Tag Archives: Book Groups

The Rendezvous & Other Stories – Daphne Du Maurier

I have to admit I don’t normally like short stories but that is what is great about Book Groups the fact they invariably get you reading things that you normally wouldn’t. This month for Rogue Book Group we have done The Rendezvous and Other Stories by a woman who is fast becoming one of my favourite authors of all time Daphne Du Maurier. Having loved ‘Jamaica Inn’ and ‘Rebecca’ being possibly one of my favourite books of all time would Daphne Du Maurier’s short stories be as good as what I have read so far?

The Rendezvous and Other Stories is a collection of Daphne’s earlier works. Some of them are inevitably therefore very short more musings than full stories yet that doesn’t stop them being completely brilliant. For example ‘Panic’ which is short but also incredibly dark and a little disturbing. ‘La Saintee-Vierge’ is almost a fable in its own way looking at a woman’s innocence.

‘The Rendezvous’, ‘No Motive’ and ‘Split Second’ are the three longest tales and though I didn’t love ‘The Rendezvous’ because all the characters annoyed me and I wanted to throttle several of them but it made me have a reaction. I did think that No Motive is a brilliant murder mystery of sorts and Split Second is one of the best tales with a twist of the whole collection. It does make you admire what a wonderful writer she was and how good she was so early on in her writing career.

There are a few duds I can’t lie. I found ‘The Lover’ slightly boring and it’s a tale of a lover getting what he wants with older women that I have read a fair few times before and seemed a little bit contrived. I also hated ‘Angels and Archangels’ it again seemed to be based on the sort of things that you have read a few times before about bad vicars and didn’t seem to have Daphne’s true voice ringing through it. These two were it has to be said the only ones I didn’t like, oh no I tell a lie, I didn’t like ‘Escort’ which is possibly quite a brilliant ghost story but the words ‘submarine’, ‘naval’ and ‘war’ really put me off.

However despite these three I didn’t love most of the time I wanted the tales to be longer. In particular ‘No Motive’ which is the first tale and is brilliant, ‘Adieu Sagesse’ which I thought at the start I wouldn’t enjoy but like all good Du Maurier’s has a brilliant twist, mind you for her this was a very light and comical twist. Most of the time she has a serious dark undertone and quite a cynical outlook on life which is something that I really like about her work, she likes to look at a situation and then try and add some darker dynamic or undertone to it.

It’s a great book for a book group as we both took really different things from each of the stories, also on occasion it helps to make sense of some of the more complex stories with their double and triple twists. I would recommend this book to anyone and would actually say it’s a very accessible way to start a love of Du Maurier if you have never had the pleasure before. If you have then I assume you would have already read it, if not I assume you’ll be ordering a copy now?

3 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Daphne Du Maurier, Review, Virago Books

Brideshead Revisited – Evelyn Waugh

So after leaving book group (I know shocking) myself and Polly have started ‘Rogue Book Group’ in which we only read books that we both already own or read the books that have been recently made into films and then watch the movie. Oddly this is how the previous book group started with ‘Memoirs of a Geisha’ so it seemed write to do it again and start with Brideshead Revisited especially as we both wanted one of the fabulous old covers as shown. See sometimes you should judge a book by its cover.

Charles Ryder is a bit of a misfit, he doesn’t seem to have a particular place in school society until he starts at Oxford and meets Sebastian (a grown man who carries a bear everywhere he goes) someone who is he warned to avoid. Soon the two of them have become the thickest of friends with an added certain tension in the background. Before long he is invited to meet Sebastian’s family at Brideshead. There he meets Sebastian’s mysterious and enticing sister and his domineering mother, the fabulous, Lady Marchmain. He also discovers the catholic undercurrent that rules everyone in the families lives some for good most for bad. Before long he is embroiled in the entire goings on at Brideshead and a tug of war for his attentions from the siblings. It doesn’t sound as thrilling as it is, seriously its brilliant.

I loved Evelyn Waugh’s tone and prose with his writing and I didn’t think I would, it was stunning I think one of the best written books I have ever read. I wasn’t expecting humour in the novel yet the scenes between Charles Ryder and his father were absolutely hilarious. In equal measure this book is filled with venom (Lady Marchmain) and sadness and it all mingles into what I think is one of my favourite ‘classics’ – hoorah, a classic that deserves its hype.

Sadly neither myself nor Polly had finished the book before we saw the movie (which is very good despite reviews saying the contrary) and therefore when I was reading the final third of the book the characters I had visualised clashed slightly with the ones in the film but didn’t ruin it by any means. What I found shocking was not the relationship between Sebastian and Charles but the obvious contempt for Catholicism Evelyn Waugh had, religion really ruined and tortured some of the characters in this novel and back when the book came out I can imagine a lot of people had issues with that.

A beautifully written incredibly deep and dark tale which is delivered subtly and I just thoroughly enjoyed, I know I will read this again.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Books of 2008, Books To Film, Evelyn Waugh, Penguin Classics, Review

The Night Watch – Sarah Waters

It has been my turn to choose ‘The BookRabbit Book Groups’ read this month, and I chose Sarah Waters ‘The Night Watch’ because it has been on my TBR for well over a year. IN case any of you are wondering what BookRabbit is then go to http://www.bookrabbit.com/ and join, it’s a wonderful and very sociable book lover’s site and forum, it seriously is brilliant, join, join.

So I had chosen ‘The Night Watch’ and have not long put it down and I really enjoyed it. I didn’t love it, but I definitely enjoyed it. By the looks of it sadly not that many of the other BookRabbit readers feel quite the same way. My only other dabble with Sarah Waters has not been ‘Tipping the Velvet’ or ‘Fingersmith’ those joys are still to come. No, my first Sarah Waters was ‘Affinity’ her lesser known novel which is a dark creepy gothic novel which I really loved and I think is more deserving of Man Booker and Orange nominations. So that and the fact that ‘The Night Watch’ has been so hyped might lead to why I would give it 4 out of 5 and not full marks.

Sarah has deviated from her usual Victorian romps to the wartime of the 1940’s. This diversion is an effortless one as I was totally in the moment of the novel and never once felt that what I was reading wasn’t real. Things like the rarity of coffee, the explosions of bombs, to the cost of silk pyjamas, Sarah had clearly researched the background to the novel down to the smallest details. Now to add to the change of time of her novel, she also decided to write it backwards.

The funny thing is when someone tells you that a book has been written backwards it instantly makes you think that a book is going to be really hard to read and this isn’t, it’s delightful to read. It also makes you think that the author has done something incredibly clever, which they have, but then again books told in flashbacks are quite common and also the fact that the start of the book was actually the end meant that obviously you knew the ending from the off and somehow that didn’t work for me. There is something delicious about digging through characters pasts and she still managed a few twists and surprises which is no mean feat it just left me feeling like I didn’t need to get involved so much.

All that aside, I did enjoy the adventures of Kay, Helen, Viv and Duncan although I never really liked any of them. Each one had a very interesting history and you didn’t always know what was coming which was great. The characters were believable and the story of sexuality in that time was really interesting to read about. There was one issue I had which was with Duncan (Waters first gay male character) and his back story which was utterly harrowing but was almost written in an overly calm way when I can’t imagine that you would feel calm about such things. Hard to explain when you are trying desperately hard not to give the ending away.

Despite the fact I have just criticized the book a bit I did enjoy it, in a market that’s so full of books about the war this is something different and Waters should be highly commended for this work, I’ll be really interested to see what she does next, and will be happily reading the two Victorian romps in the meantime.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Man Booker, Orange Prize, Review, Sarah Waters, Virago Books

Empire Falls – Richard Russo

The latest Book Group Book ‘Empire Falls’ by Richard Russo has not only won the Pulitzer Prize in 2002, it has also taken me ages to read but with book group books I have made myself read to the end (I have only not done this on two books London Fields and Suite Francaise both of which I loathed, the latter will shock people I am sure) in the hope that once I had managed it would be one of those books where you feel immensely rewarded and are thoroughly grateful that you persevered. Can I at this pint as its so near say I didnt have this cover and think they need to rethink it as this english cover is so boring looking.

In some ways I am but let’s start with the setting. Empire Falls is a sleepy and slowly failing town in Maine (but as we all know sleepy town have dark secrets) a town that is predominantly owned by the Whiting Estate, the head of whom is now Francine Whiting, sadly the story isn’t based on her as it should have been – more of her later. One of the many buildings and enterprises she owns is the Empire Grill, run buy our protagonist Miles Roby.

Miles is stuck in a rut, after coming home from his degree to look after his dying mother he has never left Empire Falls again. He is going through a divorce with the warped Janine, his daughter Tick is a typical teenager, he has an ongoing feud with an old school friend who is now the law, he’s doing up a church, his father is a money grabbing semi-alcoholic and is played like a puppet by Francine whose cat wants to kill him and crippled daughter wants to marry him. That’s quite a character isn’t it? Bizarrely Miles plays second fiddle to almost every other character in the book.

Francine is undoubtedly for me the star of the show and sadly doesn’t feature in the book as much as she should I wanted so much more of her back story. Her cat Timmy (who is a girl) certainly needed to be in it more as it made me laugh which was much needed fabulous light relief. Janine is a wonderful slightly bitter slightly reminiscent ex-wife who has just discovered sex again which led to her affair and shes not letting the object of her new sex life get away and wants to be heading straight down the aisle once more. The women characters were actually by far the best and I think had the novel been written from their aspects the whole way through I would have enjoyed it so much more. But then there wouldn’t have been quite so many twists in the end.

There is one big twist that though there are some seeds of thought dropped along the way was much more dramatic and in many ways darker than anything I could have come up with which has little to do with Miles Roby at all and did make me re-read the page. The other twists involve flashbacks of both the Whiting family and Miles himself and give the book an extra depth in a way. Sadly though despite a wonderful host of characters (Russo from reading reviews is a wonderful character author in general) and the invention of a clever town setting with its mysteries and shock endings the book is far too long and at points became a real effort to read, thank fully the cat would appear during some of these.

I guess the test with a book, and with a new author in particular (by new I mean one you’ve not read before) is if you would read them again. Would I read Richard Russo again, at the moment I would say probably not, however the more I think about the book the more I realise what a clever writer he is and how observant. So maybe he is someone to add to my TBR in 2009 pile, I guess time will tell.

2 Comments

Filed under Book Group, Pulitzer Prize, Review, Richard Russo, Vintage Books

Gold – Dan Rhodes

I love a freebie and the latest Dan Rhodes novel ‘Gold’ was one I picked up for free in a coffee shop, which must do some promotions with publishers, in Angel after a book group meeting a while back. Randomly they were shutting so we got the books and left, the waiters didn’t mind apparently they were disappearing like ‘God Dust’ we got the joke but didn’t really laugh. This had been recently put into my TBR boxes only to be dug out again after it was chosen as the next Book Rabbit (www.bookrabbit.com) book group, I have never done one of these online but have decided to give it a go as I quite fancied this book… today, right now. I am so glad I read it.

‘Gold’ starts when Miyuki Woodward arrives in the same seaside village in Wales that she comes to every year. She has made a pact with her girlfriend that they sped a month a part each year and her two weeks is always spent by the sea in Wales, she likes the routine. During the day she walks and reads, reading a book a day over two weeks so she has read the equivalent of over one book a month every year. In the evening she can be found mainly at The Anchor (but occasionally at The Boat Inn which has a hilarious tale of a landlord, brilliance) sitting reading and watching a whole host of characters. The most prominent of these are Septic Barry, Mr Puw, short Mr Hughes and tall Mr Hughes; the latter provided me with several hysterical outbursts as tales of his past and present unfolded during the book. One scene involving him in the pub steals the entire show from everyone and instantly you know it won’t ever be a film sadly as its brilliant.

Here’s a small part of a conversation between himself and Miyuki early one morning on a beach.

Tall Mr Hughes didn’t seem to react to this. ‘Sometimes I lie on the grass and fall asleep, and hope by the time I wake up I’ll have been torn to pieces by vultures.’
Miyuki swallowed hard as this image appeared before her. This wasn’t the type of talk she expected from tall Mr Hughes.
‘You don’t get many of them round here,’ she said.
‘Puffins, then
.’

The dialect is always quite witty and punchy but there are some wonderfully tender moments amongst the humour. Also the characters are so real. Every single one you know you could easily meet in a seaside town in its quite winter periods, with their in jokes, obsessions about alligators and routines. Nothing much happens in the book, but it doesn’t need to and one thing it definitely isn’t is dull. This was the most fun I have had reading for two hours in a long time, with tears of laughter streaming several times. I recommend this book to EVERYONE as a MUST READ; the title is perfect as this book for any reader is pure gold.

4 Comments

Filed under Books of 2008, Canongate Publishing, Dan Rhodes, Review

Grotesque – Natsuo Kirino

Hmmm, a puzzling novel this one. I don’t think I would ever have picked up Natsuo Kirino’s book ‘Grotesque’ if it hadn’t been the latest Book Group novel, though it does have quite a good cover and I do really enjoy Japanese and Chinese fiction so maybe somewhere along the line I would have. From what we had been told by the blurb was that this was a dark gritty crime novel about the murder of two prostitutes in Tokyo, there would be sex, murder and mystery all told by the bitter sister of one of the prostitutes, and it sounded really interesting. In reality, well…

I would not put this in the crime section of a book store, but then I am not a fan of putting everything in to pigeon-holes, pretty much from the start you are told who the murdered of one of the girls and probably the other, so there is really no mystery to that part. The mystery is finding out the truth in the differing stories as the book goes along.

I would say this is a fiction novel that happens to have murder in it. So, what about the story? Yuriko and Kazue, two prostitutes, have been murdered in Tokyo; they are linked, not just by the murderer but also by a school and by Yuriko’s nameless older sister. The novel tells of the sister’s childhoods then their time at Q School and eventually moves to the order. I have to be honest the school part bored the hell out or me, it just went on and on and was then told by both sisters which I understood was to show their truer characters but even the author writes as one of the characters ‘these words may drag’ and at another point with some letters says the same, is this a clever way of disguising the fact that the author knows that some of the book is aware that the story is going on and on?

Other than in these occasional parts the writing style is fantastic which made me persevere with the book as I did enjoy Natsuo’s novel. The book is told in several parts, first two parts by the vile bitter sister cover their childhood and the present time not long after the murders, from childhood Yuriko is a stunning girl, something that makes her sister bitter, distant and hateful towards her. We then have Yuriko’s diaries a tale of incest (which seems to be a common theme in the book and if you took it as a true reflection of Japan could appear a high concern) and how she uses her looks to get ahead in life, and what happens once they fade. Then follows the trial and statements of the accused murderer, his story of how he ended up in Japan illegally after fleeing China. Then the other prostitute Kazue’s diaries, her tale I actually found the saddest and most desperate, how she want from a high flying student, to high flying business woman who has to resort to selling her body for money on the side, before the conclusion. Bizarrely what I liked with this book is that all the characters are awful and yet its still makes you read and you find your enjoying how awful they are to one another. Maybe thats just me?

So I think this is much less a crime novel and much more a novel about Japanese culture and also the state of the society as a whole today, the selection process of schools, and their hierarchy that continues into adult life. It is also a deep look into the female psyche and how what happens in your youth and how you are raised and treated can lead you become the person you are, and in the case of some how it has nothing to do with it at all. I found that side of the book fascinating. It really is a rollercoaster book of highs and lows. It also looks at how women are treated in Japan.

This made the book more interesting and made you read on so I guess there was a sense of mystery, sadly the ending with its ‘ghosts’ and ‘visions’ – I wont give the ending away – is slightly, no is, a let down. However that bizarrely hasn’t put me off the author, I want to give her first novel (which has won awards galore) ‘Out’ a read at some point. See like I said a puzzling novel this one.

1 Comment

Filed under Book Group, Natsuo Kirino, Review, Vintage Books

The God Of Small Things – Arundhati Roy

I have had a copy of this book in my ‘to read’ boxes for absolutely ages, for some reason despite what I think is quite a stunning cover, I have never really had the urge to read it. That’s another reason why Book Group is so good, sometimes you have the books on the list you just haven’t gotten round to them so you get a little extra push.

I had heard mixed reviews on this Man Booker winner, some people (my Gran included) have said it’s one of the best books that they have read. People on Amazon, which I sometimes check to gage how good a book may or may not have been, are very mixed about it. Some say that the prose is some of the most beautiful that they have ever read, others say that it is over done and far too ‘flowery’. So I was intrigued as to what I would make of it.

As it goes I am very much in a confused state about this book, I would say 75% of me loved it and overall feel it is one of the best books I have ever read and the other 25%? To be honest I think there are far too many characters and too little concise clear explanation of who they are in relation to whom. I mean for most of the book I just could not work out who ‘Baby’ was, I have to say she is a brilliantly written mean bitter old woman. There were also various neighbours of the main family who actually had no bearing on the book and therefore seemed to be ‘fillers’ to the book and added to my state of confusion.

The story centres on the childhoods of Estha and Rahel (for ages I kept getting the boy and girl mixed up) and a certain few months that on several levels change their lives forever. You have flashbacks into the family before the twins were born and in their infancy and also the future and the aftermath of events at the start ‘unknown’. Its not written in chronological order which ordinarily I would not have a problem with, I managed fine with the epic craziness of ‘The Book of Dave’, I just found that where Roy is fantastic at her descriptive similes, she is not so good at letting the reader know where in the order of history there are. No the author should not do all the work for the reader but they should help.

Here descriptions are amazing ‘history the smell of old roses on the breeze’ and ‘dark blood slipping from his skull like a secret’ are examples of where it works, there is also the brilliant scene where they park a car amongst others in a car park which is compared to ‘gossiping’. The problem is that there seems to be a simile in every sentence and occasionally it gets too much and doesn’t quite work ‘Margaret Kochamma found herself drawn towards him like a plant in a dark room towards an edge of light’ it appears like Roy is trying too hard and that she is over comparing and it put me off occasionally. The Man Booker judges seemed to like it though.

However despite the slightly confusing story and over egging off descriptions when I had finished the novel and let it settle with me a while I started to marvel at how clever, well written, moving and beautiful a book it was. The more I thought on it afterwards the better I think it was a very confusing place to be in after reading a book.

1 Comment

Filed under Arundhati Roy, Book Group, Harper Collins, Man Booker, Review

The Book of Dave – Will Self

I was bought ‘The Book of Dave’ by my friend Michelle as we had a bit of an in joke on all things ‘Dave’ related. When it came to my shortlist of five books for book group I decided to add this one on as I could imagine that Will Self would be a perfect author for book group and this book in particular seemed to be something very different from what we have read up to now. It was chosen.

Will Self is an author that is a bit hit and miss with people, people either love his quirky tales and devour him or people are put off by the fact that he can come across as being too clever or pompous he can also be seen as being dark and this book is quite bleak, well very bleak, but he is an author that if you work at reading you will get so much out of. ‘The Book of Dave’ is set in the recent past and the distant future. The recent past tells the tale of Dave Rudman a London taxi driver and the lead up to his marriage and then onto its break up, a break up that affects him so much he writes a book to his estranged son. A book that is discovered in the distant future and spawned a major religion, in fact everyone lives by ‘The Book of Dave’ or else. Self uses this present to show us just what could happen in the future, and it’s not the prettiest of pictures.

This is by no means a quick or easy read. Firstly Dave is not instantly a hero or a likeable chap, he is normal, extremely flawed and at first I just thought he was a waste of space, my opinion did change as his character did. The alternating chapters between the future and the recent past are made more complicated by two things, firstly is the fact that they are not in chronological order, secondly you need to learn some Mokni. Self has done something which I was originally annoyed by slightly, the lazy reader in me, and then very impressed by… he has created his own future version of cockney based not on rhyming slang but on phonetics. I should add that there is a glossary in the back of the book that helps you, though a note in the front to tell you that would be helpful as I know that lots of people put the book down after finding the Mokni a challenge and not knowing the glossary is there.

The fact that it’s not in chronological order is slightly confusing but many writers use this style in order that by the end everything slots into place and with this book it does, and it has some very clever twists. My only slight problem was all the same names in the distant future, I got totally confused a few times, however with perseverance I was fine in the end. People will either love this book or they will hate it, it’s not for everyone. However if you persevere it’s a very clever story from a very clever author and one that I would recommend as being worth the effort.

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Group, Penguin Books, Review, Will Self

Judging A Book By Its Cover (You Know You Do)

Tonight was book group which as usual was lovely though sadly Kaylord had a bad cold. The book was ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ which we all agreed (bar ME – such a bloke tut) was fantastic, if a little too long and a little too clever for its own good sometimes e.g. when Ann Boleyn says to Jane Seymour ‘I hope you die in child birth’. I mean come on, isn’t that a little contrived? We loved it though; well you know I did as I went Tudor mad for a week or so. The venue was fabulous too, it was the Café in the Crypt at St Martin’s near Trafalgar Square and the food was lovely.

As we always do (bar poorly and her man) Muffintop, Fimmy and I all went to Borders (its open until 11 hallelujah) to get the next book (Cormac McCarthy ‘The Road’) which is where my little rant will begin after I saw this…I cannot stand books with film covers. I don’t know where this small rage has started and built up and built up I just cannot stand them. The thing is I am not alone; we had been discussing ‘Chocolat’ after I was raving about the film to everyone, yet I haven’t read the book. Muffintop said ‘I nearly bought that once but it had the film cover on the front and I didn’t want Johnny Depp feeding whatserface Chocolate like it was his phallus in front of my face on the tube’. And it’s true we do care about what people think of what we are reading even subconsciously, more of that in a minute.

From a marketing perspective I can understand that people might want to be seen reading the latest movie but why with a horrid vile cover, they are always so glossy it’s sickly. But then it cant be working as people aren’t buying them like people would, as you can see from the picture they are half price, and this annoyed me even more, where as the original covered version wasn’t. That’s madness!…Back to the idea of book covers on the tube.


I randomly had this discussion when I was interviewing Brit & Alex, they had read ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ and I made a joke of bet people know I am a puff reading that on the tube with its golden swirly writing and bodices. It’s true though. I always look at what people are reading. I mean if I saw someone reading a Mills & Boon I would automatically start making assumptions about them (not necessarily bad ones – I have read a few, shush don’t tell anyone) or if I saw someone reading a mammoth book on war I would do the same.

The same goes for my bookshelves too. I want fabulous covers that make everyone want to read the books I own, not the latest Hollywood star. I know authors feel the same in fact Stella Duffy did a blog about how important the shape of the key was on her cover and what images of London to use. I have bought books based on covers before, we all have. I have also not bought books for the same reason and quite possibly missed out on some gems.

People say you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but sorry in the literary sense… frankly I do! Right, rant over!

Leave a comment

Filed under Book Group, Book Thoughts