Tuesday, 30 December 2014

The Shock Of The Fall

Most of the people who attend the book club had finished the book but some found it a very confusing read, others felt that it was a bit boring and didn't hold their attention. This may have been because they felt that the characters weren't very well developed, this may have been as a consequence of the narrator and his mental health issues. Having said that everyone loved the character of Nanny Noo, we felt that she was very accepting of Matt's mental health issues and how he choses to act things out. She doesn't seem to judge him which we felt that a lot of the other characters seem to do.

As we are a hospital based book club some of the members work with people in mental health departments which allowed us some insight into how the drugs that Matt would have to take would affect him. This gave us an added depth of understanding of why he might chose not to take the drugs as they make people feel sick, and foggy. This is compared to how they might feel when they aren't taking the drugs, which may mean that they do things they don't mean to but at least they feel well while doing them.

We discussed why we thought he may have developed schizophrenia, maybe it was due to the shock of the fall, or perhaps it was a genetic influence. During the course of the book we see that Matt's mother has definite problems with regards depression, possible Munchausen syndrome by proxy when she takes Matt repeatedly to the doctor for trivial or even no reason.

As we have already read a book recently about a fictional mental health department in the US for children who harm themselves and others which treated each child individually and with great care we found it depressing to read about Matts experience. He seemed to be left to his own devices a great deal of the time and merely spent it smoking and sleeping. We weren't sure if this was simply his remembrances of this situation which are tainted by his issues or whether the department was trying to give him as little stimulation as possible to stop him having any adverse reactions. This wasn't made clear.

The ending felt very optimistic, we think that Matt may have gained some control over his issues by accepting them and accepting the fact that he needs to take medication and be watched over for his own safety. We also felt that he had accepted his brothers death and now knows that he wasn't entirely responsible for the things that happened. This means that he will have to let go of his schizophrenic connection to his dead brother, but he seems to be able to do this at the end of the book. As with a lot of mental health issues this may not be the case permenantly.

Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

The Shock of the Fall - Questions

Hello everyone,

Please don’t forget that it’s book club tomorrow, and also don’t forget to bring along your allotted pot-luck item. If you weren’t given an item to bring and will be coming along tomorrow let me know what you would like to bring along.
Here are some questions for you to have a think about:

•    Why does Matthew need to tell his story? Is the act of writing a cathartic process?
•    How does Matthew portray life in the psychiatric ward? Were you shocked by any of the descriptions?
•    In Matthew’s invitation to Aaron and Jenny, he writes ‘I’m really sorry if I’ve got your name wrong. Part of me thinks it’s Gemma. Please forgive me if I got it wrong. Not making excuses, but I am a schizophrenic.’ Is this an indication that Matthew hascome to terms with his illness? Why does he joke about it?

See you all tomorrow!

The Book Thief

Most of the people at this meeting had finished the book but some were struggling with it. Interestingly two people at the meeting had also watched the film so were able to add this viewpoint to the discussion.

We discussed the fact that Death narrates the book, we felt that this gave it an interesting angle rather than seeing things through say Rudy or Leisels viewpoint. It was interesting that Death gave large hints about when people might be dying, often quite far in advance of the event. Some people liked this as it meant they could focus on the rest of the book rather than just the deaths. Other people didn't enjoy this as they liked the element of not knowing and having surprises through the book. Interestingly some people took a while to realise that Death was narrating rather than any of the other characters.

There is a lot of imagery in the book, especially from Death regards the colours he sees when collecting souls. Some of the book club really enjoyed this and felt it really added to the book. Others felt that while some of the imagery was interesting it did have a tendency to become a little too much at some points, causing confusion as to what Death meant.

We had a quick discussion as to how we saw Death managing to collect all the hundreds and thousands of souls during this particularly death ridden time. Some saw him as growing slowly larger and carrying more and more souls, others felt that he must move incredibly fast collecting one or two at a time. Interestingly we never find out where the souls eventually end up, just that Death pulls them from the dead bodies and collects them.

Some of the characters in this book really spoke to some of the book group, especially Mama and Papa. We felt that Mama, despite her gruff exterior, really loved both Papa and Leisel with all her heart, she just happened to have built a wall around her heart to protect it a little. We liked that this book showed the quieter ways that the German people tried to help the Jewish people rather than the big brash heroic ways that other books try to show. This felt more realistic to us. We also talked about how the people in the book felt different kinds of guilt, mostly to do with surviving when others had died, often in order to save them. They all reacted differently to their feelings of guilt, either trying to do good things because that must be the reason they survived, or wanting to do bad things to the people who caused their guilt, or simply trying to live a normal life.

One thing that we felt was missing was more information about the books mentioned in this story. Given that this is called The Book Thief we felt that it would have been nice to be given more background on the significance of the books, or even references at the end so the reader could also share the books that Leisel stole.

Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10.

Friday, 28 November 2014

The Book Thief - Questions


Sorry this is incredibly late coming to you. Here are some questions about this months book club that you might like to consider while finishing your copy of the book:

-    Abandonment is a central theme in the novel. The reader knows that Liesel feels abandoned by her mother and by the death of her brother. How does she equate love with abandonment? At what point does she understand why she was abandoned by her mother? Who else abandons Liesel in the novel? Decide whether she was abandoned by circumstance or by the heart.
-    Guilt is another recurring theme in the novel. Hans Hubermann’s life was spared in France during World War I, and Erik Vandenburg’s life was taken. Explain why Hans feels guilty about Erik’s death. Guilt is a powerful emotion that may cause a person to become unhappy and despondent. Discuss how Hans channels his guilt into helping others. Explain Max Vandenburg’s thought, “Living was living. The price was guilt and shame.” (p. 208) Why does he feel guilt and shame?
-    The Grave Digger’s Handbook is the first book Liesel steals. Why did she take the book? What is significant about the titles of the books she steals? Discuss why she hides The Grave Digger’s Handbook under her mattress. Describe Hans Hubermann’s reaction when he discovers the book. What does the act of book thievery teach Liesel about life and death? Explain Rudy’s reaction when he discovers that Liesel is a book thief. How does stealing books from the mayor’s house lead to a friendship with the mayor’s wife? Explain how Liesel’s own attempt to write a book saves her life.

Live To Tell

Everyone had finished the book and most people said they would like to read more by Lisa Gardner.

One thing that caused some confusion was the use of multiple different voices, each voice then having a chapter before the next voice came back. Some people felt that this was confusing as they weren't sure who was who and also how each of the voices linked to the others. It also took a little while to get used to each of the voices when starting each chapter.

 We felt that it was very interesting given that it was based on the story of a young boy who has these same mental health issues as the children in the book. This brought it home that this could have happened to any one of our families. We wondered how we would cope with it, would we have been like the mother who was determined to look after her son due to the guilt she felt that she had caused his problems. Or would we have been like the father who left his wife and son to take his daughter to a safer place for her sake.

Interestingly the real child this story is based on was actually healed by a spiritual healer who used similar techniques to the healer in the book. At first this sounds unbelievable but when you look at the methods used they are basically cognitive behavioural therapies to do with breathing techniques, thinking positive etc. We also really loved the centre that the children were housed in, although we felt that it probably couldn't really exist in real life as it would be really expensive to run and some of the kids there had little or no funds behind them. It was also odd to have the unit on a top floor in a general hospital rather than in a separate unit maybe within the grounds of the hospital given the tendencies of the kids towards violent behaviour.

We were a little annoyed by the main character of D.D. as she seemed to be able to eat everything she wanted and still stayed skinny, this grated on the book club possibly as most of us are women and know that this just does not happen in real life.

The ending of the story felt a little bit rushed to us, and some elements were a little weird and far-fetched.

 Overall we gave this book 7.5 out of 10.

Book Selections December 2014 - April 2015

Hello everyone,

Thanks for your votes on the next few months worth of books.
Here are the results:

December – The Shock of the Fall – Nathan Filer

January – The Cuckoo’s Calling – Robert Galbraith

February – The One Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared – Jonas Jonasson

March – Cleopatra – Stacy Schiff

April – The Girl With All The Gifts – M. R. Carey

I’ve tried to make sure the size of the book corresponds to the length of the month so we’re reading shorter books in the shorter months.

Don’t forget that Novembers book is The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak! Hope to see you all then.

Live To Tell - Questions


Here are some bits of information about this months book club. There are spoilers on this website so please do not read it unless you’ve finished this months book. On this website is a synopsis, some questions, some information on the true life background to the story, along with a playlist of music the author listened to while writing the book:


I found it very interesting and i hope you will too.

What Alice Forgot

Everyone who attended this months book club had completed the book! We felt that the book was quite realistic with people arguing and not getting along well, rather than it being filled with hearts and flowers.

We discussed whether we felt that divorce was catching, that when one of your close friends of family gets divorced you start to look at your own life and your current partner and wonder whether you made the right choice. Then when your divorced friends/family seem to be having more fun being single and dating you may again look at your partner and wonder if you could have done better. It does seem that this happened in this book, feelings of dissatisfaction occurred after Gina and her husband separated.

The fact that the time that Alice lost included time halfway through her pregnancy meant that she almost felt that she had suffered the loss of her baby. It was as if she mourned this lost child and she couldn't connect that pregnancy bump with the 10 year old daughter she had. It took her a long time to come to terms with the fact that she had three children none of whom she now knew at all.

It was interesting to see how everyone coped with the Gina issue as she seemed to have irritated everyone apart from Alice who she became weirdly close to over a very short period of time. It seemed that Gina became a sort of cuckoo, pushing out Alice's husband and her sister to take up all of Alice's time and energy. This created some issues when it came to what happened to Gina during the period of time that Alice has lost. We felt that there was a lot of wind-up to finding out what had happened to Gina, with Alice finding out lots of things and remembering bits of other things and also not letting on that she didn't have her complete memory back. However, when you actually find out what happened we felt it wasn't as interesting as we had suspected.

We enjoyed the underlying message that you can change your life at any point. If you find yourself getting a bit too manipulative as Alice did you can become more caring again. Maybe you wouldn't choose to have such a dramatic accident in order to change but it is possible. It also seemed that once Alice had changed those around her also changed becoming nicer towards Alice and each other.

It was interesting to find out about the different characters as we went through the book just as Alice was being reintroduced to them as well. A lot of the characters came across as really mean and nasty to start but once we discovered their history it became understandable, and they then changed into nicer characters as Alice had a positive effect on them.

The ending we felt was a bit of a cop-out, it felt that she had actually written two endings and rather than chose she had one ending, then wrote another one 10 years in the future that was completely different. We would have preferred that the author picked only one ending and stuck with it. The ending for the sisters was especially cliched and slightly irritating we found

Overall we gave this book 7 out of 10.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

What Alice Forgot - Questions


I hope everyone is enjoying this month's book for book club. Here are some questions for you to think about:

-    How did you feel about the sections written from the perspectives of Elisabeth and Frannie? Did they add to your enjoyment of the book, or would you have preferred to have it written entirely from Alice's point of view?
-    Alice is shocked by many transformations—her gym-toned body, her clothes, her house. Are you more or less polished than you were a decade ago? And do you think there's any deeper significance to such change?
-    Do you think it was unavoidable that Elisabeth and Alice had grown apart, because of the tension caused by Elisabeth's infertility versus Alice's growing family? Or do you think their rift had more to do with the kind of people both of them had become?
-    If you were to write a letter to your future self to be opened in ten years, what would you say?
-    The film rights to the book have been sold to Fox 2000—who do you think would be good in the lead roles?

Don’t forget the meeting in on Thursday 25th September. Please let me know if you’re unable to make it.

Me Before You

Everyone in the book club really enjoyed this book and may even read other books by this author in the future.

We all found it very interesting looking at the topic of euthanasia through the eyes of the various different characters, some of whom felt very stongly opposed or in favour of a person being able to take their own life due to medical circumstances. It was was also very interesting to see whether these characters changed their minds during the book as they came to know the person who was involved rather than just thinking about it in the abstract. We wondered whether for example the reason that Lou's mum was so against euthanasia was nothing to do with the actual process but rather to do with protecting her daughter from the pain she would feel if Will went through with it. On the other hand there were Will's father and Lou's father who both seemed to be supportive of their children's decision with regard this topic whatever they chose.

With regard to the relationship between Lou and Will we felt that although it seemed on the surface that Lou was giving more to the relationship underneath Will was giving a lot too. Lous was giving Will the ability to think through his actions with a little more morality rather than with his previous selfish slant on life. Essentially Lou tries to make Will live more in her emotional world rather than his world of thrills and adventure with little thought to tomorrow. Was this selfish on her part, trying to make Will more like her so that he became someone she wanted to spend time with? Whereas Will was giving Lou the ability to think that maybe she should try to break out of her little world, to become more than the put-upon daughter and girlfriend, to become what Will thinks she could be. Now this might have been selfish from Will's point of view as he seemed to be trying to make Lou live her life more in the way he had lived his life, so maybe he was trying to live vicariously through her?

We also discussed how Will would be living his life now he's in the wheelchair and unable to do even basic things for himself compared to his action loving life previously. It must be incredibly frustrating, painful and also humiliating to a person like him, maybe this was why he considered ending it all. It seems someone like him might find it incredibly hard to convert to being in his new situation given the complete change to his life it made, more so than someone whose life wasn't quite so energetic in the first place? We all agreed that Jojo Moyes did an excellent job of portraying the complexities of life as a paraplegic without reverting to a misery memoir type book, we all learnt a lot about how difficult life must be for some people. This was probably best done through the character of Nathan who cared for Will in a wonderfully pragmatic but caring manner, his explanations as to what happens to paraplegics was very interesting.

A discussion about the general principles of euthanasia also occurred during the meeting.

Overall we gave this book 8.5 out of 10.

Me Before You - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you all enjoyed the bank holiday weekend while reading this month's book club choice. Here are some questions to think about before the meeting on Thursday.

-    Before his accident, Will was a philanderer and a corporate raider who would probably never have given Louisa a second look. Why is it that people are so often unable to see what’s truly important until they’ve experienced loss?
-    Were you able to relate to the way Will felt after his accident? What about his outlook on life did you find most difficult to understand or accept?
-    Compare Louisa's relationship with Treena to Will's relationship with Georgina. Do siblings know one another any better simply because they are related?
-    How do you feel about the decision Will makes at the end of the novel?

See you all on Thursday! Let me know if you can’t come.

The Innocents

For no particular reason most of the book club members had not finished the book, although one member had finished it and had also read The Age Of Innocence in their reading past.

We discussed the protagonist Adam and thought that he should just have made up his mind and stopped torturing himself with images of what his life might have been like with Ellie rather than with Rachel. Overall we weren't sure who Adam would have been happier with, he seemed to be unhappy with both of them. Maybe this is some of the message of the book that we all have to settle for someone eventually, we all need to make that choice between what we think we want and what is actually good for us. Adam had to weigh up the losses and the gains from both the women in his life to discover which he should spend his life with. We noticed that Adam really loved Rachel's father and often seemed to do things that made Rachel happy purely to make her father proud of him, maybe this had something to do with his fatherless past. Maybe he wanted Lawrence as his father more than he wanted Rachel as his wife?

We also discussed the character of Ellie and the reasons why she behaved in the way she did towards her family, and her relationships with the men in her life. We found it very interesting that both Adam and Ellie seemed to have issues with the safety and security offered by their Jewish community. Adam seemed to see it as smothering and dull, whereas Ellie desparately wanted the love and stability it offered. We weren't sure whether Ellie was jealous of everything Rachel had and that's why she behaved the way she did because she blamed Rachel for having everything Ellie herself wanted out of life.

It was interesting that the author chose to use a Jewish community to compare to the original book's cast of characters from 1920's society. They at first glance seem very different to each other but when you look a little deeper you can see that they are both pretty insular, keeping themselves to themselves. This then made it interesting to watch as Adam met more and more people from outside his own Jewish community who lived their lives in ways that he didn't see as possible.

Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

The Innocents - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re enjoying the beautiful weather while reading this months book club pick. Don’t forget that the next meeting is on Thursday 31st July. Please could you let me know if you are or aren’t able to make it?

Here are some questions for you to think about as you’re reading:

-    Compare Ellie’s character with that of Rachel’s, and discuss Adam’s inability to commit wholly to just one of them for most of the novel. Between the two women, whom did you prefer? With whom did you sympathize the most? Do you think Adam made the right choice, in the end?
-    How well does Segal portray the social, psychological, religious, and emotional lives of the Jewish community in North London? Do you feel that she conveys a reasonable and realistic portrait of this large and diverse group of people? What were her greatest strengths in her depiction, as well as her weaknesses?
-    Similarly, how did characters like Ziva Schneider help you to understand the Israeli immigrant experience? In particular, what did the novel help to show about the Jewish survivors of World War II, and their difficulties with nationality and assimilation into post-World War II European society?

Orange Is The New Black

Orange is the New Black – Bookclub meeting write-up

All but one of the group had finished the book and we all felt the same about it – it was good but not outstanding.  We all felt that it was, in general, very well written and in an engaging style, but we also felt that there were areas which left us scratching our heads, wondering what was going on.  Partly this was due to the fact that the author has a habit of jumping around in time without always making it clear that she is doing so, and partly it was due to the fact that we felt the characters were not very well drawn.

We all said that we found it difficult to remember who was who.  Apart from Piper and Larry the only other person we could remember was Pop, because she was a central character.  All the other prisoners were interchangeable in our minds.  We had none of us seen the TV show based on the book and we thought that maybe it would be easier to identify with the characters if we had, as we would then have a picture in our minds of what they looked like.  We did feel that there wasn’t enough in the book to make a TV series but somebody said that the TV series was a lot more about relationships, so it would appear that it doesn’t stick religiously to the original text but is more of a development of the characters in the book.

We liked Larry very much and his love and support for Piper came through strongly.  We also liked the fact that Piper, her family and her friends were non-judgemental.  We felt that we learnt something from the book, which is that there is more to every situation than first meets the eye.  The women in the prison were mostly locked up for crimes which their background made it very hard to avoid, and they were mostly not bad people but victims of their environment.  Piper obviously felt very strongly the injustice of locking up vulnerable people, teaching them nothing, and then turning them back out into society with very little in the way of advice to help them not return to prison in the future.  Her anger at this shone through and we felt that her punishment was to see the effect her unthinking actions could have had on these people.  By participating in the drug trade she, who had everything on the outside and didn’t appreciate it, had made life more difficult for these people who had very little but valued what they did have. 

We liked the way the prisoners interacted and worked together to make prison life a bit more bearable by sharing what they had, whether that be possessions or skills like knitting or writing.  However, we did feel that the overall impression given was that Danbury prison was quite a cosy place to be and, although the loss of liberty and control of your own life was a hardship, because of the way the book was written we didn’t see as much of that as we did of the women being kind to each other and the little pleasures they gleaned from every day.  We felt the parts that best reflected the awfulness of what was happening to Piper were the first few chapters, where she has to fact up to her crime and wait to begin her prison sentence, and the final few chapters, where she is locked up in a much tougher prison and cut off from her support group.  Although we did feel that, on balance, prison should be more about redemption than punishment we also felt that, the way it was reported in this book, Danbury didn’t really do well on either count and seemed like a bit of a waste of time from the point of view of being an effective deterrent. 

Overall this was an easy read but disappointing in parts.  We gave it an overall mark of 6.5

The Suspicions of Mr Whicher

Everyone in the book group found this book hard to read, we felt that this was because we had all gone into it thinking it would be a ripping good mystery story. However, in actual fact it was more like a history book that just happened to be about a historical murder mystery. If we had read it thinking of it more as a history book we might have enjoyed it a little more.

Most of the people in the group enjoyed reading about the well known historical characters mentioned in the book such as Charles Dickens. We also enjoyed finding out just how different the class system was in Whichers day rather than today. We felt that he didn't manage to get on with this particular mystery very well because he wasn't of the correct class to talk to people or get information from people. However, we also felt that given that detectives were such a new thing Whicher seemed supremely well suited to being one, he certainly had the ability to notice things which the other police officers seemed to either ignore or not notice at all.

We were a little disappointed at the end of the book given that there was no real conclusion in our eyes, but then again this is the way in real life things aren't always tidy. As readers we weren't able to seen the evidence as clearly as either Whicher or the author, we were in fact seeing things through at least two different pairs of eyes before we got anywhere near the information. Either of these pairs of eyes could have massively distorted the information. Not to mention no-one can know the real truth of the matter unless you're able to get into the brain of the killer.

Most of the characters in this book we felt were very dry and one dimensional, we didn't really get to know anyone as they were just mentioned as pieces of evidence. This meant that we didn't come to like any of the characters, who were in fact real people although it is hard to keep remembering this fact. We weren't sure whether someone like Philippa Gregory might have gone about writing this story in a completely different way, however she does tend to take liberties with some historical people which may have had a detrimental effect on this murder mystery.

Overall we gave this book 3.5 out of 10. We felt that it needed to be made clearer that this is much more like a historical document than a murder mystery.

Thursday, 22 May 2014

The Suspicions Of Mr Whicher - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you’ve all been enjoying this months book, don’t forget that the meeting is on 29th May 2014 (next Thursday). Please let me know asap if you will not be attending as this helps when i’m baking.

Here are some questions to keep in mind while you’re reading:

-    Summerscale delves into the vocabulary of detection, from “coppers” (46) to “clue” (68) to “detect” (157). Which word origins were the most surprising and interesting, and why?

-    Which recent murder cases have caused as great a sensation as the murder at Road Hill of 1860? Why might murder prove so riveting in the press and in fiction, both in the Victorian era and today?

-    What role did privacy play in the Road Hill case? How did notions of privacy impede or advance the case? How do Victorian ideas of privacy and domesticity compare to today’s concept of the home?

-    Discuss the importance of class relations to the Road Hill case. What was the relationship between the Kent family and the villagers of Road? What were the sources of class tension between Whicher and the local police?

-    How was the Road Hill murder case a product of its time? What features of the Victorian era were especially prominent in the case? What was the influence of Charles Darwin’s emerging theories?

Wednesday, 21 May 2014

Life After Life - Kate Atkinson

We found that the start of this book was very difficult to get into as it was , by necessity, very start stop as the main protagonist dies quite regularly. Once we got past this part of the story there were only a few starts and stops as she dies and then starts her life over again. We felt that most of the different lives followed on logically, with each one getting her just that little bit further on in age. But there was one which appeared out of nowhere in the middle of the book that caught us all by surprise and seemed not to link in with the rest of the story.

The reading style of this book is very easy, it seems to flow as you're reading it. The writing style was very sparse, making very complex and disturbing elements seem very simple and almost beautiful. However, the starting and stopping and the differences between the different lives can make it difficult to remember the story line. It was also found that some of the storylines that were started just suddenly stopped and weren't gone into with as much detail as we as readers would have wanted.

We had a short discussion about whether the protagonist was aware of the way she was living her lives, sometimes she seemed to know more than others that she had lived this particular bit of her life before. It seemed like a really interesting premise for a story. We wondered whether if we were able to live our lives over and over again, firstly, would be accept that gift, or would we prefer to just do it the once. Secondly, if we accepted the gift would we want to be aware of living our lives over and over again or would we prefer to not know. We also wondered if making changes would make our lives any better, or any worse, or even affect those around us detrimentally. This led onto whether we actually are doing the second option and we just don't know that we're living our life over and over, and also whether anyone else in the book was doing this or just the main protagonist. At this point we started to feel confused and a little uncomfortable.

We all enjoyed the bits about the Second World War, epecially as it was shown from both sides of the divide and various different places. As we've already read some books about the war, mostly from the English or French viewpoints, it was a revelation to see if from the German perspective. Although some elements felt a little far-fetched, but this may be due to our own lack of knowledge of that side of the war.

Overall we gave this book 6 out of 10. The view was that the original story idea was good, and it went along quite well but the ending wasn't as good as we felt it could have been.

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

Life After Life - Questions

Hello everyone,

Firstly, could i please have a show of hands to let me know who will be coming to this months meeting?

Here are some questions about this months book Life After Life. Please be aware that some of these questions may contain spoilers!

-    Small moments often have huge ramifications in Ursula’s life. Do you think certain moments are more crucial than others in the way Ursula’s life develops? Why, and which moments?

-    Do you think Ursula’s ability to relive her life over and over is a gift or a curse? How do you think Ursula looks at it? Do you think she is able to embrace the philosophy amor fati (“love of fate,” “acceptance”) in the end?

-    As time goes on, Ursula learns more about her ability to restart her life—and she often changes course accordingly, but she doesn’t always correct things. Why not? Do you think Ursula ever becomes completely conscious of her ability to relive and redo her lives? If so, at what point in the story do you think that happens? And what purpose do you think she sets for herself once she figures it out?

-    How does Atkinson capture the terror and tragedy of the Blitz? How does war become its own character in the book? What type of commentary does Atkinson make on the English approach to war? Why do you think Atkinson portrayed one of Ursula’s lives in Germany, experiencing war and the bombing from the opposing side?

-    What are the biggest questions this book raised for you? How did it change the way you think about the course of your own life?

See you all on Thursday 24th April!

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

The Light Between Oceans

There were only five people present at this month’s meeting due to a lot of members being on holiday or having other commitments.  Despite this, the discussion was lively and we all enjoyed the lemon cake which Amy brought along!

Everybody enjoyed this book.  It was compared to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which has been our favourite book so far.  We liked the style of the writing and found it easy to read.

We spent a lot of time discussing whether Tom and Isobel did the right thing in keeping the baby.    We felt that Isobel’s decision was influenced by the fact that she had just lost a baby of her own, and also that she had seen the orphanage her friend’s baby had been sent to and knew what would happen if both parents had died and she and Tom didn’t keep the baby.  There is no doubt that they had a lot of love to give and if they had reported what had happened and it had transpired that the mother was also dead, Lucy’s life would have been a much less happy one.  So, given the circumstances as they presented themselves, we felt we could not blame her for the decision she made.  We then discussed whether it was right to disobey the law and decided that it is sometimes for the best, but we felt that if Tom had recorded what had happened in the book that would have been better, because then whatever happened they could say that they did what they thought best at the time.  But by not recording the event, he made it clear that he knew it was wrong, which was damning evidence when the truth finally emerged.

We also discussed what was best for Lucy/Grace.  She was eventually taken from a home and people that she loved and given to a family who, even though they were her blood relatives, she did not know at all.  We related that to true-life stories that have been in the news where adopted children are taken from loving families to be given back to their birth parents and how much it upsets everyone when this happens.  We concluded that there is no right or wrong in this situation and that the whole thing is just very sad.  We thought that the original wrong-doing was the persecution of Franz which led to him jumping into the boat with the baby.  Everything that was done thereafter was done for good-hearted reasons and might be excused, but this kind of bullying was definitely wrong.  However, it was mentioned that you could go back even beyond that to the causes of the war which made people hate the Germans so there is a continuum of events and the decisions made at each point influence the future.

We had all thought at one point that the person leaving the notes might be Isobel, and when we found out it was actually Tom after all we did feel that that was a kind of a betrayal on his part, even though, in the strictest sense, it was “the right thing to do”.  We were pleased that Tom and Isobel came back together at the end and we wished that Lucy/Grace had managed to get there before Isobel died as we felt sad that she didn’t get to see her again.  In some ways that was felt to be her punishment but we thought that the axiom “it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all” held true.

Overall, everyone really enjoyed the book and it moved many to tears.

The overall score for this book was 9 out of 10 and the people present declared it their favourite so far!

The Light Between Oceans - Questions


Here is a link and some questions about this months book that i thought you might find interesting.

This is an interview with the author about the book ** SPOILER ALERT** Do not read this until you have read the entire book.

- Tom is haunted by what he witnessed—and what he did—during his enlistment in World War I. The narrator reflects that he’s not “one of the men whose legs trailed by a hank of sinews, or whose guts cascaded from their casing like slithering eels….But he’s scarred all the same, having to live in the same skin as the man who did the things that needed to be done back then.” (page 10) How do you think Tom’s experiences as a soldier impact his decisions throughout the novel? What other outside elements, like the war, influences the narrative?

- Which characters won your sympathy and why? Did this change over the course of the novel? Did your notion of what was best or right shift in the course of your reading?

- M.L. Stedman makes it clear that there is no one perfect answer to the question of who should raise Grace/Lucy. She seems to undermine all notions of absolutes. It is clear that she will not dismiss all Germans as evil either. There is Hannah’s husband, ripe for persecution, and yet he is utterly innocent. Discuss the places in the novel where easy certainty turns out to be wrong.

- What did you think of the conclusion of the novel? What emotions did you feel at the story’s end? Did it turn out as you expected? Were you satisfied?

See you all on 28th March 2014!

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store

Everyone in the bookclub either finished the book or couldn't wait to finish the book which is a bit of a success.

As can be expected from a book like this we did come away with some question. Such as why did they all have to write everything down in the books about the various people who came in to borrow the books? We wanted to know the reason behind this although we did come up with some reasons of our own. In fact as we discussed the book we discovered that there were a lot of threads that were left loose at the end of the book. We thought that as we were reading the book we were following one thread, but then another more interesting thread was presented to us which we then followed and dropped the first thread. As we were reading we didn't notice the different threads being dropped but when we were discussing the book they were suddenly brough to our attention again. We also noticed that some elements of the book seemed just to be dropped in rather randomly like the various different tasks that had to be done.

As we were discussing the book we came to realise that it really is written in many different styles including that of the epic fantasy where a hero travels round trying to find and recruit a group of people all with special talents.But overall we didn't feel that there was a particular formula to the books as we read it, it felt really unique.

Along with the interesting plot we also liked the different characters in the book. We enjoyed following them as they went through the various different tasks and each went on a bit of a personal journey. Kat especially changed a great deal through the book as she came to realise the limits of her beloved Google.

We also had some discussion as to what the ending of the book means. Does it mean that immortality is created for us by the things we write down and create rather than our actual physical bodies carrying on? Is this still true today when the written word is much more transient than the written word as they are now written onto the internet and things like twitter rather than in a physical book?

The names of all the characters amused us, and we felt we needed to look further into them as we could understand the reasoning behind some like Lapin as she seemed to live in a rabbit warren and has rabbit like personal qualities. Clay we felt was like his name because he's very down to earth, however he is also very maleable as he changes himself depending on where he is and what he needs to do. Penumbra's name covers such a variety of different meanings that it's perfect for him.

This book also triggered a lot of conversation around how we all prefer to read/listen to our books. We decided that we all like to read paper versions of books and also electronic versions. It depends on the book as to what format we would prefer to read it in. We also thought that having books on a shelf in your room or house triggers conversation and often friendships.

Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10. We all really enjoyed the book but can't really explain why, it's just one of the books you have to read and you'll find out!

Mr Penumbra's 24 Hour Book Store - Questions

Hello everyone,

Here are some questions for you to think about while you're reading this months book.

- Related to the word “umbrella,” Mr. Penumbra’s last name can refer to an area of partial illumination (especially in astronomy) or something that serves as a shroud. What makes his bookstore a source of light, even though it operates in the shadows?

- What were your initial theories about the bookstore's mysterious patrons and their project? What did you predict Manutius's message would be?

- Clay grapples with the fact that e-books could make brick-and-mortar bookstores unnecessary. How have your community's bookstores fared in recent years? Did the novel reassure you about the role of technology in the lives of book lovers?

- The characters remind us that fifteenth-century technologies of the book—from punch-cutting to typesetting—were met with fear and resistance, as well as with entrepreneurial competition and the need to teach new skills. How does this compare to the launch of e-books? If you try to picture what literacy will look like five hundred years from now, what do you see?

- Think about the physical traits of your copy of Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. Do you have a hard copy or an e-book, and where did you buy it? How does the design of the book enhance your reading experience?

I hope you're all enjoying the book, and i'll see you all on 27th February!

Mr Penumbra - Prequel


This months book is a favourite of mine and i've just noticed that there's also a short story set prior to the book that people with kindles might want to purchase. There is also an authors page with some explanations to the background of the book (watch out for spoilers!).



I hope you're all enjoying this months book. Remember there's a 100 page minimum prior to coming to book club!

The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks

Nearly all the members finished this book and all but two members enjoyed the book.The people who didn't enjoy the book as much felt that the backwards and forwards in time nature of the book was a bit confusing and distracted them from the story. Other members of the group enjoyed the backwards and forwards in time way of writing and felt that it made the book flow very well.

We all liked that the author didn't try to sensationalise the story in order to make more money, she just wrote the story as plainly and simply as possible in order to avoid harm to Henrietta's family. We would have liked a little more science in the book as an explanation to some elements but this could be because we are a hospital based bookclub. We all enjoyed reading about how medical consent has changed over the years, again this could be because we are a medically orientated book club so many of us deal with consent and patients on a day-to-day basis. We went on to discuss informed consent, anonymity, the financial rewards to both patients and to pharmaceutical companies with regards using human tissue to test drugs etc. We thought that the medical element was brought out a lot in this book, maybe this is because they have to pay for medical treatment in America whereas we in the UK have it mostly provided for free.

We also discussed the racial element of the book with regards it not being all that long ago when Henrietta and her family were having to use different entrances and water fountains in public. The use of different terms to describe people was also discussed in relation to political correctness. We thought that in the past using a descriptor to say that a person was a different colour was meant to segregate people into different classes, now it is used in the same way you would say that someone wears glasses, purely to identify them so you know you're talking about the same person.

Overall we felt that this book was mostly about Deborah, Henrietta's daughter rather than about Henrietta as she was the living person we were following through all the discoveries. We enjoyed watching her grow and learn so much simple through her own hard work and her need to learn about her mother. We all came away shocked at how little we as people linked to medicine know about Henrietta Lacks.

Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks - Questions


I'm so sorry not to have sent these out before, life got a bit busy!

- What are the legal ramifications regarding payment for tissue samples? Consider the the RAND corporation estimation that 304 million tissue samples, from 178 million are people, are held by labs.

- What are the spiritual and religious issues surrounding the living tissue of people who have died? How do Henrietta's descendants deal with her continued "presence" in the world...and even the cosmos (in space)?

- Is race an issue in this story? Would things have been different had Henrietta been a middle class white woman rather than a poor African American woman? Consider both the taking of the cell sample without her knowledge, let alone consent... and the questions it is raising 60 years later when society is more open about racial injustice?

Three Men In A Boat

At the time of the meeting only one person had read the entire book to the end.

We felt that it was a very confusing book with lots of long waffly sections that had little to do with the rest of the book. Sometimes these sections caused us confusion as we weren't entirely sure whether we were reading a bit from the past or a bit from the present time. We even had a disagreement during the meeting about what one bit of the book was about with regards whether it was a recollection or something to do with the boat journey.

Some elements of the book were really funny, especially the part about the hanging of the picture frame. We felt that we found the funny elements of the book far funnier when we were discussing them than when we were actually reading the book. Other elements left us feeling a little bit disturbed as they didn't seem to fit into the rest of the book as they were so maudlin.

Due to the lack of different characters we felt that if you didn't like the characters you were not going to enjoy this book very much as there is also not a great straight-forward storyline either. The characters that were in the book did seem to be much more boyish and childlike than their actual ages, in fact at times they were also very childish which we found annoying.

Overall we gave this book 4.5 out of 10.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Three Men In A Boat - Questions

Hello everyone,

I know this is really early to send out the questions but we don't have much reading time between now and the 19th December!

- Three Men in a Boat contains some memorable passages and unforgettable scenes. Which ones did you like best?

- Why does this book continue to appeal to modern-day readers? What universal aspects of the story do you relate to?

- How are 21st century adults any different compared to the adults shown in this book? Is there still room for this kind of silliness in our lives? Do you think they were only able to lark about on the river because of their social class?

I hope you're all reading the book and are looking forward to the discussion and pot-luck Christmas party!

The Maid

Only a few members of the bookclub finished this book, mainly because not everyone enjoyed the story and the writing style. We thought that the actual historical story behind this fictionalised version of Joan of Arc's life was an interesting story to look at. However, it was felt that this take on the story was not very realistic compared to other fictionalised historical works currently available. Some of the language used felt a little incongruous to the historical nature of the story as well, which we understood as it's a story meant to be read by people today but we also felt that it was a little awkward sounding.

One of the big questions we had was how Joan managed to convince the armies to follow her because clearly as history shows she did manage this. We felt that she must have had a very strong personality, which the author showed us as the book went on. She must also have had a great deal of religious fervour which made her very powerful, and also gave her the strength to kill soldiers even though she felt very unhappy doing this in the book.

We noted that we found some elements of the story difficult to understand given that we are all living in the 21st century and don't really have a full understanding of how things were done in Joan's time. This hindered some of our understanding of how the politics etc worked. Maybe we would have understood more and enjoyed more about the book if we had a little more background knowledge ourselves. However, this could be said of most historical retellings and somehow other books manage to give the reader enough background to enjoy the story without it becoming too boring.

As with all literary retellings of historical events there were clearly some liberties taken to make the story more interesting and also purely to fill in the gaps in Joan's history where little is know about her. For example, we often read bits in this book about how Joan is feeling or her thoughts on a certain matter and these cannot have come from a primary source so they are clearly guess work on the part of the author. Interestingly not much was made of the actual court-case which was one of the elements of Jona's life about which there was most evidence. This might have been interesting to look into for the reader.

Overall we felt that this book sits somewhere between a straight historical retelling and an interesting piece of literature, but somehow manages not to be a good example of either thing.

Overall we gave this book 3.5 out of 10.