Wednesday, 30 December 2015

We Were Liars - E Lockhart

Apologies for the shortness of this review but this is one of those books where you can't really say much without giving away the plot of the book and I would hate to spoil it for anyone!


Everyone had managed to finish the book as it was a really quick read and relatively short, however most people came away from it not feeling it had been that great a book. Many of the book club members were unsure as to the point of the book as they were reading it, and this feeling was not alleviated by the plot twist at the end.


This story hinges around one big secret hidden by multiple little secrets that are used by a particular family to ensure that their lives continue in the way they have become accustomed to. As a reader you don't know what that large secret is until almost the very end of the book at which point everything is revealed. Then you can look back at the rest of the story to see all the little secrets that were being used as well. We think this might be part of the reason why the book is called we were liars, although we're unsure of why a small group of the youngsters called themselves liars in the years preceding the larger lie.


We talked about the lives that this family lives, with them having a private island and each daughter having their own large house. They have servants on the island that the family don't even know the names of. Even with all this privilege the daughters and squabbling over whose house is larger and who should get what when their father and mother die. The father isn't much better as he plays the daughters and his grandchildren off each other to make them do what he wants while promising them each other houses and inheritances. All in all it's a pretty ugly family situation.


This book is aimed more at younger people, maybe mid teens, so we wondered if this was a book that is more suited to them rather than us and this is why we didn't enjoy it quite as much?


Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

We Were Liars - E Lockhart - Questions

Hello,



I’m sending out these questions a little early so please be aware that if you haven’t started this months book (We Were Liars) then there might be spoilers!



  • Is the Sinclair family acting of their own free will or are they in some way merely moving through patterns established in fairy tales that existed long before them? Consider the author's use of Shakespeare's King Lear and Bronte's Wuthering Heights.

  • Was the ending a surprise...or did you see it coming? Return to earlier passages in the book and locate instances of Lockhart's of foreshadowing of events to come.

  • Do you trust Cady's narration? Is she lying...or hallucinating?




Looking forward to seeing you all on Thursday 17th December.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey - Rachel Joyce

Almost everyone in the book club finished this months book, although not everyone enjoyed it. It was felt that although the style was very light and it was easy to read it wasn't every enjoyable.


This is a parallel book running alongside the story told in "The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry", which most of the book club members have read for a previous meeting. However, there were some new members who had not read the first book and they felt that they might have been missing something from this book having not read Harold Fry. They did enjoy parts of the book but they wondered if some elements might have had a better explanation if they had read both books. However, on the whole the books do work well as stand alones.


It was interesting reading about the hospice where Queenie was spending her last few months, we felt that it wasn't as bleak and dark as we expected it. In fact there were some lovely humorous elements along with some entertaining characters such as Finty, in amongst the many visits of the undertakers car. It felt as though the people there were trying to live their lives as best they could rather than thinking about the things that were wrong with them. We're not sure if this is completely accurate, but Joyce did do a lot of research by visiting hospices so we can only assume that it is.


We felt very sorry for Queenie as she seemed to be on the edges throughout her life until the moment that Harold decided to go on his walk to visit her. Queenie just seemed to be like background noise in peoples lives, she seemed to think she was important but in fact we don't think that many people really noticed her at all. She didn't seem to have a proper close relationship with anyone within the book, she always seemed to not want to get close to anyone, there was always a reason for this but never a particularly good reason. Although given this she did seem to find a certain type of happiness within her life, nothing big and flashy but possibly enough for her?


The relationship between Queenie and David was interesting as this did add an extra element to the Harold Fry book which we hadn't seen before. In fact we hadn't really got to know David before so he was in fact an extra character in this book compared to Harold Fry.


Overall we gave this book 6.5 out of 10.

The Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessey - Rachel Joyce - Questions

Hello,



Here are some questions for you to have a think about before the book club meeting on Thursday. As usual do not read the questions unless you have either read the whole book or you’re happy for certain parts of the book to be spoilt for you.




  • ‘When I woke, I had a visitor. She had a grapefruit on her head. She’d also brought her horse’. From the beginning of the novel, it is clear that Queenie is under the influence of morphine. With hindsight, how far do you think reality blurred with illusion?

  • In her own letter, included at the end of The Lovesong of Miss Queenie Hennessy Rachel Joyce says that the patients at St Bernadine’s are a ‘chorus for Queenie – her backing vocals’. However, Finty and her fellow patients are described in vivid detail. What backstories might you give them?

  • In her letter to Harold, Queenie describes how she witnessed David’s declining mental health. Do you put David’s troubles down to nature or nurture?

The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff

Everyone in the book club finished this book and they all found it very enjoyable, although it does take a little bit of getting into at the beginning. Some book club members didn't like the hopping back and forward in time, but it was always very clear where you were in time and who you were listening to. This book is very dense with lots of information and little side stories and back stories, but while you're reading it you really don't feel that bombarded with information, this is a great skill for an author.


This book is full of magical realism like monsters in the lake, so you do need to be able to suspend your disbelief a little bit. Some book club members enjoyed this element more than others. We had a short discussion on the difference between magical realism and the different types of fantasy novel such as sword and sorcery, or urban fantasy as this is not an area that many of the book club members generally read from.


As we were reading the book some book club members felt that some parts of the story were not explained well enough, we just had to believe that something had happened, or just go along with the story. We felt that a little more explanation might have helped us with our belief in the reality of the story.


We enjoyed the small town feel of the book, it feels like Gilmore Girls or something similar in that everyone knows everyone else and also their genealogical background. There are lots of little rituals and traditions that go on in the town as well which felt comforting if a little odd at the same time.


With regards the title of the book we felt that the actual monster living in the lake was not monstrous at all, and in fact was loved by the citizens living in the town. That monster had an air of protectiveness towards the citizens rather than one of menace. However, when you look at some of the human characters in the book such as Ginger and Marmaduke you could see some truly monstrous creatures.


Some of our most favourite characters in the book were "The Buds". We loved their almost female relationship with each other, it's unusual to see a group of men so supportive within a novel, it's generally a group of women who serve that role within a book. Overall we did like a lot of the characters and felt that they were really well written to the point that they felt real. At the end of the book we wanted to find out more about some of the characters but we also felt sated with the ending, it felt quite right.


Overall we gave this book 6.5 out of 10.

The Monsters of Templeton - Lauren Groff - Questions

Hello everyone,



I hope to see you all on Thursday for this months book club! Here are some questions for you to think about while you’re finishing your book. As usual please do not read these questions unless you have finished the book as there will be SPOILERS!



  • What did you think of the range of voices and time periods the author employs in The Monsters of Templeton? How would the novel have been different had the story been told from a single point of view, or been set in one era?

  • Of the many characters from the past—Marmaduke Temple, Davey Shipman, Charlotte and Cinnamon, Elizabeth Franklin Temple, to name a few—which one(s) stood out for you? Why?

  • What did you think of Willie’s search to uncover her father’s identity? What did each new layer of history teach Willie about her family? Why was it important that Willie learn everything she learned?

  • What was your opinion of Ezekiel Felcher at the beginning of the novel? Did it change as the novel progressed? Did you think that Willie might stay in Templeton to be with him? What do you think she should have done? What do you think she will do in the future?

  • What does the book’s title mean? Who or what are the "monsters" it refers to? What, exactly, does the word "monster" mean in the context of this book?


Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking - Susan Cain

This is one of the very few non-fiction books that the book club has read and we found it pretty hard going as it was quite boring. Many of the book club members did not manage to finish the book, and they felt that they would be unlikely to finish it after the meeting. They felt that the author went over and over the same point rather than giving more information on the different aspects of introverts and extroverts.


Having read this book we decided that everyone is on a scale from very introverted to very extroverted, with most people having some elements of both depending on the circumstances they find themselves in. We all then tried to decide where we would put ourselves on this scale, and where others might put us. Having said this we wondered if an introvert could or even should become more extrovert in order to get their ideas out in the open. We also talked about how the world we currently inhabit has a great emphasis on meetings and group working, and whether we feel that this excludes introverts. We wondered if we had ever ignored an introvert accidentally or whether we are used to being ignored by extroverts during meetings.


We didn't much like the sweeping statements, we would have preferred to have some more evidence, possibly more scientific in nature rather than all the little stories. We did like the comparisons between the Eastern and Western worlds and their definitions of politeness with regard introversion. Some more bits like that in the book would have been interesting.


We wondered if this is a book that only introverts would really enjoy as it's very focused on them, maybe extroverts would find it dull as it has little or nothing to do with them. Maybe a little more to do with extroverts might have attracted a wider audience, though to be fair the book is meant to be about introverts.


Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

Monday, 16 November 2015

Quiet: The power of introverts in a world that can’t stop talking - Questions

Hello,
 
Sorry for the lateness of this email. Here are some questions for you to think about with regard this months book club book.
 
·         Quiet talks about “restorative niches,” the places introverts go or the things they do to recharge their batteries. What are your favourite restorative niches?
·         Quiet talks about the New Groupthink, the value system holding that creativity and productivity emerge from group work rather than individual thought. Have you experienced this in your own workplace?
·         Which parts of Quiet resonated most strongly with you? Were there parts you disagreed with—and if so, why?
 
Looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow!

State Of Wonder - Ann Patchett

This book prompted a lot of discussion about one of the main themes, that being the ability for women to have babies far into old age. We wondered if it's a good idea to have babies at advanced age, are women at that age thinking of themselves or of the baby? We also wondered if having babies at all is a right or a privilege?


We found that the book was quite slow going almost all the way through until you get to the very end of the book where it all feels as though it gets a bit rushed. We felt that some of the characters were a little bit flat apart from the main ones like Easter and Aneke.


There were a lot of questions we found to do with Marina. We wondered whether she had father issues as shown by her nightmares about her father leaving. She also seems to go for men who take control and who seem to be a little older than her. She did seem to let a lot of things happen to her rather than make decisions about what she was going to do next which we found a little annoying.


We found that a lot of the issues at the end were quite shocking, but one element we really disagreed on. This may sound a little faffy but I really don't want to give away the ending for anyone, but we wondered whether one particular elements was a happy ending or not. It felt that the author was trying to tidy up certain elements but in the process she made some book club members a little uncomfortable.


The final ending of the book was interesting as it felt that it tailed off a little, we don't know what happened to all the characters. But then again this is very much like real life, but it's not something that all the book club members liked.


Overall we gave this book 6 out of 10.

State Of Wonder - Questions

Hello everyone,
 
Just a little reminder that book club will be happening on Thursday 27th August (next week). Here are some questions that you might want to consider as you’re reading the book. Please be aware that these questions may contain spoilers if you haven’t finished the book yet!
 
·         State of Wonder raises questions of morality and principle, civilization, culture, love, and science. Choose a few events from the book to explore some of these themes.
·         What role does nature and the natural world—the jungle, the Amazon River—play in Marina’s story? How does the environment influence the characters—Marina, Annik, Milton, Anders, Easter, and the others? Annik warns Marina, “It’s difficult to trust yourself in the jungle. Some people gain their bearings over time but for others that adjustment never comes.” Did Marina ultimately “gain her bearings”? Would you be able to live in the jungle as the researchers and natives do? Is there an appeal to going back to nature; from being removed from the western constraints of time and our modern technological society?
·         Consider Annik’s research in the Amazon. Should women of any age be able to have children? What are the benefits and the downsides? Why does this ability seem to work in the Lakashi culture? What impact does this research ultimately have on Marina? Whether you are a man or woman, would you want to have a child in your fifties or sixties? How far should modern science go to “improve” on nature?
·         Describe the arc of Marina and Annik’s relationship from the novel’s beginning to its end. Do you like these women? Did your opinion of them change as the story unfolded? Why didn’t Marina ever tell anyone the full story of her early experience with Annick?

Longbourn - Jo Baker

Almost everyone in the book club finished this months book and everyone enjoyed it. It was found to be especially interesting if you had read Pride & Prejudice first, but it was felt that it lost nothing if you hadn't already read P&P.


We felt that the character of Sarah was maybe a little bit forward for the time period, especially compared to the female characters in P&P. She certainly seemed to like the attentions of the various men within the book hence her attraction to Ptolemy as he made a great deal of her compared to James. We did wonder why the author chose the name Ptolemy given the historical connotations of that name.


We liked the fact that we got to see some of the elements of the war that Jane Austen shied away from in her books. We felt that although there were soldiers in the original book they were simply there as male interest. In Longbourn we saw more of the realities of war such as the floggings etc. Maybe this was because in Austen's time it was frowned on to put that kind of thing into books?


Seeing the main characters from P&P through the eyes of Sarah and the other staff was very interesting. Elizabeth came across as a lot weaker and seemed to be a bit whiney. Mr Bennett seemed to have a whole other life in this book compared to P&P, which was not exactly to everyone's taste as it did give him a very different character. Mr Darcy seemed even more like himself as he had the power to ignore people so strongly that they vanished! Wickham definitely shows his true colours in this book, he doesn't seem to have any other side than the one he shows in P&P.


We enjoyed the ending of the book, it all felt that it ended as it should.


Overall we gave the book 7.5 out of 10.

Thursday, 23 July 2015

Longbourn - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all enjoying this months book. Don’t forget the book club meeting this month will be on Thursday 30th July.

Here are some questions for you to have a look at before the meeting, please be aware they may contain spoilers!

•    Lizzie Bennet is a much-loved heroine. Has LONGBOURN changed your view of her at all? Do you think she acts selfishly in relation to Sarah?
•    LONGBOURN is a book that stands alone as having its own story, characters and themes–how far has the author ensured her novel is not pastiche, that it is a novel with a separate identity?
•    Did you like that Jo Baker told the story through so many character's points of view? Or was there one voice, like Sarah's, or James', that you preferred above the others?
•    Does a reader's enjoyment of Longbourn depend on a familiarity with Pride and Prejudice? How does Baker assert an independent voice and vision while using the framework of Austen's novel?
•    Baker continues her story a bit beyond the ending of Pride and Prejudice. Do you find her speculations about what happens to Mr. and Mrs. Bennet, their daughter Mary, Mr. and Mrs. Hill, and Polly, satisfying?

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky

Not everyone managed to finish this book this month. Of those people who had finished most enjoyed, although some felt that Charlie was just a daft young boy who was simply going through various elements of growing up. We felt that he was quite a naive young man and also an unreliable narrator as he seems to not remember things that have happened to him. He also seems to remember things but then put a different spin on them which takes the reader a while to figure out. One thing that Charlie is absolutely great at is picking presents, he really does get them spot on even for people he's not around very much. He's not great when it comes to other people skills and we wondered if he might be somewhere on the autistic spectrum as he does some odd things that he doesn't understand the bad reaction to.

All the characters in the book seem to be slightly odd or unconventional, such as Charlie with his mental health issues, or Patrick hiding a whole side of his life from everyone. Some seem to have been so badly hurt by their lives they turn to doing odd things like Aunt Helen. There is a very dark side to this book but it seems to almost be skimmed over without going into too much depth, often the reader has to figure out things for themselves as they aren't always clear.

We did find Charlie to be a bit of a baby at times, even given his family history. He does seem to cry at the drop of hat, and this seems to irritate him as well as us as readers. We felt that we could be friends with him but might only tolerate him for short periods of time, or maybe within a larger group.

We discussed what being a wallflower means, the positives and the negatives to it. We thought that Charlie liked being a wallflower to a certain extent because it meant he could observe people and try to learn what to do in different situations. But the down side of this is that people may not notice you if you suddenly disappear, they would not miss you.

Overall we gave this book 6 out of 10.

The Perks Of Being A Wallflower - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you’re all well into the book by now, but if you’re not please be aware that the questions may contain spoilers. Here are some questions for you to have a look at prior to the meeting:

•    Discuss Charlie's reaction to his brother and sister throwing a party. What did you think about the couple in his room? What about Charlie's response?
•    Discuss Charlie's family holidays. Are there elements that are universal to every family dynamic? Has anything about Charlie's family surprised you? Describe aunt Helen. What kind of person is she?
•    Discuss the epistolary format of the book. Why do you think Chbosky chose to use letters as his narrative structure? How did this structure affect the book, both in terms of the story and in terms of your reading experience? How would the book have been different if Chbosky had written it in first-person or third-person narrative?
•    Several important issues come up during the course of the book, ranging from molestation to drug use. How does Charlie deal with these? How have the issues affected his friends and family?
•    Charlie has a few breakdowns. Do you feel hopeful for him? How much of his past explains his present?

Beautiful Ruins - Jess Walter

Not everyone managed to finish this months book, but this was simply due to lack of time rather than a feeling that they didn't want to finish it.

We felt that the writing was quite dense at times which made reading it a slow process although it was enjoyable at the same time.There seemed to be a lot of information given in the pages that took some time to take in. It was felt that some of the sections didn't seem to flow as well as others which also mean that it took some time to read.

As has been said in previous reviews, some of the book club members didn't enjoy the element of moving about it time between chapters. It became a little confusing trying to remember when and where we were in the timeline and who wa were following at times. We discussed whether this is the reason that most people do not read more than one book at once, as it gets confusing trying to get back into the story if you're jumping from different viewpoints or even different books.

Although the story was entirely fictional you could quite easily see something similar happening to a person such as Richard Burton. We liked that his character seemed to tally well with the impression we all had of him as a boy from Wales who struck it lucky and lived his life to the max. We loved reading about the love story between Burton and Liz Taylor, even though it was mostly fictional it was still interesting to see some behind the scenes elements that might just have happened. In fact Burton was one of our favourite characters along with Pasquale who we felt was really very sweet and such a gentleman when the chips were down. Obviously we loathed two characters being Galfredo and his hired thug and we were rather glad to read about what happened to them. We njoyed the character of Deane, he seemed to be some kind of Derren Brown type because he seemed to be able to mind read and give people what they actually wanted rather than what they thought they wanted.

Overall we gave this book 6 out of 10.

Beautiful Ruins - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you have all been enjoying this months book. Here are some questions for you to think about before Thursday!

•    The book's opening is reminiscent of a lush, epic romantic film—the beautiful dying Dee Moray steps off the boat and into Pasquale's heart. Although the book veers off new directions, is it still a love story? What kinds of love are presented in the novel? What, ultimately, does the novel have to say about love?
•    The book's timeline, locales, different voices and unusual text treatments (Hollywood film pitch, biography, unfinished novel, how-to book) are jumbled. Did you find it confusing, hard to follow, irritating? Or was the variety intriguing? What might the author be hoping to achieve by scrambling everything up? How would the book be different if it were told in chronological order with a straightforward narrator?
•    What is the significance of the novel's title? (It was first used by a journalist to describe Richard Burton many years after his marriage to Taylor.) Who else, or what, are the "beautiful ruins"?
•    The first sentence in the final chapter begins with Michael Deane proclaiming “This is a love story.” The chapter then reveals the stories of most of the characters in the book, ending with Pasquale and Dee. Discuss how their stories are lives, as the title suggests, of beauty and ruins.

The Girl With All The Gifts - M R Carey

** warning this post may contain spoilers**

We all felt that the book was written in a very cinematic way and we're at all surprised that the author wrote a screenplay for the book at the same time as writing the book. There certainly were a lot of highly dramatic and often gory parts to the book that we felt would work well on screen as well as they did in the book. This was also made clear by the fact that the book was written in the present tense but not in first person which made the book feel really fast paced.

This book is said to be about zombies but some of the book club didn't notice this at all, they didn't realise that the monsters in the book were zombies. We had a discussion about whether they were zombies or whether they were more like a vehicle for the fungus, we felt that as they didn't technically die until the fungus had completely taken them over that they maybe weren't zombies. This was also shown a bit by the fact that some of the zombie like characters seemed to retain some of their humanity especially the newly made zombies.

We felt that the author was sympathetic to the zombies rather than painting them all as monsters with no control which was a different way to go compared to the monster books of old. It was interesting to have a human painted as the monster rather than the zombies, although as we discussed the book we wondered whether we would be on the side of the human monster (Caldwell) or the softer outlook that Miss Justineaux portrayed. It seemed that the book was more about the relationships between the different characters rather than them just constantly trying to escape the zombies. We especially liked the relationship between Melanie and Miss Justineaux, this seemed to be the central point to most of the middle of the book.

We felt that the characters in the book were obviously tropes of traditional horror story books with the army types, the softer sympathetic character, the hard scientifically oriented character etc. but they were so well written that we didn't really care how obvious they all were.

There were a few interesting moral dilemmas within the book such as the one that Gallagher faces, we wondered if we would do the same as he did. We also discussed whether humans have a right to carry on existing and when would you give up the fight and realise that maybe it's the right thing for humans to no longer exist, at least in their current format. The ending of the book we felt was hopeful for planet earth, if not entirely for humankind.

Overall we gave this book 8 out of 10.

Monday, 20 April 2015

The Girl With All The Gifts - Questions

Hello everyone!

I hope you’re all enjoying this months book. Don’t forget that the meeting will be on 30th April. Here are some questions to think about while you’re reading:

-    What difference, if any, does the use of the present tense for the narrative voice make to our experience in reading the novel? Why do you think the author chose it?
-    This book provides the reader with a moral dilemma, do you side with Dr Caldwell in her experiments to save the human race, or with Helen Justineau and her difficulty with separating the children from what they really are?
-    How does the book portray the relationship between Melanie and Miss Justineau? Do you find it unsettling or reassuring? Does it change in the course of the novel?
-    How did the explanation for the apocalypse make you feel, did the scientific basis leave you impressed or terrified?
-    Do you view the ending as tragic or hopeful? And what do you think will happen next?
-    Did you enjoy this book, and would you recommend it? If you would recommend it would you let that person go into it blind?

See you all next week!

Cleopatra: A Life - Stacy Schiff

Only two members of the book group have actually finished this book and of those that haven't not many felt they wanted to continue with it. Everyone found this book incredibly hard going, it was dry, confusing, and in fact we found that we didn't actually leanr that much about Cleopatra. The language used caused some confusion as there were highly intellectual words used in the same sentence as much more parochial words which we felt clashed a little. We honestly weren't sure what kind of book this was meant to be, was it a highly intellectual history book, or was it trying to be a little more readable. Whichever it was trying for we felt it definitely missed.

We were all very disappointed that we didn't learn very much about Cleopatra, at least nothing that stuck in our minds given the odd language and writing style. We felt that we learnt much more about the male characters in the book, and even about the people who wrote about Cleopatra rather than the woman herself. Some of the facts that we did read we felt were things that the author could not possibly know, and she had no evidence to reallt back up, for example the fact that Cleopatra only slept with two men. Cleopatra did come across as someone very suited to the age in which she lived, she seemed to able to do almost anything to ensure that her name went down in history and that she and her children survived.

Along with the confusion of everyone having the same name and also changing the year when it suited them we felt that having some kind of simplified timeline would have helped the reader get their head around when everything was happening and how things interacted.

Overall we gave this book 1 out of 10.

Monday, 13 April 2015

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared - Jonas Jonasson

The main problem most book club members seemed to have with this book was the hopping backwards and forwards in time. It was felt that these bits might be slightly superfluous to the main story, but without them the book would have been much shorted, and possibly more interesting. The only thing we learnt from the historical parts of the book was that the protaganist had been around for a very long time and happened to meet a lot of the great historical figures from the past 100 years. It was interesting to have that timeline to see what things had happened during his lifetime but it didn't really add anything more to the story.

Moving on from the historical passages in the book we though that they were pretty far fetched and wondered whether the protaganist was making them up as there is no-one around to be able to check with. We also wondered whether he had some kind of mental health issues related to lying and story telling. We then went on to wonder if he had actually run away at all or if it was all just a dream, or he was just telling himself a story to pass the time in the nursing home.

We wondered whether the reason we didn't enjoy it as much as we anticipated was because it has been translated from Swedish. They might have a very different sense of humour than we do, it certainly seemed to be a lot drier than we're used to. We came to the conclusion that the Scandinavians definitely do have a wierd sense of humour evidenced by this book and also the Moomins!

Overall we gave this book 5 out of 10.

The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared - Questions

Hello everyone,

As we have a book club meeting on Thursday of this week i should probably be sending out some questions for you to think about. Please let me know if you’re unable to come along to the meeting.

•    The One Hundred Year Old Man is a novel with the topic of ageing at its core. What are society's expectations of how the elderly should act? Talk about the ways—obvious and not-so-obvious—in which Allan defies the usual stereotypes. What are your own experiences, either as an older person yourself...or as someone who worries about an older friend or family member? Does society do a good job in terms of how we treat our older population? Have you read other novels that explore (and shatter) a strongly held societal belief?
•    History and politics sit lightly within the framework of this novel. When it comes to international relations, what worldview would you say the author seem to hold?
•    A definition of "satire" is "a literary composition in which vices, abuses and follies, etc are held up to scorn, derision or ridicule" (Macquarie Dictionary). Do you think this novel is a satire—and what is being satirized?
•    At 100, Allan’s life is filled with important moments. And yet he does not seem to see these encounters as momentous. Is he na├»ve? Innocent? What does Allan’s own attitude toward his past and his present tell you about him and his view of life? Do you hold a similar perspective?

Hope to see you all on Thursday for books and cake!

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

The Cuckoo's Calling - Robert Galbraith

Most people at the meeting had finished this month’s book and everyone had enjoyed it.  However, two people had not finished it and therefore we tried to keep the discussion spoiler-free.  This was a difficult task but we managed it!

Everyone was aware that Robert Galbraith was a pen name for JK Rowling, which we found more off-putting than encouraging, as we weren’t sure how a children’s writer would tackle an adult book. But we needn’t have worried.  Many of the group had read the Harry Potter books and felt that, although there are similarities in the writing, (for example the strong character description) this book was quite different in style and content.

We thought that the characters were very well drawn and really liked the relationship between Strike and Robin.  Matthew was seen as a bit of a wimp, a boring person who was very different to Strike, with his military background.  We thought that Matthew was jealous of Strike and felt threatened by him, although he would never admit it.  Robin was originally very happy to be newly engaged and the centre of attention, but that slips away later in the book.  Matthew has very definite ideas of what a relationship should be, and Robin is originally happy to fit into this.  But working for Strike, and enjoying doing something that she has always been interested in, she begins to fell constrained by Matthew’s rather old-fashioned views.  We liked Robin and thought that she should definitely go for what would make her happy, but we did also discuss how she would feel if things were the other way round and Matthew had suddenly started a job he loved with a woman boss that he greatly admired – that helped us to better appreciate his point of view! 

We thought the plot was intricate, but that the clues were there to be found amongst the red herrings, so the finale made sense. The facts and motivations behind the murder are summarised towards the end of the book and some people found this useful (as an aide-memoire) while others thought it a little contrived, a bit like the TV programme “Death in Paradise”.

We discussed what impact the fact that Strike is an amputee had on our feeling towards the character, and we decided that it leant him an air of vulnerability but that although we did feel sorry for him we also respected him more for his determination not to let his injury define him.

Fame is a recurrent theme in the novel.  Strike is the son of a famous rock star but chooses not to capitalise on his father’s name.  However, it is clear that fame opens doors and other characters are much more susceptible to its allure.  We wondered if the characters are based on real people – for example, we felt that Evan Duffield was like Pete Doherty, and his need for the attention that fame brings was very obvious.  There are references to social injustice in the book and we thought that reflected the two halves of JK Rowling’s own life – the difficult years when she was trying to make it as a writer, and the sudden change to being in a position where everybody knows who she is and wants to be her friend.

Some of the group had lived in London and said that the descriptions of the city were very accurate.  Also, the cover was very atmospheric and gave a sense of place.  The things that we didn’t like were minor.  We wondered why the book was called the Cuckoo’s Calling, when the only person that called Lula Cuckoo was Guy.  This felt forced, as if it had only been written that way to justify the book title.  Also the use of the Latin aphorisms at the beginning of the chapters was felt by some to be rather pretentious.

Overall we thought this was a well-written book, with well-described characters who drove the plot, and written in an “old-school” detective style.  We gave the book 8.5 out of 10, with 8 being the lowest score.

The Cuckoo's Calling - Questions

Hello everyone,

I hope you’ve all been enjoying this months book and that you’ve all replied to me to let me know whether you’re coming to the meal after book club this month.

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

-    Good mystery writing leads readers astray with red-herrings. Who were you first suspicious of?
-    Were you surprised by the ending or did you figure it out ahead of time? If you figured it out ahead of time what was your biggest clue? If you were surprised who did you think was the murderer and why?
-    Using a hard-bitten investigator assisted by an young, ambitious "Girl Friday" is a classic detective-story trope. What do you think of Robin Ellacott? What does her character bring to the story?
-    JK Rowling is most known for the Harry Potter series. Some writers venture outside their notable genre and do not do as well while others have wild success. Which do you think this was for JK Rowling? Did this book live up to your expectation? Would you read other mysteries by her?