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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Child 44

Lots of Blogs coming up!! It’s bee a while but sometimes life simply gets in the way and causes a delay. Then we have Catch up! Catch up number one is Child 44

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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The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

the trouble with goatsThank you Adam for yet again writing the review for this book. Why didn’t I do It? I am sorry to say that I didn’t finish reading it! No excuses but I will return to it one day! I loved the fact that it was set in the 70s and the memories it stirred in me brought my teenage days vividly back to life!! The years of the BIG divide – David Cassidy or Donny Osmond? Or were you a David Bowie fan watching him transforming himself from apocalyptic space-age mutant to decadent cocaine lounge lizard in make up or did you get a thrill watching Captain & Tennille dancing around in knitwear blasting out  Love Will Keep Us Together. Were you a flaired Levis or Wranglers person? Or maybe it was Lee Coopers for you. And what about a pair of loons?? Two tone, if you please. And what about those Sunday evening at 6pm when a notice would be smacked on the back of the door announcing boldly to the rest of the family to STAY OUT – RECORDING IN PROCESS. Sunday was  Top 40 recording evening with first, Alan ‘Pop Pickers’ Freeman on Pick of the Pops and then Tom Browne with his Solid Gold Sixty show featuring new releases, climbers and chart entries not in the Top 20 beginning at 4pm and then the Top 20 6pm, when the complicated recording session would begin.  There was no talking allowed due to the external mike precariously balancing next to the wireless, taping each song in turn and the timing had to be impeccable ending the recording before the introduction to the next hit began. Mine was exactly like this!!

cassetteWhat about the cinema? Now this was a breakthrough time for the silver screen. It was  a golden age of modern cinema with bold directors and big stars scoring audience-pleasing box-office hits with complex, tragic stories rooted in real life -Jaws, The Godfather, One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest, Taxi Driver, The Deer Hunter, Kramer v Kramer and Apocalypse Now to name but a few. And TV – Charlie’s Angels, Some Mothers Do Have Em, Dad’s Army, A Family at War, Man About the House, M.A.S.H., Happy Days and the heartbreaking love I felt for Kid Curry (Ben Murphy) every Sunday afternoon watching Alias Smith and Jones.
films.jpg     alias

It was also the invasion of the musicals. School trips were arranged to London to Evita to watch the gorgeous David Essex, Godspell, Sweeney Todd, Jesus Christ Superstar. The JCS film was played over and over again -“Every time I look at you  I don’t understand/Why you let the things you did get so out of hand?” I can hear it now and hear Yvonne Elliman’s haunting rendition of ‘I Don’t Know How to Love Him’.

Nostalgia, pure nostalgia. There were the days of popping in to neighbours’ houses with no advanced warning,  playing in the street and in and out of each other’s houses, the sheer excitement of colour TV, using public transport ALL the time, Spot the Ball, running down the shop to buy 10 Players cigarettes, the end of ‘old money’ and having to deal with tiny half pence pieces, ABBA, orange and brown, Jackie and Fab 208, buying sweets ‘on tick’ from the local shop after school only to find at the end of the month, my mother sitting at the kitchen table one unsuspected afternoon with a thunderous look on her usual smiling, welcoming how-was-your-day face,  instantly warning me that something BIG was amiss. There, lying on the kitchen table, the VG bill embarrassingly handed to my mother that afternoon totalling the extortionate sum of £3.60  – all spent on after school ‘rubbish’!! That was the last of the ‘on-tick’ purchasing for us!

abba    spot the ball
jackie      fab     colour tv   vesta

 

Well, that was lots of fun, but I digress! This is a Book Club review page. My morning has completely disappeared, transformed into one big memory of my teenage years in this exact house, sitting at the exact same table that haunting ‘on-tick’ receipt was placed 45 years ago. The table where we sat deliberating where that confounded ball could be and would X mark the spot for us. The same house where we now hold our Book Club meetings. The very same, happy, warm, welcoming lifetime house I am proud to call home.

And so……..to the review.  The Trouble with Goats and Sheep

I found that the biggest trouble with them is how boring they are! Hyuck hyuck, ok that was an easy low-blow. But the truth is there and this review will be fairly short. This book could have been a British, 1970’s equivalent of Desperate Housewives but instead was a pulpy rag where nothing happened. Instead of a cast of nosy but loveable characters with relatable problems, the characters in this novel are insipid, mewling busybodies who lie not to further an agenda but because they are cowards. More weasel than human, the neighbours of the protagonist (who I can’t remember the name of) exist only as sideshow curios of How Not To Exist. The one character of interest is treated as an outsider (which is intentional) but learning almost nothing about him, we have to put up with the other morons.
The only reason I haven’t stomped this book into the ground is because of the setting. The actual descriptions of 70’s England seem extremely accurate – the products used, dialogue spoken and even character actions fit the period. The main character walks into the houses of her neighbours and nobody bats an eyelid. This seems odd to me as someone who wasn’t born until the 90’s but on researching the period, this is indeed accurate (if still baffling) behaviour.
It isn’t enough to save the book though. The lack of plotting and bizarre religious undertones added nothing to my interest and I won’t be in a hurry to read anything else by the author.

2 out of 5.

Please leave your comments below. We would love to hear from you wherever you may be. Thank you

The Goldfinch

The_goldfinch_by_donna_tartThank you Adam for this review. I must concur with almost everything you write. I was hoping for much more from the book, too, after all the hype. I enjoyed it but did a little bit of page skipping (red faced) rolled my eyes, too and could willingly have taken out at least 200 pages!!

 

Adam – I was excited to read this book as I had heard very good things about it. It didn’t live up to my expectations. In fact, my feelings towards the book are not only varied but also extreme.
My favourite thing about the book was how much it reminded me of Charles Dickens. An interesting protagonist experiencing the world and learning lessons – it sounds like most books but I really felt a Dickensian inspiration at times. Theo travels around the world, meeting odd characters and lives his life in a murky, grey morality. It’s fascinating at times. And it helps that quite a few times during my reading, I actually thought the word “wow” in regards to the writing. Theo’s final monologue/epiphany in the novel is, for the most part, excellently written.
But then there are the problem areas. And they are whopping. This may be the most pretentiously written book I have ever read. While I said some parts of the book are well-written, about 75% of it is complete nonsense. Detailed descriptions of vague and often intangible things (such as drug-fuelled dreams) seem to only serve to fill pages. The amount of times I rolled my eyes is staggering. I was reminded often of American Psycho – another novel with a good plot but horrific levels of item description. I also don’t feel that the painting itself was anything other than a MacGuffin – an item with no other purpose than to actually further the plot. Theo vaguely mentions towards the end that Welty Blackwell encouraged his thievery for a reason (which I won’t reveal here for spoiler reasons) but I found this explanation wholly unsatisfying.
This review may sound more negative than positive but I did like the book. I just thought the flaws were massive. I can also admit that the reference to Dragon Ball Z, one of my favourite tv shows of all time and staple of my adolescence, made me a tiny bit less critical of the book!

3 out of 5.

Thanks Adam Such a shame we didn’t have this article from Vanity Fair at hand during the meeing. It’s a great read!!

It’s Tartt—But Is It Art?

Please leave us your comments and add to our Book club discussions. Thank you.

The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

harryThis was a BIG favourite of us all in Book Club! Great book!! Joan is going to re-read it as her perspective of the story was different from others but isn’t that the joy of a group of people getting together after reading the same written piece of work? Different views, different ideas; some love it some hate it, can take it or leave it! I love Book Club.

And now over to Adam. He is the review writer for this book. Once again, please get involved and write  your comments on this book. Thank you.

Adam – I wasn’t expecting much from this book. The title put me off a bit. It’s a longwinded title but it does suit the story – a tale of lies, love, murder and ambition that spirals almost endlessly. Every question raised is answered eventually…..but only after another 3 questions have been created! The plot is labyrinthine and I found almost every character to be worthy of my suspicion. Who killed Nola Kellergan? I can imagine any of them doing it! The characters were well-written and relatable – but after reading so many books and seeing so many films, I knew the killer would be low on my suspect list. The book makes it clear that a certain character is the killer…..but then is revealed as a red herring. And this occurs a few times. Utterly wonderful storytelling technique. The protagonist is excellent – flawed and, let’s be honest, a bit of a jerk, but i still wanted his investigation (and writing career) to succeed. Harry, too, is a brilliant character – the Yoda to Marcus’ Padawan Luke – and acts as a mentor, friend and even a saboteur. But the star of the novel is Nola Kellergan. Many questions are raised regarding age of consent, what love actually is and even the eternal war between the heart and the brain – all due to Nola. Nola herself is a magnet – receiving adoration from the whole town of Somerset, bordering on idolatry. The fifteen year-old is a character of such complication and delight – beautiful but tormented. During an interaction in the novel between Marcus and his assistant, Denise, this discussion occurs:
“…that young girl, that Nola. I think i love her too”. I smiled and said “I think everyone loved her, Denise. Everyone.”
For me, these short few lines sum up the entire book and Nola herself. Everybody loved Nola Kellergan. I think i loved her too.

For me, personally, this is my Book of the Year 2016. I know it was technically released in 2012 originally and 2014 in English for the first time but I don’t care. It’s the best thing I read in 2016.

 

AND there’s going to be a film/mini-series. Read here for more info!! Ooooooo. Excited!!

harry quebert