August – PARTY TIME (and Lolly Willowes)

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Wow, this will mark our one year anniversary. I feel proud of us for keeping things going. We are going to be reading Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner.

Lolly Willowes is a twenty-eight-year-old spinster when her adored father dies, leaving her dependent upon her brothers and their wives. After twenty years of self-effacement as a maiden aunt, she decides to break free and moves to a small Bedfordshire village. Here, happy and unfettered, she enjoys her new existence nagged only by the sense of a secret she has yet to discover. An instant success on its publication in 1926, LOLLY WILLOWES is Sylvia Townsend Warner’s first and most magical novel. Deliciously wry and inviting, it was her piquant plea that single women find liberty and civility, a theme that would later be explored by Virginia Woolf in ‘A Room of One’s Own’.

When: Tuesday, 12th August 2014, 18:30
Where: TBC – ideas in the comments/on facebook/ on twitter/ on email. Dinner would be nice, but (if it’s sunny), it would also be nice to be outside. And have round-ish tables so we can all talk. Two suggestions have been the Red Lion and the Slug and Lettuce (it’s replaced the Living Room at the Castle).

Jazz-Age July: The Other Typist

The Other Typist cover

New York City, 1924: the height of Prohibition. In a police precinct on the lower East Side young typist Rose Baker coolly records the confessions of killers and gangsters. But when a new typist arrives – the captivating Odalie – Rose finds a true partner in crime.

What: The Other Typist by Suzanne Rindell
What day: Tuesday, 8th July
What time: start to gather, get drinks and food in from 18:00, discussion to start at 18:30
Where: the beer garden of the Red Lion again (weather permitting, or off to FFTMC we go!)

Longbourn – the book for June

Longbourn by Jo Baker - book cover

It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any book group will eventually end up reading Austen… Or, in our case, something inspired by Austen.

‘If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.’ It is wash-day for the housemaids at Longbourn House, and Sarah’s hands are chapped and raw. Domestic life below stairs, ruled with a tender heart and an iron will by Mrs Hill the housekeeper, is about to be disturbed by the arrival of a new footman, bearing secrets and the scent of the sea.

What: Longbourn by Jo Baker
When: Thursday, 12th May. Book discussion starts at 18:30, but people start rocking up from 6pmish to grab food etc.
(note, it’s a Thursday this month, thanks to Stories Aloud).
Where: the beer garden of the Red Lion (unless the weather is horrible, in which case back the FFTMC we will go).

The June meeting – when and what?

So we need to decide two things – what do we read to discuss and June, and when shall we have the discussion.

Book choices =
Diddakoi, Rumer Godden
Longbourn, Jo Baker

When (as Short Stories Aloud has gazumped our usual day of Tue 10th) =
Thur 12th
Mon 16th
Wed 18th

Let me know your thoughts in the comments, Twitter, or on FaceBook.

Before I Go to Sleep – book for May

Before I Go to Sleep cover

Described as “An exceptional thriller. It left my nerves jangling for hours after I finished the last page” (and judging by the cover), I think the book we’re going to discuss in May is going to leave me in a gibbering wreck, sleeping with the lights on. Perfect.

Before I Go to Sleep by S. J. Watson.

Memories define us. So what if you lost yours every time you went to sleep? Your name, your identity, your past, even the people you love – all forgotten overnight. And the one person you trust may only be telling you half the story. Welcome to Christine’s life.

When: Tuesday 13th May 2014. Group starts talking books from 18:30, but get there from 18:00 for food and general gossip.
Where: TBC at this stage – suggestions here or in the FB group

Life After Life – Review

lifeYikes, this is a tough one.

I found Life After Life rather isolating to read: halfway through the book I became convinced that I was the only human being in the world who didn’t like it. ‘Dazzling,’ ‘Triumphant.’ All the reviews glowed, but I was left out in the cold.

The premise is this: Ursula Todd lives her life over and over again. If she dies falling out of a window when she’s five, she’ll get another go – this time she’ll avoid the plunge. Ursula is born in the idyllic 1800s, and watches the world change completely: we follow her life multiple times as she lives through two world wars, meets a cast of excellently-written characters, and slowly works out what she needs to do with her strange gift.

There are so many things to like about this book. The writing is gorgeous, the characters are enjoyably real (Ursula’s relationship with her sister Pammy is a real gem), and it was so good to have a female protagonist who showed complete independence. None of Ursula’s ‘happy endings’ involved a husband, and she was content with that. How many books have you read which feature that as a plot point?

And yet…I didn’t enjoy reading it. The idea of a reincarnated heroine was an interesting one, but in practise it didn’t work at all for me. Every time I was just getting into the book, it stopped and started again. There were no high stakes: sure, this life is bad, but I know she’s just going to die and next time she’ll escape the catalyst which led to her current misery. Eventually I gave up caring, because I knew that nothing was going to have any lasting consequences.

As a result, I can clinically stand back from Life After Life and say yes, this is a technically excellent book. But it never tugged at my heartstrings, it never made me feel anything for the characters. It never made me care.

Disclaimer: I may be the only reader on the edge who didn’t like this novel. Read it, think about it, make up your own mind about it. Join Gillian Flynn, Hilary Mantel and the Daily Telegraph, their praise right there on the book’s cover.

I’ll be the one scowling as darkness falls for the twentieth time.

Life After Life – the book for April

Life After Life cover image

What if you had the chance to live your life again and again, until you finally got it right?
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, a baby is born and dies before she can take her first breath.
During a snowstorm in England in 1910, the same baby is born and lives to tell the tale.
What if there were second chances? And third chances? In fact an infinite number of chances to live your life? Would you eventually be able to save the world from its own inevitable destiny? And would you even want to?

Life After Life‘ by Kate Atkinson, follows Ursula Todd as she lives through the turbulent events of the last century again and again. Prepare to wrap your head around multiple timelines and get ready to discuss a novel that celebrates the best and worst of ourselves.

When: Tuesday 15th April, 6.30pm (people are usually there from 6pm to eat food and gossip)
Where: TBC (suggestions on FB please!)

Be Awesome – Review

Be Awesome by Hadley Freeman

 

I’ll try and keep this review short and sweet … unlike the book.

Although we all enjoyed releasing our inner feminist and generally learning how to be awesome, it just got a bit, well, repetitive and the book lost its focus in places. Hadley Freeman is a journalist by trade and there were many of us who had read her articles previously and enjoyed them. However, reading a whole book felt to me like being hit over the head with the feminist propaganda stick … repeatedly.

We wondered whether if we had read the book at 15 we’d have held it up as our feminist bible and general guide for being a woman, and in truth we probably would have done. But it seemed that she wrote for the 15-year-old in us, rather than for the adult, and in all honesty going up against Caitlin Moran is a big ask, and in the book stakes, we don’t think Freeman quite pulled it off.

The themes and subjects she wrote about were interesting – media portrayal of women, eating disorders, dating, married with kids vs single but resolutely happy etc – but quite often she over-played these and kept circling back to previous arguments in an almost stream of consciousness. For me, there was nothing ‘new’ that stopped me in my tracks, and after reading the reviews I was disappointed that laughs were few and far between.

The best way I can sum up the book is to reference to the chapter pretending to be a ‘typical’ magazine article based on a meeting with the author. It would have been perfect had it been 2 pages long and short and punchy – and that, we felt, was the problem with the whole book.

I’m going to give this 2 Stars (2 / 5)

 

As an aside, how can you not think Love Actually is the best, most perfect Christmas film ever – and I don’t care if as a ‘modern feminist’ I shouldn’t think that!

More Than This – Review

More Than This by Patrick Ness

Warning: here be spoilers! Huge gargantuan spoilers.

More Than This is a young adult novel by Patrick Ness. It may also be a sci-fi novel and a dystopian novel. Or it might be neither of these. And that’s where the problem lies for me. The blurb of this book is:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.
Then he wakes, naked, bruised and thirsty, but alive.
How can this be? And what is this strange, deserted place?
As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

That’s a lot of questions right there. And having read the 480 pages of this novel I am still not much clearer on the answers. Our protagonist Seth dies before we even get to chapter one of the story. Or does he? He ‘wakes’ in a seemingly abandoned world which he explores alone for 172 pages until he encounters some other characters and the book takes a new turn. Throughout part one of this book it seems likely that Seth has died and is experiencing some kind of afterlife. Or else, as Seth puts it, it’s all a dream ‘the last dream before death’. After Regine and Tomasz are introduced in part two, the story becomes more to do with what happened to the people of this abandoned world, and why. Seth’s former life abruptly goes from being his real life to potentially being a virtual reality.

I liked the characters in this book. I couldn’t help but have sympathy for Seth; a boy whose whole life was tainted by a decision he made when he was eight years old. I liked the fierceness of Regine and her ‘never give up’ attitude. I especially liked Tomasz who was incredibly sweet as well as being brave and resourceful. I wasn’t as keen on Seth’s friends in his ‘virtual life’; H and Monica were fairly one dimensional and I liked Gudmund and his relationship with Seth until the twist towards the end.

The biggest problem I had with this novel was the ending. I felt that there was a big build up, where so many different ideas were set up, and then instead of culminating in a stunning finale the novel just ended. It was hugely anticlimactic and I found myself very disappointed that I would not get to find out the truth.

Throughout the novel we are teased with the idea that the world Seth wakes up in may all be in his head, or perhaps it is hell. Or maybe the world he was in before wasn’t real. Things in this world seem too coincidental. Seth will think about something, for instance, that it’s weird that there are no animals in this world and a second later:

Foxes, he thinks. Actual foxes.
At the very moment he thought about them.
Almost as if he’d called them into being himself.

The virtual reality plot was eminently plausible to me so I found myself very frustrated when it seemed as if this was going to be the confirmed reality only for doubt to be thrown on it when, right at the end of the novel, Seth says:

If this was my brain trying to make sense of stuff…the Driver would be there, half-burnt, insane with revenge, waiting for one last attack before we do whatever it is we’re going to do.

And then that’s exactly what happened. The Driver appears, against all probability and that’s the moment that really pulled me out of the book. When it ended without telling us either way which version of reality was the ‘true’ one I was left with a feeling of huge disappointment.

Have people discovered a way to live their lives online (so fully immersed that they don’t even realise they aren’t in the ‘real world’)? Or was it, as Seth puts it just a dying brain making up one last story? Did the manner of Seth’s death (the fact that he hit his head in a particular place) mean that he got a second chance to live? Will he make things right with Gudmund? Will he confront his parents about the way they have treated him? Did his brother Owen survive the attack by the escaped prisoner or was he murdered, as the grave in the ‘real world’ would suggest? What happened to Regine and Tomasz once Seth went back to the ‘virtual’ world? Even if he came back, were they doomed to wander around in the ruined ‘real world’ until they all eventually died? Or would the people inhabiting the ‘virtual world’ wake up and reinhabit the ‘real world’?  If not, would they survive now that Seth, Tomasz and Regine had destroyed their caretaker? Was the Driver just a caretaker and why was he so intent on harming the trio if, once he had incapacitated them, he was just going to heal them anyway?

Ultimately, I was left with too many unanswered questions for me to be satisfied. I came away from it feeling frustrated and, to a certain extent, cheated. I invested in the characters in this book and I was very disappointed to end the novel not even knowing if they were ‘real’.

For this reason More Than This only gets 2 Stars (2 / 5) from me.