Books · Jottings · Witterings

Authors in October – Part 2

Are you all back and refreshed from a tea break. Did you indulge in some biscuits? I did, books and tea lead to biscuits…

Katherine McMahon

So I am back in the second row and this time it is just Guy on the stage and Katherine McMahon who I met and heard speak back in April. Guy had found out (from the internet) that she is friends with Mary Portas and met her at Am Dram some years ago. Katherine confirmed this, and proceeded to point out the bags, necklaces etc that Mary had tried to bring Katherine more fashionably up to date. That’s what friends are for of course! I hope Katherine gives Mary books to read.

The theme for this conversation was forgotten books, and Katherine had obviously spent some time thinking about this and had pulled books off her shelf so she could remind herself and us of some of them. Rereading Jane Austen throughout her life has given her a different slant on the books as time has passed. For different times of your life the books resonate in different ways. That is something which I have found to be true when my reading takes different paths depending on the mood I am in and what else is going on in my life at the time.

But instead of concentrating on what could be called the classics as forgotten gems, Katherine recalled:

One Pair of Hands – Monica Dickens (Katherine is convinced this is where Julian Fellowes got all his ideas for Downton from! – recommendation then!)

One Pair of Feet – Monica Dickens

Jigsaw – Sybille Bedford

Interpreter of Maladies – Jhumpa Lahiri (Short stories, which Katherine described as like full novels)

Dusty Answer – Rosamond Lehman

I Capture the Castle – Dodie Smith (This book got a loud murmur of recognition in the theatre, and one I must get round to reading, perhaps a challenge for 2013?)

Katherine is another author who immerses herself in the world she is writing about and cannot read other fiction without the possible effect it may have on her work. Katherine is slowly coming to terms with being classed as a historical fiction writer, and I think she accepts this title reluctantly but accepts the one as being just an author the easiest to swallow. She has a full day as a writer, writing from 8-6 most days, and is slowly trying to embrace the world of social media and combining it with being an author although, I think after what might be called a Freudian slip it may be awhile before we see her back on Twitter.

Blogging is useful when you see something and you simply want to point out something and share with everyone. It is those occasions when you read or experience something that you want to tell others all about it. Blogs are great for that.  But perhaps that is what 2013 will bring to the publisher world. Katherine thinks and again she has a valid point, that the future of such an industry and authors is in the hands of us the readers. Keep reading they need us. Katherine  wrote about readers’ and the readers’ day on her blog – sharing the reading experience.

Can we have a round of applause please and lets bring on the next two authors

Clare Clark, who Guy could find nothing about on the internet, which was an achievement more than finding something. (I have purposely not put a photo of Clare up, to aid to the mystery – but they are readily available on the web if you search) And Roma Tearne, who is not just an author but an artist and film maker as well. And for the record plenty can be found about her on the internet. Clare is another author who fits into the historical fiction genre and one again, who is taking her time getting used to this pigeon holing. Sage nods from Katherine in the audience. I digress here to mention that some of the authors stayed to listen to their colleagues (if you will) and how much they were enraptured with what they were saying and also taking book recommendation notes. That really was something which I found most respectful and enlightening as a reader. We are all readers, despite our jobs!

Clare was great to listen to and I was really interested to hear about her story from working for an advertising agency, moving to New York , having two children and writing novels. She has packed a lot in to life and has a rather wry view on being a mother!

Clare also found it challenging to pick some desert island books. Do you take a kindle and therefore take lots and lots of books. Clare is a fast reader in this format, and can ‘consume’ books quickly. Do you take books you have never read or tackled like some Tolstoy and Proust (her choice not mine!) Or do you take something familiar and comforting. Roma Tearne was of a similar outlook and would take anything by Virginia Woolf.  The books that were mentioned:

A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry (A large tome which is looking at me from my bookshelf) was one of Clare’s choices.

The Master and Margarita – Mikhail Bulgakov

I have read neither of these authors, and did not recognise the name of Roma Tearne. I did have Savage Lands by Clare Clark on my shelf for a long time and tried more than once to read it, but I could not get into it. Perhaps I need to try her new novel Beautiful Lies, set in Jubilee year, financial uncertainty, riots and scandals aplenty. But it is not 2012 it is 1887 and Victorian London. Certainly piques my interest.

Roma Tearne

Roma’s new novel The Road to Urbino, a book set in London , Italy and Sri Lanka. The author having personal knowledge of Sri Lanka as she came to this country from there with her family when she was 10. This book meant a lot to the author as she took one theme of it, one strand and made a short film which was shown earlier this year. It was an interesting take on how an author sees their own work and what they can visualise. Sometimes it is left for others to bring the words to the screen, if it is lucky enough to be chosen to be made into the film. I think ‘option’ is the term used here.

Not having read the author’s work brings a different slant when you are listening to the talk. You are a blank page and what I liked the most about these two authors, was that there was no hard sell, there was no you must read my book or else about it. They have great respect for readers. Food for thought perhaps.

And it is that point where we break for lunch. Yum! A range of sandwiches, chicken and fruit. I topped this up rather naughtily with a wonderful slab of chocolate cake and a huge mug of tea!

Books · Jottings · Witterings

Authors in October – Part 1

I spent a whole Saturday in the presence of some authors – 10 to be precise at the Guildford Book Festival Readers Day. I had heard about this day from a lady when I went to the newbooks magazine event back in April, and I was really delighted to be able to go to this one.

As you can see it was a jam-packed day, and there is plenty to talk about so I am going to invariably split this up into more than one post – that way you will not fall asleep whilst reading it!

The journey was painless, and it was nice to be on a train and just stare out at the countryside as it whizzed past. I was there with plenty of time to spare, because I like to make sure I know where I am going. The Electric Theatre was so easy to find from the railway station that I will have no problem next time.

Lots of people milling about and time for a coffee and to peruse the plan for the day and have a sneaky look at the book stall set up there. I am always surprised at the amount of ladies at these events, there were a few men, but it seems perhaps that if men read they don’t want to spend the whole day talking about it? I am not sure how many people were there, perhaps 60 but it was a good number and great to see all these people enthusing about the books and the authors. I was also pleased to see so many people with little notebooks and pens ready to take notes and recommendations from the authors. I thought I would be the only one; it is this which is forming these posts.

Into the theatre and with a great view in the second row it was time to welcome our compere/MC/interviewer for the day, Guy from newbooks magazine. His unique way of welcoming the authors for the day was to find out some little known facts about the authors that could be picked up from the internet, some authors were much easier to track down on the internet and others were not – but I think all the facts did turn out to be true, even if they did need a little bit of explaining! I had an overwhelming sense of the day being like the BBC television programme My Life in Books.

Steve Mosby (Picture taken from website)

First up there was Sadie Jones (The Outcast, Small Wars and The Uninvited Guests) and Steve Mosby (Dark Room, Black Flowers plus more) covering what they had read in the last year.  Sadie is an author known to me I have read all 3 of her books but Steve Mosby was not, but I recognised the name. Steve was one of the first people to sign the open letter regarding the recent ‘sock-puppets’ furore, where in particular RJ Ellory admitted writing good reviews for his books and bad ones for his contemporaries. Steve a winner of a CWA Dagger in the Library for 2012, was interviewing Stephen Leather when he let slip about this, but for some reason as Steve said the journalists seemed to let it slip by. The name and now the face had a relevance to me. It was very interesting to hear that Sadie Jones had no idea of this ‘sock-puppet’ concept which was rather reassuring as a reader. I could also tell that Guy was rather disappointed in such a concept especially as Ellory had been at the newbooks event back in April.

When talking about books of the year, mention must go to the phenomenon which was/is 50 Shades of Grey. Neither author had read it, although they had read a tremendous amount about it (Sadie) and if it got people reading then we should not perhaps be so scathing that it is not a great literary work (Steve) and the only person that volunteered to admit they had read it in the audience – was me! When asked what I thought, I commented that it seriously need a good editor with a pair of scissors, dreadfully written with a lot of repetition but once this was all stripped away was not a very good story. I agree with Sadie and actually everything written about it is far more interesting than the actual book. I secondly agree with Steve and yes if it got people reading then fair enough. However it was worth noting and was something that I had never considered before that the publisher’s runaway financial success with such a book allows all those other authors to be published and keep writing so we can keep reading.

So what books did these authors mentioned, I will try and recall as many as I can, and for sure they are going to be added to my wish list which when you go to these events grows and grows like the perennial weed.

She came to Stay – Simone De Beauvoir

The Lighthouse – Alison More

Gone Girl – Gillian Flynn

The Reader – Bernhard Schlink (This was mentioned in the Meet the Author Session)

From what these authors said (and most of those there for the day)  whilst they are writing their own work they cannot read fiction for fear of it crossing over into their own work. They more read non fiction pieces of work than anything. In fact in some cases, using a particular phrase in their book only to have the niggle that it was used somewhere else, and having to seek where from on their own book shelf. That is dedication to a craft and to us readers as well and has huge respect.

Sadie and Steve’s writer’s day followed a similar sort of pattern – needing to get out into a pub, café and just type and have an aim for a word count by the end of the day.  Steve who writes crime fiction starts with character and then plot comes later. A rather intriguing way of dealing with a genre that probably relies a lot on a plot to be able to get to the end. Sadie dreamed about her latest book (The Uninvited Guests), the same house, and the same people in it and treated the characters and plot as a cake, making a perfect one to only then at the end make complete mess of it. The denouement and twist which is what makes the book good, and her metaphor was probably right!

So for these two authors, what is 2013 going to bring. A new book from Steve (although a bit behind on the deadline front) and Sadie is working on her new novel, a complete move away from her last 3, set in theatre and in the nineteen seventies.  EBooks are going to grow, which both authors acknowledged although they are not keen on them personally as a reading experience but if it again gets people reading then so be it. The hope that bookshops and independent ones continue as well and that any closures are minimal. Books as an object cannot decline (hear hear) there is something about holding that story in your hands!  Many of the authors throughout the day commented on such a thing. Books are wonderful objects for cherishing. Publishers have to make money and do so with the major sellers (50 Shades of Grey) but they must not forget the readers and their particular favourite authors and all the new ones out there.

I was very lucky that one of the Meet the Author session was with Sadie Jones, discussing Small Wars. There were about 15 people broken away from the main group; the others spoke to the other authors there about a particular book. It was lovely to hear what the author went through to write the book, the details researched and the time spent, (six months) with the army. Others commented (myself included) that she had captured the service life very well in the book especially as she had no personal experience of a service life and this was all based on research. The title of the book was something that we discussed and that was any war small? Was the war her marriage? When you have read a book, questions can come and make you perhaps look at things different. Sadie shared that she had received letters from male army personnel who served out there at the time, praising her for her work and how it had enabled them to talk about it some forty years later about what had happened. Although she was not an ardent feminist or pacifist to the point of being pushy, it was clear this was her stance. To write a book which dealt with this and also the rape tested Sadie as a writer as it did us readers.

Sadie was interested to hear what we as readers thought happened to the characters when the book is over. In the case of Small Wars, Hal and Clara were going to be alright; I think was the general consensus. Talk obviously covered her first book The Outcast where we all felt moved by the character of Lewis who Sadie loved and again, the process of what happens after we close the back cover and the book is over. It was really lovely to think that an author was touched about what we thought was happening to these characters once they had left her pen. This also comes back on the question asked as to whether there would be a sequel. Sadie comments on who is benefiting from the sequel; the reader or the author and if it is only for the author the characters lose some strength and it ends up in a rather overt soap opera style novel and the main themes are lost. It certainly no longer has any impact, which The Outcast certainly did.

And so time runs away with you and it must be time for a tea break. Whilst I buy two books; Steve Mosby’s which he signed and I bought another copy of Small Wars so I could have it signed by Sadie and also because it is over two years since I read it and discussing it, I felt I wanted to experience it all again.

Until after the break……


The Mystery of Mercy Close – Marian Keyes

It is always refreshing to find a Marian Keyes novel you have not read and even more so when it is a new one. I did wonder, as the author suffers from crippling depression whether we would get another novel for a very long time. But we have and I feel that Keyes has drawn on her experiences of her depression to give us this rather different story.

It is not a mystery in the sense of crime and murder. It is the mystery of a missing person – Wayne Diffney, a member of Irish boy band Laddz who disappears a few days before a comeback concert. Where has he gone? Why has he gone? And do the other band members know something? In steps Helen Walsh. The youngest of the Walsh Family girls which have featured in previous novels. This time it is her turn to take centre stage.

Helen is a private investigator and her life is missing – she has lost her flat, her friend and work. With no money, she moves back in with her parents. But Helen is missing something else, and she knows she needs quickly to find it before she slips into a downward spiral she recognises – depression. If she can keep busy by trying to find Wayne then she will be able to cope. But this case proves rather testing and she has to hunt high and low for Wayne , will she find him in time for the comeback concert?

Keyes writes a very brutally honest book about depression and although it has some humour in it, for me it was not as much as previous novels and this was a rather dark novel that felt to me it was teetering on the edge of developing into something that was very much not a Keyes novel. What did make me smile is how she took the demise and comeback of boy bands which is a rather common occurrence nowadays, and some of the characters I am sure where just reincarnations of some names of members of Westlife, Boyzone, Take That et al. I spent some time trying to match character’s to real life pop stars. Try it if you read this one.

If you are a fan of her novels then you will pick this one up and complete the set of stories of the Walsh girls. New to Keyes, perhaps try another before this one?

Thank you to Amazon Vine for allowing me the opportunity to read this.

It is a while since I have read any Marian Keyes, and I have read some previous ‘Walsh’ Family before. WatermelonRachel’s Holiday and Anybody Out There I have read. Angels is waiting on the shelf to be read. I found them much funnier, there was a bleakness to this book, and actually as I am going through a low time at the moment, it was perhaps not an ideal book to read to cheer the soul.

As I mention in the review, about the comparisons you could take with current reformed boy bands (or should that be man bands?) I am sure I recognised a Robbie Williams character, a Gary Barlow, a Bryan McFadden and the need for comeback being related to a need for money? But that is perhaps the Irish cynic in me? But then again it seems to be in Marian as well? 

I do hope that Marian is on the road to recovery and that she will produce some more novels in the future. 


Lemon Meringue Pie Murder – Joanne Fluke

At last Lake Eden is warm – in the first three books it has been winter and much as I love the snow – I thought it never warmed up there. But now it is warm – very warm and Hannah and the local community are celebrating the Fourth of July! What could possibly happen or go wrong?

Well a murder could put a different slant on things?

And so it does, but it is not Hannah who finds the body but her mother, Delores and to make it even worse it is in the property that Norman, a close friend of Hannah’s has bought so he can demolish it to build a dream house!

In fact the dream house that both he and Hannah designed. Does he have an ulterior motive? And will Hannah eventually make her mind up between Norman and detective Mike who has rather a jealous streak when it comes to Hannah. As the books go on,  I much prefer Norman – something about Mike makes me suspicious!

So what else can Hannah do but investigate this death, especially as at the crime scene is found one of her Lemon Meringue Pies she sells. But Hannah and her business partner Lisa cannot remember selling the victim one.

Upfront this time with the police, she starts to ask questions. It seems the victim knew a lot of people and for all sorts of different reasons. And it is the most unlikely people who have a connection to her, and Hannah has some difficult questions to ask from people she holds in great respect. In the meantime her contribution for the 4th July BBQ continues as does keeping  The Cookie Jar going.

Regular characters are there, and we now have the addition of Hannah’s sister Michelle who returns from college and brings her own take on things and adds an extra dynamic to the relationship that all three sisters have with their mother, Delores.  There is something reassuring about these novels and they have gentle rhythm, you know that good will overcome evil. Along the way there are some strong community minded people who are contributing to Lake Eden, to make it a good place to live as well as be a tourist. What more could you want from a cosy crime novel – which is where I place these books. I look forward to visiting again.

I read this book straight after reading book 3 which was my last review on the site. And probably because they are on my kindle, it was easy just to start the next one, especially when I finish one in the night and it is so easy to carry on with the kindle. I manage to balance it somehow so I can keep my arms warm and under the covers to carry on reading all without having to turn the page. I am not sure though that this is a unique selling point for ereaders. 

I resisted starting book 5, in the main because there are so many other books I want to be reading, but I can see that it will not be too long before I pick one up again. And I really must get and make some of the cookie recipes as well. Reading these do the diet no good! 


Blueberry Muffin Murder – Joanne Fluke

You got to love some cosy crime. And if you want to torture yourself with delicious sounding cookies then read this series of books! I am working on the basis that reading about them will not make we want to eat them! So far it is not working.

Hannah Swensen, the protagonist of this series of books is back in this her third novel. She is still single, living with her cat who
adopted Hannah and greets her every time she returns to her flat. She has two potential love interests in Norman the Lake Eden dentist and Mike the new Detective. Both these men are connected to her in more than a romantic way; Norman’s mother is friends with Hannah’s mother who is on a mission to make sure Hannah is settled down. And Mike works with Bill, Hannah’s brother-in-law.

In a small town like Lake Eden, everyone knows everyone else and their business and even if you leave town and then come back you are welcomed back with open arms. This happens to Janie who is back in Lake Eden with her boss, the famous TV chef Connie MacIntyre, think Martha Stewart and Fanny Craddock and plenty of endorsements thrown in for good measure.  But is Connie really as good as her image portrays and she seems to spend a lot of time upsetting people.

Then whilst Connie commandeer Hannah’s shop and kitchen (Hannah owns The Cookie Jar, the place for cookies and coffee in Lake Eden) something terrible happens. Connie is murdered and then no one can find Janie. It all seems rather straightforward.

But Hannah, despite being annoyed by Connie’s presence in her own domain, wants to solve the mystery herself if only so she can get back into running her business. Hannah turns detective again and with the help of her sister Andrea, her interfering mother, Delores and business partner Lisa, she manages to come to the right conclusion much to the annoyance of the local law enforcers.

In the meantime the first Lake Eden Winter Carnival is taking place, and there is a lot of baking for Hannah to be doing and helping organise as Hannah is very community minded.

This is a great story which encompasses all the characters from previous books and actually uses them in more details rather than in a passing reference. These are a great community read. You escape by thinking you slot straight into this life and would be able to pop into The Cookie Jar for a cookie and coffee, and meet up with friends at The Lake Eden Inn and be able to get involved in celebrating and sharing life with your friends and neighbours.

There is a rhythm to these books and whilst they are probably not classed as literary greats they are a good bit if escapism and if you like something light hearted then you wont go far wrong with these

I made comment at the end of the second book that I was concerned whether the next book would hold my interest – it did , in fact so much so that as I ended this one I went straight to book four and the review for that will be coming up in a couple of days.

Crafts · Cross Stitch · Witterings

Knitting and Stitching Show 2012

If you have been following my blog for a while or even dare I say the beginning, you may know that I have a craft creativity streak within me and I do share some stitching, knitting and other crafts on here. I get lots of ideas from magazines and websites but also from my annual visit to Alexandra Palace Knitting and Stitching Show. This is where there are not just stalls full of wonderful goodies to buy,  but lots of ideas and displays of what you can do with very little or a lot from, thread, materials, wool, beads, paper, wood the list is endless.

Ironically enough reading back from the last two posts about this in 2010 and then again in 2011 there are some striking similarities and 2012 is no different! So in summary, knitting is still very much the ‘in’ thing. Stitching is currently on the wane. The stalls with wool were mobbed, those without were very quiet. Ideal for me who is in the main a stitcher!

Yes, the waste of stall posts were there – the wonder mop and the magic iron! Leather handbags and chocolate! It sells the space and when you have a business head on, you realise that makes sense and it is better than empty stands but still…..

So what did I buy, not that much to be honest. Money was spent at The Blooming Felt stall which is so bright and colourful that I wanted to spend a fortune. But I got some more felt circles to make poppies this year for Remembrance and some felt purses which will end up as Christmas presents I am sure. Some buttons and flowers for decoration and I am good to go.

Decopatch is relatively new craft to have hit the stands, but there are so many things that you can glue patterned paper on to, that you could go mad with it! I didn’t, just bought a Christmas sign to decorate, and some Christmas coloured paper to decorate it with as well as more paper for the Christmas tree that I have been building from the cardboard tubes that you get from tin foil. It is a work in progress because I need a lot of tubes and don’t go through that much tinfoil!

When there is progress in some of these things, then I will update you with the odd picture or two! When the weather changes and the nights draw in, it is lovely to settle down with some crafts. And I really need to settle down with what I bought last year! It has not been touched since I got it, apart from me moving it in and out of my way in the living room.

But I could have this to keep moving round the living room:


This is a joint piece of work from many knitters round the country to form a Knitted Village. What can you spot from this small selection of pictures?

Craft is a wonderful thing that brings lots of ideas and people together. My mum and I included.

Oh and if you are wondering about the coach journey, as rereading my previous posts I do mention it! We sat in front of two ladies that did not draw breath from the moment they got on to the moment they got off on the way there….. and on the way back. I know everything about their medical conditions, their dislike of their doctor, what books they read (that was fairly interesting I admit), what their families are doing for Christmas, one daughter’s trouble with working shifts, granddaughter’s love of sweets, what food they eat, where they buy it, Buckingham Palace, how late they will be home…..on….and…..on…..and….on. They never once mentioned whether they enjoyed the day!

But the best of the journey has to go to the lady who asked the coach driver about the possible delays around Wembley Stadium (England were playing a home match that evening and it may have effected the journey back ).

Lady “You would think that Wembley would contact you and tell you that there will be heavy traffic on such a day”

Coach driver “they expect us to keep up to date with traffic, not inform us”

Lady “But it would be much easier if they told you”

Coach driver silent.

I am sure Wembley have the time, money and people to ring up every coach company up in the UK (or should that be Europe?) and warn them that their will be a football match and traffic might be bad, on the off-chance that one of their coaches might just happen to be going past Wembley. I am with the coach driver on this one silence.

And so until next year…….


East Fortune – James Runcie

This is an ordinary book where nothing extraordinary happens – life just happens. Probably not the best way to start a book review but actually I mean neither of these things in the negative

James Runcie has written a book using the basis of family and all its beautiful moments and some of its uglier ones as well. The book opens rather startlingly when Jack Henderson is involved in a car accident. A young man walks out in front of his car with the intent of ending his life. Jack cannot do anything to prevent what happens, but he somehow gets caught up with this boy’s family and attends the funeral and meets his girlfriend Krystyna. Suddenly Jack’s life changes. He no longer thinks of just his work.

His younger brother Doug on the other hand, is probably heading for his own crash. His drinking is taking over his life, and he risks everything he has to be with a woman he knows nothing about and who seems to be doing all the controlling whilst Doug does all the running. His work and his marriage suddenly turn into a downward spiral and he seeks solace at his family home.

The eldest Angus, has it all and then it is taken away from him suddenly and unexpectedly when he loses his job. But his strength is his family and he makes plans with his wife for them to embark on a new adventure. This could be all about to change though, as the eldest can suddenly find himself with new responsibilities which might keep him nearer to home.

Their childhood family home, East Fortune always brings them together when times are hard and  difficult. There they revert back to children, to the bickering they had as such and the need to be centre of attention for one of them. They all seek reassurance from their father, who is disappointed in their actions and never seems to give them what they need. Their mother is the peace keeper and wants a perfect family life. But for her as well, she is going to find that this comes at a cost and now broken marriages, divorce, affairs and younger girlfriends, living away from the place you were born are actually all part of what makes a family. What brings them together is a tragedy but after this has happened their lives will move on yet again.

This is a very male dominated book, and I was intrigued by the characters as such, I instantly disliked Doug something about him grated, whether it was the drinking or just simply how he spoke to everyone else. There was nothing appealing about him, which made me question all the more how he ever managed to embark on an affair with a woman far glamorous than him. Angus is rather in the back seat in terms of the brothers. In some ways quite forgettable. Jack on the other hand is not. On the face of it, a divorced man in his fifties who is absorbed by his work, but actually has some sort of passion that he needs to feed and which is brought out in the most unlikely of places. As I read this book, I kept thinking about how the opening events were affecting Jack.

And so the book ends, at just under 250 pages this is a short book but one which strikes a chord. So much goes on in families, that it is all rather contained and within it they make good stories. A book with nothing and everything contained within the pages. An interesting read.

A rather different book of choice for me and the reason for the choice was I am attending Guildford Book Festival Readers Day on Saturday and one of the authors is James Runcie. Part of the day is a discussion similar to a book group with two authors, (you had to select authors in preference upon booking) one of the authors that I have been given is… James Runcie. The festival choose the book for you and……East Fortune was the choice so here I am. It was certainly a book I would never have read and as I read his newest work, Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death earlier this year I am intrigued by his writing. 

I admit to being a bit teary eyed with this book, the funeral scenes were handled beautifully and whilst I am still dealing with the grief associated with losing someone in my family it was still very raw. For me the book reiterated the value of family and the strength within them. Something that as you start to lose people, for whatever reason you draw on more and more. 

A very different book to Sidney Chambers and I am now interested in some of his other work and see how that compares to the two books I have read. Plus I am looking forward to hearing him talk. 


Book Club #5 – House Rules – Jodi Picoult

The three faces that I used in the last book club seemed to work so I thought I would keep that going for future groups. It is a good ice breaker.

This time we had 3 likes, 1 not sure and 1 dislike. I do so love it when we don’t all agree. It really makes for an interesting discussion, and then I sometimes feel different about the book and I am sure the others feel the same.

For me and you can probably tell from my own review which featured on the blog a few days ago, that I liked it. I was surprised, I thought it was going to be all American and shmaltzy and I enjoyed it, especially the crime aspect of the book. However, I was aware that not being a mother I might be looking differently at this book. I was intrigued by some of what Jacob did and questioned whether we all had perhaps a form of autism. K says we are all on the spectrum somewhere, in which case there is no such thing as ‘normal’ or as the book says ‘neurotypical’.

K a mother and has personal experience of a child with social interaction issues, and she loved the book. She related to it and could understand so much, but at the same time she was also aware that there were lots of things that were not covered in the book. K found the book upsetting because of her own experiences, which she was very honest about with the rest of the group. The main question that everyone raised was? Why did Emma not directly ask Jacob is he had committed murder. He would tell the truth, he could never lie.

L enjoyed the book, and it had only taken her about three days to read. Nothing like putting yourself under pressure, but C finished it literally before stepping across to mine and S had not finished it because she was not quite sure. K had only finished it that morning. It was a chunky book. But all of us decided that it was perhaps about 200 pages too long – there was a lot repeated. A lot of situations to describe Jacob’s behaviour was the main repetition, although with different perspectives but they were still repeated, and laboured the point a bit too much. Interestingly we all worked out the outcome of the book, fairly early on and I think this added to the dislike of the length of it; it seemed to take a long time to get there.

Starting with the structure of the novel, the relatively short chapters, which alternated between the characters I think worked, but C disagreed. She felt that she was not absorbed in the story enough, as it jumped from one to another. S agreed and she thinks that is maybe one of the reasons she was not sure about the book. I liked this structure, because it gave the whole picture from everyone’s point of view. Ironically, we went from our last book which had no structure and was one complete narrative with no breaks to this which was short and had breaks every couple of pages.

To aid discussion, I posted a link on our clubs Facebook page to a review on the book, written by a lady who had two children, one with Asperger’s and one without. It was an interesting take on the novel and she was honest in what she said and it did make me revisit the way I had perceived the book. C was cheering at the lady who had written something that explained how she was feeling. The overall opinion, which K picked up on was that Emma let Jacob and his Asperger’s rule his life, her life and her family’s. There was nothing else.  Everything was for him, down to the specific days for the colour of the food. Why did Emma try and not teach her son that this was perhaps not an acceptable way of living a life?  Protecting him from everything and letting him have everything was not helpful in K’s eyes.

Everything he hated was adhered to. Some of our things we could not stand were; nails scratching down a blackboard, towing the caravan; the sucker (sorry don’t know the technical term) at the dentist, poor hygiene and even down to following a path or structure and it all going a bit wrong. These were all things that although we cannot stand we don’t avoid. C continues to tow the caravan, K still goes to the dentist….. it led to what K called the ‘oops’ moment. In other words how do you deal with something when it is not planned and happens unexpectedly.

The moment the girl came to meet Jacob to go to the prom and was wearing an orange dress (orange being a colour Jacob hated) and the way Jacob would have to deal with it. As K says and we all agreed life has a way of throwing plenty of ‘oops’ moments at you! All of us wondered why Emma had let her life be overtaken by Jacob’s condition. It was refreshing to have Oliver come along and tell Jacob and to some extent Emma – tough you are going to have to deal with these situations without any preparation.

The ‘crime’ element of the story was important and from a question ‘if the plot element of Jacob’s love of forensics was not there – would the book have been different’. Overwhelmingly, whether we liked the book or not, forensics was an important part of the novel. Jacob’s all over consuming passion for this was what hindered him and saved him in the end. The setting up of the crime scene, both real and fake as a test was an important turning point in the novel. The real life criminal case studies which were interspersed throughout the book, which focused very much on forensics were irrelevant to all of us. In fact most did not bother reading them as they brought nothing to the actual plot of the story. It was if Picoult had done this research and needed to put it in a book somehow.

But we never know the outcome – and if we were on the jury what way would you have gone. For most of us, there was no finality to the book, despite the case study at the end which still did not tie up the loose ends of what happened to Theo, what happened to Jacob. What justice was there if any? Funnily enough, none of us could say what way we would have voted in terms of guilty or not guilty – because we do not know what happened once the truth was out and they returned to the courtroom. Without that we decided that you could not make a fair choice.

There was plenty of laughing moments in the book – especially when it was white food day and Oliver was trying to understand his client more and he strolls in drinking coke; definitely not a white food item! The honesty of the interactions and the confusion of life’s rules was discussed. None of us are sat down and taught to say the things we do – when someone asks how we slept. We say good or bad. Jacob says on his stomach. The world is actual and literal to him and as K explained from her own personal experience that is the case. So much we know which is just simply learnt as we grow up and still as adults I believe we still learn. How many of us, have said the wrong thing and regretted it?

This discussion (and this blog post) could run on and on as there was plenty to talk about and we kept going whilst a second cup of tea was made and more scrummy nibbles were consumed. K pointed out that the subsequent house arrest that Jacob was put under was actually no different to the  years he had lived anyway. Emma had imposed a certain amount of house arrest on them anyway. House arrest under another name.  I thought I would end the group with some pictures of different covers which have been used for this novel. We all agreed that the cover we had been the one we liked the most (posted earlier in this blog post). The first two below were too much child like and as S said whilst reading the book you had to keep reminding yourself that Jacob is not a child but an adult. The third seemed rather an odd cover, but remarkably looks like the author and the fourth makes sense but only if you have read the book (but still has a child like element to it).

And so another book club comes to an end;a recommendation to read Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by C, who felt this book was a better reflection dealing with the issue of autism/Asperger’s. Looking back at my review, I think that book did it more succinctly than perhaps this one.

And so now we are onto book six….

Books · Jottings · Witterings

Jottings #9 The Next Chapter

How many of us get to the end of a television programme we particularly like watching and as the end credits roll, we see what is going to happen ‘next week’, ‘next time’, ‘next episode’. Do you watch these clips? Or do you frantically try and find the controls (of which I am normally sitting on) and turn over or off to keep that suspense until the next time you tune in?

Me, I like watching it, it gives me a taster and if truth be known, probably within 24 hours I have forgotten it anyway. So why when I get to the end of a book, and the first chapter of the next book can be found do I shudder and not read it?

Surely it is no different to that little clip at the end of the programme?

So many books I have picked up lately have the first chapter of the author’s new book, or the next book in the series at the back.

In some ways, if it is a book in the series then it is just a follow on which is not too bad and if you have the next book in the series ready, then a smooth transition perhaps.

But what if it is an opening chapter of a book which is not published for another 18 months? Surely that is dangling the proverbial carrot to ensure readers come back for more. And to be honest, will it be the same first chapter that actually gets into the book when it is finally published?

I like books that end, that have a definitive ending where either the loose ends are all tied up or those that are left hanging are left more for the reader to think and reflect and where perhaps a sequel is possible. There is some satisfaction when you can just close the book and think ahhhh. But now we turn the page and we are launched straight into something else our attention is grabbed once again.

I have learnt not to read on. And I question why I am bothered by this, because I am not by the visual medium of doing it?

I asked this question through the wonderful world of twitter [thank you to everyone who responded] and I got some interesting response back; in the main a similar outlook as myself;

“Not keen. Prefer to savour closing chapter. Smacks too much of TV-style serialisation”,

“always annoys me as I always think actual book is going to be longer” [I agree with this point – you think you have pages to the end and you don’t!]

“am definitely not a fan. ruins previous book for me as I read it as an epilogue, normally”,

“I never read them because then I’ll have to anxiously await the new book after getting hooked.” [Quite!]

“understand why they do it, but I never read them. One might argue they are a waste of a tree – or at least a branch”

What do you think?


The Saturday Supper Club – Amy Bratley

The idea of this book is a quite a good one, and was one of the reasons I picked it up.

In the mind of the successful Channel 4 programme Come Dine with Me, Amy Bratley has taken the idea of four strangers going into each others homes, to cook a dinner party, with one eventual winner. Their lives suddenly become entwined and we get to learn how they get on and what they think of each other.

The twist with this novel; two of the guests actually know each other. Eve opens the door at the first Supper Club to Ethan. Her ex boyfriend who ran out on her three years previous without so much as a letter explaining why. Ethan still loves Eve and Eve is not prepared to admit that she probably still has feelings for him too. But why did he leave? And will we ever find out?

It was dragged out for too much of the book and when it came the outcome of the rest of the book was going to be very predictable.

And so the novel progresses, the Supper Club seems to take a back seat and the additional guests, Andrew and Maggie were mere vehicles for bringing Eve and Ethan together. Add into this mix, Eve’s family; her older sister Daisy, and her dad and his new girlfriend, finally finding love after the death of  Eve’s mother.

I was disappointed with this novel, it did not satisfy me, and I was glad when it ended. The characters were not strong enough, and I did not feel I could connect with them or feel for them when they made the choices they did. If you want a novel that requires very little effort on the readers part then this book is ideal.

I had high hopes for this book, I started to like Eve and her boyfriend Joe from the beginning, the idea of her opening a cafe, her mothers recipes helping heal rifts had lots of strength to it. But then it all sort of went wrong and the momentum was lost, the cafe took a back seat, the supper club was forgotten, were we ever going to find out the winner?  A sentence is dropped in, in case you were wondering!

It was too predictable, and whilst I can invariably work out what is going to happen, I do like the point of “what if I have got it wrong”, there was none of that with this novel, I knew and I was right. There was no escapism and suspense of belief and absorption with the storyline. Simply not the book for me.

I read this book because I wanted to seek comfort in my reading and when this happens my normal book of choice is something like this in terms of topic and genre. I should have stuck to something by Katie Fforde, Marian Keyes or Sharon Owens perhaps.