Category Archives: Book Club

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements

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.

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.’

The Underground Railroad

I have been very neglectful with my Book Club Blog and for that I apologise, but I am back and will do my up most to keep this blog updated from now on!! Sitting here with my new hip and limited movement, I thought that I would have hours to spare to update the pages and blog to my heart’s content but it is surprising how busy one can be with limited movement!! (Prison Break Season 1 2 3 and 4 come to mind , but, there, I digress!!)

Last Tuesday at Book Club The Underground Railway was the chosen read for the month of April and therefore the topic of discussion. Naturally, cheese, bread, crackers, savouries, cake, flapjacks and wine were an added bonus!

underground

After in length discussions on hip replacements and Brazil (me deliberating the former and Kate the latter after her awesome and recent trip to South America)  we finally got round to the book. Personally, I found The Underground Railroad a difficult read and the subject of much debate. It was thoroughly enjoyed by everyone, and I use ‘enjoyed’ lightly due to the subject matter, but there were lots of conflicting and difference of opinions thrown around during the evening. The book is a very cleverly written saga about slavery in all its brutal forms, its extreme brutality and its survival and consequences. Lots of issues were discussed including the following among many others: –

Would it have been better written in the 1st person rather than the 3rd?

How enjoyable was Whitehead’s style of writing?

How exactly did we interpreted​ the underground railroad?

How well-developed were his characters?

What was Mabel’s role in the story?

Is there a correlation between this story and society today?

The book cleverly crosses the genres of historic and literary fiction, and there is plenty of social justice narration. It is a book with big ideas and daring commentary which keeps you questioning your beliefs about race, freedom and, as a Brit,  what you really  know of ‘The American Dream’ and American history, in fact, it can be linked to any exploitation, any time, anywhere. Having lived in the South of the US for a number of years I felt that I could relate some parts of the writing to the life I experienced back in the 80s in the seep south. And a part that hit home were these words from the book – “And America, too, is a delusion, the grandest one of all. The white race believes – believes with all its heart – that it is their right to take the land. To kill Indians. Make war. Enslave their brothers. This nation shouldn’t exist, if there is any justice in the world, or its foundations are murder, theft, and cruelty. Yet here we are.” Food for thought there!

Personally, I struggled to finish the book,  but you must persevere to the penultimate chapter, ‘Mabel’, to finally feel some emotion that I believed the book lacked ( and by the way, on the subject of lack of emotion, I believe out of our group, I was a lone voice!) I am not saying that it was devoid of emotion of any kind, as Cora, the protagonist of this story faces more tragedy than any human being should ever have to experience in a lifetime, but I did not bond with her. I did not feel for her or Caesar, come to that. I would have liked to have read and experienced her story as seen through her eyes and therefore written in the 1st person rather than the 3rd would have been my preference. Yes Cora suffers. She is a teenage slave who runs away from the plantation in Georgia she’s been sold to and embarks on this journey of terror to find freedom and when she finds it, like any other, she will do anything so that she will never have to go back. But I felt no form of empathy or concern for her and Ceasar, unfortunately and when Caesar disappeared half way through with no clear explanation for his disappearance, it didn’t seem to matter. Also, if you are expecting to know more about the Underground Railroad itself then be prepared to be disappointed as it is not incorporate into the story as one would have maybe hoped. The title is rather deceptive there.

For the most part the story is written chronologically but Colson does tend to jump back to the past on occasions which made the narrative rather disjointed, in my opinion. The bumpy ride is a bit of a roller coaster and, like the railway, takes us into unexpected directions. We meet many strong, brave, hunted, hounded, evil, despicable characters on the journey but also a number of ancillary characters, who seem out of place at the time of meeting and easily forgotten until we revisit them as we progress through the story. It is  a powerful and at times brutal story depicting the harsh treatment of slaves and a culmination of history from the sterilization of women to the development of the Klan. It is devastating and it is provocative. It leaves you feeling uncomfortable. It is thought-provoking and a great book choice for a book club as it certainly sparks off some great discussions. I always wonder at the ways individuals can interpret a common read in so many different ways. That is the beauty of Book Club!

‘The Underground Railroad’ is a recommended read by us all  ( me too, believe it or not!)  but it has so much to unpack  that this one-sided review by me alone can’t do it justice. Hopefully, some of the club members will write their side of the discussion in the comment below and I would love to hear from you too, so please leave your comments below for discussion. Thank you.

Before leaving I have included some articles for you to read and a video of Colson Whithead himself talking about his little gem of a book.

Article 1

Article 2

All The Light We Cannot See

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781476746586_hrguarantee-badgeOh!!!! What a book!! Full marks from us all around the Christmas table back in December. I am a month late blogging so HUGE apologies!! Here is what I started writing the night of our last 2016 Book Club meeting and that is followed with an update!!

Oh! Such a lovely evening!! We had a great Christmas Book Club Christmas night tonight! Great food at The Brit in Cwmavon but better company and a wonderful discussion about a brilliantly , beautifully written book ‘All at the Light We Cannot See’!  Unfortunately 50% of us hadn’t finished the book for ashamedly, no real reason, but we can all agree that this is a brilliant book and I would say, one of the best we have chosen to read in Book Club history! Please treat yourself and read it!

The evening flew by with great food from the evening menu, plenty of delicious wine, and a fun Book Club quiz (which I am so pleased to say ended in a draw) . We also had a bit of fun exchanging Christmas book-wrapped pressies. Great choices of books, by the way! Not forgetting Cor Afan singing in the background. We enjoyed so much that we forgot to choose a book for January so our New Year meeting will be a social get together where we will choose our next book!

christams-5   christmas-3           christmas-6     christmas-8joan             christmas-4

Back to the present. I have to admit that I was one of the 50% who hadn’t finished reading the book but now, a month later I am happy to say that I have sadly come to thinned of the book. Sadly because I didn’t want it out of my life. I prolonged the reading of this elegant and provocative prose for as long as I could but now it’s over and I have moved on! What kept me hooked to the book more than anything was the portrayal of the lives of Marie Laure and Werner. Getting to know them in their very different worlds is a treat to savour as we wait for the crossing of their lives with each other, which, when they finally do, is not what you will be expecting. It is much better, much more bittersweet and unexpected.

You are drawn into this book by the beautifully written pages. You are in an orphanage listening to the radio. You are walking the streets of St. Malo with heightened senses of all that surrounds you. You feel enriched by the imagery Doerr creates, with the heightened meaning and with the depth of feeling that oozes out of the very short chapters.

Take a look at this video where the author Anthony Doerr, explains to us where the three pieces of inspiration that provided the superstructure for the novel came from. The first being on  NYC subway with a fellow passenger moaning about the loss of his mobile phone signal.

‘At the start of the book I wanted to try to capture the magic of hearing the voice of a stranger in a little device in your home because for the history of humanity, that was a strange thing. I started with a boy trapped somewhere and a girl reading a story.’

A year later he was on a book tour in France and saw Saint Malo for the first time.

‘Walking around this beautiful seaside town, a walled fortress, the beautiful channel, the green water of the channel breaking against the walls and I told my editor, “look how old this is. This medieval town’s so pretty.” He said, “actually, this town was almost entirely destroyed in 1944, by your country, by American bombs.” So I started researching a lot about the city of Saint Malo immediately and knew that was the setting. That was where the boy would be trapped, listening to the radio.’

The third piece Doerr  explains is when he learned that when the Germans invaded, the French hid not only their artistic treasures but their important natural history and gemological holdings, too.


Read the book. It’s wonderful.

all-the-light-we-cannot-see-9781476746586_hr