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Bream Reading Club Reviews The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

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The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova

Stars out of 5: 2.5

At one end of the spectrum our members really enjoyed this book, on the other end the word used was ‘insufferable’.

To break it down, The Historian is an in-depth tracking down of the real Draculya, not the Hollywood version but the historical man as well as the mythology surrounding him. The book is weighed down in detail, and relies far too much on letters to convey vast amounts of information. Bram Stoker’s Dracula is mentioned a number of times in the book as if to form a direct comparison. Letters are also used in Bram’s book, but they used far more effectively.

The true genius of this book was the way different time lines were woven together with apparent ease. Every character is carefully maintained in each story stream and you learn each characters history as well as the historical quest they are following. The prose is many places is beautiful and exceptionally well written.

The disappointment is that the characters never truly find their voice. They are more like cardboard cut outs filling in their scenes with no development or growth. None of us became invested in any of the characters no matter what threat they were facing. It appeared to us that the characters were sacrificed entirely on the altar of pure history.

Too many times this book read like a dry history, something more akin to a textbook than anything suspenseful, which appeared to us to be a lost opportunity that could have been something truly epic.

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Bream Reading Club Reviews The Shining by Stephen King

51Kf+jjhR0L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_Stars out of 5:  3.5

For two of our members this was re-read so they didn’t enjoy as much as they did the first time round. That said we all agreed there were parts so well written you had to stop and just think about them, and other parts that were unnecessary in being over-descriptive and a bit of a waffle.

Discussing the characters:

The Boy: Danny was written as a far more mature character than a real 5 year old would be, since all of us are mothers, that part stood out for all the wrong reasons. Even though his parents acknowledged his maturity, his emotional maturity being that high just wasn’t believable. His perceptions are clear and uncluttered and his emotional development at the end of the book is far more realistic. Danny’s character is way better on his own compared to when he is interacting with his parents.

The Father: Jack’s alcoholism and uncontrolled anger is written exceptionally well, he is a person who doesn’t take responsibility for his actions, he is an addict, and he is selfish and ultimately thinks a great deal more of himself than is healthy. He begins as an angry addict forcing himself to stop and hates how his past keeps getting thrown back in his face. He hates how his wife surreptitiously checks his breath. He hates how people don’t trust him anymore. He wants all the past badness to be erased and trust fully restored. His relationship with his own father offers some explanations for his behaviour and attitudes towards alcoholism, bullying, assault and women. His stay at the hotel takes him down the road to madness and his rage seems to speed him along that path.

The Mother: Wendy is interesting in her psychological dependence on Jack and the thread that runs back to her own mother. She cannot leave Jack because going back to her mother would be ‘worse’. Why could she not stand on her own? She appears to have no other recourse. She is portrayed as conflicted, wishing to keep her family together despite undeniable proof that something is very wrong. She continues to hope unrealistically to achieve some ‘happy family’ somewhere down the line. At the hotel her strength shows far more, and ultimately she protects her son and herself from her maniac of a husband.

The Hero: (In our view) Mr Halloran.  The most well rounded character in the whole book. Wise, funny, practical, kind and courageous, salt of the earth kind of person. He takes Danny under his wing so to speak and makes sure that Danny knows he has a friend he can call on if he gets into trouble.

Discussing the Story:

It is essentially a ‘haunted house’ story. Jack gets hired as the winter caretaker of a long established hotel with a checkered history. He brings his family with him. Danny is psychic and can read surface thoughts, Mr Halloran refers to this as ‘shine’ as he too has this skill though Danny is the strongest one he has ever come across. With Danny’s super perception he sees a whole lot more at that hotel and it is frightening to him. In a short time Jack is being influenced negatively by the malevolent spirits in the hotel which ultimately compel him to murder his own family. The spirits want Danny because of his amazing gift. The story has a happy ending in that Jack’s body is killed by Wendy in self-defence, Mr Halloran arrives just in time to save Danny and Wendy, the hotel blows up because the boiler ‘creeps’ and the malevolent spirit is torn free of the hotel and is pulled apart by the wind. Wendy and Danny start a new life, where Wendy is standing on her own feet and Mr Halloran is a firm family friend.

The issues:

There are elements that didn’t make sense. There was overstatement, some repetition and too much description. The fright parts were well written, designed to make you startle. There were some areas that had such potential but weren’t explored.

Mr Halloran experiences obstacles his entire trip back to the hotel on his rescue mission. If this stalling was meant to be suspenseful it wasn’t necessary. The nail biting wait for him to get there was already enough. Were the ghosts making it next to impossible for him to get there? Was Danny’s proximity to the ghosts making this possible?

The Unanswerables:

Why were the hedge animals outside the hotel so powerful when the ghosts inside weren’t?

There was a malevolent spirit in the shed where the snow mobiles were kept too, not just at the hotel, so why didn’t the ghosts from the hotel flee to the shed to survive a little longer?

A good read but disappointing in places.

Bream Reading Club Review ‘Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

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Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt

Total Stars out of 5: 2 Stars

Review by Reading Club member.

Having staggered through to the end of this book I thought that it was an extremely long-winded way of telling a very short story.

A rather naïve teenage girl is seriously manipulated by a deceased uncle into caring for his sick partner, who is similarly manipulated into caring for his late lover’s favourite niece. End of….

The background is unusual, being set in the 1980’s, when Aids was a full-on media subject, but what are we supposed to do about it? Are we supposed to reflection how far we’ve come since then both in medicine and in social attitudes? If so, Brunt doesn’t make a very convincing case and anyway, do we really want to go over all that again? It was a particularly unpleasant time and hopefully, we’ve lost our prejudices and have become more liberal without having to resort to fiction.

The best bits of the book are psychological studies of the two teenage girls, June the favoured niece and Greta the waspish elder sister. Devoid of parental interaction – both parents are both heavily engaged in the ‘tax season’ – they have more freedom that they can handle and the emotional ups and downs of June’s relationship with Toby, Uncle Finn’s dying partner, and Greta’s bitchiness towards her younger sister are long drawn out and irritating.

Both girls are believable characters however, and the reader does become anxious for the well-being of both of them as June descends into emotional confusion and Greta hits the bottle.

In fact the last few chapters really are the most interesting part, and spur the reader on to complete what is otherwise a tedious narrative.

I like reading circle books with discussion points at the end, but in this case the topics on page 370-1 are largely hypothetical. The three I really agree with are 3, 6 and 8. Finn was a psychological blackmailers, a manipulative user of both June and Toby.

All in the name of love? I really don’t think so.

Bream Reading Club Reviews Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

Total Stars out of 5: 2.6 Stars

The first book in the Grisha Trilogy was full of promise. Dynamic and different, full of interesting places and characters, it ended on a cliff hanger pulling the reader in to read book two.  Unfortunately as it often is with cases like this, the first book was great and the rest are not.510lLMQr12L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_

We are introduced to Alina and Mal, orphans who are raised together in the same orphanage. Some of our members assumed their affection was more familial so their stilted and lengthy romance felt awkward and though the rest of us ‘saw it coming’ it still felt contrived. Their love story we assumed was supposed to be something truly epic, a love that overcome all odds, but by book three we were still left wanting, perhaps the author changed her mind half way, leaving the reader sadly unfulfilled.

Alina is discovered to be the ‘Sun Summoner’ the one the Darkling has been waiting for. The Darkling is a very interesting character, one with depth and personality. For a little while one almost looks forward to the relationship beginning to form between Alina and him, but that hope is for nought. It felt as if the author was afraid to let these two characters have a night in the same bed, and veered away from it instead of facing it head on. The light and dark of their respective powers draw these two together, but any chance of them bonding is ripped away when an old lady called Bhagra compels Alina to run away, only just convincing her what the Darkling really is.

Alina made good her escape but not for long. The Darkling’s powers are overwhelming and she is soon back in his grasp. The books ends with Alina managing to take control again of her own power and saves Mal’s life while sacrificing other Grisha in the process.

If you’ve noticed how Mal is not spoken about a whole lot in this review it is because his character is undeveloped. He is supposed to be the ‘hero’ in this story but all we saw of him was a square. He is immature and all the club members agreed that Mal was short changed when it came to putting him on paper.

For all its promise, it did not deliver.

 

Bream Reading Club Reviews Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

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Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson

Total stars out of 5: 3.5

All the members were really entranced with the lyrical language. Once we had started reading we couldn’t put the book down.  We also agreed the beginning of the book was far better than the rest. There was humour, good dialogue, and we could relate to the characters and their story and feel invested in the story of Silver.

Some excellent thoughts from one of our members:

“The book itself is told with multiple stories, the reader has to get used to popping from tale to tale, from old sea legends to the exploits of a bigamous Victorian clergyman and Silver’s own story of a displaced child growing into confused womanhood, with problems if her own.

Another theme that runs parallel to the story telling is that of light and darkness. ‘Darkness is a presence. I learned to see in it…’ (pg20). Silver learns to see thought the figurative darkness of her situation and the real darkness of her surroundings, just as Pew has coped with his blindness.

Stories are also linked to the theme of light ‘…it was soon discovered that every light had a story – no, every light was a story, and the flashes themselves were stories going out over the waves, as markers and guides and comfort and warning.’ (pg41)

Silver herself makes sense of her own life by telling it as story – Pew told her. ‘…if you can tell yourself like a story, it doesn’t seem so bad.’ (pg27)

Winterson’s prose is an absolute delight and anyone who has lived in close proximity if the sea will understand the rhythmic power of the lighthouse beam, turning, searching, and reaching out to hose seeking safe harbour.”

When the lighthouse was earmarked for automation it was like Silver was cast adrift and you could feel it in the vagueness of her story from then on. Not having the lighthouse as her anchor she didn’t know how to interact with the ‘normal’ world. Silver appears to be amoral, she does things that are ‘wrong’ but she simply doesn’t see it that way. Stealing a parrot and stalking a librarian. She spends some time in a mental institution thought we are not giving details as to what the doctors actually thought was troubling her, or how long she spent there.

I personally didn’t like the part about the librarian not being entirely helpful to Silver, even though all she wanted was to read a book. Silver didn’t feel welcomed in the library and I felt outraged on her behalf. The conclusion of Silver’s story takes her back to the lighthouse where she essentially breaks in to recapture her past or find some closure as her life has been ‘all over the place’ since she left the security of the lighthouse.

Bream Reading Club Reviews The Keep by Jennifer Egan

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The Keep by Jennifer Egan

3.1 stars out of 5 stars

One of our members wrote this as their comments on the book and I thought it was so perfect that I would just share it as is!

“Three stars I think – the main interest for me was the style of the narrative.  The fictional author (Ray) keeps popping into the narrative with the exploits of his cell mate, fellow convicts and a writing class with a tutor called Holly.  Ray’s own narrative with characters, Dan, Howie, Ann and Mick, is chaotic, but true to the character of its fictitious author, who is after all writing for the first time in constrained circumstances.   Ray, serving life for murder, has to rely on his imagination, which is prolific and (possibly) fueled by more than prison tea.  His narrative includes some nightmare scenarios e.g. Dan knocking off a ninety year-old baroness and having spooky experiences around a stinking cesspit of a bathing pool, but some are undeniably comical, such as when he’s hanging on to a window ledge by the toes of his boots, trying to spy on Mick and Ann conversation.

The real author skilfully weaves the two narratives together and introduces in the final section another narrator, Holly the writing class tutor, who thinks she is in love with Ray and is as screwed up as her former students.

An interesting book, not for those who like a nice story with a beginning, middle and a happy ending, but quite satisfying if you like to work at what you’re reading while enjoying it.

All in all, a dark psychological tale, in parts echoing a bad dope trip!” 

Some of our members were none too impressed with the book as it was either ‘two books trying to be one book’, it was ‘too contrived’ and had ‘too many loose ends’. The ghostly bits were unsettling instead of just being scary. Certain characters are just not explained properly like the Baroness, and the teacher closing off the narrative was ‘pointless’. The fictional castle then being real struck them as being forced.

Those of us who enjoyed the book thought it had flashes of brilliance, how the ‘real’ writer wove the tale from ‘fiction’ to ‘reality’ and the huge twist at the end we thought was clever and skillful. The end where Holly dives into the very pool Ann speaks of in her little imaginings of the future of the castle is a satisfying ending.

Reading Club Reviews ‘Brave New World’ by Aldous Huxley

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Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Total Stars out of 5: 2.33

 

This book is a classic and clearly a dystopian version of a future world. Since it was written a few of the things he wrote about as fiction would now be considered fact and that in itself is more frightening than prophetic.

On the whole the reading club found it unusual and interesting but, did not enjoy the story.

The descriptions of this ‘Brave New World’ is quite chilling in many respects. The wholesale indoctrination of children from infancy, the test tube babies taken to the extreme degree, society has pretty much being turned on its head. The very things that make humans human has been eradicated as evil or outdated. A family, mother and father, marriage, in fact emotional attachments are discouraged or forbidden outright.  Their lives are ‘happy’ but only in the shallowest sense, all deeper meaning has been removed.  Being an individual is discouraged, you must listen to your programming and follow all the precepts set down by the Controllers. If this is the ‘only’ way to have a happy and stable society we want nothing to do with it!

We decided that instead of it being called a ‘Brave New World’ it should be called a ‘Horrible, Scary World!’

Reading Club reviews The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

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4.5 Stars 

A truly entertaining magical piece of fantasy.

All of our readers enjoyed the beautiful descriptive writing of Erin. Some found the beginning a bit difficult to follow with the abrupt changes of time and scene, though others found the whole mystery of it all utterly engrossing.

Basically, there are two ancient magicians who set their two star pupils against each other to find out who is the best. The issues are that the pupils don’t know the rules, or how the winner is declared. The competition arena, is the Night Circus.

There is a great deal that is left to the reader’s imagination as not everything is completely explained, which only adds to the enigmas and magic entwined in everything. This is not an ordinary novel. We first get a full view of the almost playfulness of the magic and later the darker aspects of it are explored. How everyone involved in the circus whether directly or not is caught up in it and pays a price as well as benefits from it.

Walking through the circus is so beautifully written that it feels as if you are there, smelling the caramel popcorn and watching the white flames dancing. The joy of the circus permeates the pages, people who visit the circus leave it ever changed.

The love story between Marco and Celia is restrained, elegant and ultimately otherworldly in its strength and beauty. They ‘write love letters’ to each other through the different tents in the circus. The demonstrations of their affection to each other are so beautiful; so dazzling as to wish that everyone could find such love.

The competition though integral to the story becomes the hardest part to reconcile as the pages flip by and the costs mount up for the magic being used, the balancing that must be maintained. Some of these costs are very heavy, burdensome and even fatal. The darker side of the competition is shown in all it’s sinister aspects and we are left waiting for the ‘other shoe to drop’ so to speak.

To show that this book is not for everyone, half of our readers adored this book and would absolutely recommend it as a must read, and the other half were not at all convinced, conceding only that the descriptive writing was excellent but the plot felt thin.

 

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

Reader Review: 5 Stars

Thoroughly enjoyed this book. Emma is a consummate story teller. Her characters are so real and multi faceted that you cannot help but be completely drawn in. I highly recommend this book.

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