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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.

 

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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.

Reading Club reviews CHILD 44 by Tom Rob Smith

 Total stars: 4.66Photo 08-05-2017, 17 51 10

We all agreed that it was a very intense book and for those of us who weren’t fully aware of what it was like to live in Stalinist Russia during that time our eyes were surely opened!

This book takes you through the transformation of Leo Demidov from a complete ‘company man’ of the Russian State to a real person listening to his own sense of right and wrong.  We meet him as a no nonsense officer of the MGB willing and able to follow through on his orders and completely committed to succeeding. We also get glimpses of his insecurity because no one is safe under the scrutiny of the State. He is very aware of this and the long running jealousy of Vasily is a constant reminder of how much someone hates him and desperately wishes and works towards his downfall. From the beginning the life of Leo is shown for the stark reality it is. There is no happy family man here, or even a happy career man, it is purely survival in a very structured and dangerous place.

The relationship between Leo and his wife Raisa is another that is deep, raw and completely honest. Their relationship ebbs and flows according to the State plan, but the book takes a serious turn when Leo is faced with the decision of denouncing his wife. Seeing into their marriage is like facing a needed surgery, the inevitable pain is necessary to start the way to healing. Raisa is the stronger character in my view, never losing her sense of humanity but knowing how to hide herself in order to survive.

Leo’s decision starts a chain of events that leads to him discovering that murders are occurring the breadth of Russia, and since there is no crime in Russia he is the only one trying to convince anyone of the scary reality that a serial child killer/s is on the loose.  His commitment to this brings further scrutiny on him and he feels the full force of the authorities and experiences a complete reversal of circumstances. Where he was the one arresting people and transporting them to the most notorious prison Lubyanka, he is now the one in the prisoners seat.

There are twists and turns in this book that will knock the breath out of you. A seriously brilliant book.

On a personal note I found this book hit too close to home in regards to my own upbringing in the Jehovah’s Witnesses. Where Leo is hitting his head against a stone wall in trying to convince people of the danger they are ignoring, it reminded me very strongly of how difficult it is to convince or motivate the Governing Body of Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Congregation Elders that the right thing to do when an accusation of child abuse comes to them is to immediately call the authorities. They instead stick to their own procedures in the face of irrefutable evidence and demonstrated experience that their procedures are dead wrong and need to be changed, they still refuse to listen and insist that their way of doing things is right and everyone else must be wrong.  They desperately work to keep their image clean just like the Russian Government insists that the State is always right. Thankfully there is an army of people worldwide working incredibly hard to expose there hurtful practices and in so doing protect the public from being sucked into this so called religion.

 

 

Bream Reading Club reviews The Good Father by Noah Hawley

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Bream Reading club met last night the 3rd April to discuss Noah Hawley’s work The Good Father.

(Spoilers ahead)

We found the book gripping but for the heavy historical accounts on other political assassinations – though it was agreed that the Father (Dr Allen) needed those accounts in his attempts to understand his son, no real connections were ever made to his son and his actions. Perhaps that was left to the reader but it left us wondering how it added to our own understanding of Dr Allen and his son’s relationship.

All the way through the book Noah manages to keep us hoping that Daniel was somehow in the wrong place at the wrong time, and the final blow is hard to take. The three men on the train kept us hoping that there was some kind of conspiracy, and to be honest global conspiracies have been born on far less.

The brutally honest look at Daniel’s life is haunting and painful in differing degrees. Here is a man that believes he should have died on an airplane when he was eight. It appeared to us that he was a child that desperately needed his parents and they were not there for him, something that damaged him to some extent. He shows extreme apathy and detachment, this is aptly demonstrated by him rolling of a girl during sex and just walking away. He deliberately chooses to leave university and go driving around the States on his own with no apparent plan for returning to normal life.

Obviously a parent cannot be responsible for everything that their grown child does in this life, but there are also realities that must be acknowledged, would he have behaved differently if his parents had not divorced and he still had the full support and foundation of a stable family? We think his detachment was born on that airplane and the line having being severed there was no way of reattaching it.

Dr Allen thinking that many other children who lived that kind of life of travelling to and fro between divorced parents, didn’t go on to kill anyone, just sounds like an excuse. A great deal of the book is Dr Allen desperately trying to understand what happened to his son, and to an extent ever more desperately trying to find out if he is responsible.

In his quest to either vindicate his son or himself, he neglects his younger sons and so threatens to repeat history. He had an image of Daniel that wasn’t true, and Daniel had an image of his father that wasn’t true either. They were two shadows trying to understand each other and failing.

The Father with his touch of arrogance was slightly better than the ex-wife, Daniel’s mother who was irresponsible and in turns blamed herself or blamed Daniel for everything that had happened. We placed a great deal of blame at her door as her selfishness was so glaringly apparent.

The way the book concludes is touching and gave us closure.  The woman Bonnie is shown to be far more open and loving to Daniel than his own parents were, and though we will never truly know the full story of Daniel’s motivations because of ‘those missing pages in the journal’ we do know that he was loved by others even if his own parents had semi-abandoned him.

Overall rating out of 5 = 4.33

Our next meet in May will be the 8th as the first Monday of the month is a bank holiday

 

Reading more in 2017!

The Reading Passport

Social media, political changes and financial unrest have been cultural standpoints so far in the ‘Teenies’. In a fast moving decade there has also been a move towards remembrances of things passed. In our final review for The Reading Passport we will look at a novel of whaling in the northern seas. This gripping story, though, is certainly not nostalgic!  Ian McGuire – The North Water (2016)

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The North Water by Ian McGuire

The pages of this novel are metaphorically dripping with blood. Sailors skin polar bears and club seal cubs. A sea captain shoots a mutineer in the head and a surgeon operates on an abscessed stomach releasing a torrent of fetid pus. This is not a book for the faint-hearted! Nor is it a book for those sensitive to bad language. There is swearing on almost every page. It is a story of a doomed Nineteenth Century whaling voyage: a voyage into the heart of darkness. The whole cruel and bloody business of whaling is so well researched that the language gives the tale an formidable reality.

The story opens violently. Drax, a brutish harpooneer kills a Shetlander and rapes a boy. Its clear when he joins his ship, The Volunteer that there will be trouble ahead. The Volunteer, owned by Baxter and captained by Brownlee, employs Patrick Sumner, wounded in the siege of Delhi, as the ship’s surgeon. He claims he wants six months’ work before he comes into property in Ireland. Shadowy motives and histories thicken around the crew of the Volunteer. Already there are rumours of risk: Brownlee has previously captained the Percival, “crushed to matchwood by a berg” with the loss of 18 lives and not a sixpence made by any of the surviving crew. And yet Baxter has now given Brownlee the Volunteer. An unlucky ship attracts unlucky and desperate men. As the story develops the men not only kill wild beasts, but also each other in a morally dead universe isolated in the treacherous northern seas.

The North Water is a fast paced and gripping tale written in a smoothly readable style with sublime descriptions of the Arctic landscapes. If you can stomach the blood and brutality, and the bleak vision where lives mean nothing, then you will find this a novel a convincing and compelling achievement.

If you enjoy The North Water you might like to read McGuire’s novel “Incredible Bodies”, a sordid and hilarious tale of sleeping on the job, sexual confusion, and terrifying departmental secretaries.

Ian McGuire lectured in American Literature at the University of Manchester, where he now teaches creative writing.

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