“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Monday, 31 October 2011

No Sanctuary by Seamus Heaney

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No Sanctuary

It’s Hallowe’en. The turnip-man’s lopped head
Blazes at us through split bottle glass
And fumes and swims up like a wrecker’s lantern.

Death mask of harvest, mocker at All Souls
With scorching smells, red dog’s eyes in the night-
We ring and stare into unhallowed light.

From North, 1975

Many many moons ago, I sang a version of this with my school choir for the Feis Ceoil. I've only just now tracked down the original, so am sharing it here in case I foget it again!!!

Table Of Contents - Poetry

The Hunger Games - Book 1

I made this: Unknown at 10:00 am 0 comments
As my non LeedsBookClub self on twitter, I noticed that a number of my American friends have been positively GUSHING about the Hunger Games trilogy. I'd never heard of the series so naturally I asked about the books; once I did, I was positively bullied into agreeing to read them*.

After I read the most recent Book Club choice and decided on A Christmas Carol as our Christmas Read-A-Long, I stuck these books onto my Kindle and prepared myself. I don't know what I was expecting exactly, but I really wanted to be able to report back to my mates favourably.

To say that I read this trilogy downplays the consuming passion that these books inspire.
I BREATHED these books.
I LIVED for them during the week that I read them.
And once I was finished, I MOURNED that there were no more.

(Yes, I am prone to exaggeration from time to time, but I imagine that there are a lot of readers who know EXACTLY what I mean by my hyperbole. BookElf reading the Fire and Ice series springs to mind - these books are compelling beyond the telling of it.)

Inspired in part by the myth of Theseus and the Minotaur (see Canongate Book 4), the war of Iraq, Reality television and heavily channeling Battle Royale; the world created by Suzanne Collins is at once vividly real and foreign to me. Not since the Harry Potter books (which to be fair, I started reading as a Youngling) have I felt so transported into a parallel world. 


The Blurb 
In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts. The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual Hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss Everdeen, who lives alone with her mother and younger sister, regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games. But Katniss has been close to dead before—and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that will weigh survival against humanity and life against love

The Review

Honestly. I don't know where to start.
From the turn of the first page, I was hooked. 
Panem is not merely a well constructed potential future world; it accurately mirrors some of the less salubrious aspects of our own world. The life that our protagonist describes is an exaggerated one that hundreds of millions experience daily. I hate to use the phrase 'working for the man', but it is accurate here. 

The Capital (read first world here) demands tribute from it's subsidiaries. Aside from sucking up all the resources; it insists on living matter to prove it's dominance. The year our book begins a young girl called Primrose is picked. Her sister takes up the duty - a more cynical, hard edged and ruthless character - all the better for the games. 

Having just read an overly graphic 'pity-me' book; the violence and mayhem within the Hunger Games could have and should have appeared gratuitous to an extreme. Instead it read the way Battle Royale looked the first time you watched it. If this (impossible) situation occurred; that's exactly how you'd think that people would have responded.

The games themselves were far more violent and brutal than I had expected. It's not that the deaths are so extreme (though in some case - yeeps!), it's that we know something about nearly every single character before they die. They are individuals, people with foibles and whether pleasant or not; their deaths are horrid and callous in the extreme. Motifs - such as the Mockingjay pin (a beautiful piece of fantasy there!) and the 4 note tune - are used sparingly, creating flashes of colour in the grey bleak world.     

I loved Katniss - she is tough; dedicated; resilient and angry, my favourite qualities in a woman. Beyond that, she is terrified - as one of the district occupants she has been forced to watch the games ever since she was a little girl - she knows exactly what is ahead of her; resulting in her being both jaded and anticipatory.

I warmed a little more slowly to Peeta - I couldn't understand how he could be so warm and human when faced with such a rotten scenario. Eventually though; his determination to fight fair, his determination that he would remain himself, his faith that everything would turn out alright despite overwhelming odds won me over. It's hard to hate hope - and that to me was what his character embodied. Hope that he would survive, hope that Katniss would one day return his affection; hope that humanity and decency would see him through in a world that seemed determined to wipe both characteristics out.

Haymitch - the alcoholic tutor (and only other District 12 surviver) was Peeta's perfect antidote. Cynical, mean-spirited and with  more than a pinch of cruelty, every scene he was in was brightened by his presence. Although it rapidly became clear that Katniss was his natural successor; he certainly didn't relish the role - I loved his uncompromising honesty with her.

I think that my favourite character throughout the book was that of the stylist Cinna (and his dappy assistants!). His motives were difficult to fathom...for no visible reason he was determined to see Katniss as more than a mere contestant, to present her in her best possible light. He seemed to get under her skin in a way no one but (the barely there) Gale could. Additionally, he LIKED her. Which no body - least of all Katniss herself - expected. His assistants were truly vacuous - but perfectly embodied the morals - or lack thereof - of the Capital. They liked Katniss but were also totally planning to watch her die on live television. Twisted little shits right? Not from their point of view - they were just being good citizens!

There are very few people that I wouldn't recommend this book too. It's very well written, vivid and imaginative. So very very good. The next person you see gushing on twitter about this will be ME!



*Bullying is wrong m'kay - I was encouraged really. Respect the narrative flow much does apply, but I felt bound to point out that my wonderful twitter mates would never actually be mean to me.

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The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games - Book 1 - The Hunger Games
The Hunger Games - Book 1 - Podcast
The Hunger Games - Book 2 - Catching Fire
The Hunger Games - Book 3 - Mockingjay

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Table of Contents - Guest Stars

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Full - Table of Contents 

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Friday, 28 October 2011

And Now It's Not World Book Night...

I made this: BookElf at 2:30 pm 0 comments Links to this post
The fall out from what is basically a good idea continues, with writer Susan Hill (who wrote The Woman In Black, which is absolutely terrifying, if you're looking for a scare this Halloween) creating her Not World Book Night list, which you can win a copy of by tweeting her a rhyme of your views on WBN.
Her objection to World Book Night is that it takes money away from publishers that could be spent on new authors, so I can't really be angry about this, as it's not like we have the same aims; she wants to create more books, I want to create more readers.
So using a format used functionally by a minority to promote a book list that is classic-heavy, and doesn't include one title accessible to an emerging reader at Level 3 shouldn't anger me, but it does. Because this is the argument that has got in the papers.
Yesterday Deborah Orr wrote an excellent piece in The Guardian about the "shameful" literacy crisis in this country, albeit in the context of the bloody riots. The focus of the government and education may be making people functionally literate, but why must 'literacy' and 'literary' be mutually exclusive concepts? Why must ne'er readers, nor rioters meet? Why hasn't The Guardian linked the two things?
I'll tell you why I think the rioters didn't touch a book shop; because book shops are not 'for' normal people who don't have that high a reading level, like a third of the adults in the UK. Oh no.
Book shops are for people like me, who complain World Book Night selections as not accessible enough whilst embracing the concept of normalising reading for pleasure. I didn't riot, just like I haven't Occupied anything or been in a Kettle, because I will loose my job if I am arrested.
Reading the classics doesn't make you a reader, reading something that engages you, that makes you want to read more, that you can empathise with, that evokes an emotion, a memory, or a feeling, that is what makes you a reader. If you have grown up without books, then it is bloody hard to engage as an adult because there is such a limited range of books that will do this that are available at an appropriate reading level. And the books that are within this range are belittled as 'populist'. And then you have someone saying 'I'll give away this list of classics that people should have read', and then you have people who work in The Guardian feeling sheepish because they've 'only' read 12 (I've read four and a half and couldn't give a toss).
Until the literary world stops scorning the reading choices of the newly literate then we are never going to have a culture where books that are genuinely brilliant, and enjoyable, can win prizes, and be read comfortably and with pleasure by the masses.
I'm not going to buy a copy of the Not World Book Night list, I'm going to buy this years selection of Quick Reads, and give them out as well as (if I'm chosen as a giver) I Capture The Castle. Because both of these sets of books are worthy of reading, and of publicising in The Guardian.

Oh, and here is my poem. Sorry it's not 140 characters...

Oh to be a reader, now World Book Night's near,

When reading books you're 'supposed' to goes well with drinking beer.

So come on down to Book Club, in Arcadia,

We don't just do World Book Night,

But all reading for pleasure!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Tolkien in Leeds

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As readers of the Beyond Guardian Leeds Posts will be aware, J. R. R. Tolkien is to honoured this week with a blue plaque, right here in 'our' fair city.

He taught as a Professor at the University of Leeds for five years, producing his 'A Middle English Vocabulary' & the definitive edition of 'Sir Gawain & the Green Knight'.

Daragh Corcoran of BBC Radio Leeds is hoping to talk to someone about Tolkien's time in Leeds. If you're a fan & know how/if/whether the geography of Leeds influenced in his epic Middle Earth books then Daragh needs YOU!!!

Please contact him with your interest at www.twitter.com/daraghcorcoran!

Richard Nottingham Book 2 - Cold Cruel Winter

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The second in the Richard Nottingham series; Cold Cruel Winter  follows the continuing caseload and life of the Chief Constable of Leeds. 

This book is set during the brutally cold winter of 1732. The ground has frozen solid, disease is rife, food is scarce and - as in The Broken Token - the distinctions between the haves and have nots can determine whether a person lives or dies. 

Richard Nottingham has been working as diligently as ever, keeping law and order in Leeds, despite his family being hit by a terrible tragedy - one which causes tensions within his marriage and tests his faith in God.  

His deputy - John Sedgewick - finds a body so horrifically murdered that it becomes clear to the whole Constabulary that the city is being plagued by a killer with a clear and violent agenda. It will take all of the teams limited resources and complete dedication to stop this murderer before he fulfills his grisly purpose, and to keep his ghastly crime from becoming public knowledge.

As though that weren't enough; two brothers - sons of a wealthy and influential merchant - have progressed from raising hell to homicide. Despite the clear bias offered to the wealthy by the wealthy; Nottingham is determined to see them pay for their crimes; pitting him against the Mayor, the merchants and running the risk of losing his position altogether.


Once again, Chris Nickson presents a Leeds that - though not idyllic - feels vivid and real. The desperation and poverty of the time is described in scenes that feel authentic and make a person wince; whilst simultaneously moving closer to the fire. 

Cold Cruel Winter is a far more brutal book than its predecessor, containing some really disturbing moments, though the violence never feels gratuitous. As before; the research of the time period is meticulous. Discovering (after I'd finished the book) that some of the more gruesome aspects of the crime is based on a historically accurate practice was both unexpected and chilling. Nickson also works in sparse examples of colloquial language and phrasing into his lively dialogue which further adds to the atmosphere.

This remains a character driven series - the lives of the Chief Constable, his men and their families are the point of the story. While the majority of the characters will be familiar from the first book in the series; they are not static - there are unexpected changes as each one grow. The crimes are seen as cutting into their lives; rather than dictating the course of them. The 'B' crime in particularly draw the focus to the disparate social conditions and how these impact on the Constable's men.

The 'A' crime is grotesque and gripping. Allowing the primary antagonist to occupy the opening chapter of the book creates a creepy but sustaining bond with the reader - you can't help but be fascinated by him; though his actions are always beyond the pale. 

Although this book would be very successful as a stand alone thriller; I think that it was particularly effective read within the series. 
I love that it's so different stylistically to The Broken Token.
I love that it ends in such a realistic way - not necessarily happy, but satisfactory. 

I can't wait to read the next one!

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Chris Nickson

Richard Nottingham - Book 1 - The Broken Token Review
Richard Nottingham - Book 2 - Cold Cruel Winter Review

Christmas Short Story - Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw

Richard Nottingham - Exclusive - Short Story - Home
Richard Nottingham - Exclusive - December

Chris Nickson - Interview

Follow Chris on Twitter - @ChrisNickson2
Best Book of 2001 - Library Journal Award

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Chris Nickson Table of Contents
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Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Human Beings by Adrian Mitchell

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Human Beings

look at your hands
  your beautiful useful hands
       you're not an ape
    you're not a parrot
  you're not a slow loris
    or a smart missile
       you're human
       not british
    not american
      not israeli
  not palestinian
    you're human
     not catholic
  not protestant
    not muslim
       not hindu
  you're human
  we all start human
    we end up human
       human first
          human last
      we're human
    or we're nothing
  nothing but bombs
     and poison gas
  nothing but guns
     and torturers
  nothing but slaves
  of Greed and War
  if we're not human
           look at your body
  with its amazing systems
  of nerve-wires and blood canals
     think about your mind
   which can think about itself
  and the whole universe
           look at your face
   which can freeze into horror
           or melt into love
     look at all that life
           all that beauty
           you're human
     they are human
     we are human
  let's try to be human

Adrian Mitchell


To learn more about Adrian Mitchell, please click here to visit his homepage.

I discovered this beautiful poem in the anthology Being Human, edited by Neil Astley. On National Poetry Day in 2005 over a thousand people voted this the poem to send into space to best represent humanity.

I have greatly enjoyed the two previous books in this trilogy (STAYING ALIVE and BEING ALIVE) and would recommend to anyone who loves poetry, who likes poetry but can't figure out where to find 'the good stuff' or who has never read a poem in their life before!

Each book focuses on celebrating the human experience, using the rather fabulous tag line - UNREAL POEMS FOR UNREAL TIMES.

Table Of Contents - Poetry

WBN-The Books... BookElf Rants Again

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Twenty five books, but which to pick? Well, I've done mine, AR's done her's. The more Leeds' Readers we have applying to be givers, the greater chance of us having a cracking night in April with shed loads of Arcadians finding the book that will make them a reader...
1) look at the list of books below, try not to make my massive ranting cloud your judgement.
2) choose your top three
3) go to the World Book Night website and register yourself as a giver.
4) join me and some other book lovers, as well as the regulars and not-so-regulars of my local, Arcadia, on the 23 April to a celebration of reading for pleasure!

The Books

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

I've said it before and I'll say it again, Persuasion is better. However, this is one of my favourite books, and has been since I was 12 so if you fancy being submerged in Darcy, could this be in your three?

The Player of Games by Iain M. Banks

I've never read it but am reassured it is extraordinary. SF fans didn't really get a look-in last year, unless you count Cloud Atlas, so this could be a popular choice.

Sleepyhead by Mark Billingham

Never read. Never even heard of. Bad BookElf. No points for you. *requests from library immediately*.

Notes From A Small Island by Bill Bryson

Hilarious book, part of Bill Bryson's series of travel books. Like Nigel Slater's Toast from last year, though, I suspect (and I know this is massively judgemental and stereotypical of me) this may be 'one for the Dad's'... (actually, Toast was given out last year! And was snapped up! But my dad also read and enjoyed it so I stand by original point).

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

One of them 'this book changes your life' ones, I read this when I was about 18 and cannot remember one thing about it. Must have left a massive impression then... This one is going to be really popular as I've had loads of conversations with women at work over the years about how this is one of their favourites. We've got four copies at work, so I have a feeling they'd be hard to shift...

The Take by Martina Cole

I've read one Martina Cole and it scared the living crap out of me. Tulisa Contostavlos' favourite author, FYI. If she ends up as a WBN giver I will change profession as My Work Here Is Done, as everyone flocks to read crime cos it's cool, yeah?

Harlequin by Bernard Cornwell

Last year there was so much historical fiction you might have been forgiven for thinking I chose the longlist. So this year they've toned it down by only including this one, which seems a really strange choice. Cornwell is amazing, but this isn't him at his best. It's the start of a series, so like Dissolution did last year will probably get more people reading the author, but I'd have far sooner preferred to see The Winter King, or Stonehenge here instead.

Someone Like You by Roald Dahl

Now this is clever. Everyone loved Roald Dahl as a kid, and the whole 'shed' controversy has been in the news recently, so this is an excellent time to plug his writing for adults. This collection of short stories shows the craft of writing at full tilt. My favourite is the one with the leg of lamb, but this is going to be a popular choice. I really hope they choose a better front cover on the night thought as the one they've got is flipping horrible!

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

What do you mean you haven't read every single classic ever written ever? You utter utter utter thickie. Here, have a free book. A free, long, tiny fonted book. Thickie.

Room by Emma Donoghue

Again, I don't get this one. Surely ever person who has access to a train station with a WHSmith in it owns a copy of this by now? It was in the top ten for longer than I Will Always Love You FFS. And WHY is this so popular? BECAUSE IT IS ABOUT SOMETHING HORRIBLE. But it's got a fancy cover and was nominated for a shit load of prizes so it's acceptable on your shelves. Put a picture of a crying child on a stark white cover and rename it 'Daddy's Little Secret' with a hand-written font and see it do half as well as it has.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Stunning book. Excellent choice. I'd stick it in my top three but I know at least two other people who have. Not that giving out 64 copies of Rebecca and nothing else would be That Bad A Thing...

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro

Incredible book, and one of my top three. I've chosen it because it isn't clearly defined as appealing to either "gender", its well written, poignant, and I was having a conversation about it at my last book swap, in a cafe, with a bloke who hadn't read it, who then did. And seeing as I'm going to be doing this in a pub it made sense to do it again.

Misery by Stephen King

I'm currently ploughing my way through Under The Dome (keep getting distracted by romantic fiction...) but the more I read by him the more I realise how good a writer Stephen King really is. I've never read this one, but I kind of wish they'd have chosen Different Seasons, as it's got three film adaptations to it's name, so would be a lot easier to plug.

The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic by Sophie Kinsella

Genius choice. There are so many things you could do with this book. Maybe not in the pub, but good luck to the health care workers doing their rounds, giving a copy of this to each of their service users.

Small Island by Andrea Levy

Again, great choice, really enjoyed this book.

Let The Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

Loved it, and ranted heavily about it. However, I wouldn't feel massively comfortable about handing this book out willy nilly on the street. Part of the subject matter could be quite uncomfortable, and considering how alcoholism is a major theme, I'm not sure how well it would go down with the regulars. However, it is so well written, and so current, and so I'd def have this as my fourth. Just donate with caution, that's all I'd say!

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My second choice, which I know is an odd one for me given my usual 'give me accessible writing or give me death' policy. However, this story is something that is very 'now'; the world is collapsing around us, people are choosing between heating and food, and this story of a man and his son's survival in a post-apocalyptic world is so moving, and has so much potential for marketing as a 'warning tale' that I think it would work. Plus, I loved it.

The Time Travellor's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Blah. Going to be massive. Choose away. You know you want to.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

I LOVE O'Farrell, but this isn't After You'd Gone, the book that made me (and continues to make me) cry more than any other book ever written ever. I'm really quite glad they chose this one then, and not After You'd Gone, because I'd have had a hard time choosing, tbh.

The Damned Utd by David Peace

Leeds! Leeds! LEEDS! I reeeeeeally hope someone chooses this, as would be ace to be giving out a Leeds-based book. David Peace should also come over and do some promotion of this at Elland Road as that would be incredible.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

I love Pratchett. I love Gaiman. A book a piece next year, who could ask for anything more, who could ask for anything more?

How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff

I take back completely what I said about no YA. Meg Rosoff is reeeeeally popular at work, although I'm not her biggest fan. This book is freaky as hell, but gets people reading, so hey ho.

Touching The Void by Joe Simpson

I'm not saying ANYTHING. I'll let our book club analysis do the talking... Have to say though, this is the sort of thing that gets people reading, so I do hope it gets picked.

I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith

Know what, I'm just going to re-read this and have a proper swoon later. Hearts. So many hearts.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Everyone loves it apart from me. I HAVE NO SOOOOOUUUUUL!!!!

So there you go. I know my top three. What are yours?

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Book Club 9 - Grace Williams Says It Loud

I made this: Unknown at 8:44 pm 7 comments
Venue: Arcadia Bar
Date: 16th October 2011
Time: 5pm - 7pm

Discussed: Grace Williams Says It Loud - Emma Henderson

Agreed on: Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

I'm treating this like a plaster that urgently needs to be removed. One quick pull and then hopefully I can move on and forget all about it!!

In the build up to the book club; it had become obvious on twitter that while two of our members really really really loved this book; far more of us were less impressed, with one or two of us being unable to read it at all. 

Being aware that this was going to be a divisive book, everyone tried to take on board all the other members feelings - resulting in one of the most awkward and stilted conversations ever! Not the ideal!!


Quite a few people enjoyed the writing style. Given that it was a debut novel; many members would definitely read another work by Emma Henderson. The author had a good sense of place - particularly in relation to the scenes set at the seaside. Others found the asylum's atmosphere - the cloying, lonely, claustrophobic minutia of day to day life captured very effectively. 

Structurally; there was a clever tool utilised throughout the book. Time was tracked year by year in chapters of similar length leading up to significant events. From the moment that Daniel left Grace; the chapters seem to shrank; reflecting how her life seemed to shrink. 

A few members found several of the characters to be well depicted. Daniel, Robert's mother and the Major were sympathetic, humorous and kind. The scenes that they were in felt injected with life. The relationship between Daniel and his father also impacted on us positively - it felt real, fitting into the time frame and provided colour, even as we knew that Daniel wasn't the most reliable of witnesses. 

We also enjoyed the two of them visiting Eastbourne. That was sweet. 

On the other hand, the majority of book clubbers felt that the book was manipulative; set up so that only the viewpoint of the author was acceptable.

Fundamentally; if the reader did not accept the original conceit - that they narrative provided a valid voice for Grace - this book was never going to engage. Some of us felt that the author had appropriated her sisters life in order to put her own spin on the experience. This made for very uncomfortable reading. Moreover, that the story was told according to an ablest viewpoint - at no point in the narrative did Grace seem to be impacted upon by her SEVERE physical and mental disadvantages. Our lives, experiences and health all impact on the way that we view and fit into our world - this was not taken into account here.

The sad thing is, many of this books harshest critics would have been very interested in actually reading the real story behind this book. A straight story - an actual experience and life - rather than this over the top story.

Many of us were also baffled by a few aspects relating to the primary characters physical situations. Daniel and Grace seemed to have a real and vibrant relationship until you take into account that Grace never actually had a full conversation him. Daniel was depicted as speaking, passing things and walking all at the same time - despite not having any arms.

The family were depicted as very removed. Though they seemed to care about Grace - they never noticed that she never received a single gift from them. They saw her regress further and further the longer that she was in the home, particularly after Daniel left. Then they left her there. They go from being very absent, to taking her on day trips.

The elder siblings are conveniently sent out of the continent. (A few of us wondered how Henderson's actual family felt about their depiction). The obnoxious, precocious, talented younger sister - who seems to be a clear reflection of the author - only takes notice when Grace appreciates her music. Her introduction as the replacement child, the one without disabilities, suggested to us that this book was written with a degree of survival guilt. 

This book is a graphic representation of misery. The phrase misery porn was tossed around a few times, as though it in and of itself provided explanation. It didn't. The violence and the anguish was gratuitous. It felt as though the author had made a list of every single miserable, horrible, demeaning and debasing event that had taken place in care homes in the time and worked her way through it, determined to include every single one. Many of us have read and enjoyed these so-called misery porn books in the past. However this one was without any sense of redemption. There was no (horrible *catch-all term coming up) closure, no justice, just pain and sadness and grief. 
A few of us particularly felt this in relation to Daniel. The end of the book (which divides us up - some liked the Wayne's World style happy happy ending of her living in another, better home - others found it to be tacky) seemed so pointless. Just more misery piled on to take from any sense of peace achieved by the move from one care home into another.  

A final point and then I swear, I'm going to finish. There were those within the group who felt that despite limitations within the book, it did accurately depict the environment of care homes in the 60's - that the language used, the perceptions of the children and then adults with disabilities was valid and real. Others felt that while some care homes were awful; this book failed to depict any sense of balance. There were no caring characters within the staff of the home (though there was a lovely moment when the matron said that she was proud of the work that she did). There were horrendous homes but there were also people working hard to ensure that conditions were improved. Just not in this book. 

Two of our most active and articulate members were rendered utterly silent throughout the entire discussion. They explained that they had nothing to say, no points to offer - they didn't feel like they had learned or gained anything from the book. It was just something they felt they had to do for the book club.

As the discussion ended, members begged for a cheerful book next month! 

Though we had some rather spectacular cake. 
And potentially a new member.

*edited to avoid offending. 

Initial Verdict

Final Verdict

Next Book Choice


Having only been in the suggestion list since our very first meeting - I was starting to think that this one would never appear!!

Next month's choice Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes!

I'm not necessarily sure it's the most cheerful of books...still...


Suggestions (including our BEST one ever!!)

The Cake
Fantastic Ginger Cake with Lemon Icing. This will be a tough one to match!!

Recipe is now up on our Sweet Tooth Section.   

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Arcadia LBC

21 - Nov - Hard Times - Charles Dickens
20 - Oct - The New York Trilogy - Paul Auster GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
19 - Sep - The Hunger Games - Suzanne Collins GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
18 - Aug - The Princess Bride - William Goldman
17 - Jul - A Thousand Splendid Suns - Khaled Hosseini GUEST
16 - Jun - Cry the Beloved Country - Alan Paton
15 - May - 1984 - George Orwell GUEST - @CultureLEEDS
14 - Apr - BloodChild and Other Stories - Octavia Butler
13 - Mar - The Year of the Hare - Arto Paasilinna
12 - Feb - Heat Wave - Richard Castle
11 - Jan - The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint - Brady Udall
10 - Nov - Flowers for Algernon - Daniel Keyes

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Book Club - Table of Contents
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Book Club - Table of Contents

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World Book Night 2012 - The Books... BookElf's verdict

I made this: BookElf at 12:51 pm 0 comments Links to this post
This is what I think. Not what everyone in Leeds Book Club thinks.
So another year and another World Book Night. After having such an amazing time last March, I (and AR, and I hope a shed load of you!) have once again signed up to be a giver.
When the list of books being released was published last night, there were some reservations on my part. Mostly along the 'what is the point of putting out-of-copyright books that you can buy for ten pence on the list' lines. Then I realised two things. Firstly that one of my favourite ever books ever, I Capture The Castle, was on the list, and secondly, as I have already pointed out this week, you can already buy a shed load of books for ten pence, so why am I moaning?
The list is fairly comprehensive, though there are some moans about there being no poetry included this year, after Carol Ann Duffy's The World's Wife was such a fav last year. I'm not the biggest poetry fan in the world, but a hell of a lot of emerging readers, and reading groups, love it, and as research from The Reader Organisation shows, poetry can massively help with relaxation, and is therefore a benefit for mental health.
What I think this year's list has once again proven is that no one is entirely sure of World Book Night's aims. It clearly isn't to get the nation's favourites out there, To Kill a Mocking Bird, that won the frankly ludicrous 'top 100' polling list earlier this year isn't included, though I suspect this is due to Harper Lee quite rightly not being vastly keen on the work that goes into promoting WBN, and of the royalties lost, what with this being a set-text and all. I imagine secondary school teachers and currently morning the loss of a free class set of brand new note-free books.
But if it isn't about what 'we', whoever, 'we' are (the literate? Who borrow more James Patterson and Danielle Steele than Austen and Ishiguro? Who still buy a Mills and Boon every three seconds? Oh, the 'actual' literate, the ones who count. I see) want to read, or want others to read, what is it about? Getting people to read for pleasure? I don't think so.
The one book that's got more of my mature students who 'don't' read reading more than any other isn't on the list, and I suspect never will be. It's 'A Child Called It' by Dave Pelzer. Only last week I had a woman come back for more, she's now borrowed three Cathy Kelly's and I've requested a shed load more from other libraries for her. These books, 'misery porn', are incredibly popular, and what's more populist. Yet they are mocked, including by myself, for being nothing but trash that only somehow disturbed people would enjoy.
Last year Alexander Master's phenomenal book Stuart: A Life Backwards made the list, and I immediately jumped on it, because I know it's good and I know it would make people want to read. And I was right; one woman who took the book with her rang me within the week singing it's praises, having made everyone in her office read it. It's never on the shelves at work.
So why is the only biographical text on the list Touching The Void, an inspiring story or hardship, yes, but hardly one with which the one out of three people in this country that have been affected by abuse or neglect in childhood can empathise with, realising that reading is for them, and can be a hobby they could participate in? Why is A Tale of Two Cities on the list? Why is I Capture The Castle? It's my favourite book, and I've obvious applied for it, but I want to inspire people to become readers, I want reading to loose the stigma surrounding it. I want my children to be able to read avidly for pleasure without being othered as geeks, and not have to reclaim that word and stick a vintage £40 cardigan on it fifteen years later in order for it to pass as acceptable. I Capture The Castle isn't going to do that; it will speak to the tiny minority of teenage girls like I used to be, but I'd have turned out alright anyway. I'd have much rather had a book that I know people will lap up. There isn't one piece of YA on the list (and no The Book Thief doesn't count, The Book Thief is to YA what smoked salmon is to a fry up. Just because they're both eaten in the morning doesn't mean they're on the same plate).
However, I do have a gripe at the 'they're books everyone has already read' moan that was also going round. I thought that about Northern Lights last year, and look how wrong I was! This year I've been beaming with joy as three of my friends worked through that series together, all because it was part of the donated pile in March.
Anyways, apart from those small moans, I think it's a great list. World Book Night itself takes place on 23 April 2012, which is a Monday (?), and I'm going to place a large bet that Arcadia let us take over their side room. Hell, we could even take over the pub if we get enough people! I've applied, N's applied, I know a couple of others have, but even if none of us get to be givers (and I've got every finger and toe crossed as I cannot WAIT to make people read I Capture The Castle, in fact, I'm going to anyway...) I'll throw a book party the weekend after round mine. We can all dress up as fictional characters and talk loudly about our favourite books. But no one is allowed to recycle their Game of Thrones costumes from February, that's cheating.

Monday, 24 October 2011

Exciting News!!!!

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LeedsBookClub are delighted to announce that we are being joined by the rather fabulous fellow book addict - 

- henceforth to be abbreviated to BH!

With a special interest in young adult fiction, all things fright-inducing and a scary obsession with the Labyrinth (SOUL SISTER!!!); we can't wait for her to get stuck in and start blogging!!

Best of luck Booky! 
And welcome to the LBC family!!

Much Ado About Whedon - when fandoms collide...

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Joss Whedon has made a film.

A film based on a play.

The cast is positively teeming with former collaborators from Buffy, Angel, Firefly, Doctor Horrible and Dollhouse.

We know very little else.
However, if the name is anything to go by; the play might just be Much Ado About Nothing by a little known and under appreciate playwright - William Shakespeare.

For anyone who thinks that Shakespeare's plays are a bit dry - this is the one that will convert you!
The language is flowing (and primarily prose); the plot is engaging; the quick witted, fast talking Beatrice and Benedick are a delight and their 'merry war' is both hilariously expressed and highly relevant today!

I hugely enjoyed the 1993 version starring Emma Thompson, Kenneth Branagh, Michael Keaton, Kate Beckingsale, Robert Sean Leonard (Wilson from House!) Keanu Reeves and Denzel Washington (as brothers...no really!). If you haven't seen it - do - it's luscious. 

However, I have to admit to being EVEN MORE EXCITED about this! It's WHEDON PEOPLE!!


I'm additionally delighted as I've been half thinking that I need to refresh my Shakespeare and now I have the perfect excuse! Guess what's just appeared on my reading list!!!

Much Ado About Nothing - Project Gutenberg
Much Ado About Nothing - Kindle (also on PG as free!)
Much Ado About Nothing - iBooks

*For those who aren't aware; I'm a huge fan of Joss Whedon. Hence the fangirl squeeeeee

Give It All Up For the 80s Massive...

I made this: BookElf at 11:22 am 0 comments Links to this post
Back in the Midst of Time, I journeyed back to my home town for Scarborough Lit Fest. This was a lovely day, including my old favs Sarah Waters and Kate Atkinson, but I also saw an hilarious talk by Sarah Harrison, a writer I'd never even heard of, but was very keen to discover as she seemed Right Up My Street.

Sarah Harrison started writing for Women and Home magazine in her twenties and was commissioned to write her biggest seller, Flowers of the Field, in 1980. It's sequel, A Flower That's Free was published four years later. Both epitomise what is best about 80s historical bonk-busters; they're both about 800 pages long, both dealing with Strong Women Going Through Times of Adversity, and both have plenty of naughty bits to keep train journeys interesting. I found both of them in Poverty Aid for 10p each (again, eBooks cannot compete with second hand dead trees for what you can find in Pov Aid, whose mission to fill my house with 80s romance novels with ridiculous covers purely because they are so incredibly cheap seems never to want to end) and A Flower That's Free was heavily embossed as well, in gold, just to make that 80s experience the better.

I loved them. Completely loved them. Pure escapism with a bit of danger thrown in. Flowers of the Field introduces the Tennent family and their hangers on, with the main crux of the story following the two sisters, Thea and Dulcie, and their various loves and friends, from the early 1900s to just after the First World War. A Flower That's Free continues where Field left off, with the story of Thea's adopted daughter Kate.

They are both very very silly, and conform to that classic historical-epic thing of at least one semi major character appearing at every major historical event that occurs in the time line of the novel. So we see the the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and famous Christmas Football game in the trenches. This device is even more outrageously used in A Flower That's Free, with everything from the Berlin Olympics to the Battle of Britain witnessed by someone related to the plot.

Of the two books, Flowers of the Field is better written, but A Flower That's Free is more enjoyable, just for it's silliness, and the character of Kate, the spoilt, troubled daughter of the house. The first book focuses heavily on Thea, a far-too-likable heroine. Like Scarlett, Amber and all the rest, we all need someone we can hate a little bit. Kate is awful, and makes a succession of bad choices the reader can gloat over. Flowers of the Field is also the more romantic book, with the character's begetting of a truer, higher love being the main plot aim, whereas A Flower That's Free is down right rude, shockingly so in places. Flowers of the Field you'd lend to your Gran, A Flower That's Free you'd nick off your Gran's shelves as a kid and read it by torch light under the blankets.

If you are a romance fan, seek these out. Both great fun, and a nice little distraction from how horrible everything is at the moment. I've already lent them to my fellow slush-lover, and she also thinks they're a hit. So thank you Scarborough Lit Fest, for bringing them into my life!

Happy Reading

BookElf xxx

Saturday, 22 October 2011

A Christmas Carol

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Please all flock to twitter to thank @monkeyson for providing me with the following links. Ain't he a star?
Then follow him. 
For he is LEGEND. 

FREE versions of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol for Kindles
A Christmas Carol for iBooks

While you can download the whole book here from Project Gutenberg in a number of different formats. 

And as a reward for reading this post:

* * * * *
Christmas - Table of Contents

Friday, 21 October 2011

2009 - the year of the Kate - Part 1 - Morton

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For the last few years; it hasn't been possible to step into a book store and not see a large poster with an enigmatic image of a garden printed on it, promoting some historical mystery or other.
The fault can be laid solely at the door one Australian author, who captured readers imaginations around the world in 2007 so successfully that ever since every publisher promoting female authors have aped her cover art (the same way that historic thrillers written from 2003 onwards have aped the Da Vinci Code...in both art and content...)!

Kate Morton didn't creep up on the reading world, she *EXPLODED* onto the scene! Every reader of note in my life recommended her works to me at some point or another. As a club; the original trio at LeedsBookClub sort of discovered Kate Morton's books together. We were late to the game - waiting in our usual way to pick up a copy second hand or from a library - which I'm delighted about as it meant the hype had faded somewhat. We went in with few expectations and were free to sink into the books without any preconceptions.

We rarely seemed to read the books at the same time - this having more to do with our entirely unrealistic and unmanageable 'must read' book piles than through any sense of reluctance!
I do remember that t'elf and I read them in their printed order, though I think the Silent Partner (the non-blogging member of the original LeedsBookClub trio) read the second one first, followed by the first.

Recently, the SP lent me the third Kate Morton book. We're going to have a proper session once I pass it over to t'elf, but I thought I would share my thoughts with y'all here. I'll update with the others thoughts at a later date!


The House at Riverton 2007

Summer 1924
On the eve of a glittering society party, by the lake of a grand English country house, a young poet takes his life. The only witnesses, sisters Hannah and Emmeline Hartford, will never speak to each other again.

Winter 1999
Grace Bradley, ninety-eight, one time housemaid of Riverton Manor, is visited by a young director making a film about the poet's suicide. Ghosts awaken and old memories - long consigned to the dark reaches of Grace's mind - begin to sneak back through the cracks. A shocking secret threatens to emerge, something history has forgotten but Grace never could.
One of the best written upstairs/downstairs, now/then books I've ever read! This is an incredibly visual book - the word cinematic has been used by others - and I have to agree.
I'd just watched the heart-breaking, gut-wrenching Atonement and am not ashamed to admit that I used the visuals from that to inform my mental imagery - Keira Knightly as Hannah etc.
(PLEASE NOTE - Atonement is a fantastic book, but utterly incomparable with this one. I've seen a review that placed them side by side and just couldn't agree. Yes, both deal with similar incidents, during a similar time frame but are written with such differing styles as to occupy different sphere's of thought, for me anyway.)

I devoured this book - I'd have read it in one giant gulp if I hadn't had insignificant things like eating; sleeping and working to unnecessarily distract me. Although the denouncement is not as big a surprise as the build up would have suggested; I was sufficiently emotionally involved that I felt it keenly.
OK, the dialogue was in parts a tad clunky, but as debut's go, I found this to be an exciting introduction to a new talent.

AR - 9/10
BE - 9/10
SP - 7/10

The Forgotten Garden 2009

Cassandra is lost, alone and grieving. Her much loved grandmother, Nell, has just died and Cassandra, her life already shaken by a tragic accident ten years ago, feels like she has lost everything dear to her. But an unexpected and mysterious bequest from Nell turns Cassandra's life upside down and ends up challenging everything she thought she knew about herself and her family.

Inheriting a book of dark and intriguing fairy tales written by Eliza Makepeace - the Victorian authoress who disappeared mysteriously in the early twentieth century - Cassandra takes her courage in both hands to follow in the footsteps of Nell on a quest to find out the truth about their history, their family and their past; little knowing that in the process, she will also discover a new life for herself.

I'm afraid I was quite disappointed at this offering - which felt more like a copycat version of Kate Moton than a fresh offering by her. Perhaps it was a mistake to read one book directly after the other - I did have such high expectations going into it.  

Once again, the book is set primarily in England, though there are brief forays into Australia. Once again it moves between two time frames. Once again there are two primary protagonists - Nell in the past and Cassandra in the present. It borrows VERY heavily from the Secret Garden, without capturing the fresh winds of change that identify that work so powerfully. Dark and Gothic in places, these traits feel more like stereotypes of the genera than a continuation of the noble tradition of Jane Eyre. 

However, it is very readable. The language and imagery is as beautiful as I'd come to expect from Ms Morton. The dialogue is in fact much stronger than in it's predecessor. The romantic elements are not as tainted by tragedy, making them lighter and more believable in places. In fact, I think that the writing was improved upon; it was the plot - too similar to Riverton and more convoluted - that let me down. It also felt far too drawn out - ultimately the descriptions were wonderful but utterly let down by what felt like a much more slender plot.  

The SP totally disagrees with me here (though I think that BE and I are of one mind - I'll have to check). She was introduced to the author from this book and much prefers it to the House at Riverton. I think that with such similar books, whichever you discover first will be the one that you prefer (funny - just made me think of the Da Vinci code again. I was introduced to Dan Brown after Angels and Demons and have always preferred it to it's better selling sibling).  

AR - 6/10
BE - 7/10
SP - 8/10

The Distant Hours 2010
A lost letter arrives in the post and Edie Burchill finds herself on a journey to Milderhurst Castle, a great but mouldering old house, where the Blythe spinsters live and where her mother was billeted 50 years before as a 13 year old child during WWII. The elder Blythe sisters are twins and have spent most of their lives looking after the third and youngest sisters, Juniper, who hasn't been the same since her fiance jilted her in 1941.

Inside the decaying castle, Edie begins to unravel her mother's past. But there are other secrets hidden in the stones of Milderhurst and Edie is about to learn more than she expected. The truth of what happened in 'the distant hours' of the past has been waiting a long time for someone to find it.

My thought process while reading this book went something like this:
'Ok, time jumping - check. Female protagonists - check. She's found her style and she is sticking with it. Ohh, that's a bit dark and moody. Good, I like proper Gothic. How many new characters are going to be described down to the DNA strand?
Ooooo I think I know where this is going...wait...what's happened there? HOLY MOTHER OF...WHAT THE... ah no...oh that's so sad...NO WAY! *sob*...well that was just...WHAT?!? So she's wrong...OH MY SWEET SAINTS. so really...WWWWWWWWWWWWWWAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAA'.
No really. Possibly a little less lucid, but that was pretty much it. 

The book is overlong. The descriptions - though beautiful - are overdone. There are too many characters, too many strands, too much build up, too many diverging story lines.
Ms Morton has completely fixed her dialogue issue. Each character is distinct, both in actions and in speech. Unlike her second book (in my opinionation*) the huge build up is matched by the equally immense plotting.

The beauty is that you never really feel like the plot is convoluted until the end. It feels more like there are going to be loads of loose ends and then - well - let's just say it's a deeply emotionally satisfying and rewarding book. I heartily recommend and will be passing over to the Elf as soon as possible!

AR - 8/10
BE - /10
SP - 8/10

*Gratuituous Blossom reference

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