01 March 2013

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling: book club discussion Part 1 (contains spoilers)

This Part 1 of the book club discussion that took place in relation to JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. For more information see "Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (something a little different)"

Was there one character in particular that you felt strongly about? Pity, sympathy, disgust? And did it change over the course of the book?  

JD I felt very sorry for Tessa. She tried hard to keep her family together and do the right thing by her husband and son. She obviously had a deep desire to have a baby even though her husband was unwell. I really wanted a happy ever after for her and I also wanted her to step up and take care of Krystal and Robbie. I wanted someone (anyone) to take care of them. The way it went was more realistic to today's society and that made me very sad and made it hard to read at times. Give me a happily ever after book now please!!

SH I really felt something for Krystal but mostly Robbie. Even though he wasn't a main character... I felt like the outcome of the vote would make or break his family. I was hoping Krystals little plan would work out. It's ironic that while trying to fall pregnant, to protect her brother, it actually ended in him dying 

JD agree SH. What did you feel towards theeir mum?  

SH Can I also say... It go to the point where if I had to read 'authentic' again I was going to scream!!!!! I just felt really sad for her JD. Sometimes in the book I felt disgust but mostly I felt pity.  

JD I thought Krystals plan was a bit unlikely. I was stuck on the fact that she had to get pregnant then wait a few weeks to show it on a pregnancy test etc etc before getting placed and that so much was going to go wrong for her and robbie and their mum in that time... oh i didn't get that 'authentic' sub-plot at all. It didn't read well and made little sense. I think she could of explored his need to connect to his family identity differently. 

SH JD as unlikely as it would have been.. I was really counting on a happy ending for her  

BB I wanted to grab Sukhvinders mother and shake her, and give Sukhvinder a big hug!!!!! 

PAGE TURNERS On the authentic thing with the boy (who's name I can't remember) it reminded me of Holden Caulfield. Maybe the boy had just finished catcher in the rye hehe 

PAGE TURNERS What was the little girl’s name that was self harming? I felt for her the most. Poor little thing just wanted to be herself and have some love. She tried to save Robbie when a lot of other people didn't. Jut thinking about her makes me teary.  

BB That was Sukhvinder

PAGE TURNERS Then I'm with you. Lets shake the mother  

ÇAL I felt sorry for a lot of characters. Shirley at the discovery of her husbands affair. Krystal for obvious reasons, and Robbie at that matter. Tessa, but I also saw some of my own Mum's non-understanding in her which I hated. Samantha, the poor girl was being dragged down by her husbands needs to be on the council and total disregard for what she wanted. Most of all I think I felt sorry for Kay. Dragged into a town because of a man she thought loved her to be told that he didn't like her and was in love with someone else. While in Pagford she tried to help out with the Weedons, Gaia's transition from London to a small town, trying to fight to keep the Weedons going at Bellchapel and in the end her case review being reviewed.  

PAGE TURNERS It's so funny you say that CAL Because I feel the opposite about Kay! She was shitting me to tears. I think she knew her relationship with this jerk wasn't working. I didn't feel like she was really in love with him - more hat she was just desperate to be in a relationship and therefore desperate to make this one work when it obviously wasn't going to. And instead of just admitting to herself he wasn't the one she pushed it and pushed it and dragged her daughter into her own mess by making her move. It felt incongruous to me that in the one hand she appeared to have all this concern for the weedon family but she couldn't be honest with herself with what was going on in her own family.  

CAL That's a good way of putting it Page Turners. I agree on some levels but I still think that if Gavin hadn't of led her on she would never have had to pretend their relationship was going well. I wanted to punch Gavin in the head! I hate blokes like him with a passion 

PAGE TURNERS That's a good point. I didn't really Gavin much thought at all throughout the book - he was just so... bland. But you're right that he should have had the guys to tell her a lot earlier that he wasn't tat interested. They were both at fault

Review: The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling (something a little bit different)

Here I am after another long absense. In that long absense, amoungst changing nappies and giving baths, I have managed to do some reading.

A couple of months ago I read JK Rowling's The Casual Vacancy. As a big Harry Potter fan, I was curious to see what else she could produce and whether it would live up to the expectations I held after her previous success.  

Sadly, for me, it didn't. Whilst I can intellectually see what Rowling was trying to achieve, the narrative pace was just too slow for me. I was reading the book because I had to read the book, and it felt like pulling teeth. Until the end, that is, when all of a sudden I found that I had been hooked and couldn't put it down until I had finished it. Did that end make up for the first 3/4 of the book that was as dull as staring at a brick wall? Not for me.

The story is based around the small town of Pagford in rural England. When one of the members of the Parish Council, Barry Fairbrother, passes away local politics becomes nasty as a local election is called to see who will take the position. Factions form according to whether candidates are supporters of or detractors from the local housing estate "The Fields".

We see this drama unfold through the eyes of a host a characters from a range of ages, backgrounds and political views. There is Krystal, a young girl being raised by a drug addict mother in The Fields, trying to keep her family together. Tessa, the school counsellor who has to act as a barrier between her teenage son and her husband, also the Principal of the local High School. Parminder Jawanda, a local doctor who sits on the Parish Council, supports The Fields and is in love with Barry Fairbrother.

That is only to name three of the many characters JK Rowling has filled her book with. I found that with so many characters, the bulk of the first half of the book was spent just introducing them and it became very difficult to remember who everyone was and how they were all related to each other. This distracted from what else might have been going on in the early parts of the story, although to be fair from I could detect it wasn't much.

I read The Casual Vacancy as part of an online book club that I participate in and everyone seemed to have a similar response to the book as I did.

Everyone found that they had to push their way through most of the book and most people found that their attention was finally hooked toward the end of the book when all the threads of the story came together for the final tragedy.

It wasn't until we all started discussing the book, however, that I really began to appreciate just how much JK Rowling had managed to cover in The Casual Vacancy. She dealt with so many social, economic and moral issues of relevance to everyone in a first world country that it made it even more of a shame that the book was so uninteresting. I say this because the more that we discussed the book, the more issues we discovered that the book had got us thinking about; issues such as social services, housing, drug and alcohol rehabilition, parenting and relationships.

So, I propose to do something a little different for the review of The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling. I am going to post some of the discussions we has a book club, to give you some idea of how we collectively responded to the story. 

Where there are spoilers, it will of course be identified, and I will be changing some things to protect my friend's privacy. 

I understand that for a lot of people these discussions will not be relevant unless you have read The Casual Vacancy yourself and for that I aplogise. I hope that this short review will suffice for now to indicate what my thoughts about the book are. 


 photo 4stars.png

 4 / 8
Alright, but I wouldn't recommend it.


 

08 January 2013

Review: Blind Faith by Ben Elton

He worked in the DegSep Division of NatDat. DegSep was short for Degrees of Separation and it existed in order to establish and catalogue the connections (no matter how tenuous) between every single person, every other person and every single thing that happened. 
~Blind Faith by Ben Elton

The "he" referred to here is Trafford, the protagonist of this comic dystopian novel. Blind Faith is set in a future where the world as we know it has been wiped out by a disastrous flood bought on my mankind's carelessness toward the environment. In its place is a world ravaged by plagues, where only 50% of children survive past their 5th birthday and vaccinations are illegal because they contravene God's Will.

In fact, there is now a single world religion in which the entire population participates with blind faith. In this religion, people are told that they are the embodiment of God and that to respect God they must worship themselves. Privacy is seen as a perversion and everything one does is recorded and shared with everyone else via all forms of social media. People must blog daily and place footage of everything from childbirth to sex to shaving their bikini line on You Tube for everyone else watch. This is a world where it is sinful for women to have natural breasts, g-strings are every day dress and McDonalds is the fanciest restaurant around.

Trafford, a conservative man who wears shorts as long as half way down his thigh, secretly despises the world in which he lives and desires the ability to reason for himself. Blind Faith is the story of Trafford's attempt to reason for himself and share his knowledge with the rest of the population.

Blind Faith is essentially a warning. Firstly it is a warning against the dangers of climate change. In this future, the earth has been abused to such an extent that is has responded with a devastating flood, that has killed a significant proportion of the worlds population, changed the geography of the planet and bought with it ravaging diseases.

Secondly, and what struck a nerve with me, it is a warning against what might come as a result of the increasing fascination with sharing our lives and thoughts via social media (blogging for example!). Elton creates a world where people have become so engrossed with themselves and sharing every minute of their lives that they have come to see themselves as the embodiment of God on earth and therefore deserving of the worship of others.

As I was reading the book, I couldn't help but wonder whether or not this was too much of a leap, a little too unbelievable. I can see the dangers of social media. I don't use twitter and I don't use facebook. I don't have an interest in sharing every little thing with every other person who pretends an interest (or even has a real one). If there's something I want to share with someone, I would hope that I could be close enough to that person to share it with them in a more personal way. Yet I found myself wondering as I read the book whether mankind would really take it so far? Scarily though, the more I think about it the more I wonder if it isn't a possibility we should give some thought to. The book has made me wonder why it is that we want to share so many details of our lives in such a public way and what effect this could have on our collective psyche. Already in places like America they allow video cameras in the court room and televise trials. In Australia we see footage on the news of videos people have taken on their mobile phone of incidents they've witnessed where their first response is to pull out their mobile and film it rather than just experience it or assist in any way. I was forcibly reminded of Blind Faith a couple of week ago at the football, when below me in the crowd I witnessed a fight and almost the entire stand around them stand up and pull out their mobiles phones as one and film the fight as if it was entertainment they would laugh over with friends later that night. Could it be that sharing so much about ourselves makes us feel more important than perhaps we should feel? Might we become suspicious of those that don't share their thoughts and actions with others via social media? How far could this go? I don't know the answers to these questions, but Blind Faith certainly raises many of these questions in the reader's mind.

Although some of this might serious, Blind Faith is really a comedy. The world of the future is outrageous. Every time I read some newly uncovered aspect this this future world, like Trafford's conservative shorts that reach half way down his thighs, I found that I had to share it with my partner so that I had someone to laugh with. This outrageousness is, I think, Blind Faith's biggest strength.

Its biggest weakness for me, however, was the way in which Elton delivered his messages. Elton had a definite agenda he wanted to address in relation to the dangers of social media and climate change and as I read the book I felt as though I was being hit over the head with it so to speak. Although it was a funny book, I can think of other works of dystopian fiction dealing with the same issues in a more subtle way.

So, I enjoyed Blind Faith. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I can see that I have got something out of reading it. It's funny and outrageous, although in the end I think that this distracts somewhat from the book's message.



5 / 8 stars
Good and worth reading if you have the opportunity, but there's no need to prioritise it.


Have you ever given any serious thought to the danger that social media might pose to our world in the distant future? How do you think that blogging might contribute to this, if at all?


30 November 2012

Review: The Twelve by Justin Cronin

One of the things I was looking forward to most this year was the release of The Twelve by Justin Cronin. It was worth the wait. I couldn't put it down.

The Twelve felt very different to The Passage. It felt to me to be more of a thriller than a piece of paranormal speculative fiction (or whatever else you might classify it as).

Also, where The Passage seemed to deal more with the experience of the individual in the aftermath of the virus, The Twelve dealt more with the station of the nation following the release of the virus. We see people spread across the country living in different outposts, attempting to establish themselves in a manner they can sustain in the face of the adversity they now face.

Where some of those new cities are facing their challenges with respect for the human race, there is another city being established and controlled by the 'red-eyes' where this is not the case. The Homeland, as it is called, is run by people who have infected themselves with the virus but have not flipped, and they see themselves controlling the world in conjunction with the virals. In this way, an interesting question is raised in The Twelve: how can the virals sustain themselves when they have almost eaten their entire food source? It's a question I am surprised I never really considered while I was reading The Passage. In The Twelve we see one solution imagined by humans who are willing to betray their own race.

The characters I came to know in The Passage had all gone in their separate directions, and yet I still felt attached to them all. I was invested in their lives and read with baited breath to see what had become of them now.

I do have to say I was rather frustrated that there was so much about The Twelve that I didn't understand.

*SPOILER ALERT* Why didn't the red-eyes flip? Why was Lucius Greer so attached to Amy, was he her familiar? What is this ship they were talking about? How was it that Amy came to be talking to Carter, as if in real life? How is it that Wolgast came back into the story as a viral? Why didn't Alicia flip and who is talking to her at the end of the story? My questions could go on and on. *END SPOILER*

I hope very much that these questions are answered in the third book. If not, I am going to need someone a lot smarter than me to explain it all to me. 

Ultimately, the pace was fast and I couldn't stop reading. If I were to be honest with myself I think that a big part of why I couldn't put it down was my commitment to The Passage rather than the contents of this book, but I still loved every minute of it.



7 / 8 
Brilliant, couldn't put it down. Recommend that you buy it. 


So, who else has read The Twelve yet? I am dying to hear what you thought of it after all the anticipation. Were you as confused about a lot of what happened as I was?

27 November 2012

Has anyone participated in an online book club?

Just wondering if anyone has participated in an online bookclub before and how it worked? Did someone pose questions on a website for people to discuss in the comments? Did people write their own reviews and post to share with everyone? Just looking for some ideas. Thanks in advance.

20 November 2012

Review: Earthly Delights by Kerry Greenwood (Australian)

Kerry Greenwood's Earthly Delights was an easy and enjoyable read, albeit one I wouldn't rave about to everyone. 

Earthly Delights is a detective story. The protagonist Corinna Chapman is a straightforward woman who runs her own successful bakery. Like a lot of detective stories, there are a series of mysteries to be solved. Who is the stalker who is threatening all the owners of Corinna's unit block? Is Corinna's new bloke Daniel more than he seems? Why has a junkie ended up dead in Corinna's back yard?

Whilst I can tell you the main mysteries that Corinna was faced with in Earthly Delights, I must admit that for me, months later, the plot is pretty forgettable.

Perhaps some of the plot got lost in amoungst the larger than life characters. In Earthly Delights we have a baker, a dominatrix, a Wiccan, a professor, an old married couple, a social worker helping the homeless, computer geeks and stupid young girls. Although this provided great variety, and people are certainly varied, it still struck me as a bit too far fetched that you find so many unusual individuals all living within a stones throw of each other and all being involved in one way or another with each other. What else struck me about the characters is that even though each appeared so unique on the surface, somehow or other they all feel so cliched. I felt like I could just tick of the cliches as I went, the hippy witch, the Gen Y girls obsessed with their phones and clothes, the handsome do gooder and so on and so forth.

What I appreciated even less than the cliched characters... were the cats. Corinna Chapman is a cat person. And I am not. I must admit I heard far too much about her 3(?) cats and what they got up to.

What I did appreciate was that Greenwood was certainly trying to make a point about drug use and homelessness in Australian society, and how people who live with these issues are viewed by the broader population. As someone who works with people like this I could identify to a certain extent with the way in which those people were portrayed. Greenwood was able to make her point that sometimes people fall into situations that they can't get themselves out of, and sometimes (only sometimes mind you) some help and compassion can help those people make some positive change in their lives.

Earthly Delights is a harmless and enjoyable read. Fun read... but nothing special. I suppose it didn't help that I read it straight after having read The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith. They were, despite their different settings, similar in terms of having a strong female protagonist with a variety of mysteries to solve, and her own personal history to come to terms with. And yet The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency delivered this in a unique manner without any cliches. And, at heart, I am still a Phryne Fisher girl when it comes to Kerry Greenwood.



5.5 / 8
Enjoyable. I would recommend it if you are looking for an easy read to fill some time. 


Do you ever feel that your feeling about a certain book is effected by the book you read before it?
  I would be interested to hear when it has happened to you and how you felt the book effected your reading of the following one. 

01 October 2012

What am I reading at the moment?

Well, it's been along time since I joined in with Book Journey's "It's Monday! What are you reading?" 

I am, however, trying to increasingly read and blog so I thought that this was the perfect opportunity to share what's been going on in my reading life.

I recently finished read A Hologram for the King by Dave Eggers. Eggers is the author of books such as Zeitoun, What is the What and A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. I read A Hologram for the King for the book club my friends and I have formed amoungst ourselves (all 3 of us!). There was a consensus amoung us that although it was an easy and interesting read, there was nothing in it that any of us could identify with and so it fell a little flat.

I am currently in the middle of rereading The Return of the King by JRR Tolkien before I go to bed. What can I say? I could read Lord of the Rings over and over again. If I was marooned on a desert island and could only take one book, that would be it. 

I am about to start rereading Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte ahead of the release of the new movie directed by Andrea Arnold. I read Wuthering Heights some time ago, and remembering finding it very black. I am looking forward to reading it again because I think it is going to be one of those books that improves with every reading because you notice more and more of the nuances of the story.

Why all the rereading? That's all I have space for in my mind at the moment but I am not too concerned. I find that rereading a book is often a way to find new parts of the story that you hadn't previously appreciated.

I would love to know if you often reread books? Why/why not?