Thursday, 24 November 2011

Little Bee / The Other Hand - Questions

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions to think about for the meeting on Thursday:

- Little Bee says of horror films, “Horror in your country is something you take a dose of to remind yourself that you are not suffering from it” (p. 45). Do you agree? Was reading this novel in any way a dose of horror for you? How did it help you reflect on the presence or lack of horror in your own life?

- Little Bee figures out the best way to kill herself in any given situation, just in case “the men come suddenly.” How do these plans help Little Bee reclaim some power? Were you disturbed by this, or were you able to find the humor in some of the scenarios she imagines?

- Suicide comes up several times in the novel. Do you think there is a difference in the refugee's suicide in the barn and Andrew's?

- Why do you think Andrew refused to cut off his finger but Sarah was able to? Do you think you would have?

Questions from Good Reads.

The Eyre Affair - Jasper Fforde

This book is definitely a marmite book, you either love it or you hate it. We had both ends of the scale in the bookclub on Thursday.

Thos that didn't enjoy it as much felt that there were too many in jokes, it felt as you were reading that you might be missing things that other readers were enjoying. Often we felt that characters were more along the lines of plot devices rather than actual characters. They sometimes didn't make a great deal of sense other than to make something happen within the story. For example, Hades was hard to understand as a character but was better understood as a plot device.

We all agreed it was in a similar vein to Terry Pratchett, it felt very light hearted for an adult novel although it also contained a great deal of deeper literary references. It felt to many of the group like a comic book that had been created in written rather than pictorial form. We could all see it clearly as a film or a cartoon rather than a book. This is interesting because Jasper worked originally in film, maybe his film eye is better than his writing eye?

One important thing to note is the length of time is takes to get into a Jasper Fforde book, this was not something some of the members enjoyed. It really does take a while for his books to get going so there's a lot of investment of time reading the first book of a series. Once you get into further books the investment then pays off, but this is not immediately obvious on only reading the first book from one of his series.

The most interesting thing to many of the members was the love of literature shown by everyone in Jasper's world. We wondered what it would be like if our world valued writing and books in the same way, rather then fixating on famous people and sports stars. We also tried to decide whether we would prefer to be able to time travel or book jump as a special skill. Some prefered to visit their favourite novels, others would prefer to travel in time to (for example) find out who wrote the Shakepeare plays!

Overall we gave the book 7 out of 10 with scores ranging from 2 to 9 showing the love/hate relationship readers had with this book. Those that enjoyed would like to go on and read other books by Jasper.

The Eyre Affair- Questions


Here are some questions to direct our discussion next Thursday (27th October):

- Who is the worse villain, Acheron Hades or Jack Schitt? Which sentence do you think is worse—death by a silver bullet to the heart or an eternity trapped in Poe's "The Raven"?

- Thursday says, "All my life I have felt destiny tugging at my sleeve. Few of us have any real idea what it is we are here to do and when it is that we are to do it. Every small act has a knock-on consequence that goes on to affect those about us in unseen ways. I was lucky that I had so clear a purpose." In a world where time is so pliable, can there be such a thing as destiny? Was there a defining moment in your life when you understood what your own purpose was?

- Acheron Hades claims that pure evil is as rare as pure good. Do you think either exists in our world?

Questions from Reading Group Guides.

Monday, 17 October 2011


This month most people finished the book, which is excellent news!

There was a great deal of divided opinion about the first section of Birdsong. Many of the group felt that the writing style was so different to the rest of the book it could have been written by an entirely different person to the rest of the book.

Everyone felt that the descriptions of the war and especially the mining sections were very vivid. Many people were extremely moved by these sections. It was all found to be very harrowing, we wondered how human beings were able to do what they did. We also thought about whether people today would be able to have the same attitude as those of the first world war.

The group was shocked at the lack of information being given to those people still at home. The letters they sent and the scenes when soldiers went home seemed to be from a different world. They talked of sending cake to the boys, when those boys were facing death and watching their friends die every day. A massive juxtaposition of worlds only a small channel of water apart.

As a glance into the history of the UK, this book works very well. It shows how much we as Britons have changed in our attitude towards our country and towards our fellow man. We seem to value our lives a great deal more as individuals, throughout the book the men were most often looked at as a group rather than individuals. We thought that this was probably true of the time, people died much easier in this time than today.

A lot of the coping mechanisms were very interesting, trying to forget those who had died, while also somehow thinking they were still part of your group. Also, the belief systems they created so ensure that they felt they were going to survive, the faux-voodoo, and betting games.

Overall this book really affected a great deal of the book club, we decided to give it 7 out of 10.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Birdsong - Questions

Hello everyone,

Thought i'd send out the questions for next week just in case the email fails us again.

- Why does Isabelle leave Stephen? How does her departure affect his identity as a soldier, the way he approaches the war, and the manner in which he conducts himself during it?

- How would you describe the character of Jack Firebrace? How does it change during the course of the war? What "dies" in him when Horrocks hurls his cross away? What do his letters to Margaret reveal about his character, his values, his code of behavior?

- Elizabeth is spurred on in her research by a feeling of the "danger of losing touch with the past" [p. 240]. Does her ignorance of recent history surprise you, or do you find it characteristic of her generation? Do you find that you, and the people around you, are similarly detached from the past?

I hope everyone is enjoying this months book choice!

Questions from Random House.

The Count of Monte Cristo

Unfortunately, due to the size of this book, many people in the bookclub weren't able to finish , myself included. Many people found it very confusing with lots of people most of whom changed their names during the book. We thought it might be useful to have some kind of list of the characters involved and a description, plus maybe a timeline so readers don't get quite so lost. It also seemed to take a very long time to get anywhere with lots of very fomal language being used, which is suitable for the time period but not to our modern tastes. The parts of the novel which seemed more interesting were also the parts that seemed to go by very quickly, although this might be put down to the difference between time going fast when you're busy, and slowly when you're bored.

We weren't sure whether it was the fact that this book was translated that had many of us confused and bored. If we were reading it in the original French it may make more sense in terms of style. It may also be our lack of knowledge of French history that had us confused as well, not knowing what the characters were discussing in terms of wars etc. was a problem.

There was a great deal of allegory in this book, something we're possibly not used to reading in more current novels. Dantes seems to be the tool of an avenging God throughout much of the book. Up until the point where they had a duel, after which it seemed to change to each person becoming an individual rather than a collection of social mores.

We all agreed that the book was highly unbelievable throughout with many storylines tidying themselves up very neatly. This is odd as the book was actually based on a true story, we assumed that the author took a great deal of artistic licence with it.

Overall we gave this book 6 out of 10. There is the core of a very good story, it's just a shame that it takes such a long time to get anywhere.

Monday, 22 August 2011

The Count of Monte Cristo - Questions

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions about the book for this week. Don't worry if you haven't finished the book you're still welcome to come and eat cake instead!

- The central issue in The Count of Monte Cristo is the question of revenge. In the case of this book, is Dantes' quest for vengeance morally just? Can vengeance ever stand in for justice?

- Discuss Villefort's decision to imprison Dantes. He believes Dantes has been unfairly accused, but at the same time he fears for his own father's life.

- Talk about Dantes' profound alienation when he escapes from prison and his gradual movement back into reconciliation with humanity. How does that development take place: what and the plot benchmarks who are characters who help him regain his humanity.

- Do you think that 'The Count Of Monte Cristo' has a message? If so, what do you think it is? 

See you all on Thursday.

Questions from LitLovers.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

One of the main elements we all took away from this book was the fact that we couldn't quite believe that it was non-fiction. All the characters seem to be much larger than life, and for them all to occur in such a small area of Savannah we found to be unbelievable. It does seem very odd that so many unusual characters existed in such close proximity, maybe it's to do with the heat in Savannah, maybe it just attracts a certain type of inhabitant, but it certainly sounds like a very interesting place to live. It made us wonder how John Berendt managed to get so many people to open up with so many confidences while he himself seemed to be such a quiet character. Maybe it was easier to portray himself as such a person, wouldn't we all portray our best side if we wrote a novel about ourselves?

We were all quite shocked that this book had been banned for its sex scenes, we couldn't see that they were all that shocking. In fact many of us could hardly remember what happened in them. Some of the scenes to do with Chablis were more shocking, maybe because it felt as though she was out of her time living in this southern town. It was amazing that a person like Chablis was accepted so readily within Savannah. This may be because we are only shown the small group of people around her, who would obviously accept her, there may have been others who had they known about her would not have been so accepting.

Although this book was only written recently (1994) we all felt that it had a much more dated feel to it. There were a lot of old fashioned attitudes shown in the book, along with a happiness for those living in the town to remain in this older, maybe more genteel era. This sat rather oddly with the unusual characters who we felt may not have been so accepted had the book actually been set in the era we felt it was set in.

Overall the whole book felt more like a series of newspaper articles about things that happened to John Berendt during his time living in Savannah. There was not much of a plot to the book, each chapter sat on its own, with very little to drag you into the next chapter apart from a need to see whether a favourite character was mentioned. Although this in itself was often a very strong reason to carry on into the next chapter.

Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10, mostly because not everyone had finished the whole book.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions to think about for 30th June 2011. Also, if anyone would like to bake this time, please let me know.

- Eccentrics thrive in Berendt’s Savannah. Does this mean that the people of Savannah are unusually tolerant? In what ways are they tolerant, and in what instances do they prove to be intolerant? How tolerant are they when it comes to the crossing of sexual, racial, or class lines?

- How would you describe Jim Williams’s character? Do you find him amusing? Sinister? How much sympathy do you have for him? Reading the book, did you hope for him to be acquitted? Why, or why not?

- What do you think the narrator’s attitude is toward the voodoo that is practiced on Williams’s behalf? Does he imply that it is of any value? How would you describe Minerva? Is she the sort of person you would expect to be practicing voodoo?

- One reader from Georgia has said of Berendt, “I think he captured what it is to be Southern. He captured the not-talked-about way of life” (USA Today 4/15/94). If this is true, what would you say it is to be Southern? What does the South Berendt describes represent? Does it differ from stereotypes about the South?

- Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil begins with a portrait of Jim Williams, the man around whom the book's "plot" revolves. Yet the author sweeps Williams offstage after one chapter and we do not encounter him again until the end of Chapter 11, when we learn that he shot Danny Hansford. What does Berendt accomplish by doing this? Is Midnight truly Williams's story, and if not, who is its real protagonist?

- As elaborate as these façades are, Berendt suggests that they are also transparent. The salesman's boss knows that he wears makeup on one eye, just as none of Lee Adler's old associates buy his altruistic pretensions. Why, then, might the characters in this book maintain their various masquerades? Is Berendt saying anything about the façades that all of us adopt in order to survive?

Questions are from  Reading Group Guides.

Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil


This is an interesting link to an article about the banning of our bookclub book of the month.

Monday, 6 June 2011

The Help - Kathryn Stockett

This month we had only a few members who were able to make it to the meeting, but those of us that did make it had cakes etc. made by Sarah and Anne.

Everyone in the club really enjoyed this months book, only one person didn't manage to finish it, this was due to lack of time rather than anything else. It shocked us how much we enjoyed a story that is in essence about racism. Some of the things that went on and still go on around this topic are very ugly and show human kind at their worst. This book is very obviously a fictional account of what might have gone on, mixed with some elements of reality, for example, talking about certain people well known in Black History such as Martin Luther King.

As we were discussing the different characters we discovered that we each interpreted them very differently. We all felt they were a little stereotyped, but that this didn't detract that much from the overall story. The use of accents was very helpful in distinguishing the different characters, although to begin with it could be a little difficult to read. We all felt that Celia was one of our most favourite characters, she seemed to be the most realistic of the women. Although we found her relationship with Minny and her husband slightly odd. We all loved strength of the characters involved with the book, Skeeter, Aibileen, and Minny. Some of things that they described were by turns very humorous, touching and terrifying. We wish that there was a real book written like this that we could read to have a better insight into the time period.

There were certain scenes that we felt were not necessary to do with Celia and her 'illness'. We were not at all sure that they were even realistic let alone added anything much to the book. They could have been included in a much less graphic fashion.

One thing we felt was missing from the book would be a section somewhere giving a little more history to the book. Maybe introducing some of the main historical figures in this time period, along with some kind of timeline so readers not familiar with it would have something to help them with the background.

As to the question of racism, and how it occurs within a population we decided that it can be taught through it being accepted within a community. But we also believe that having grown up in a racist culture a person can see that this is wrong and decide for themselves that everyone should be treated equal. In the time that this book was set this was a very difficult and dangerous thing to do, but thanks to those brave people things have changed. Sadly racism is still alive and well but maybe by reading books like this people can be taught to be more accepting.

The overall score out of 10 for this book was 7. We all agreed that we would definitely recommend it to our friends.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

The Help - Questions

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions to think about for Thursdays meeting.

- What do you think motivated Hilly? On the one hand she is terribly cruel to Aibileen and her own help, as well as to Skeeter once she realizes that she can’t control her. Yet she’s a wonderful mother. Do you think that one can be a good mother but, at the same time, a deeply flawed person?

- How much of a person’s character would you say is shaped by the times in which they live?

- Do you think that had Aibileen stayed working for Miss Elizabeth, that Mae Mobley would have grown up to be racist like her mother? Do you think racism is inherent, or taught?

- From the perspective of a twenty-first century reader, the hairshellac system that Skeeter undergoes seems ludicrous. Yet women still alter their looks in rather peculiar ways as the definition of “beauty” changes with the times. Looking back on your past, what’s the most ridiculous beauty regimen you ever underwent?

- What did you think about Minny’s pie for Miss Hilly? Would you have gone as far as Minny did for revenge?

I think this book is going to create a lot of discussion.

Questions from authors own website.

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Advice for Strays - Justine Kilkerr

This months bookclub was a little light on members due to all the bank holidays before and after it. Nicola brought along the refreshments this month, so we all had larger cake slices than usual to make up for everyone else.

This book seems to have stumped a large amount of the book club, almost half the people at the meeting had not managed to read through to the end. Some also said they might not finish it after hearing what was discussed in the meeting.

We all felt that the book was very well written, it read very easily even though the topic itself was very confusing. Many people in the club felt that although they weren't gripped enough to want to pick the book up as often as they felt they should, once they had picked it up they got drawn back in very quickly. Some people found the little chapters to be a hinderance to their getting drawn into the book, others felt that this gave some good natural breaks to the narration.

The reason why so many people weren't gripped by the book was because it didn't have much of a plot, but then that's not what this book is about. It was felt that the book didn't go anywhere much, things just seemed to happen without much obvious direction. The ending we found to be good, but it wasn't much of a resolution, but then again this is more realistic than many neat endings in other books.

The main source for discussion came from the lion Jericho, and whether he was real or not. There seems to be a lot of evidence in the book to say that he was very real at certain points. But then again how can a lion be really living in a suburban street and talking to a person? We had a short discussion on what we each do to give ourselves more confidence, in the same way that Marnie uses Jericho. This gave us some insight into the reasons why someone would invent an imaginary friend later in life. Eventually we all agreed that Jericho is a very subjective character in the book, everyone seemed to interpret him very differently.

Overall we gave the book a 4 out of 10 with marks ranging from 0 to 7.

Advice for Strays - Questions

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions for the book for the 28th April.

- You may want to take a look at your own sanity before judging characters in the book. Okay so perhaps you don’t have a talking lion curled up in your front room, but do you ever whisper words of encouragement to yourself? Or pretend to be someone else for the day – someone stronger, smarter, more confident?

- How do you feel about the ending of the book? Are there too many loose ends?

- Is Jericho a figment of Marnie's frazzled mind, or the physical manifestation of all her worries and despair? And whatever Jericho is, can he help Marnie rely on herself for once?

Questions inspired by Running in Heels.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Savage Lands - Clare Clark

This month the cake and biscuits were supplied by Sarah, they were enjoyed by everyone.

Four members of the bookclub didn't manage to finish this month's book, and they weren't sure they would continue with it after the meeting. The reason for this seemed to be that they found it very hard going, only managing to read a few pages at a time. We also felt that there seemed to be no major theme running through the book to give the reader something to want to follow. There were a few different themes, none of which seemed to get to a satisfactory conclusion. We weren't sure whether the dissatisfaction with the themes was to do with the writing style which we found to be very literary and not very clear. The themes also seemed not to move very fast, it felt very static as you were reading it.

Most of the bookclub became very confused about the time periods between the different chapters in the book. We needed to have a bit more information as to when things were happening, and how far apart in time different parts of the book occurred. Trying to discover these time periods by looking for clues in the text was very confusing and we would have preferred for this to be more obvious.

We did feel that the historical aspects of the book had been very well researched, they were highly evocative of the time period. The sections of the book that described how people lived, and the interactions between the "savages" and the townsfolk were very interesting. We also enjoyed the section when Elisabeth was reading her books, we felt this could have been used to better effect within the book. The descriptions of Auguste's garden and his drawings of plants were also very interesting but more could have been made of this.

The use of language in the book was excellent, with some lovely descriptive passages to do with the environment. However, the descriptions of the characters and their reactions to things was not so well done. Of the characters in the book not many of the bookclub members felt any connection to any of them. We felt they were very dry, maybe this was to do with the author being too historically accurate to the detriment of creating likeable, or realistic characters.

Overall we gave this book 4 out of 10, only a couple of people would recommend it to their friends.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Savage Lands - Questions


Here are some questions on this months book which we'll be discussing on Thursday 31st March.

- Elisabeth carries her copies of Montaigne with her across the ocean – and names her baby Michel. Do his books turn out to be a useful thing to carry across, despite Elizabeth’s mothers frustration? Consider how the French re-learn how to live in the swamps of Louisiana.

- ‘Who knew what kind of a savage he himself might become among the savages?’ (page 298) – the fear of intermarriage, friendship and bastard children between the French and the natives is found throughout the novel. Is it exposure to the natives that ruins the settlement, or the Europeans inability to react to their new situation and surroundings?

- The misuse of power is demonstrated repeatedly throughout the novel – is anyone innocent of this type of manipulation? Consider the governor and soldiers’ misuse of power, the power of fear, the power of love and marriage and the power of omission.

See you all next week!

Questions are from Readers Place.

Monday, 7 March 2011

You Are Next

This months book came from Random House as part of their sponsorship for the first four months of 2011.

Our cake this month was produced by Gaynor and was enjoyed by everyone!

This novel was the second thriller we've read in a row and everyone agreed that this was something we should avoid for next time as it may have jaded our view. We all felt that we've had enough of thrillers for a little while!

This month we had a selection of questions to use which came in very handy for focusing our discussions. Question sets are an invaluable resource for bookclubs.

Many of the bookclub members do not as a rule read crime, whereas some of the bookclub are more hardened crime readers. This caused a bit of a divide in the group with some people really enjoying the novel and others finding it a bit too basic for them. We all agreed that this would be an excellent starting point for someone new to the crime genre. However, we all felt that thrillers in general are not built for the kind of scrutiny that our bookclub gives its books.

It was a fairly formulaic novel, as crime novels go, which aggravated some readers but others felt this was almost comforting in its certainty of what would be coming next. We felt that it was very linear in its movement from one scene to the next, this might make it a better film than it was a book. There are certain scenes, for example the party, that we really could see as a film.

We all felt very sorry for Karin and the things she had to go through both before and during this book. However, there was a little too much focus on her depression and suicidal tendencies for us not to feel a bit annoyed with her at times. The changes in the relationship between Karin and Mac was interesting to follow, although it was a little odd at times, eg. during the ComiCon scenes.

Overall this was a book that we mostly enjoyed, but not as a bookclub selection. We gave this book an average of 6 out of 10. Many of the bookclub copies have been lent to others, meaning this was a book people had enjoyed!

Book Club Questions - You Are Next

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions to get you thinking in time for this weeks meeting:

- How effective is the use of the dominoes in the story?
- How well do you think You Are Next could be transferred to the silver screen?
- The character of Christa is introduced to the novel quite late on. How well rounded is her character as a result? Is she as threatening/scary/intense as the reader requires? If not, why not?
- Do you like the character of Karin Schaeffer as a character? How rounded is she?
- Is it a satisfying ending?

See you all on Thursday!

Questions are from Readers Place.

Monday, 31 January 2011

Random House - ReadersPlace

Hello everyone,

We're been put onto the readersplace website!

Final chance to fill in the survey

Hello everyone,

I'm going to take a report of the book club survey on 11th February so if you'd like to fill it in before then i'd be very grateful. Please don't fill it in again if you have already filled it in once.

Friday, 28 January 2011

The Devil's Star

This months book came from Random House as part of their sponsorship for the first four months of 2011.

The one message we would give about this book is that it does not hold its own as a stand-alone novel. However, as part of the series of books it does seem to be quite good. Most of the book club did read it as a single novel and didn’t get on with it very well. The one member of the club that did read the previous two novels got a lot more enjoyment from “The Devil’s Star”. In order for more people to enjoy this novel it should be made more clear that this is part of a series and that the series does run together.

We mostly found the book very hard to get into at first, but enjoyed it more as the story went on. The section when Harry started to figure out the pattern of the murders was particularly enjoyed, in fact we felt that the very last part of the story was largely unnecessary. It seemed to go on for a long time after we thought it should have actually finished.

We felt that a great deal of the problems we had with getting into the book and understanding the characters may stem from the fact that this is a book in translation. Also, much of the back story of the characters wasn’t restated at the beginning of the book leaving us with story lines in this novel that we couldn’t really follow. Many of the club members said that they found it hard to picture the peoples faces as they read about them, there wasn’t much physical description to help us. Not sure if this was to do with it being part of a series or to do with the translation.

Certain sections of the book were really enjoyable, for example, the historical background to Sven’s humble beginnings. This is probably because it did stand alone as a section of great detail so we could enjoy it because it was understandable to us. However, other sections were very confusing, for example we were not sure what relevance the plaster story at the beginning had to do with the rest of the book.

Overall we gave this book 4 out of 10, with the only member of the club giving the book an 8 being the member who had read the previous books. This gives a clear indication that the books should be read as part of a series. We did all finish this book, this was mostly because it is after all a crime novel so we wanted to know what happened in the end.

Wednesday, 26 January 2011

The Devil's Star - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you're all ready for the January meeting! Here are some generic questions to start us all off:

- How did you experience the book? It's not always helpful to talk about whether or not you liked the book, but rather how you felt as you were reading it? Were you pulled effortlessly into the book...or did you have difficulty getting into it? Why? Did you find yourself amused, intrigued, enthralled, disturbed, fearful, irritated, angered, or impatient?

- Are the characters convincing-do they come across as believable human beings with underlying motivations? Are they fully developed as emotionally complex individuals? Or are they one-dimensional, with little emphasis on their inner lives?

- Is the plot well-developed? Is it believable...or is it forced? Is it suspenseful or more contemplative? Does it unfold naturally, or do you feel manipulated along the way by coincidences, odd plot twists, or cliffhangers?

- Is the ending satisfying? Predictable or not? Does is wrap up the ends neatly? Is it too neat, too pat? Does it leave some issues unresolved, questions unanswered? If you could change the ending, would you...if so, how would you change it?