Books We've Read...

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January 2007

Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
(BCBC1)
Sue Took a bit of getting into but I'm glad I persevered. It is well worth drawing a family tree as you go along because there are many family members spanning at least 4 generations, and trying to remember how the various characters are related can get confusing. 7 [edit]
Gillian I loved the dry wit in this book, and also the way in which the "footnotes" all nestled within the main story. Perhaps the story went on too long, imho, and I would have been satisfied if it had ended at the point of Ruby growing up. 8 [edit]
Chris This was one of my choices and was chosen largely because I had already read and really enjoyed it a few years ago and I thought it would be a good way to get to read it again. So, that makes it all the more odd that I didn't manage to finish it second time round. Firstly, this is one of the few modern books I've read that feels to me like 'literature' (whatever that means) rather than just a fun/boring read. It has a very dry slightly dark humour which is probably why I enjoyed it so much the first time but wasn't in the right frame of mind for it this time. The story is centred around a young girl around the end of WWII but makes excursions back into the family of several generations. It also has a twist (or a reveal, to be more precise) which did add a bit of fun to re reading it - spotting all the clues that I missed the first time. 8 [edit]
  Average: 7.67  

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February 2007

Stuart: A Life Backwards by Alexander Masters
(BCBC1)
Gillian This is not a book I'd have otherwise chosen but it was fascinating. I learnt so much about the plight of the homeless and how they can come to be in that situation. The technique of telling Stuart's life backwards didn't always work and I became a bit confused in parts, but the overwhelming feeling I was left with was "what if.... " eg his childhood had been different, his teachers had been more honourable, his brother hadn't been the way he was..... 7 [edit]
Sue I felt somewhat guilty for not finishing this book. Stuart's life and his way of dealing with problems was so alien to anything I'd ever experienced that it just annoyed me. I know I should have been more sympathetic. 3 [edit]
Kate Not a book I would have picked up and I am glad I have read it and feel that the issues it discusses of homelessness, drug use, the system failing those that most need it are good ones to explore in a book. However, I really didn't warm to the character of Stuart - not sure I was meant to however, and because of the way it was written found it very confusing. I also felt there was too much of the author's personal comment in there. 6 [edit]
Teresa I found that I suffered from "compassion fatigue" when I read this book and I don't think that there was much about Stewart (or Alexander Masters) that I could really warm to. If anything AM came across as a bit of a show-off and Stewart as someone who was quite frightening and out of control. Yet when I watched the film version recently on television, I found myself crying - it was superbly acted and Stewart came across as a real person.I found myself caring about him in a way I did not when I read the book. 5 [edit]
  Average: 5.25  

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March 2007

The Reader by Bernhard Schlink
(BCBC1)
Gillian I really didn't know what to expect when I started this book but thought it was a very sensitive exploration of the issues raised post-Holocaust in Germany and how ordinary people became war criminals - and at the same time tackling a young boy/older woman love affair and the extremes to which shame of illiteracy can drive people. Good, short, satisfying read. 8 [edit]
Sue A thought-provoking book which only took a few hours to read, as it is short yet intensive. It describes the love affair from the point of view of a 15 year old boy with an older woman who is later accused of holocaust crimes. As a teenager, he naturally assumes that all her actions are as a result of their affair, but later in life comes to realise that her illiteracy is the domineering factor throughout her life. 8 [edit]
Kate A beautiful lyrical book that meanders through the love affair of a young lad and an older woman and then drops you right into the middle of Germany following the Holocaust. This book was apparently required reading in German schools and challenges you to consider what individuals did to each other and their motivations fro doing so in a very novel way. The twist in the tail works well in what is a well constructed story. 8 [edit]
  Average: 8.00  

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April 2007

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka
(BCBC1)
Sue A humorous read, and quite light. Sadly some of the characters reminded me of members of my own family. 6 [edit]
Kate Really didn't get on with this book. I couldn't warm to the characters and found myself not really caring what happened to them. A nice idea for a story though and the humour that ran through was amusing 5 [edit]
Teresa This book really tickled me - I found myself laughing out loud at some passages! A light read, but a very enjoyable one. 7 [edit]
Gillian An easy read. This was my second reading of it in quite a short period of time and I still enjoyed it very much. I loved the humour in it - it made me laugh out loud in some places - but it was quite dark in others. What did happen to Vera all those years ago....? I also liked the big sis - little sis relationship - as a "little sis" myself, it made me smile. Of course my big sis is nothing like Vera..... 7 [edit]
  Average: 6.25  

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June 2007

Geek Love by Katherine Dunn
(BCBC1)
Sue I really hadn't expected to like this book, but having read it I can understand why it has become a 'cult classic'. A totally different way of looking at life as written from the viewpoint of a circus freak, combined with an amazing insider's view of how and why religious cults start. Every reading group should include this! 10 [edit]
Gillian To be honest, I was dreading this book, but was totally mesmerised by it. Completely off the wall. I loved the warped picture it painted of American society and the ease in which the population are brainwashed into joining completely ludicrous cults. Ironic that the book had/has its own cult following itself! 8 [edit]
  Average: 9.00  

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July 2007

Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes by Robert Louis Stevenson
(BCBC1)
Kate Wasn't sure I had made a good choice with this one until I started reading and couldn't put it down. Was drawn to the question as to whether where he was travelling was the subject or RLS the man. Some beautiful descriptive passges, an interesting relationship with the donkey but more interesting about the man himself, his personality and being very much a product of his time. His comments about some of the people he met on the way are great. And totally unexpected was the level of humour. 8 [edit]
Teresa I enjoyed this book very much - it was not a book that could be rushed through, but one to be savoured, with RLS's beautiful descriptions of the countryside unfolding page by page. I found the customs and language of that age quite fascinating - but what a pompous man! I also enjoyed the humour in the book. 8 [edit]
Gillian I've been a lifelong fan of RLS, having been brought up on A Child's Garden of Verses and Treasure Island etc, so I was looking forward to finding out a bit about the man himself. However I was shocked to realise I didn't actually like him very much! I had to keep putting his narrative into historical context, and making allowances for him given the culture/society he had grown up in. I imagine it would be a very interesting time snapshot for anyone who knows that area of France today (I don't!). I'm glad I read it, but I'm also glad it wasn't any longer than the 94 pages in my edition! 6 [edit]
Sue A nice, easy, gentle read with some great descriptive passages of the area. I didn't particularly take to the author's character - he came across as somewhat pompous, but was presumably just a product of his time. The ending was a little sad - he sold the donkey and walked off without so much as a backward glance, although fully realised that the donkey was more attached to him than he was to it. The reason for his trip was never made clear - maybe just an excuse to write a travel book? 7 [edit]
  Average: 7.25  

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September 2007

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
(BCBC1)
Gillian I wasn't sure that I'd enjoy this book - it lay on my shelves for years until I finally chose it for this group. It wasn't at all what I was expecting, but once I got past a slow bit in the middle, I loved it. It really made me think about the whys and wherefores of missionaries, and I had never given any thought to the politics behind the development of nations before. It made me laugh and cry. I'm glad I've read it. 8 [edit]
Jo This book was hard going and I felt that although you got to know each character through them 'speaking' it lacked any real substance up until an event in the middle of the book. After this point it was a more exciting read but still lacked the substance I was expecting from a thick book! It gave us plenty to talk about in the group,I certainly was vocal about the male character in the book whom I disliked intently and it did encourage a debate about the rights and wrongs of missionaries! Overall, I would not recommend it but it was a good book to chat about once you had been through the struggle of reading it. 4 [edit]
Pat A story of a white American family in the Congo as missionaries, told from the point of view of 4 daughters and their mother. I thought this book was way too long and slow. Nothing seemed to happen for pages! Didn't like the dad's character at all and am glad he didn't have a voice. I enjoyed the insights into African village life, laughed at the ignorance of the family but got too bored to read to the end. Not a book I'd recommend or read again. 1 [edit]
Teresa I really liked this book and the fact that the narrators were all female. Although the story unfolded slowly at first, the pace suited me completely and I found myself lost in some of the beautiful descriptive passages. The second half of the book was definitely faster flowing and I loved the change of direction. That the father was only depicted through the female characters seemed fitting as he had denied them their voices for so long. If there was a weakness, however, it was that the character of Adah didn't quite ring true and I felt her "recovery" at the end was unconvincing. All in all though, I enjoyed this book and found it an absorbing read. 8 [edit]
  Average: 5.25  

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October 2007

An Equal Music by Vikram Seth
(BCBC1)
Jo This book was an easy read and a pleasant love story that lacked some reality in parts. I did enjoy it and the references to the music were lovely. I felt it could have explored more about the main characters background and the real impact that had on the way he behaved in the realtionship. Overall a nice read that I enjoyed, even though it was not a book that created huge amounts of debate. 6 [edit]
Kathryn I really didn't take to this book much - which was a shame as it was my suggestion for the month! I felt the characters were thin and didn't engage me, and it all seemed a bit like an old-fashioned 'middle-class angst' sort of book. I wanted Michael to stop moping about and get on with something useful - which might say more about me than him! Pleasant enough to read, just didn't leave me with much of anything. The insight into the 'operation' of a musical quartet was the most interesting bit for me. 5 [edit]
Pat A very easy read and an eye opener to the music world. It would have been helpful to understand the technical words mentioned in the book - but not essential. I\'ll read it again when I\'m on holiday. 5 [edit]
Gillian One of my favourite books read with the club so far - but after the discussion I'm not sure what that says about me as a person! However, I thought it was a lovely, easy read, and although I know nothing at all about chamber music I enjoyed reading about the dynamics of the quartet and what goes on behind the scenes. There were some little bits that didn't ring true, but overall these didn't detract from the overall novel too much - for me, anyway. I wonder if this has been made into a film? If properly done, it could be very atmospheric. 8 [edit]
  Average: 6.00  

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November 2007

Disgrace by JM Coetzee
(BCBC1)
Sue I thoroughly enjoyed this book despite disliking the main character, who was pompous and had an awful attitude towards women - all of whom were sex objects except his daughter who was treated like a possession. The rapidly changing social and political background of South Africa was used to good effect, as seen through the characters eyes. The 'Byron and Teresa' sideline, presumably meant as an allegory, just went over my head - I didn't get it at all. 7 [edit]
Gillian I agree with everything Sue has said. The lead character gave me the creeps - through all his dreadful deeds and the terrible things that happened around him, all he could think about was himself and how he was impacted. The affect of his own actions on those around him never crossed his mind. I found the discription of South African politics interesting - not having known a great deal before - but also depressing, in as much as the oppressed were becoming the oppressing. Not a novel with a "feel good" factor, but I'm going to hang on to this book and maybe read it again and more by the same author, when I'm feeling sufficiently resilient! 7 [edit]
Pat Get past the male chauvinistic character who dominates the book and it makes for a good read. Even though his attitude to women especially his daughter grated me, i enjoyed the story. It's interesting how the political and social side of South Africa is portrayed. It left me pondering how factual the fiction actually is. I think I'll read this again particularly to catch the bits i missed the first time around. 7 [edit]
  Average: 7.00  

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