Category Archives: Book Club

Book Review: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

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So, our book club has been plodding along with just three members – it’s not so much a book club now, more an excuse to chat about books and find time to meet up for a good gossip.

I’d mentioned Me Before You a couple of times when my friend had asked for reading suggestions as I’d heard it was good – I bought it for her for Christmas and she suggested it as our next book club read. I downloaded the audio version of the book – all 16 and a half hours of it. Needless to say, both of my friends finished the book long before I managed to!

From the back:

‘Lou Clark knows a lot of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home. She knows she likes working in The Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick.

Will Traynor knows his motorcycle accident took away his desire to live. He knows everything feels very small and rather joyless now and he knows exactly how he’s going to put a stop to that.

What will doesn’t know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour. And neither of them knows they’re going to change the other for all time.’

I really enjoyed listening to it, the story was good, the characters believable and down-to-earth. It has a good story and deals with some difficult issues – would you want to keep living if you knew you would never be able to walk again, or even lift a cup to drink, make love, dance? This is the plight of Will Traynor, previously a hot shot investor, who now faces life as a quadriplegic. And how do you find the courage to be sure that your life is not enough? To tell a partner that you might not love them anymore? Lou is laid off from her job at the tea shop and has to face the job centre, their suggestions of retraining, working in a chicken factory, and even (I found this a bit far-fetched) as a pole dancer!

Lou eventually takes a job as Will’s companion, asked by his mother to try and cheer him up a bit without knowing quite the magnitude of the task she is taking on. She is also battling with problems at home – at 26, she still lives with her parents in a small house with her sister, nephew and granddad who needs lots of care following a stroke. There isn’t much money to spare in the Clark household so there is an immediate clash between Lou’s life and the type of life Will had been accustomed to, coming from a very wealthy family who take regular skiing trips, go to fancy dos and have thousands of pounds idling in their everyday bank accounts.

To begin with, Will is slightly cold towards Lou, uncomfortable dealing with someone having to help him all of the time. Lou grins and bears it, trying to make the most of it as she cannot afford to lose this job. As time goes on, they grow to tolerate each other, and then their working relationship turns into friendship, as they come to rely on each other more and more.

There is lots going on in the book, but the warmth for the characters carries you through. Lou is the main narrator during the story, and although I found her narration warm and funny, and full of the everyday worries that constantly trouble us, I enjoyed the occasional break in narrative, as one of the more minor characters took over. I wished we heard more from Will though, to find out more about what is going on inside his head, how he copes mentally and emotionally with the consequences of his accident. In some ways this story is more about Lou though, and the profound effect that meeting Will and being exposed to his situation has on her.

It was a good, easy listen, but one that deals with lots of issues – it’s certainly a great book club read as it generates a lot of discussion on how one would cope with becoming quadriplegic. I’m looking forward to discussing this with the girls!

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Book Club Read: Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussman

The UK cover of Tigers in Red Weather

The UK cover of Tigers in Red Weather

I think I first heard of Liza Klaussman’s Tigers in Red Weather last year, when Klaussman was at the Edinburgh book festival and this was up for Anobii’s First Book Award. It immediately caught my eye – first of all, the cover is stunning. It already seems like an iconic book cover to me, and after reading the book I think it strikes the mood just perfectly. I prefer the UK cover to the US edition, which seems a bit staged to me, and doesn’t quite capture the effortless glamour of the UK one.

The novel is part family saga, part murder mystery, set after the Second World War in the idyllic Martha’s Vineyard. Nick and her cousin Helena open the novel in a heatwave, dancing and drinking on their lawn as they look forward to their lives restarting. Helena will be setting off to LA to live with a new husband, while Nick is awaiting the return of her husband Hughes from duty. From the offset, the book is sultry, you can feel the heat and imagine the moonlit nights and salty air and feel the women’s excitement.

The novel is split into five sections, each told from the point of view of one member of Nick and Helena’s family, flashing back and forward in time, spanning across several decades and continents, always returning to the same focal point. The centre of the family is the house in Martha’s Vineyard, Tiger House, and the narratives centre particularly around the events of one summer when Nick’s daughter, Daisy, and Helena’s son, Ed, stumble across a young Hispanic maid who has been brutally murdered.

Circa 1950s - Couple walking with picnic basket on beach - this is how I imagine Nick and Hughes...

Circa 1950s – Couple walking with picnic basket on beach – this is how I imagine Nick and Hughes…

We start with Nick, who is intriguing, smart and intelligent, but also bored and prone to acts of defiance, such as strutting about her rather prim and proper neighbourhood in a revealing swimsuit, or getting drunk with the band she has hired to play at a party she is hosting. She describes her frustration at the husband the War returns to her, so different and distant from the man he was before, spending her days lazing around waiting for him to come home from work, worrying about what meals to make. Then her daughter, Daisy (then 13), picks up the narrative, skipping through a summer when she is intent on winning the junior tennis tournament and spends days in training. It is also the summer when she will first experience love and heartbreak, and this summer will have devastating effects on her life many years later.

I found Helena’s part the most difficult to deal with – she does not have an easy life in L.A. and I found myself wanting more for her, and desperately wanting her to wake up to the realities of life. When it is Hughes’ turn to pick up the thread, we see him in London during the War, at New Year, at a time when home, and Nick, seem very far away. I loved hearing his side of the story, but it is Ed’s narrative that you really wait on – he is like a shadow throughout the book, people are constantly accusing him of creeping up on them, and when he is caught in compromising situations, he describes his interest in people and their misdemeanors as ‘research’. He is a troubled character, feeling the effects of his mother’s passivity, having grown up watching his father as he obsessively collects film and photographs of an ex-girlfriend in the hope of making a film about her. There is something brooding about him that seems to hang over the family.

I didn’t appreciate at the beginning that there would be concurrent narratives from different points of view and I really enjoyed it as it gives you each member of the family’s side of the story. At the end, though, there are still mysteries, family secrets that are best left undiscovered. It highlights the connections that hold a family together that outsiders aren’t privy to, and that even at the worst of times a family will always look out for their own.

The US cover for Tigers in Red Weather

The US cover for Tigers in Red Weather

It is certainly a book that will stay with you. I was chatting about this with my Book Club friends at the beginning of the week and we all loved it. We all discussed how lovely it would be to drink gin cocktails from jam jars and laze on the beach. There are elements of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night in the glamour that surrounds Nick and Hughes, the appeal they have to others and the bond between them. With a little bit of Daisy and Tom Buchanan in The Great Gatsby in there too I imagine (and of course Klaussman gives Nick and Hughes’ daughter the name – not a coincidence I imagine). And the summer seaside glamour of Bonjour Tristesse by Françoise Sagan is also in there too, and the complexities of adult relationships, their children trying to comprehend the secrets between a husband and wife. It’s a heady book to get wrapped up in, and I really cannot wait to see what Liza Klaussman comes up with in her next book.

First Book Award

The other nominees for the Anobii First Book Award in 2012 can be seen here. There are some great books on the list, many of which I would love to read. That said, there are also several that I have never heard of and I wonder if being nominated for the Award has much influence on the visibility of the books and if sales go up much. The Award was won last year by Azazeel by Youssef Ziedan which I’ll admit is one I hadn’t heard of before.

firstbook

The First Book Award is now sponsored by ebooks by Sainsburys – the nominees for this years’ award are listed here, with the announcement of the winner to be made after voting closes on the 14th of October. If you want to vote, you can do so here. There are 42 books on the list and I have to admit that I haven’t read any of them so I won’t be voting this time round. There are quite a few that I haven’t heard of – although I have heard that The Fields by Kevin Maher (about a 13-year-old Irish boy growing up in Dublin in the ’80s) is very good – I actually heard Kevin Maher talking and reading from the book at the Edinburgh Book Festival and thought it sounded dark but funny too so will hopefully read that soon.

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Next Book Club Choice: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

The Book Thief

After a bit of a hiatus, book club is back! Our read for this month is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I’ve been wanting to read this book for a few years now and I’m really glad that it has been picked. The blurb:

“HERE IS A SMALL FACT – YOU ARE GOING TO DIE

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year-old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall.

SOME IMPORTANT INFORMATION – THIS NOVEL IS NARRATED BY DEATH

It’s a small story, about:

a girl

an accordionist

some fanatical Germans

a Jewish fist fighter

and quite a lot of thievery.

ANOTHER THING YOU SHOULD KNOW – DEATH WILL VISIT THE BOOK THIEF THREE TIMES”

It all sounds very intriguing… I think the plan is to discuss this book at the end of the month so I expect my review to be up in June. Have you read The Book Thief? What did you think of it?

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Book Club Meeting #6 – Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

Gone Girl

In my update a couple of weeks ago, I claimed that I would have this post up in early March. Since book club has still to be arranged (and if I’m honest, it’s looking more like April now) I thought I’d go ahead and put up this post and add to it if anything comes up in the discussion with the club. Has anyone else noticed that Gone Girl seems to be everywhere at the moment? Here are my thoughts, and a little bit of background on our decision-making process!

So back to December, when we couldn’t decide what to read next, and so I had a think about my wish list and came up with three options:

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey (which I’m reading now), Heart-Shaped Bruise by Tanya Byrne and Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

I put it to the panel, and as one of the bookclubbers decided to buy Gone Girl, it all went from there…

Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn had been on my radar for a couple of months, reviewed across many different blogs and featuring on more than one Best Books of 2012 features, and chatted about by colleagues in work. It did not disappoint.

The story starts when Nick Dunne returns home to find his house in disarray and his wife Amy gone – and it all looks like some serious foul play. The structure of the book is so interesting – one chapter written from the perspective of the man, and the next a chapter from Amy’s diaries throughout their relationship – from the night they first met, to right up until she disappeared. It’s hard to discuss the structure of the book as a whole without giving too much away, all I will say is that there is a massive shift in Part 2 which completely changes the game, and for me, that is where this book got really interesting.

I think what I loved about this book was its intelligence. It is a thriller, yes, but one that reads like something more literary. The characters are incredibly smart and this is shown through their prose, their discussions with each other and of course the way that they interact with each other. Sometimes you read thrillers that are just page turners, they are enjoyable for what they are but are just not that smart, they don’t take you so deeply into the psyche of the characters or play around with form so much. Before I read it, I was expecting something along the lines of Before I Go To Sleep by SJ Watson, which I read early on in 2012. It is a psychological thriller too, and although it deals with a similar issue of knowing your partner within a relationship, Gone Girl was SO MUCH better at this. It really is the type of thriller I’d always like to read – smart, playful and literary. Gillian Flynn’s début novel Sharp Objects is now firmly on my wish list.

Without discussing the ending too much, all I’ll say is that there are revelations which make you seriously judge the characters, sometimes you love them, pity them, judge them, are disturbed by them or are simply impressed by their intelligence, wherever it may have led them. It was infuriating at points but in the best way possible.

You know when you’re reading a book and you’re actually talking to it out loud, going ‘Oh what?!’ and ‘Oh ho ho, that is SO clever!’ and just generally interacting with it physically in a way that some books just don’t evoke. That’s what I was like with Gone Girl, it was so engaging and I got completely sucked in by it all. My friends and I were even texting each other about it to see if we’d reached a certain point yet, and to discuss it all as we were still reading it.

I really enjoyed reading this book and it kind of represents what book club should be about, getting excited and generating discussion with friends about books, whether we like them or not. Both We Need to Talk About Kevin and Gone Girl have been like that – here’s hoping the next book will have the same effect!

We still haven’t fixed upon a date for the next book club meeting, and yes, we may be somewhat disorganised – we do however have a possible book for next time, which is What Have I Done? by Amanda Prowse. I don’t have it yet and I’m not sure it’s going to be my cup of tea – has anyone read it?

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Book Club update

Hi all, just a quick note to say that book club has been postponed this month so I haven’t put up my review of Gone Girl yet as I said I would. Hopefully book club will be early March but I’ll keep you all posted. I am writing my review of Wuthering Heights though so expect that later on this week!

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Book Club Meeting # 4 – The Memory Keeper’s Daughter

I didn’t make it along to this meeting as I had just started a new job and was trying to get used to the new commute and early rise. As such, I don’t know what the general consensus on this novel was but I thought I would add a couple of notes of what I thought of The Memory Keeper’s Daughter by Kim Edwards.

I had heard of this book when it was in Richard & Judy’s book club a few years ago but never got round to reading it.

This is the description from the publisher Penguin:

Families have secrets they hide even from themselves . . .

It should have been an ordinary birth, the start of an ordinary happy family. But the night Dr David Henry delivers his wife’s twins is a night that will haunt five live for ever.

For though David’s son is a healthy boy, his daughter has Down’s syndrome. And, in a shocking act of betrayal whose consequences only time will reveal, he tells his wife their daughter died while secretly entrusting her care to a nurse.

As grief quietly tears apart David’s family, so a little girl must make her own way in the world as best she can.

It doesn’t sound like a particularly cheery read but I wasn’t bothered so much about that, not everything can be sunshine and dancing flowers. This is one of the few books I’ve read this year that I really haven’t enjoyed, not because it was bad as such, it just made me angry – the way it was written, the actions of the characters, the omissions. It’s funny because in life I like to rant quite a bit if something annoys me but when it comes to books I’m usually quite accepting.

The Memory Keeper’s Daughter did not fare so well, I’m afraid…

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Book Club Meeting # 5 – Lace by Shirley Conran

After a bit of a delay, we finally got back together for our book club meeting. It has been a little erratic so far and I think we have only had one meeting with all members in attendance! We had a plan to just always do it on the first Tuesday of the month but that hasn’t worked out. Next book club meeting will be on the 4th of December!

This month we had read Lace by Shirley Conran, recently reissued by Canongate Books on the 30th anniversary of its original release in 1982. None of us had heard of it before then (it does, after all, predate the birth of everyone in our book club…). Everyone seemed to love it, despite being put off a little by the gruesome first chapter. After that, it is well worth a read. We all agreed that it was scandalous and a little over the top but we liked the female characters and finding out about the calamities of their love lives.

It did bring to mind some of The Group by Mary McCarthy, the women, their love lives and careers but I enjoyed Lace far, far more – it makes The Group incredibly dreary in comparison!

I have given Lace to my mum to read – she read it years ago and wanted to read it again. And, she also pointed me in the direction of Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann which I am currently reading – again, some of it is a bit over the top but I am quite enjoying an easy read. I’ll let you know how I enjoy it in due course…

Next month’s book is We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver.

Here’s the description from the publisher Serpent’s Tail.


‘Eva never really wanted to be a mother; certainly not the mother of the unlovable boy who murdered seven of his fellow high school students, a cafeteria worker and a teacher who tried to befriend him. Now, two years later, it is time for her to come to terms with marriage, career, family, parenthood and Kevin’s horrific rampage in a series of startlingly direct correspondences with her absent husband, Franklyn. Uneasy with the sacrifices and social demotion of motherhood from the start, Eva fears that her alarming dislike for her own son may be responsible for driving him so nihilistically off the rails.’

This book has been around for a while (it was originally published in 2003), well known since it won the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2005. From the blurb it sounds like something Jodi Picoult would write about. I’ll admit that this book doesn’t immediately appeal to me but that’s the good thing about the book club – trying out new books that I wouldn’t have chosen myself.

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