite that he has been living in for the last several years, but he has now been moved to a small attic room with only a little window to look out of each day. He meets a number of guests and staff, forms relationships with these and from this experience the love, friendship and humanity that these encounters provoke. Much more that that I can not tell you as I have not read much more and thank you so much to Adam and Jayne for not wanting to discuss the book last night as four of us had not complete it! Shameful!

Please leave us your thoughts and comments on this book. Thank you. Merry Christmas.

Nadolig Llawen 

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A Thousand Splendid Suns

And what a splendid sunny summer we had this year. This evening’s Book Club was held on the patio, in the light of the dimming sun and the comfortable evening heat. There were sandwiches, cheese and crackers, nibbles and of course, the well deserved jug of my finest PIMMs cocktail. Heaven!

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Sitting comfortably on the patio chair, listening intently to the discussion,  was a new addition to the family in the form  a stray calico cat. Two months later and said cat is still here, now comfortably residing on the conservatory chair and given freedom of the home! Welcome Georgie

 

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns! What can I say? What a book! As Lewis remarked – and I’d like to welcome Lewis, our newest member to Book club – the book is beautifully written and really moving. 

There was so much discussion during the evening that is is quite impossible for me to write it all out here but it was agreed that this is one one of the best books we have read. Briefly, it tells the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, and their struggles for life in a society that thinks they should not be allowed to happily live. It sends out a clear message that women are worth nothing. Set in Afghanistan and covering Afghan history from before the Soviet war until after the Taliban rule, the violence that emerged from this period of time resulted in the inevitable brutality towards women. Under the Qur’an, a man was entitled to have up to four wives, and he was supposed to treat them all equally. On any one day he could announce that he wanted to end a liaison with one of his wives. He would repeat three times “I divorce thee” and that was the end of the marriage. Many women were simply thrown out of the family home on to the streets where they would continue their days as street beggars. But what was remarkable about these women, as portrayed in the book in the form of Nana, however, was their instinct for survival and embracing what life they had as best they could.

The writing is gorgeous without being longwinded, the characters are so exquisitely fleshed out. It’s also one of those rare books that’s pretty melancholy throughout the duration of the book, but something about getting to the ending just really makes us want to believe that Hossisni’s dream for a happy Afghanistan without  oppression is a possibility. A Thousand Splendid Suns is an unforgettable portrait of a broken country and a deeply moving story of family and friendship. It is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely bond and an indestructible love.

Read more about Khaled Hosseini who was so moved by his experiences in Afghanistan and the writing of A Thousand Splendid Suns that he founded the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help Afghans in need—especially Afghan women. Visit these websites and as usual if you have anything to add to this post, please do. Thank you for visiting.

Only Daughter

Happy Hallowee’n

Before I mention the book I would like to welcome our newest member, Jill, to the group. Jill started this evening so a big warm welcome to you Jill and looking forward to seeing you at our future meetings.

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Although the house was slightly decorated to celebrate Hallowe’en our book choice was not a horror as such. It was a coincidence that the date of Book Club fell on the day before Hallowe’en so it had to be our theme for the evening. Anything for a party in my eyes! ‘Only Daughter’  could fall into the horror genre, however horror at the choice of book, maybe? Thats’a bit harsh but it was unanimously voted as our poorest choice to date. It was a strange book, to say the least. It was an uncomfortable read with some gory scenes that were fitting of a zombie, bloodcurdling B rated Hallowe’en horror movie.

Although we all read it, no-one gave up on it so that’s a positive, the conversation that followed had far too many negatives which led on to another negative and so on. There were claims  of ‘How did that happen?’  and ‘That was just not believable’  etc etc. Characters were underdeveloped and simply not believable but I am now going to hand you over to Kate who has summed up, on behalf of us all present, our thoughts on this month’s ‘horrific’ choice!

Warning- there are some plot spoilers in the review below so please do not read any further in the event that you wish to discover the outcome of this entertaining penny dreadful.

There is no doubt that this debut novel has some page turning moments and is gripping enough to hold the reader’s attention but there are also some fatal flaws within which detract from this book’s credibility. It is difficult to point out the shortcomings of the story line without giving away the plot; however they are glaringly obvious as the chain of events unfolds, credulity is stretched to its limits and any potential suspense which the novel may hold is diminished by the authenticity in the story line. For example, at the beginning of the book our young female protagonist impersonates and takes the place of a young girl who went missing ten years previously and re enters the family home with consummate ease; surely the police, medical and other authorities would not allow this to happen without taking so much as a blood test or other more comprehensive DNA checks? Why do none of the close family members ask her where she has been? Would you really be able to love and humour a pair of psychopathic cat killers for all those years without raising an inquisitive eyebrow?
On the plus side, this book is undoubtedly an easy read and it is enthralling enough to hold the reader’s attention for long enough to complete the book; I genuinely wanted to know the outcome of this far fetched scenario but was let down again in the last scene of the book when the bogus Bec came face to face with the real Bec in the middle of a chaotic Perth railway station at which point all pretence of realism flew out of the window at the rate of a speeding bullet and any tiny vestiges of credulity in the novel were completely lost.
In the event that you are looking for great literature or even good literature, this book will not fit the bill; it is not particularly well written, the story line is weak and far fetched but as a quick, easy read which does not require much effort or deep thought, then ‘The Only Daughter’ will keep you entertained if for no other reason than having great fun in pointing out its glaringly obvious defects in book club meetings! That last sentence is harsh; it’s a non demanding read, fast moving, pacy and entertaining; it also contains some graphic horror and suspense with a gripping story line which makes you want to read to the end but the demerits described above prevent this novel from being plausible literature.

So there you have it for this month. Have you read Only Daughter? We would love to hear what you have to say about the novel. Please leave us your comments below. Thank you

Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine

eleanor eliffantCollectively we give this book a very good 4+ stars!! (I have to add the + for Kate) We loved it but gave it a 4 when compared with others we have read.

Eleanor is a  quirky interesting character, very compelling in that the more you read the more you want to know about her and follow her journey. When we first meet Eleanor she was unlikable, rude and maybe someone you wouldn’t choose to have as a close friend. In fact, she probably wouldn’t want you as a friend, to be honest. Her entire existence is clear, orderly – and completely empty. She works all week, goes home on a Friday night, heats up a pizza, drinks two bottles of vodka and speaks to nobody until Monday morning comes round again. There are many reasons for Eleanor’s isolation. and these are gradually revealed as the novel unfolds. I had to ask the question whether there was something wrong with Eleanor or whether it is just that without social interaction her ability to understand what is appropriate behaviour in the world simply disappears. Enter Raymond and the unravelling ensues. Eeanor begins to thaw and her buried  personality slowly creeps through. Raymond introduces her to the world she has hidden away from. He brings a caring friendship into her life which opens her up to facing emotions she has previously kept hidden inside after ‘the incident’.  Eleanor’s fantasy life is about to become a reality and it is a joy to travel with her and Raymond and the multitude of characters they meet on her new journey.

You laugh out loud, you cry, you smile and you cringe! The journey from beginning to end is a great trip and highly  recommend by us all at Book Club. Let me direct you to this article where the author, Gail Honeyman, can give you a much better insight into the life of the unforgettable Eleanor Oliffant.

 

Please leave a comment if yo have read this book. Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Child 44

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Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith – unanimously enjoyed/loved by all.

This is the author’s first novel first novel and is set in and around Moscow in 1953, the year of Stalin’s death. The hero is Leo, a senior officer in the secret police where his responsibility is to root out anything or anyone who might threaten the precarious running of the Soviet Union. One day the body of a dead boy is found on the railway lines outside Moscow, hit by a train. Instead of mourning him as the victim of a tragic accident, the boy’s father – a junior member of the state secret police – claims he was murdered, and that his body has been cut up by a madman. Leo explains that he must be mistaken, because in communist Russia this sort of crime does not exist. Following on from this, Leo’s work and personal life is under attack by a ‘colleague’ and he has to finally chose between his job or his wife, Raisa.  It will not ruin the surprise to know that Leo chooses his wife over his privileged life. Through twists, turns and surprises Leo undergoes a radical conversation of mind and heart when it becomes clear to him that there is a serial killer on the loose and the boy found murdered at the beginning of the story was the 44th dead body to have been discovered. Leo, who is now in exile with his wife, is determined to make amends for his past by finding the killer. He has to do this without his old comrades finding out what he is up to, and soon they are chasing him as he chases the murderer. Exciting, breathing taking stuff and I found that I could not put the book down.

The joy of Book Club is that the same book is read by different individuals and each one brings a different view to the table. At this point I am handing you over to Adam and Tom Rob Smith

Adam’s review – I feel like this novel was made for me. Murder and violent crime interest me (in fiction , obviously haha) as does Stalin’s Russia, so I was already a little inclined towards the book. I will say first that this book didn’t blow me away. It’s an excellent thriller for sure, but not one I’m going to rave about to anyone from my rooftop.

Something which I was impressed with is the handling of the twisty plot. The author slips in little hints here and there about the killer and how the dénouement is going to occur and it was immensely satisfying but also made me want to read on. Something I will also say is that the reveal that occurs really shouldn’t have been a surprise to me but I think I was so caught up in the story that it didn’t register. In most stories, the reveal about the murderer would have made me roll my eyes but here it works completely.

It is difficult to empathise with Leo early on as he is not exactly a good person. Better than his peers, maybe, but not good enough. But he slowly becomes more interesting and relatable and by the end, I wanted him to succeed badly.

For me, the best aspect of the book is the setting and how it is written. The history of the Soviet Union is not really spoken about in any school or college I have been to. You don’t choose your topics – teachers choose Nazi Germany or History of Medicine and you just do it. Finding out that one of the Allies of World War 2 had a regime comparable to the Nazis astonishes me. Obviously I am an outsider looking in but it is appalling to me that they did not see the similarities between them. The description of how prisoners were treated, as well as the society of “report on someone before they do the same to me” sickened me. It really put me into the mind of the characters who just wanted to live.

Not a classic but an excellent thriller.

And here is a brief word from Tom Rob Smith

If you have read the book, please leave your comments below. Looking forward to hearing from you.

I am Pilgrim

i am pilgrimWell well well. I did NOT expect this book to be the 2nd best thing I would read in 2016. But it is. The writing is simple to read but has a great deal of accuracy regarding the life of a spy. Pilgrim himself is an amalgamation of James Bond (the Daniel Craig iteration, not the cheesy nonsense of yesteryear) and Sherlock Holmes – possessing the brains and (to an extent) brawn that an exciting spy should have. The plot is bombastic at times and emotionally gripping throughout. A compelling antagonist should be either be completely evil or a sad, relatable figure….who is also completely evil. The Saracen is the latter. His childhood trauma results in him becoming a monstrous figure but this allows the author to show him as human enough to illicit a touch of sympathy. Only a touch, mind – the dude is a genocidal maniac, after all. Something the novel does magnificently is connecting ideas that appear to be unconnected. The crime scene of the opening chapters and the potential terrorist attack aren’t linked exactly but they do affect each other for Pilgrim which constantly had me wracking my brain for answers. I Am Pilgrim is 900 pages and I read it in two sittings. TWO. I just could not stop until Pilgrim either saved the world or doomed it. If the other books by Terry Hayes are this good, my bank account is surely the thing that is doomed.
5 out of 5.

Thanks for that Adam. Your reviews make me smile! This is another I struggled with. I am the black dog of the group, that’s for sure, but isn’t it wonderful how 7 people can each have their own and varied views of the same subject. That’s what great Book Clubs are made of and ours is great!

Now, I didn’t realise that the author Terry Hayes is a screenwriter having penned Mad Max 2 and Dead Play. I am Pilgrim is his debut novel. Here is a review I read about it in the Guardian.

As a screenwriter, Terry Hayes gave us Mad Max 2 and Dead Calm. His debut novel has been hyped as “the only thriller you need to read this year”, and for once that isn’t nonsense. I Am Pilgrim (Bantam, £12.99) makes moussaka of its rivals, not because it does anything so radical as reboot the genre – a claim that’s been made for it – but because it features a solid, credible hero (a US intelligence agent codenamed Pilgrim) moving through a solid, credible world; a worthy adversary in the Saracen, a jihadist doctor radicalised by watching his father’s beheading; and a dazzling structure that fuses the micro plot (what looks like the perfect murder has been committed in a run-down Manhattan apartment) with the macro plot (the Saracen has created a version of smallpox with which he hopes to destroy America) into a Möbius-like loop of pure narrative pleasure.

Hayes gives Pilgrim a superhero’s background – after his mother’s murder he was adopted by a well-meaning billionaire – and as an agent he is at the top of the pile, answerable only to the president. Yet where most spies are sociopathic, Pilgrim is capable of both loyalty and an intense cross-cultural empathy, which gives him the edge over his colleagues.

A progressive hero, then, but one adrift in a novel whose engine is an invidious post-9/11 paranoia. Pilgrim acknowledges in an offhand way that the US does shady stuff it shouldn’t, but in the broader context of a plausible novel about a terrorist spectacular, the message that the NSA should have carte blanche to intercept and imprison is beamed out loud and clear.

So sorry for the delay in post this. Has it really been a year since we read it???

Please comment and let us know what you think of this book. Thank you

A God in Ruins

Neath Book Club Blogger

 a God in Ruins

We had very mixed thoughts on this book. And what about that twist at the end, eh? Who was ready for that? But even more importantly  who understood it? I gasped aloud and then, in an instant, I hated the book as I felt that I had been deceived!! After getting over the shock, and re reading parts, I have decided that it was a very good read, great character development, wonderfully developed stories and well intertwined, but I still wish the ending had been different!

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