Tag Archives: book club

Book Review: Me Before You by JoJo Moyes

Screen shot 2013-01-30 at 17.04.41

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!

Advertisements

5 Comments

Filed under Book Club, Book Reviews

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.

4 Comments

Filed under Book Club, Book Reviews

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?

3 Comments

Filed under Book Club

Book Club Meeting # 5 – We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

we-need-to-talk-about-kevin2

It took me over a month to finish this book (something which I discussed a little bit in my Blog Review of 2012) so I was actually in the slightly alien position (for me!) of not having finished the book on time. Thankfully, no one else had either. It seems that November and December are busy months for everyone!

A little about We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver –
The book is a series of letters written by Eva to her husband Franklin, after her teenage son Kevin murders his classmates in a massacre at his school. The letters give her version of Kevin’s upbringing, her doubts about motherhood, her reservations about his character and her struggle to love him, both before and after the event. The details of the massacre are held back for quite some time and the whole event is filed in the Eva’s mind as Thursday, looming over her and affecting every aspect of her life.

I found this book incredibly unnerving, how it makes you question a mother’s love for her child and the eternal debate on nature versus nurture in forming a child’s character. It was quite chilling to hear about Kevin’s childhood and, although it was skewed from Eva’s perspective, it did paint a picture of child without the same emotional and moral compass that we consider defines us as human (or humane). There were times when I threw it aside, fed up of the incessant and relentlessly wicked behaviour of Kevin, and Eva’s long looks into his actions and psyche, analysing every single thing in an attempt to make some sense of Kevin’s actions. I found the understanding that exists between a mother and child really interesting – for it is Eva who knows him best of all, and Eva who continues to visit him in prison despite the fact that neither of them seems to look forward to these visits.

I can’t make my mind up about who is responsible for his actions – Kevin is an intelligent boy and I think the reason that some readers struggle with this book is Eva’s attitude. Eva switches between trying to figure out where she went wrong; blaming part of the failures in her family life on her husband, and washing her hands of her son’s actions altogether. Eva also strikes a tone that I imagine would grate on some people – she is not one to shirk using a more obscure word when something more colloquial would do, and her status as a successful career woman writing travel books also brings up the issue of the battle between motherhood and career for the working woman.

Again, everything was related through Eva’s eyes so it is incredibly difficult to make up your mind about it all. That’s what this book is all about though, a mother’s perspective, however honest and frank Eva tries to be she will always be prejudiced when it comes to family. It was a very, very interesting book.

Everyone in the book club seemed to love it – as we met up when we were all still in the process of reading it we began guessing at what would happen and what our thoughts on Eva, Franklin and Kevin’s characters were. It certainly provoked a lot more discussion than other books we had read and I would recommend it for book clubs because of that.

Next month’s book is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn.

Gone GirlI’ve already finished it and it was brilliant – my favourite book club book so far! We’re meeting up next week to discuss it so expect a review soon after.

What is your book club reading this month?

2 Comments

Filed under Book Reviews

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Club

Erratic Reads

The past few weeks have been very quiet on the blog front. I have been reading but I have been a bit all over the place, dipping in and out of poetry, short stories and a couple of novels. I thought I’d do a little summary of my reading in the past few weeks as I haven’t done a review for a little while.

BOOKS

To begin with, I spent a couple of weeks reading The Group by Mary McCarthy. It’s my first book club read so I’m waiting to discuss it with my fellow bookclubbers before commenting on it on my blog. What I will say though is that I enjoyed it, and was surprised by its frankness on certain women’s subjects, which even by today’s standards aren’t that easy to come across in popular fiction. More on that in a couple of weeks…

Continue reading

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Club, Literary musings

Book Club – First Meeting

The Group by Mary McCarthy

I’ve started up a book club with a few of my friends (all female). Our first meeting took a while to organise – turns out we all have quite hectic schedules! When we finally managed to get together there wasn’t really that much book chat. We focussed more on catching up on gossip and drinking tea but we did however decide on our first novel – Mary McCarthy’s The Group.

I was given the task of picking the first novel as I was playing hostess and since this had been on my reading list for a while (and I already had it sitting on my shelf) it seemed like a natural choice. It follows a group of young female graduates, trying to start up their careers and find love in 1930s New York and I’d say that my friends and I are at a similar stage, having graduated within the past couple of years. Perhaps the central belt of Scotland in 2012 is not quite as glamorous as the Big Apple but I hope we will all get something out of it. We’ll find out next month if it was a good choice! Looking forward to getting started and meeting up next month to discuss it. Will update after our second meeting!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Club, Literary musings