07 December 2015

“Christmas doesn't come from a store, maybe Christmas perhaps means a little bit more....”

OK so I missed last months blog post but today's post has double the excitment as I reveal our 'not so' secret santa gift giving from the Christmas party.

First though, a brief review of American Sniper from Novembers meeting.  Carrie and I took the lead for this group and we decided to change things up a bit by breaking the group into two distinct groups and giving those groups 7 minutes on a question.  In the time we had we managed two questions each and a brief get together at the end to have a general discussion all together.  We decided to do this as we wanted to focus on the questions the book could raise and not so much on the topic of the Iraq (or any) war.  It went well and keeping a time limit and focusing on one question at a time generated a lot of discussion.  Also we brought chocolate and that always helps :)

The questions we focused on were:
  • How did Chris come across as a person?
  • How did the book show his relationships, with his wife, with his team?  
  • Did you like having the wife's insight throughout the story? 
  • Do you view Chris as a hero?
  • Did you come away with a different perspective of war?
In general though we weren't all that enthused by the book and felt the pacing was all wrong.  Some of us had also seen the film adaptation with mixed reviews.  Both are available in the library if you want to give them a go yourself.

Each year we have a Christmas get together to enjoy Alice's mulled wine and talk about our different reads throughout the year.  This year we decided to do a secret Santa, here's a list of books given away on the night:
Image CC NUC Christmas Tree S Calhoun
  • Thursday Afternoons by Monica Dickens
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Tam O’Shanter: a Tale by Robert Burns
  • Tree of Crows by Lewis Davies
  • Transformation by Mary Shelley
  • Unless by Carol Shields
  • Alwena’s Garden by Mary Oldham
  • Not Without My Daughter by Betty Mahmoody
  • The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot
  • A Prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving
  • The Lorax by Dr Seuss
  • The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
  • Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom
  • H is for Hawk by Helen MacDonald
  • The Lady from Tel Aviv by Rabi’i Al – Madhoun
  • Let it Go by Dame Stephanie Shirley
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson
  • The Last Dance by Victoria Hislop
  • How to Felt by Anne Belgrave
  • Two Caravans by Marina Lewycka

Everyone seemed pleased with their reads, with only one person getting a title they had already read which isn't bad going!  I got The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skoot which I'm looking forward to starting tonight.
I have plenty of time to read it as we're not due to meet again until Wednesday February 3rd to review Salley Vickers The Boy Who could See Death.  

Until then enjoy the festive period and I'll see you again in 2016 :)

(The title of this post is a quote from Dr. Seuss, How the Grinch Stole Christmas!)

13 October 2015

The peculiar life of a lonely reading group blogger...

Although I am slightly peculiar this month's post is actually all about "The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault.
Bilodo had been intercepting her letters for two years now, and whenever he spotted one while sorting his post, he always experienced the same shock, the same shiver of awe. He would quietly slip that letter inside his jacket and only allow himself to show any emotion once he was alone on the road, turning the envelope over and over, fingering the exciting promise.
Secretly steaming open envelopes and reading the letters inside, Bilodo has found an escape from his lonely routine life as a postman. When one day he comes across a mysterious letter containing only a single haiku, he finds himself avidly caught up in the relationship between a long-distance couple, who write to each other using only beautiful poetry. He feasts on their words, vicariously living a life for which he longs. But it will only be a matter of time before his world comes crashing down...

Born on the north shore of the Gulf of St Lawrence, near Sept-Iles, Quebec, Denis Thériault has a degree in psychology and is an award-winning screenwriter who lives with his family in Montreal. His work has been translated into many languages.

His first novel, L'iguane, was published to great critical acclaim and won three major literary prizes. His second novel,The Peculiar Life Of A Lonely Postman, has already been published oversees and won the Japan-Canada Literary Award.

This book had divided opinions and we lovingly called it a Marmite book as you either loved it or hated it.  No one particularly liked the main character, but those that particularly disliked the book had problems relating to him and any of the other characters in the story.  It was a short book, 128 pages in the paperback, so we never really got a chance to get in depth with any of the characters.  

I don't think anyone was overly impressed with the haiku, but it did encourage one or two others to give it a go and was a good introduction to that form of poetry for some.

As the title focuses on three main characters one suggestion was that, could it actually be one character with three different personalities - read it again and let me know your thoughts below...

Until next time :)

P.S  If you read this post back you will notice it is in the form of a haiku

P.P.S  Regular readers know that blog posts are bad enough never mind my attempts at Japanese poetry!

14 September 2015

Down and out in Paris and London

Hello dearest readers and thanks for joining us for a look at 'Down and out in Paris in London' by George Orwell.  Apologies for the lack of pun/funny title for today's post, I genuinely couldn't think of anything amusing, must be the weather!

Down and Out in Paris and London, autobiographical work by George Orwell, published in 1933. Orwell’s first published book, it contains essays in which actual events are recounted in a fictionalized form.  [Courtesy of Encyclopedia Britannica online]
Image CC from Wikipedia

The majority of the group thought it was a book that gave a good social history, especially as set after the great depression, it gave good insight into that time (in both cities) and was very descriptive.  Interestingly, it was noted that the area in Paris is now posh cafes.  A lot of humor seemed to make the reality more real.  

Is 'enjoy' the right word to describe the book?  It was an interesting insight, but was it an enjoyable read?

Some felt it was like homework and found it upsetting and hard to read.  In saying that, although based in the 20s/30s, still felt it was relevant today.  We felt uplifted by conclusions.  

Was the author actually quite arrogant as he chose to live that life and could stop at anytime.  Also seemed to be in the tone of the book.  Seemed implied he went to his aunt in Paris for respite on occasion too, but could a book like this be written in any other way?

Are we better people for having read the book and will it last?

Has society's attitude overall changed? 

Thanks to Jan we also have a word for the month - Hecatomb - comes from Greek mythology meaning the gigantic sacrifice...can't say we don't learn stuff here!

So lots of food for thought this month.  What did you think?  Do you agree with our comments?  Let me know in the comments below.  

Next month we'll be discussing 'The peculiar life of a lonely postman' by Denis Theriault and the terrible puns will return as I'll think of something funny to write, until then...:)

20 August 2015

The balls in your Agincourt...(worst headline yet!)

Image from http://www.bernardcornwell.net/books/azincourt-2/
So this post has been sitting neatly typed up in my notes for the past two weeks and because I had typed it up I thought I had posted it here and clearly hadn't.  Once again, I beg for forgiveness dear reader, but while you ponder that have a read of our thoughts on Bernard Cornwell's Agincourt.

Before I submit my usual rambling, I want to begin with a hearty farewell to Anne who is moving on to happy times in Wiltshire.  We missed you at the previous meeting to say goodbye so for now virtual hugs and we hope to see you again, for now good luck with the new job :-)

Ok, to ramblings.

Bernard Cornwell was born in London in 1944 – a ‘warbaby’ – whose father was a Canadian airman and mother in Britain’s Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.  
He was adopted by a family in Essex who belonged to a religious sect called the Peculiar People (and they were), but escaped to London University and, after a stint as a teacher, he joined BBC Television where he worked for the next 10 years.  He began as a researcher on the Nationwide programme and ended as Head of Current Affairs Television for the BBC in Northern Ireland. It was while working in Belfast that he met Judy, a visiting American, and fell in love. Judy was unable to move to Britain for family reasons so Bernard went to the States where he was refused a Green Card. He decided to earn a living by writing, a job that did not need a permit from the US government – and for some years he had been wanting to write the adventures of a British soldier in the Napoleonic wars – and so the Sharpe series was born. 

Agincourt (Azincourt in French) is one of the most famous battles ever fought; the victory of a small, despised, sick and hungry army over an enemy that massively outnumbered it. Azincourt, the novel coming soon, tells the story of that small army; how it embarked from England confident of victory, but was beaten down and horribly weakened by the stubborn French defence of Harfleur.
It will come as no surprise to anyone that read the book that our first comments were on how graphic the violence was, especially the sexual violence, so not one for the faint hearted!  We were pleased with how historically accurate it was however some of us felt that the story got in the way of the history and that perhaps we should have read a nonfiction account of the time.  However, because it was historically so accurate it did make the story quite compelling.

We did however feel it was a bit like chick lit for men, even the cover was quite masculine, and could get quite formulaic in parts.  Some of the story felt rushed with odd bits of editing.
In general however, it was enjoyed and has sent us all on task to find out more about the battle, that era and more.

Next months read is down and out in Paris and London by George Orwell.
We're a fully subscribed book group at the moment, so if you have any comments please do post them below and I will forward on to the group at the next meeting.
Until then, happy reading :)

10 July 2015

Anna of the five towns...Builth ain't one of them

Last month we read “Anna of the Five Towns” by Arnold Bennett with mixed views at our recent meeting. Some did not like the book at all and others, although reluctant at first, were glad they had read it. A small number enjoyed it from the start.
CC Image from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arnold_Bennett

Quite a few people thought the early part slow, a bit heavy and grim, but enjoyed the descriptions of the town and the pottery industry, which Bennett knew well from his own experience. The passages where the working people went to the newly opened Park in their leisure time to listen to the band and stroll about were thought to be a much needed lightening of atmosphere and a contrast to the gloomy earlier feeling. Similarly, the Sunday School Treat for the children and their teachers provided a light hearted moment in a story which centres on a naïve, overly dutiful young woman.

Anna is the repressed oldest daughter of a former Methodist preacher who is an emotional bully. He is also a miser, obsessed with spending as little as possible and is proud of his management of Anna’s inheritance until now, when she has reached her majority. She had been completely unaware of this money. Although he seems to hand over this inheritance he really does no such thing, merely sending her to the bank to collect cheque book, passbook etc, then taking them from her, only allowing her to pay cheques into the bank, refusing her money for herself, even when she is to go on holiday with the Sutton family. He ties up a considerable amount of her income in a business agreement with Henry Mynors who runs a pottery, assumes Anna will do as she is told, which she does, signing the agreement in complete ignorance of any significance. It was thought by the group that Ephraim Tellwright was in all likelihood, just continuing the attitude towards his womenfolk that he had witnessed from his own childhood and youth, and perhaps a measure of pity could be given, especially as he says at one point that he has “never been happy”. We thought this all harked back to Victorian attitudes and that it didn’t reflect the more feminist activities i.e. the Suffragette movement, going strong by 1902 when the book was written.

The Suttons are a wealthy family and Anna is befriended by the daughter Beatrice, an indulged young woman in contrast to Anna, who has no servants and makes her own clothes. Anna is shown to be very unsure of herself in social situations with the Suttons and others, for example the sewing group of ladies, and is confused as to how to act. They encourage Anna to form a relationship with Henry Mynors and this is a major strand in the story. Henry is a stalwart of the Methodist church and courts Anna. We were not sure whether he did love Anna as much as it seems, or if her inheritance was a big draw! He was certainly overjoyed to hear it was £50,000 instead of the £10, 000 or £20,000 he thought.

The Methodist church is a thread through the story and is another source of confusion for Anna, who would dearly love to feel conviction of faith, but merely feels guilt that she doesn’t. The church is tied in with the key part of the plot involving a factory now owned by Anna, rented by Titus Price who is deeply in debt. Titus is a leading member of the church but we found him to be hypocritical; he is very unpleasant to a young girl at the Sunday School outing, having previously presented himself as a good Christian!

Anna feels sorry for Titus in that she has to hassle him for payment of the rent owed, at the insistence of her father, and particularly for Titus’s son Willie, a gentle young man, but ineffectual for most part. This small family provide the tragic element  in Anna’s life.

The story reaches an abrupt end and this was felt to be very unsatisfactory by most of us. It was felt that Bennett was in a hurry to finish and it wasn’t thought out properly. Perhaps he had a publishers’ deadline to meet?!!

On the whole, the group felt it probably would not be the book taken off the shelf to read based on the blurb, but several of us felt glad to have read it. Bennett’s own acknowledgement that he wrote to make an income was thought to be reflected in the storyline, but his empathy with his female characters and the closely observed, eloquently written descriptions provided us with some bits to enjoy.

Next month we're reading Bernard Cornwell "Azincourt" for discussion on Wednesday 5th August and if you want to get ahead of the game September 2nd we're discussing George Orwell "Down and Out in Paris and London"

Until next time...:)

09 June 2015

The group, the book and the library...

Last week we met to discuss C.S. Lewis 'The lion, the witch and the wardrobe' and tried out a new way of running discussions AND welcomed new members to the group (*waves emphatically).

We have decided that if we have a large group on the night, anything over 12 members, we will split into two groups to discuss the book and then meet up at the end to go over any key points and compare views of the groups.  We all agreed that it worked fairly well and seems to be the best way for the group moving forward.

But to the best bit, the review...
Copyright Rob Farrow and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence - http://www.geograph.org.uk/photo/333973

The majority of the group had read the book as a child and were re-reading as an adult.  There was a bit of a debate on whether or not it was still relevant for children today but we did agree its not as dated as some books of the same generation.  We felt the roles of females in the book were quite weak but possibly more empowered than books of a similar generation e.g. the famous five.

There was also a debate of whether or not it could be seen as a christian allegory or is it just a nice story?  On that some enjoyed the simplicity, the lack of description and allowing your mind to make it up but some wanted more detail - it had the bones of an epic tale but never really got there

Most were able to enjoy it for what it was but we did wonder if reading a modern children's book would be better and highlight the same issues?

Next month we are reading and discussing 'Anna of the five towns' by Arnold Bennett.  We are reading this as Deborah Moggach recommended 'The old wives' tale' but it was a bit too long for the reading group so we've gone for something shorter and hopefully just as interesting.  Available from the library, free library ebook and free ebook via project Gutenberg.

As usual and comments below or to our Facebook group.  We are now full, 25 members in total...wow, so please feel free to read along with us and post comments online.

See you next month :)

08 April 2015

Deborah Moggach fever!

Builth Wells Reading Group with Deborah Moggach April 2015

Yes, that's right we had a talk from THE Deborah Moggach, and what a fascinating talk it was too.  I'm not going to try and write up everything we talked about verbatim - as we know my note taking isn't that good - but also I couldn't capture just how wonderful the evening was.  So instead I'll give you a flavour of the things discussed and send you on your merry way to read some of Deborah's novels! 

We started off by talking about Tulip Fever - seventeenth-century Amsterdam is a city in the grip of tulip mania, basking in the wealth it has generated. Sophia’s husband Cornelis, an ageing merchant, is among those grown rich from this exotic new flower. To celebrate, he commissions a talented young artist to paint him with his young bride. But as the portrait grows, so does the passion between Sophia and the painter; and as ambitions, desires and dreams breed an intricate deception, their reckless gamble propels their lives towards a thrilling and tragic conclusion.  [From Deborah Moggach website]

Deborah went on to describe how the book came about and her real passion to tell the story.  It has also been made into a film which is due for release later this year so watch this space...meanwhile read the book :)

We were then treated to a bit of back story around Deborah's newest book 'Something to hide' which is due July this year, how the idea for the book came from different sources pieced together over several years to create a story which crosses continents. 

We also had a lengthy q & a session where we picked her brain clean about information about the characters in the books, how different the 'The best exotic marigold hotel' film is to the book and the differences between the book world and the film/tv world.  So many questions that I didn't manage to capture them all but you can take my word for it that it was a fascinating talk and I'll never look at Barry Norman the same way again.

If you want to know more check out Deborah website or even better check out one of her books (oh yes the puns are back) from the library.