Category Archives: bookclub

Cold Bath Street – A. J. Hartley

A ghostly story, set in Preston, read for book club. I really liked this story. I enjoyed the local setting – a real novelty. I don’t think I’ve ever read a book set so firmly in a place I’m familiar with. I liked the ghostly premise, and found the story page turning. However, many at book club didn’t quite take to it as kindly. I felt like it was people who were really into this genre considered it a bit light – possibly a YA ghost story. I didn’t get that at all, but then I’m a massive wimp and probably couldn’t cope with anything more scary!!

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The cover of the book is stunning. I noticed the creepy face in the clouds fairly early on, but there’s also a creepy figure next to the boy and I didn’t notice that until book club. It’s done using a shiny overlay and it was great that it took a while to notice.

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I can’t separate out the fact that I enjoyed the story and really liked that I knew the locations involved. I know the streets around Ribbleton, Avenham park, the Harris Museum and Art gallery, the Miley tunnel, and of course Cold Bath Street.

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It’s a tiny street near the University

My favourite painting from The Harris Museum is even in the story.

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Pauline in the Yellow Dress by Herbert James Gunn

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Aaaahhh Pauline!

This also nicely shows how beautifully illustrated the text is.ย  The illustrator is Janet Pickering.

So what is the story about? A boy dies. He gets trapped in limbo. Or The Bardo as I might like to call it since reading Lincoln in the Bardo (jk but that book is ace – do the audiobook though). There are NOT NICE things in this limbo. The living world can be accessed. Sort of, but it’s hard. Mystery and thrilling things ensue.

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Also worth a mention, I found it a little jarring that the main character is called Preston. It just felt a little weird. Overall though, I enjoyed Cold Bath Street. It’s a genre I have almost no experience of, and I think a great introduction to it.

The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo – Taylor Jenkins Reid

A young journalist, Monique Grant, is unexpectedly requested to interview Evelyn Hugo – rich, reclusive, old time Hollywood Mega Star. We know from the beginning that she must have been chosen for some reason, but we don’t know what that is…

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I enjoyed Seven Husbands. I didn’t get the reveal until it was revealed, so that was pleasing. If *I* manage to guess what is going to happen, then it really must be tragically obvious.

The book is set up with this mystery about why Monique has been chosen to interview Evelyn. We go back to the present every now and again, but the focus of the book is on Evelyn telling her life story.ย The book is split into sections named after each of Evelyn’s husbands. Each with adjectives describing the husband. I liked this as a way of introducing the tone of the next marriage. There are also occasional newspaper articles on Evelyn and her life.

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I suggested Seven Husbands for my book club. It was generally thought of as OK, but there’s not much to discuss about it, other than it was an enjoyable story. The funniest thing was someone noticing that it was the number 1 book in erotic bisexual fiction on Amazon. I’m afraid this might have left a few people a bit disappointed by the content! It’s, sadly, an extremely tame book in this respect!

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It’s essentially a good read. Hollywood love story, fame, love that can’t be made public, part mystery, glamour, dark secrets, it’s got a lot going on. Just don’t pick it for book club!

 

 

The Psychology of Time Travel – Kate Mascarenhas

Four scientist women discover how to time travel. They successfully keep control of the technology and therefore become very rich and powerful, except one who is ostracised after the very first successful time jump.

We follow the women’s stories throughout their lives, and through their descendants.ย  Of course, not in any completely sensible linear way, because half of the characters are time travellers.

It’s a really good, quite thrilling read and I enjoyed a slightly unusual take on time travel. There’s no danger of anyone messing up the timeline because they live in a deterministic Universe. So we don’t have to deal with the Grandparent paradox or any classic time travel dangers. No split timelines, or parallel universes. It’s a nice straightforward way to do time travel! And yet, somehow, even though the events are predetermined, there’s still quite a good exciting story line!

Because there are no dangers associated with someone seeing themselves in this Universe, it means someone can hang out with themselves from different times. This leads to some great scenes, and some of my favourite moments of the book. For example, two characters are newly entering a relationship, when an older version of one of the characters shows up at their flat to restock the kitchen and do a bit of cleaning.

I had a little bit of trouble keeping up with all the characters – this would probably be ok if I had a paper copy of the book, rather than an ebook, because I would have just flicked back to remind myself who everyone was. It wasn’t that confusing though really ๐Ÿ˜€

Over all I enjoyed this book. An interesting, fun take on time travel, weaved into a thrilling adventure. Great fun.

The Tattooist of Auschwitz – Heather Morris

This is the story of Lale Sokolov, an Auschwitz survivor who met and fell in love with Gita Furman, another prisoner. They meet after the war and spend the rest of their lives together. Lale had a privileged position in Auschwitz due to his role as the tattooist of new arrivals.

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Lale told his story to Morris when he was an old man. His story has been verified with records from Auschwitz, but I feel it’s important to note that this is a work of fiction, and isn’t presented as a memoir. There are many historical inconsistencies and it isn’t an attempt to present a real history at all.

It’s a nice enough story. But it left me weirdly emotionally unmoved. And considering this is a book about the actual holocaust, that’s really strange. You couldn’t get a setting that should automatically have me weeping through the story. But I just wasn’t feeling it at all. It felt like an easy read. Too easy. Lale’s Auschwitz experience seemed charmed compared to most stories.

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It read like Holocaust-lite. And that was just bizarre. Also, a lot of the details of the story just seemed fanciful and unreal. This was a book club read, and it split the book club. Seems you either really like it or hate it.

I really wouldn’t recommend this book, I could recommend many books with the same setting that are so moving. I would actually be unhappy to thing someone might read this and think it gave a great representation of what life in Auschwitz might have been like. Read Night by Elie Wiesel instead.

Marching Powder – Rusty Young

I am glad I have read this book. It was interesting, and was something I would never normally have picked up in a thousand million years. Thank you book club for continuing to expand my reading horizons.

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Marching Powder tells the story of Thomas McFadden, around 20 years ago. He was a British drug smuggler who ended up in the San Pedro prison in Bolivia. Thomas ends up as the prison tour guide, taking tourists around and even letting them stay the night. That’s how Thomas meets Rusty and they decide to tell his story. The prison tours ended up in the Lonely Planet guide for a few years.

The set up of the prison is bizarre, with inmates having to buy their own cells, and provide their own food. Those without family or friends are in great trouble. Learning about the prison system and daily life in the prison was the best part of Marching Powder. Huge amounts of cocaine is also produced within the prison.

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hmmmm

I found it bizarre that the book is described on the back cover as ‘darkly comic’. There is nothing comic about about any of it. There are children brought up in the prison, there is death, abuse, drugs, and no hope for many of the prisoners.

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Going through Thomas’s story was a good way to find out about the prison, and Rusty helps Thomas out with his case. There is a follow up documentary about them returning to the prison many years later, and I really need to find that and give it a watch!

I Am, I Am, I Am – Maggie O’Farrell

A memoir told through seventeen near death experiences. Wow. Some of these stories just floored me. Maggie O’Farrell has had a lot of adventures, and not all of them very much fun. This is a fascinating look at her life, and the way she has chosen to present her memoir is brilliant.

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As much as I want to dissect many of the different stories, I won’t. I don’t want you to read this book already knowing the outcome, or surprises, or the details. It’s a much better experience to take O’Farrell’s hints about things she hasn’t fully told you about yet… and wait for her to get around to that bit.

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The seventeen stories are not ordered chronologically. We are time travelling through O’Farrell’s life and piecing the timeline together ourselves. Each story is named for the body part involved in the near death part of each story. The beginning of each chapter has an accompanying medical illustration, and I loved these. The book title is from The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath:

I took a deep breath and listened to the old brag of my heart: I am, I am, I am.

Gorgeous.

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I Am, I Am, I Am is brilliantly moving, unbelievable – yet believable,ย  jaw dropping, tense, and magical. So much is horrendous, but there are moments of sheer joy. There are true quiet heroes in I Am, I Am, I Am.

I loved how O’Farrell took every near death moment in her stride – though I feared for her recklessness too! Some moments are truly chilling. Come and find me when you’ve read it too, then we can talk about it!

Wake – Anna Hope


Set over five days in November 1920, Wake follows the lives of 3 women in the aftermath of the First World War, in the run up to the burial of the Unknown Warrior at Westminster Abbey. It focuses on the effect of the war on the women left behind, and the general disruption to society in the years afterwards.

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Wake manages to get across the feeling of collective grief felt by society after the war, and the dreadful situations many people found themselves in, particularly the poor soldiers who were traumatised, then abandoned by the government shortly after they returned home.

The chapters are interspersed with the story of the Unknown Warrior: the finding of a suitable body, the process of transporting it from France, and finally the burial. I liked how this linked the different stories, with it being the big news of the day, all the characters discuss it.

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The three main stories in the book are about Hettie, a dancer at the Hammersmith Palais, whose brother has returned from the war a broken man. Evelyn, who lost her lover during the war and is now living a very grey existence without him. Finally, Ada whose son is missing, presumably dead, but she never received an official letter about him.

The stories of these women mean that a large cross section of the whole society are covered by the story. Different age groups and classes are all involved, and all are broken by the war in different ways.

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Wake was chosen by my book club as we would be meeting near Remembrance Day. I really enjoyed in and was particularly glad to not have to read a book about how grim life in the trenches was. It was nice to read about how grim life in the UK could be after the war. ๐Ÿ˜€

The burial of the Unknown Warrior gives a potentially depressing book a more hopeful ending as it signifies the start of a collective healing for society and for some of our main characters. I really enjoyed Wake and would definitely recommend it.