Category Archives: fiction

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.

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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 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.’

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!

kavalier-and-klay

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.

AKC_Square

 

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.

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