Category Archives: fiction

A Thousand Splendid Suns

And what a splendid sunny summer we had this year. This evening’s Book Club was held on the patio, in the light of the dimming sun and the comfortable evening heat. There were sandwiches, cheese and crackers, nibbles and of course, the well deserved jug of my finest PIMMs cocktail. Heaven!

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Sitting comfortably on the patio chair, listening intently to the discussion,  was a new addition to the family in the form  a stray calico cat. Two months later and said cat is still here, now comfortably residing on the conservatory chair and given freedom of the home! Welcome Georgie

 

 

A Thousand Splendid Suns! What can I say? What a book! As Lewis remarked – and I’d like to welcome Lewis, our newest member to Book club – the book is beautifully written and really moving. 

There was so much discussion during the evening that is is quite impossible for me to write it all out here but it was agreed that this is one one of the best books we have read. Briefly, it tells the story of two women, Mariam and Laila, and their struggles for life in a society that thinks they should not be allowed to happily live. It sends out a clear message that women are worth nothing. Set in Afghanistan and covering Afghan history from before the Soviet war until after the Taliban rule, the violence that emerged from this period of time resulted in the inevitable brutality towards women. Under the Qur’an, a man was entitled to have up to four wives, and he was supposed to treat them all equally. On any one day he could announce that he wanted to end a liaison with one of his wives. He would repeat three times “I divorce thee” and that was the end of the marriage. Many women were simply thrown out of the family home on to the streets where they would continue their days as street beggars. But what was remarkable about these women, as portrayed in the book in the form of Nana, however, was their instinct for survival and embracing what life they had as best they could.

The writing is gorgeous without being longwinded, the characters are so exquisitely fleshed out. It’s also one of those rare books that’s pretty melancholy throughout the duration of the book, but something about getting to the ending just really makes us want to believe that Hossisni’s dream for a happy Afghanistan without  oppression is a possibility. A Thousand Splendid Suns is an unforgettable portrait of a broken country and a deeply moving story of family and friendship. It is a beautiful, heart-wrenching story of an unforgiving time, an unlikely bond and an indestructible love.

Read more about Khaled Hosseini who was so moved by his experiences in Afghanistan and the writing of A Thousand Splendid Suns that he founded the Khaled Hosseini Foundation to help Afghans in need—especially Afghan women. Visit these websites and as usual if you have anything to add to this post, please do. Thank you for visiting.

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Only Daughter

Happy Hallowee’n

Before I mention the book I would like to welcome our newest member, Jill, to the group. Jill started this evening so a big warm welcome to you Jill and looking forward to seeing you at our future meetings.

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Although the house was slightly decorated to celebrate Hallowe’en our book choice was not a horror as such. It was a coincidence that the date of Book Club fell on the day before Hallowe’en so it had to be our theme for the evening. Anything for a party in my eyes! ‘Only Daughter’  could fall into the horror genre, however horror at the choice of book, maybe? Thats’a bit harsh but it was unanimously voted as our poorest choice to date. It was a strange book, to say the least. It was an uncomfortable read with some gory scenes that were fitting of a zombie, bloodcurdling B rated Hallowe’en horror movie.

Although we all read it, no-one gave up on it so that’s a positive, the conversation that followed had far too many negatives which led on to another negative and so on. There were claims  of ‘How did that happen?’  and ‘That was just not believable’  etc etc. Characters were underdeveloped and simply not believable but I am now going to hand you over to Kate who has summed up, on behalf of us all present, our thoughts on this month’s ‘horrific’ choice!

Warning- there are some plot spoilers in the review below so please do not read any further in the event that you wish to discover the outcome of this entertaining penny dreadful.

There is no doubt that this debut novel has some page turning moments and is gripping enough to hold the reader’s attention but there are also some fatal flaws within which detract from this book’s credibility. It is difficult to point out the shortcomings of the story line without giving away the plot; however they are glaringly obvious as the chain of events unfolds, credulity is stretched to its limits and any potential suspense which the novel may hold is diminished by the authenticity in the story line. For example, at the beginning of the book our young female protagonist impersonates and takes the place of a young girl who went missing ten years previously and re enters the family home with consummate ease; surely the police, medical and other authorities would not allow this to happen without taking so much as a blood test or other more comprehensive DNA checks? Why do none of the close family members ask her where she has been? Would you really be able to love and humour a pair of psychopathic cat killers for all those years without raising an inquisitive eyebrow?
On the plus side, this book is undoubtedly an easy read and it is enthralling enough to hold the reader’s attention for long enough to complete the book; I genuinely wanted to know the outcome of this far fetched scenario but was let down again in the last scene of the book when the bogus Bec came face to face with the real Bec in the middle of a chaotic Perth railway station at which point all pretence of realism flew out of the window at the rate of a speeding bullet and any tiny vestiges of credulity in the novel were completely lost.
In the event that you are looking for great literature or even good literature, this book will not fit the bill; it is not particularly well written, the story line is weak and far fetched but as a quick, easy read which does not require much effort or deep thought, then ‘The Only Daughter’ will keep you entertained if for no other reason than having great fun in pointing out its glaringly obvious defects in book club meetings! That last sentence is harsh; it’s a non demanding read, fast moving, pacy and entertaining; it also contains some graphic horror and suspense with a gripping story line which makes you want to read to the end but the demerits described above prevent this novel from being plausible literature.

So there you have it for this month. Have you read Only Daughter? We would love to hear what you have to say about the novel. Please leave us your comments below. Thank you

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.
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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 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!

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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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