Category Archives: fiction

Kavalier and Clay

I am playing a game of catch up for the next few pages and to make life easier I am going to paste Kate and Adam’s comments on the book we read back in November 2016 – The Amazing Adventures of Cavalier and Clay –  as I haven’t written a review for this book! In fact there are a number of books I have been rather neglectful of so be prepared for the onslaught of neglected books!

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If my memory serves me well, this book was not well received at Book Club, maybe because of it being Christmas and everyone being so busy, this book was not an easy read! On the contrary, it is hard work and very easy to give up on which a number of us did but when you finally get into it – oh what a joy! I loved it! Here is a talented writer and researcher. Chabon did an excellent job integrating his vast knowledge of comic book history into The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay and I thoroughly enjoyed the escapism! On the surface,  we are at the brink of WW2 when we meet two young men at the beginning of the golden age of comic books, who come together to create their own caped heroes,  most notably ‘The Escapist’. But then it hits you that the entire novel is about escape. Joe Kavalier a young Jewish artist escapes from Prague to the US just before the Nazi occupation where he teams up with his cousin Sam Clay. Sam is not as colourful a character as his European cousin but he also has his own life experiences from which he wants to escape. The novel tackles some serious social issues including the prejudice against the Jews as well as against homosexuals in those years. The characters are wonderfully brought to life  throughout this book and are interwoven with many historical people such as Harry Houdini, Orson Welles, Jack Kirby, Bob Kane, Stan Lee, and others. It is an extraordinary book. Beautiful characters, swashbuckling adventures, wonderful imagination and a roller coaster of emotions.  It unfolded like a flower!

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Adam’s review:

Kavalier and Clay has problems. The font size is minute, the amount of words I had to check in the dictionary would possibly be passed the triple-figure mark and it can be a bit slow. But I don’t even care. This book is remarkable. I can’t stop thinking about it. Hope everyone sticks with it!

Please let us know what you though of the book by leaving a comment on this page. Thank you.

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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!

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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!

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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.

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July 19th-Wicked Ugly Bad

Good night last night.

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It comes to something when you clearly remember little people playing in the sand and the dress-up corner in the Reception Class who then grow up to be 26 year olds and end up with their ‘old’ teacher in a Book Club!! Well, that’s what’s happening here!! So nice to see Luke and Adam join us last night and hope they will stick around with us!!

We weren’t many at book club last night but we had a lovely time out on the decking at the Celtic Lodge, eating and drinking and chatting although not much chatting about the book I must add as Adam and Luke hated it, Julie hadn’t read it and Kate is only half way through but enjoying it!! Joan and I read it and loved it!! It’s a completely, whacky, off the wall read but it does make you laugh, groan and splutter out load!!

The story starts with Scarlett (Letty) Riding thrown into the Wicked Ugly and Bad Mental Health Treatment Center and Maximum Security Prison for attacking step-sister Cindy with a hatchet at the ball. How glad are we to know this after the way those 2 ugly sisters treated their lovely, kind and helpful step-sister. But! Have we been misled all these years? Didn’t we ever stop to think that maybe Cinderella was just a bit too good to be true? Was there more to her than meets the eye?? She was beautiful, kind, sweet and self-less, so had to be born good. The step sisters were ugly, self-centred, lazy and cruel so had to be born bad!! We never doubted what we read BUT – could it be that Cindy was so clever, that she pulled the wool over our eyes? That is was she, Cinderella, who was the mastermind behind an evil bid for power!! Would we have ever believed that this demure young thing with a cleaning  fetish was enjoying very colorful sexual acts while in the process – described in vivid detail that will make you shout ‘ewww’ out loud and never look at her in the same way again!! Find out about Cindy and her step-sisters and all the members of the Tuesday morning ‘share circle’. Meet Marrok Wolf the alpha male to die for and watch the way they all tackle the bigger issue “Are people really born all bad or all good? Aren’t we all a little bit of both? Shouldn’t we judge people on their behavior instead of the circumstances of their birth? Can’t we all just get along?”

Post your comments and tell us what you think!!

 

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Our next chosen books are ‘The Truth and Other Lies’ by Sascha Arango and ‘Fishbowl’ by Bradley Somer. We will take a beak for August and get back together again in September so 2 books to read by then!! Happy Summer Reading all!

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Book Club June 21st Big Little Lies

Well, tonight’s club was rather smokey!! We were out on the patio with a pit fire and damp wood!! You must try smoked scones. Quite delicious! I don’t think the tears in our eyes came from the discussion of the book. Despite this, we had a very pleasant evening outdoors with the most beautiful sunset over the town at the end of the night, as you can see!

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We had a great discussion  about the book. Great turn out with eight of us present and all contributing passionately to the discussion. There was a bit of musical chairs going on to avoid the smoke but this did not deter the discussion.

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We all loved the book but agreed that it had its weaknesses. Marie especially spoke quite strongly about the predictability of the story; how come Jane didn’t Google Saxon herself to find out where he was; how did Ziggy keep secrets so well at his very young age; would a headteacher allow parents to present a petition to remove a 5 year old? But they were nitpicking bits and bobs. Generally we all loved it!

Throughout the book we agreed that Liane Moriarty weaves together the lives of the women in a prosperous suburb of Perriwee in SW Australia with humour and compassion, There’s stylish Madeline who is fiercely protective of her friends and family. The shoot-from-the-hip playground mother who takes action on unfairness! She seems to have a strong second marriage to Ed but is frustrated by the way in which her teenage daughter, Abigail, has suddenly become obsessed with hippie-like Bonny, her father’s second wife, and wants to break the umbilical cord by leaving the mother who brought her up single handedly, and go and live with the newly-returned-into-her-life dad! Then there is beautiful, wealthy, perfect on the outside Celeste. She  is a good friend of Madeline but unable to share her very dark and disturbing secrets with her or anyone else. Jane is a single parent and new to the area. She also has a dark secret. She is taken under Madeline’s wing.  Her little boy Ziggy is the result of a one-night stand but she is unwilling to reveal any more. Ziggy is accused of being a bully and a petition, started by the vile Harper,  is passed around to have him removed from the school

As we read from the outset we know that there has been a death at the school fundraising quiz. A murder, no less!  The novel introduces us to a myriad of characters involved with the school, recounting their version of things leading up to the denouement! Liane Moriarty’s  style of writing here is brilliant. It is fascinating to read how a simple conversation or act can be misinterpreted and distorted as the information is passed from person to person just like Chinese whispers.

We were hooked from the start! We all agreed that the book was  compelling – and at times very funny but with some very dark and serious moments. For me, the ending was a bit too ‘tidy’ for my liking. The book had dark moments and I would have preferred more of a dark ending! We also thought that some of the moral questions raised by the book were maybe made light of.

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Listen to Liane Moriarty talk about how she came up with the idea for the novel.

 

Looking forward to hearing from you. Please leave a comment with your thoughts on this book. Thank you.

The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress

17679533._UY200_I have just finished reading The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress. Oh my! What a disappointing ending to such a great book!! I couldn’t believe it!! It was typically that dreadful feeling you get when you read and throughly enjoy a book then find that the last few pages are missing, or you leave the book somewhere just as you get to the end! It was a great read! Brilliant characters, all rather unnerving and not exactly likeable, but worth getting to know. A journey you just know is going to come to some shocking denouement and you can’t wait to get there but don’t really want the journey to come to and end as the events that occur on the way are thrilling, leaving you wanting more! But then you finally arrive at the story’s destination, and BOOM! nothing happens!! Harold and Rose travel across America together to meet this elusive character they both know but through very different reasons. You don’t really get to know much about him, yet you are looking forward to meeting him, but he doesn’t materialise! You are left wondering what part did Rose play in the story? She didn’t need to be in it! How does it really end? I don’t know! It may make some sense if you know anything about conspiracy stories around the assassination of Robert Kennedy but I wasn’t aware of any links between that event and a girl in a polka dot dress so I had to do some research! This was a wonderfully written book with some great characterisation but the worst ending I have ever read! I was so disappointed! What did you think?