Category Archives: bookclub

After You – Jojo Moyes

I know I have a tendency to think a very popular book might be terrible. It’s a character trait I try to challenge fairly frequently. I read Me Before You last year, the book that comes before After You, and I actually really quite enjoyed it. I read After You, with some trepidation, because the third in the series, Still Me, is the chosen book for book club next month.

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Reader, I did not enjoy this book very much. It is perfectly inoffensive and and not without merit. It is an easy read and there are some moments that had me make an audible laugh noise – this is not something that books make me do often, and I wish more would. It also make me well up in places – another good thing that I sometimes want books to do, sometimes I want them to make me weep. This did not make me cry but it certainly pulled at enough emotions in several places.

The problem I really had was that

**** spoiler alert if you somehow have no idea what happens in Me Before You ***

Will is dead. But this book is still all about his influence on Louisa. It’s about how she copes after he’s gone. How she’s trying to live the life she promised him she would. This whole book is her acceptance and moving on from his death. But clearly, he is dead, so she just thinks about him a lot. Has little chats with him in her head. She considers what he would have said or done at different moments. I don’t know, it just didn’t really work for me.

Then there’s the addition of a troubled teenager. I won’t give any of the plot away here.

It all just felt a bit like, right that book was sooooooper popular, we need another one that’s the same. Oh but Will is dead… well, let’s just refer to him a lot, as though he’s still around. Great!

I’m so looking forward to reading the third one this month.

I actually have quite high hopes for Still Me, because I think it’s far enough removed from the first, that we won’t have to hear about Will every few pages, and hopefully Louisa will have got her shit together a bit more and will start having some fun adventures.

 

 

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This Must Be the Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Another book club read. I enjoyed it, but I wasn’t completely blown away by it. I think it was just because one of the main characters just irritated me!

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From the back of the book:

A reclusive former film star living in the wilds of Ireland, Claudette Wells thinks nothing of firing a gun if strangers get too close to her house. Why is she so fiercely protective of her privacy, and what made her disappear at the height of her cinematic fame?

Her husband Daniel, reeling from a discovery about a woman he last saw twenty years ago, is about to make an exit of his own. It is a journey that will send him off-course, far from home. Will his love for Claudette be enough to bring him back?

This Must Be the Place crosses continents and time zones, creating a portrait of an extraordinary marriage, the forces that hold it together and the pressures that drive it apart.

I really liked the structure of This Must Be the Place. Each chapter is narrated by a different character. Some main characters get a few chapters, but many minor characters get their own chapters too, and it often gave an interesting perspective on the story.

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book club snacks!

A couple of my favourite chapters were stories that really didn’t have anything to do with the main plot! I loved Ari, Claudette’s oldest child from a former relationship, when he is sent to his school councillor and he just displays maximum intelligent teenage arrogance. He totally owns the councillor in a way I shouldn’t have enjoyed quite as much as I did, being a teacher!

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Ultimately, even with the interesting way it’s narrated by many characters, I couldn’t forgive Daniel for just being a bit pathetic, and Claudette for her wildly over-the-top and unforgiving character. Out of our book club discussion, we think we just don’t quite get the detail of these character’s motivation for some important decisions, just because we are seeing it through other peoples observations, so we didn’t get inside the characters heads enough.

I also found it unbelievable that Claudette could disappear as effectively as she did. Perhaps in the 90s it would have been ok, but getting into the modern day, with the internet, I have no doubt she would be easily found. She still travels on commercial air flights, and her great deception seems to be that she bought her house in her brother’s name. It’s really not that sneaky.

Finally, it’s just over 500 pages long, which is a bit much when you don’t absolutely love a book!

Our Endless Numbered Days – Chloe Benjamin

This was an enjoyable book club read. The story is of 8 year old Peggy who is taken to live in the wilderness by her survivalist Father. It’s also the story of her reemergence into ordinary life at age 17. Until then, she had believed the rest of the world had perished in some big disaster, and only herself and her Father were left.

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The cover of Our Endless Numbered Days is gorgeous, silver and shiny, and is very evocative of fairy stories like Hansel and Gretel. It’s so pretty I took loads of photos of it while I was reading the book. Consequently, this review is mostly going to be pictures. 😀

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You get the story of how Peggy disappeared, and how she is adjusting to being back, interchangeably from the beginning of the book. I’m glad that you know from the start she makes it back, because otherwise I don’t think I’d have been able to take some of the later events. Lets just say living alone in the woods for 8 years makes people go a bit doolally. There’s some really grim events later in the story.

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At book club, many people talked about how they have thought about running away from it all, and how idyllic that idea seems. I don’t get that at all. I can cope with camping for a week, but no more thanks!

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The story is told from Peggy’s perspective and I think this gives the whole going to the woods thing a great sense of adventure, and it really works for this story. I was itching to know more about the Father’s motivations though. Why he leaves the rest of his family? Such a bizarre decision.

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This is the second book by Fuller I’ve read (the other being Swimming Lessons, which I really enjoyed.) and once the story got going, I didn’t want to stop reading until I’d discovered what happened. A great choice for book club.

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The Hidden Man – Robin Blake

I would never have chosen to read this book in a million years, but book club chose it, and so I dutifully read it! A mystery concerning 1700s Preston… yey.

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From the back of the book:

The year is 1742, and the people of Preston are looking forward to their ancient once-every-twenty-years festival of merriment and excess, the Preston Guild. But the prospect darkens as the town plunges into a financial crisis caused by the death of the pawnbroker and would-be banker Philip Pimbo, shot behind the locked door of his office. Is it suicide? Coroner Titus Cragg suspect so, but Dr Luke Fidelis disagrees. To untangle the truth, Cragg must dig out the secrets of Pimbo’s personal life, learn the grim facts of the African slave trade, search for a missing civil was treasure, and deal with the machinations of his old enemy, Ephraim Grimshaw, now the town’s mayor. Cragg relies once again on the help and advice of his analytical friend, Fidelis; his astute wife, Elizabeth; and the contents of a well-stocked library.

I’ve already said this is not the type of book I would normally read. I don’t care for 1700s Preston finance at all, and I hear enough about the damned Guild living here. It’s also full of grumpy old dudes. Clearly, the Preston connection is why book club chose it, and I did enjoy the fact that that places and street were familiar – this hasn’t happened with many books I’ve read (in fact, I can only think of Michael Hurley’s The Loney that comes close). There’s a sweet map on the inside cover too:

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I found this book alright. I quite enjoyed it, and if the subject matter, or book type, is more your thing, you’d probably really like it. Some of the things I did like were finding out some of the history of this time period.

I liked the character of Fidelis the best. The younger doctor is a bit quirky, and utterly confident with it, and I did like this. The descriptions of how he eats meals methodically were joyous for me.

I also thoroughly enjoyed some of the northernness of the phrasings:

‘No,’ he declared with emphasis. ‘Folk like their gold and silver too much. Change it for paper? They’ll like as change a clog for a cloud.’

Poetry.

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Cragg’s wife is a clever, amusing woman. Throughout the novel she is reading a novel herself and this is a great little side story. The other women characters don’t come off so well, for example…

From her clothes she was evidently very poor but her poverty did not conceal the other notable fact about her: she was extremely pretty.

The two most noticeable things about her, however, were first that her face and figure were strikingly beautiful,

mmm yeh.

This book will probably well suit fans of historical mysteries, fans of Preston Guild, and people who love a bit of finance in their mysteries. I’m not wholly converted!

The Circle – Dave Eggers

The Circle is about big corporations and data. Written in 2013, I think it would have been more shocking to read back then. Honestly too much of the events in the book seem like real life now.  It’s still a good read and a big fricken warning about how careless we (mostly) all are with our data and privacy.

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time left in book: 8hrs 10 mins. Yes it’s a big one!

This was a book club read and it was generally enjoyed, though a few people said they enjoyed the film more. I haven’t seen it yet, but will report back when I do. It’s such a rare statement to make about a book and a film, I will have to watch it!

So what is The Circle actually about? Recent graduate Mae Holland gets a very sought after job at a tech company. She loves the company, with all their social perks and on-site amenities. There are social clubs and you are expected to interact with your colleagues on social media as part of your job. How delightful! Clearly it very soon takes a very dark turn. You can predict the rest.

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I will finish this book and I have all the things I need to help. 

Her immediate supervisor was a man named Kevin, who served as the ostensible technology officer at the utility, but who, in a strange twist, happened to know nothing about technology.

We’ve all been there, right?

Also, The Circle gave me this quote:

some terrible sex-porn-witchcraft controversy?

and I’m giving you no context at all for it, but it doesn’t sound so terrible?

The Circle is a good read. It’s nearly 500 pages though, so I might just recommend you watch the film.

The Remains of the Day – Kazuo Ishiguro

*this review contains some discussion of the whole plot of the novel. They aren’t really spoilers though because it’s not that sort of book. But you may want to avoid reading my review until you’ve read it*

Remains of the Day is a quiet, subtle novel about dedicating your life to a profession and the realisation that this might not have been the best way to live your life. At least that’s what I took away from it after finishing the book. It’s a very gentle rad, but I really enjoyed the journey.

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Stevens, the ageing butler of Darlington Hall, is going on his first short driving holiday, to the West Country. While he’s there he is going to visit Miss Kenton, an old housekeeper of Darlington Hall. He’s hoping she will come back to work with him. It is 1956 and he’s been the butler at Darlington Hall for 30 years.

While he travels he reminisces about the glory days of Darlington Hall, and when he considers he was at the peak of his profession. This was between the world wars when the Lord of the house was involved in international politics and therefore the house was often busy, and visited by important people.  It transpires that Lord Darlington’s efforts became an embarrassment in later years, due to his sympathetic attitude to Germany and his association with right wing extremists. Stevens is unwaveringly loyal to Lord Darlington and sees this as a measure of his professionalism.

So much of this novel is gained from what is not said. Stevens reminisces touch on his definition of dignity and how this has shaped his behaviour in life. He never allowed himself to be ‘off-duty’ unless he was alone. This affected his relationships, or rather lack of them, throughout his life.

The discoveries he makes about himself, as he reminisces on his driving holiday, are completely heartbreaking. I really enjoyed this novel and it’s very quiet style and would quietly recommend it.

 

Book Review: The Trouble With Goats and Sheep – Joanna Cannon

The Trouble With Goats and Sheep is a nostalgia trip back to a childhood in the 1970s. Ten year olds Grace and Tilly have the long, hot, heatwave summer of 1976 ahead of them. They need a project and they decide to find God. They know God is ‘everywhere’ (and each time they say this, they gesture around themselves, waving their arms around).

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blue wall. 

They have decided to find God because Mrs Creasy, a neighbour, has gone missing. This provides the central mystery to this easy to read, nostalgic trip. We quickly get to know the cast of characters who live on the same close as Grace. They know the ins and outs of each others lives and have been a close community for a long time. Very quickly we learn that a *bad thing* happened 10 years previously. This involves child abduction, the ‘weirdo’ at number 11, a house fire, and a death.

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gold glittery shoes

The themes get quite dark, but it’s handled in a very light way, made easier by most of it being told from the perspective of children. There are some very funny exchanges between the ten year olds and the adults. There are some lovely descriptions and a lot of personification is used. I liked this, it gave it an unusual feel, but felt cosy at the same time.

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reading at lunchtime amongst the desk debris.

This was a book club read, and most people really, really enjoyed it. I think the people who go the nostalgia hit for the 1970s liked it the most. I’m not a child of the 1970s, but its close neighbour the 1980s, and lots of the nostalgia was still relevant to me. Payphones and sherbet dip. A local who doesn’t fit in, sexism, and roller skates! It’s a quite light book, though it does deal with dark themes, it still feels like a bit of a break from reading *difficult* books, and a welcome one 🙂 I breezed through all 450 pages in a few days.