Category Archives: LBC Reviewers
Recently, I went away for a weeks holiday. For the first time in years, I didn’t bring anything to read with me.
I’ve been in the midst of a reading funk for such a long time now, I’m starting to disbelieve that I ever read for pleasure! In the last few months, I’ve seen it as a victory if I manage to complete my book club choices (there are been some really gripping ones recently, which has made it much easier!) in time for the discussion. The thought of pulling out one of my vast collection of as yet un-read novels has made me feel vaguely anxious – a far cry from a few years ago when choosing the next read produced a sweet thrill of delight with equivalent side effects of a large lump of chocolate.
So going away without bringing a book was probably for the best, at least that was my reasoning. I’d be under no pressure, if I didn’t have one on me. (The counter side was that I also felt faintly like I was giving up; losing a hobby…nay a trait that I really liked about myself. Yes, my brain is enjoying the gymnastics currently.)
Thankfully, my mother keeps a varied and busy book shelf and within half an hour of arriving, I found – to my immense relief – that the siren song of the printed word still enticed me!!Before long, I had selected a slim (not intimidating) book by Jennifer Johnston – an Irish author I have long been aware of but never read.
She is noted for writing with a particular awareness of the Church of Ireland community within modern day Ireland (her own faith) – a perspective that isn’t often found in contemporary Irish fiction. Also, she’s been nominated for (and won loads) tons of literary prizes, so I was curious to see how I’d get on.
The Invisible Worm (BLURB from Amazon)
It starts with a funeral. The great and the good have assembled: the President has sent a representative, and dignitaries are there in force. And Laura remembers those two terrible events. But was the tragedy out at sea an accident? Was the experience in the summerhouse cause rather than effect?
With wonderful delicacy and economy, Jennifer Johnston has stripped bare the lives of a family overwhelmed by more than one of the deadly sins. The Invisible Worm contains greater power and passion than most novels three times its length.
The way the Ms Johnston writes is as once minimalist yet descriptive. There isn’t a single wasted word or redundant sentence throughout the book. With a deft hand, she can at once be whimsical and funny, while tackling some very dark themes.
This book focused on a very small group of characters and only one is ever explored in a detailed way; yet all felt fully rounded and realistic. I loved Laura. I’d never act the way that she did, but I felt like I understood her and respected her. There is a beautifully non-judgemental tone to this book that allowed me to relax into it and accept the characters and plot without getting wound up or ‘having opinions’. Reading this was really rather a soothing experience.
I so enjoyed it that I committed that irritating cardinal sin; where I started reading – context free – random lines and passages to my mum (patience of a saint, that one!). It’s an incredibly easy read – not only because it’s a snapshot of an individual and pretty short, but mostly because the language used, the words, the landscape drawn are at once so familiar and yet so foreign that you can’t help but feel connected.
And it’s the first book I’ve read for pure pleasure in fricking ages! So much so, I’ve even blogged about it and it’s been ever longer for that!!!!
Go! Read! Then let me know so that we can just praise it over and over 🙂
One by one the boys begin to fall…
In 1914 a room full of German schoolboys, fresh-faced and idealistic, are goaded by their schoolmaster to troop off to the ‘glorious war’. With the fire and patriotism of youth they sign up. What follows is the moving story of a young ‘unknown soldier’ experiencing the horror and disillusionment of life in the trenches.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR (AMAZON)
Erich Maria Remarque was a German author and veteran of the First World War. He was born 1898 in Osnabrück, Germany. At the age of 18 he was conscripted into the German army. During his service he was wounded by shrapnel in the left leg, right arm and neck. Following the war he worked as a primary school teacher, and later as a librarian, a journalist and a technical writer.
Among Remarque’s published novels were All Quiet on the Western Front, The Road Back, Three Comrades and Arch of Triumph. His works were publicly burned by the Nazi German government, and in 1947 he and his first wife became naturalised citizens of the United States. Four years earlier, his sister had been executed at the behest of Hitler’s ‘People’s Court’.
Remarque adapted the book Ten Days to Die, about Hitler’s final days, as a screenplay, and he also wrote for the stage. His last novel was The Night in Lisbon, published in 1962. During his lifetime Remarque married twice and had love affairs with the actresses Hedy Lamarr, Marlene Dietrich and Greta Garbo.
Thanks very much to the wonderful Karoline for hosting and writing up this book club – find her here @KarolineAKemp!
It was good to welcome two new faces to our discussion, Jane and Katy who also come to White Swan.
We had a discussion about the translation, some of the group had a more recent translation from the mid 1990’s and it was generally felt to be much more accessible than the earlier one. We also discussed the translation of the title, the note on the new translation states that a direct translation from the German is ‘Nothing New on the Western Front’
The book was fairly easy to read in the modern translation and it was noted that that the tense changed from the singular to the plural during the scenes at the front. It was noted that nowadays we expect to have strong characterisation and narrative drive from contemporary fiction but that there is no narrative drive in War. As the book went on it became more and more detached as Paul became more detached from his own life.
AQOTWF is written from the point of view of a German private Paul. It was felt that the language used was chosen to emphasise the commonality and gruelling of experience of trench warfare regardless of side. Emphasised particularly in the scene in the shell hole with the solider that he killed. It is also something that has been brought out recently by historians of the First World War (see the History Hit podcast with @gerarmyresearch).
It was felt that the language used effectively conveyed vivid imagery of the experiences of being in the front line as well as the banality of being behind the lines when comic interludes such as Kat getting the food were used to good effect. The emphasis on the food (or lack) of it conveyed its importance to the troops, most effectively that when they suddenly get good food they realise that it means they are heading to the front line.
We felt that the characterisation was kept deliberately vague, the concentration was on passages dealing with Paul’s interior life such as when he was on leave and felt totally alienated from his previous life, We felt that Paul represented the everyman, he grew but never lost his humanity.
We felt that the strong bond between the school friends was shown well. We all felt the horror of the scenes with the rats and felt that the scenes in the mists where very lyrical which intensified the horror.
The book also pointed out how much harder it was going to be for the younger men who had become soldiers straight from school to readjust and/or keep going as they didn’t have families/jobs to go back to. It was also very scathing about the generation who were too old to fight themselves but where very vocal at making the younger generations go.
We decided that we would have preferred the end to have been left more open than it was and felt that it packed a lot into quite a slim book.
Trailer for the 1979 film[youtube https://youtu.be/DX1PW2n8POg]
When we asked our Brownies what they really wanted to do this year, they told us they wanted to visit London.
We’re a Leeds Brownie unit, based in LS4/LS6, for whom money is tight, and we’d love to give our girls, aged 7-11, the trip of their lives. For most of them it will be their first time visiting London, for some their first time away from home.
We’d love to make this as cheap a trip as possible so that ALL our Brownies can join us, and for that to happen we need your help!
Funds will go initially to cover transport and accommodation costs, and to buy food for the girls. If there is any left over we’d love to have some thing special to look forward to, any suggestions let us know!
We’re travelling down in February. The girls are planning a fundraising Christmas Fair (more details as and when) and our plucky Eagle Owl Jess is going to complete the Leeds Country Way-a 63 round trip all around Leeds-all to raise money.
If you can spare a fiver, that would pay for tea for one of the girls. We’re grateful for every penny and will keep updates on things we’re planning, and let you know how the trip goes!
You’ll be making twenty little girl’s wishes come true with every donation-on behalf of them all THANK YOU for your very kind donations.
If you have a moment, please check out the JustGiving page here!
Convinced? Donate HERE!
Or ‘ that time I saw Magneto and Cap’t Picard on stage together’
No Man’s Land blurb
Following their hit run on Broadway, Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart return to the UK stage in Sean Mathias’ acclaimed production of No Man’s Land, one of the most brilliantly entertaining plays by Nobel Prize laureateHarold Pinter.
One summer’s evening, two ageing writers, Hirst and Spooner, meet in a Hampstead pub and continue their drinking into the night at Hirst’s stately house nearby. As the pair become increasingly inebriated, and their stories increasingly unbelievable, the lively conversation soon turns into a revealing power game, further complicated by the return home of two sinister younger men.
What a strange, intense, odd play. I’m not sure that I ‘got it’ necessarily, but I was enthralled throughout!
Harold Pinter wrote this absurdist play in 1974 and it has either delighted or confused all who have watched it ever since. Hirst – portrayed by Patrick Stewart – is a wealthy, aristocrat, patron and poet. His former Oxford friend Spooner – brought to life by Ian McKellen – is also a poet, but one who has fallen on much harder times. In the initial stages, Hirst is cold and almost rude to his guest, sometimes appears confused as to where he is and who he is with; while Spooner is a long winded, obsequious leach. However, as the show progresses, Hirst has a second wind and the two alternate between reminiscing and baiting one another.
RANDOM FACT – Each character is named after an English cricketer.
The stage setting managed to be both lavish and minimal. It is obviously a very grand room, high ceilings, a well stocked bar discretely placed at the back. However, there is only one comfortable chair – at all times reminding us of Hirst’s status and only two less comfortable chairs scattered throughout the room. I found the negotiation for the chairs – when all four character all onstage, one is conspicuously left standing – to be particularly interesting.
It feels almost unnecessary to speak to the quality of the players. From the second that the (somewhat creepy) moving forest backdrop lifts and Sirs Ian and Pat presented, I was locked into place, utterly focused on the stage. Due to their characters ancient competition and utter inebriation, Spooner and Hirst attempt to one up one another, with increasingly ridiculous assertions and anecdotes. The sheer verbosity of the characters – let alone their ability to articulate some really peculiar lines – and that they remain compelling throughout – well, I personally did feel like I was watching two grand masters of the stage at work. Even though I’m not sure I was following the Pinter side of things at all; it was a privilege to watch.
Owen Teale and Damien Molony in their supporting roles of Briggs and Foster were equally impressive. Their motives – heck, even their relationship with Hirst – is never really clearly delineated and each appears to regard Spooner as a nuisance and a threat. Their presence alone ups the tension levels, as well as introducing a physicality previously lacking. For the first time, there is an undercurrent of violence – it directly ties into Hirst and Spooner’s history, but is separate from it. Really odd, but quite powerful. That the actors managed to apply such nuance to their characters (a few of us speculated about their characters backstories, friendship, protectiveness and so on for some time after the curtains closed!) in such a short span speaks to their respective skills. Irritatingly, I was well into the second half before I recognised Molony from Being Human and Ripper Street – he is transformed in this.
The show ends ambiguously. At least, I think it does. We certainly had lots of questions as we headed out. A new friend, who happens to be a nurse, and I speculated as to whether Hirst had dementia? Was Foster really his son – and he had forgotten it? Would that explain why he knew Spooner one moment, and not the next? How had Foster and Briggs met – from Foster’s point of view? Was Spooner actually the most genuinely masculine, owning his cringing self, while the others puffed out their chests in a show of Alpha status…Did any of this actually have anything to do with anything?
It’s my favourite feeling walking out of a theatre.
Personally, I would recommend this showing and this cast to anyone. However, I would normally be a lot more circumspect in pushing Pinter onto others as I do find his work to be really dense and locked into a particular time frame and context.
Embarrassing aside – there’s a moment where Hirst (Patrick Stewart) face plants onto the floor. For one second, I honestly thought that my Captain had just collapsed on stage, before cottoning onto the fact that Ian McKellen was still in character. I wasn’t the only one either – there was a proper gasp and an ‘oh shit no’ from others in the audience too.
Massive thanks to @HalfPintBlonde for inviting me to join in on this lovely day out. My first ‘live’ Pinter (boy, does his stuff make marginally more sense on a stage as opposed to on the page), my first theatre trip in FAR too long and my first proper visit to Sheffield ever!
By Harold Pinter
Directed by Sean Mathias
Ian McKellen – Spooner
Patrick Stewart – Hirst
Owen Teale – Briggs
Damien Molony – Foster
It would be terribly neglectful not to acknowledge the beautiful setting for this production. The Lyceum opened its doors in 1897, though there has been a theatre on the site since at least 1879. It dates from the Edwardian era – in fact it is the only surviving theatre build outside of London by esteemed architect W.G.R. Prague (ain’t wikipedia grand!) and has Grade II listed status.
Capable of housing an audience of 1000; it doesn’t feel like a grand space. There is an intimacy and friendly atmosphere that permeated throughout – most notably in the stalls which were a bit on the squeezy side, but I always think that encourages chatter with your neighbours, so for me a solid positive! (Oh and when you exit, there is this weird TARDIS like staircase where you seemed to go down far more stairs than you ever went up. Kinda cool.)
Buy Tickets HERE
Sheffield Theatres is the largest theatre complex outside London. Across our three auditoria: the Crucible, the Lyceum and the Crucible Studio, we offer a huge variety of home-grown and touring productions, as well as a thriving programme of participatory events and activities.
As many of you know, Leeds Book Club just wouldn’t work without the effervescent Helen – she runs LBC Puffins, co-hosts LBC White Swan and is up for each and every reading challenge (that orientates around books for younger people). Frankly I don’t know how she does it – she’s a tireless wonder and source of inspiration and joy.
So it comes as no surprise to find that she has taken on a new challenge and will be completing a 10km run next month to raise money for a great cause.
If you can, have a read below and send any and all support to Helen (from virtual hugs to actual pennies).
There is still 4 weeks to go before the big run! All encouragement is greatly appreciated.
LBC White Swan
The Perks of Being a Wallflower
Charlie is a freshman. And while he’s not the biggest geek in the school, he is by no means popular. Shy, introspective, intelligent beyond his years yet socially awkward, he is a wallflower, caught between trying to live his life and trying to run from it. Charlie is attempting to navigate his way through uncharted territory: the world of first dates and mixed tapes, family dramas and new friends; the world of sex, drugs, and The Rocky Horror Picture Show, when all one requires is that perfect song on that perfect drive to feel infinite. But Charlie can’t stay on the sideline forever. Standing on the fringes of life offers a unique perspective. But there comes a time to see what it looks like from the dance floor.
“We accept the love we think we deserve.”
The Perks of Being a Wallflower is a deeply affecting coming-of-age story that will spirit you back to those wild and poignant roller-coaster days known as growing up. -Goodreads
About the Author
He is the recipient of the Abraham Polonsky Screenwriting Award for his screenplay Everything Divided as well as a participant in the Sundance Institute’s filmmakers’ lab for his current project, Fingernails and Smooth Skin. Chbosky lives in New York. -Goodreads
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In this case it is Charlie, who tells his story through a series of letters to a stranger. We learn all about his family and his school years. The book is a one person narrative and we never hear from any other characters point of view, just Charlie’s.
The book however does go into some interesting areas and looks at teenage relationships, drugs, sexuality, sexual abuse and mental health. The book did get banned in America in some schools due to the subjects it covered.
The gay prejudices portrayed in the book were really well done and use of characters, creating trigger points into the story, leading to revelations such as Patrick and his relationship with Brad, and then onto Charlie and his relationship with his Aunt Helen. The group felt that Charlie and his constant crying was a bit irritating yet Patrick and his troubles, was very well depicted and Sam, the lead female seemed to be a ‘pretty’ character who showed up when needed.
Going back to the story, throughout the book its all about how Charlie sees the world, and how it lead to him discovering or rediscovering that he was abused by his Aunt Helen when he was much younger like she was by a family friend and how this leads him to be found in a catatonic state and taken to a mental hospital.
The book touches on the subject of repressed memories and feelings and trigger points, on family members and secrets, on how we want to be perceived in the world and how we treat each other. Some of the group felt the book was actually read as a mental illness and if you re-read it you could see the cracks appearing throughout the story.
“Even if we don’t have the power to choose where we come from, we can still choose where we go from there”
Overall the group agreed teenagers are exhausting, complicated and lack emotion and although the book appeared not to be well written, it did have a lot of purpose in its story, the way it was laid out in letter form, represented human thought, and lead onto an interesting way to introduce the subjects it covered, saying that a few believed if the had read it as a teenager they may have got into it more.
Thank you for reading.
*Tangents: Big debate on drugs and drug use Music: Niamh made Fleetwood Mac get together. Don’t argue with Niamh. Niamh is Irish, had a fight and lost a tooth???. Niamh can quote Shakespeare.
For further details, please email me at email@example.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!
The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge
The leaves were cold and slightly clammy. There was no mistaking them. She had seen their likeness painstakingly sketched in her father’s journal. This was his greatest secret, his treasure and his undoing. The Tree of Lies. Now it was hers, and the journey he had never finished stretched out before her.When Faith’s father is found dead under mysterious circumstances, she is determined to untangle the truth from the lies. Searching through his belongings for clues she discovers a strange tree. A tree that feeds off whispered lies and bears fruit that reveals hidden secrets. The bigger the lie, the more people who believe it, the bigger the truth that is uncovered.The girl realizes that she is good at lying and that the tree might hold the key to her father’s murder, so she begins to spread untruths far and wide across her small island community. But as her tales spiral out of control, she discovers that where lies seduce, truths shatter. . . .A beguiling tale of mystery and intrigue.
Frances Hardinge spent her childhood in a huge, isolated old house in a small, strange village, and the two things inspired her to write strange, magical stories from an early age. She studied English at Oxford University and now lives in Oxford, England.
This latest addition to Puffins was recommended by one of the groups friend. Now, for me as soon as I saw the costa sticker, I wasn’t holding out much hope. Then life got in the way and I found myself sat in the pub on the day of the meeting finishing it off and I loved it. For some of the group the book was a slow burner. It appeared to be building up the story, not something I personally was expecting. However the book was highly rated. Although for one it didn’t seem to give as much enjoyment, struggling with the Victorian ideals, and the how late in the story the murder finally taking place and another found the ending rushed. As for the rest of the group had points but still loved it overall.
We begin the story with Faith and her family including her Mother’s brother Miles. heading to a new home, the fictional Island of Vane off the English coast. Her father, an eminent scientist, is to join an archaeological dig there, but the turn of events will come as a shock to them all. Faith who ‘Usually she managed to fade into the background, since nobody had the attention to spare for a fourteen year old girl, with wooden features and a mud-brown plait’ is the hero of this story. Having lost many siblings mostly boys from a young age, some not lasting long after birth and only Howard to be the longest-serving so far, Faith finds herself looking after him and herself most of the time, we find a strong young girl who has probably lived through events she perhaps should not have seen. The story in a sense is about Faith herself, we follow her growing up, learning about her family, the secrets kept, the secrets coming out. Faith discovers after helping her father to hide a plant in a cave that, he had been hiding several secrets. This then leads onto the death of her father and how Faith comes to discover the truth. Her Father is dead and everyone is lead to believe he has committed suicide. Faith, not believing this goes in search of the truth, and with help from the ‘lie tree’ she discovers that little lies changes the course of people’s thinking. This leads to ideas being put in people’s heads and the truth being unveiled that her father had a hidden past she may not of wanted to know.
This book is a complex and rich story, another one where the adults appear to be useless and it is left to the child to outwit/accomplish things, discovering the issues about truth and lies, values – especially Victorian ones – Sundays being days of rest and breaking convention by having a funeral on that day (also I think shopping should be banned but that’s just me, I love my Sunday’s off, gives me a chance to rest. Status being of high importance, where new things were frowned upon or things such as people being left-handed or women/females being unwed and seen out with boys/men. This book also touched on, power of convention and assumptions, revenge, reputation and family values, how we treated the dead, the use of photography and creating lies which brings us to perception and what we want to believe.
As for the characters in the book, we once again find ourselves with a strong girl character leading the way, the female characters we found were working within the restrictions and struggles of the Victorian lifestyle. The adults in the book of course are typical for the young reader, where a few seemed to be weak aka Miles and his sister myrtle who wanted everything and to carry on her status.
Oh, and the snake int the background,one of the side characters, the snake shedding its skin seems to be a symbolic sign with in the story, we always like the side characters.
One question I will leave you with. Do you read the blurb on the back of the book before reading it? A few of us read the blurb and one didn’t and thoroughly enjoyed the book, what if we didn’t read about the murder would that have brought more enjoyment to the book?
So, to read the blurb or not to read the blurb, please let us know what you think.
(with 1 spinal tap moment)
Thank you for reading
LBC White Swan
Venue: White Swan Leeds
Discussing: Storm Front (The Dresden Files) – Book 1
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THE BLURB (from Amazon)
Meet Harry Dresden, Chicago’s first (and only) Wizard P.I. Turns out the ‘everyday’ world is full of strange and magical things – and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in.
Harry is the best at what he does – and not just because he’s the only one who does it. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal capabilities, they look to him for answers. There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks.
So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get . . . interesting.
Magic – it can get a guy killed.
About the Author
Jim Butcher is the author of the Dresden Files, the Codex Alera, and a new steampunk series, the Cinder Spires. His resume includes a laundry list of skills which were useful a couple of centuries ago, and he plays guitar quite badly. An avid gamer, he plays tabletop games in varying systems, a variety of video games on PC and console, and LARPs whenever he can make time for it. Jim currently resides mostly inside his own head, but his head can generally be found in his home town of Independence, Missouri.
Jim goes by the moniker Longshot in a number of online locales. He came by this name in the early 1990′s when he decided he would become a published author. Usually only 3 in 1000 who make such an attempt actually manage to become published; of those, only 1 in 10 make enough money to call it a living. The sale of a second series was the breakthrough that let him beat the long odds against attaining a career as a novelist.
Before the discussion officially started; a big debate erupted about Star Wars and spoilers; and how people spoil things in the simplest ways by being so excited that they need to spill the beans on some unsuspecting soul and have a long awaited film or book ruined before they got to see/read it*, and then we began.
I think the group was split on who was new to the series/book and who had re-read it before leaping on the fact that the main character was very annoying, egotistical, weird and his chauvinism was very off putting. Then it led onto the other characters. How the women were all depicted as socially ideal and like most of them didn’t have much depth to the character, and were therefore poorly served by the author. Whereas the supernatural folk on the other hand, were given more preferential treatment, including the lovely Faerie Toots who devoured pizza.
However the blending of the real world and the alternative gave it the grounding it needed. The story was told in the first person narrative, appearing to keep everyone at a distance, which was possibly a reason why people didn’t warm to Harry. Regarding how it appeared that everyone was kept at a distance – perhaps it was just because of how technology went weird around him; he just thought it safer. On a personal note – I highly recommend him earthing himself – doormats work wonders when technology is involved!
As mentioned, the book is the first in a series. A few thought that the author packed a lot into the book. However, the fact that he did not give much away about the backstory of the wizard – how he got his powers and why Morgan hates him – made (it seem) everyone want to carry on and read the rest of the series (16 books so far) .
Back to characters, and we must mention Bob, ‘Bob and Yorak, I knew them so well!‘ Sorry, had to add that. Bob was ‘An intelligent air spirit who resides inside a skull in Dresden’s sub-basement laboratory’. Or as mentioned… ‘today’s version of the internet’ This book was written over 16 years ago and sometimes we forget what wasn’t around way back when (sorry a few decades ago, how times have changed ). How Harry perhaps couldn’t work all his magic without a little help from Bob. Sometimes the sub-characters are the best, yes that goes for you Toots – you pizza eating faerie!!
Carrying on from how things are changed, one person brought up the soul gazing part of the book and felt slightly uncomfortable with it, how it broke the natural flow of things. But as mentioned we must remember the time it was written, and what was going on. Society has changed a lot since then. Saying that the overall feel of the book was that it was a very light and quick read, not brilliant writing (it is a first book remember and it does get better), the whole idea of Harry being a wizard and the build up of his character as a wizard and not using must magic until the end making most of us start to cheer for him, as he shows that reading the instructions makes you a better wizard, a lesson to be learned by everyone there.
Thank you for reading
Next book 8th May- The Bees by
*Tangents: Liam catching spiders and killing them via the toilet-don’t go there!. underage-Were-swans??. Buffy is 19 years old. Starwars- spoilers, lead characters etc. Man with post-it notes. Terry Pratchett Books. Zombie dinosaurs. Names and identities of people, associate names with people and forget their real name. Harry Potter and prisoner of Azkaban best in series. Monogram towels.