Category Archives: Book Club

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

 

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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

Fishbowl and The Truth and Other Lies

the-truth-and-other-lies-blue                                    fishbowl

I have been very slow posting this and I do apologise! We had such a long Summer break that I fell out of the habit of Book Club blogging but we are back! The dark winter nights will soon be upon us so we can cwtsh under our blankets and duvets and not feel too guilty about indulging ourselves into hours of pleasure with our next choices of great reads!! Having said that, our first choice after our break is proving rather difficult! A big book with small print!

kavalier-and-klay

But first things first. It was lovely to get together again in September at the Celtic Lodge even though we weren’t many. It was a lovely evening so we sat out on the patio and had some fine food and drink.

celtic-food-2 the decker burger

celtic-foodor maybe a ham and cheese panini!!

And then to discussing the books!! It was quite clear that of the two Summer Reads – Fish Bowl and The Truth and Other Lies, that Fishbowl won hands down!!

fishbowl-titleWhat a great little book!! We would all recommend this to readers out there as it was quirky, sweet, well written with some gloriously unusual characters hiding such startling secrets whilst living virtually in each other’s pockets in a block of flats so regally named, The Seville on Roxy. I found this review on the Waterstone’s site which I thought I’d share with you!! It mirrors my thoughts exactly.

@Gav_The_Bantam
“It is a book to enjoy; I implore you to do just that.”

This book exudes joy, life, resilience and hope

Everything, from the gorgeous cover, bright orange and with terrific typography and evocative artwork, to the wonderful fish cartoon that tumbles down the pages as they are flicked, is beautifully presented. And the important thing, the story on the pages contained within, is just as wonderfully fabulous.

I’m a little unsure how to categorize this book or how best to concisely describe the plot. The subtitle of “Fishbowl” is “what the goldfish saw as he fell from the 27th floor” and that, pretty much, is it in a nutshell. Or, in this case, that should be “in a bowl”. Oh, and what a brilliant bowl Somer has created.

The goldfish, Ian, glimpses brief snatches and moments in the lives of the occupants of the Seville on Roxy as he undertakes his terrifying fall from the 27th floor of the building. The residents, each living separate lives removed from that of their immediate neighbours and often in complete isolation, are drawn together as the novel progresses. Bradley Somer, has created a memorable cast of characters in this whimsical, warm and funny, moving and beautifully crafted book that delights and charms in abundance.

The chapter titles are magnificent in their own little way, each one a tantalizing and charming prelude to the joys that lie ahead. The writing is crisp and sharp, eloquent and provocative, funny and sad. This book is a delight to read.

It is a book to enjoy; I implore you to do just that.

And it was!

truthI enjoyed the Truth and Other Lies but it had paled into insignificance by September!! It was the first of the 2 books I read therefore the freshness and hilarity of Fishbowl was still vivid in my mind and everyone present found the same. They had read the book at the beginning of the summer, then slept, then read another, and slept, went on holiday and slept until this poor book became a distant memory! However, I must add that I enjoyed it and would recommend it. The novel was dark and twisty but we all agreed that the characters were not likeable and it then becomes difficult to enjoy a book if you cannot relate to the people painting the canvas! Henry Hayden, the central character, has a happy fulfilling life. He is a successful author with a number of best sellers to his name; one of his titles had been made into a film; and his marriage to Martha was a happy one. But soon Henry’s life begins to unravel in an alarming fashion when we find out that it has been built entirely on a lie, one he shared with his wife Martha, who is a very insignificant character in book! But like all lies, one leads to another and another until the string becomes so tightly woven, you begin to suffocate and flounder in your web. It’s an Ok book. It reminded me a lot of the Talented Mr. Ripley books. It’s cleverly written and will keep you in suspense but it is very easily forgotten!

Kate’s thoughts on the book:-

  • The book has many merits in that it is a gripping story which holds your attention and I was eager to discover the outcome and consequently enjoyed reading it; however the style of writing is distinctly average although some of its literary merit may have been lost in the translation. Basically it’s a straightforward crime thriller with a few interesting twists, however after the initial surprise of the first murder scene, I thought the plot became somewhat predictable and lacked suspense, the writing was distinctly average and the characterization sketchy and sometimes far fetched; for example would Gisbert Fasch have given up his years of obsessive research in a lifelong quest for revenge just because Henry took him to hospital and bought him a private room? Henry of course was the master of cunning manipulation and this book too explores the concepts of good and evil although most of Henry’s kind acts were solely for the purpose of worming his way into the affections of his acquaintances so that they would fall prey to his scheming manipulation and unsuspectingly carry out his wishes to protect him in a smokescreen of the truth even if that meant killing on his behalf.
    Henry could be charming and displayed some acts of random kindness but that belied his chillingly ruthless streak which would stop at nothing to preserve his self interest; he showed very little if any emotion when those closest to him died and he was callously prepared to sacrifice his own unborn child in the interests of self preservation and seemingly experienced no feelings of guilt or loss whatsoever.
    I was disappointed with the weak ending and felt as though the author had lost interest in the book and just wanted to finish it all off as quickly as possible which led to a sudden and unsatisfactory ending to the plot, in my eyes anyway. However I think we have been spoilt recently by reading books which have appealed on so many different levels; if you’re looking for a straightforward crime thriller with a gripping story line which holds your attention and turns up a few unexpected dark twists and surprises, then this book will definitely fit the bill.

So our next book is The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon. 

We will be meeting once again at the Celtic Lodge on Wednesday, October 12th. Please come along if you would like to join us.