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

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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

 

The Handmaid’s Tale

handmaod's taleThis is our next Book Club read. I haven’t finished it yet but Kate has and this is what she has to say about it.

As usual, we look forward to hearing from you, too, so please leave your comments on our page. This is great fodder for our Book Club evenings. You become an integral, virtual part of the meeting, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you.

By Kate:

Wow!

Oh wow! What a book; I’ll be thinking about this extraordinary story long after I’ve finished reading it. Grim, disturbing, shocking, menacing I had a horrible sense of foreboding every time I picked it up wondering what harrowing circumstances those poor people would have to further endure and the ending just created more unanswered questions and left you wondering about possible scenarios on so many different levels. I couldn’t put it down though; this will be hard to beat and it kept me gripped from start to finish; it will be hard to find a book equally as enthralling for a future read.

The book describes a dystopian world where many women have been left barren by nuclear toxicity in an area of North America named Gilead; consequently the new regime forces fertile women to live with the families of high ranking officials in order to provide babies for the elite. It is a terrifying world where women’s rights have been taken away from them, for example it is a crime for them to read and write; the handmaids are under the jurisdiction of the ferocious aunts who seem to take pleasure in subjugating their charges by torturing and punishing them for every minor misdemeanour with their inhumane cattle prod.
I loved the symbolism of the book with the handmaids clothed as demure Quakers in long dresses complete with white winged hats which restricted their viewing; yet the dresses were scarlet as opposed to the Marthas attired in brown and the high ranking wives decked in blue; are the handmaids dressed in red because in man’s Utopian world he has a vision/ fantasy of women with the subservience and obedience of a Quaker but the sexuality of a scarlet woman? The wives and aunts had control over the handmaids who all lived in fear of being shipped to the colonies where victims there were forced to clear up toxic waste without the benefit of any protective clothing whatsoever which led to their cruel and painful deaths within a few short years. All communities lived in terror and dread of the secret, sinister eyes who covertly spied upon the population ready to pick up offenders in their menacing black vans to steal them away to some unspeakable end.

The disturbing ending raised more questions than it answered although some clues are provided in the historical notes which provides further food for thought on the terrifying issues evoked. One thought Offred gave voice to remains chillingly in my head; she stated how humans accept and adapt so quickly and easily to changes in circumstances no matter how bad or wrong those circumstances are. I will finish now for fear of giving too much of the plot away but what a brilliant book, I will be thinking about this for a very long time.

‘We were the people who were not in the papers. We lived in the blank white spaces at the edges of print. It gave us more freedom.
We lived in the gaps between the stories.’