Category Archives: Guest Reviewers
Wentworth is in Yorkshire and was surrounded by 70 collieries employing tens of thousands of men. It is the finest and largest Georgian house in Britain andbelonged to the Fitzwilliam family.
It is England’s forgotten palace which belonged to Britain’s richest aristocrats. Black Diamonds tells the story of its demise: family feuds, forbidden love, class war, and a tragic and violent death played their part. But coal, one of the most emotive issues in twentieth century British politics, lies at its heart.
This is the extraordinary story of how the fabric of English society shifted beyond recognition in fifty turbulent years in the twentieth century.
Discussion topics included:-
- non-fiction vs fiction as book club choices
- general happiness at this selection
- how poetry was not to be selected for the book club
· from the book
- great houses
- jet set
- mines and miners
- Americans and the Kennedys
- Paternalistic employers
- Brutal employers
- Inheritance, heirs and ancestry
- Secrecy amongst the upper classes
· writing style of the book
- Lots of to-ing and fro-ing
- A good read
- A good way of learning history
Scores out of 5 for writing style and storyline
4, 3.5, 7.5
3, 4, 7
3, 4, 7
4, 4, 8
- Wentworth Woodhouse official web site
- Wentworth Woodhouse Wikipedia entry
- BBC documentary about Wentworth Woodhouse:
- Author interview
- Desert Island Discs of the-then Minister of Fuel and Power, Mannie Shinwell, who ordered the grounds of Wentworth Woodhouse to be dug up for opencast mining (video).
- BBC set for new costume drama based on the real-life family history of a clan whose house is so grand it makes Downton Abbey look like a bedsit (Daily Mail, 23 August 2015)
For further details, please email me at email@example.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!
Contact the bar on @MedusaBar
Leeds Book Club are delighted to present one of our most popular writers – Evan Shelton. Evan happens to also be the youngest on our writing team.
Evan is an avid reader and enjoys reading and writing about books.
As always, huge thanks!
Russian Roulette is a spin-off of the hugely popular Alex Rider series of books, which I have read and are extremely good. It is about the life story of a Russian contract killer by the name of Yassen Gregorovich and what it would take him to kill. The way it fits into the Alex Rider series is that Yassen is hired to kill a fourteen year old Alex Rider.
It is a thrilling story of how a boy lived in poverty in a tiny village, saw everyone he loved die, turned to a life of crime in Moscow, had been in slavery and joined a worldwide crime organisation.
I think, in the book, Horowitz gets across perfectly that with Yassen (or anyone in fact) taking other people’s lives is the least natural thing anyone can do – it takes a great many horrific things for someone to become a killer.
I would highly recommend this book to an eleven to fifteen year old. All in all, I think this is a real page-turner style book which is certainly worth reading.
Huge thanks to the wonderful @AlisonNeale for providing this write up and co-ordinating the return of the Dystopian book club for 2014!
The Children of Men is a story of a world with no children and no future.
The human race has become infertile, and the last generation to be born is now adult. Civilization itself is crumbling as suicide and despair become commonplace. Oxford historian Theodore Faron, apathetic toward a future without a future, spends most of his time reminiscing. Then he is approached by Julian, a bright, attractive woman who wants him to help get her an audience with his cousin, the powerful Warden of England. She and her band of unlikely revolutionaries may just awaken his desire to live . . . and they may also hold the key to survival for the human race.
No children. No future. No hope. In the year 2027, eighteen years since the last baby was born, disillusioned Theo (Clive Owen) becomes an unlikely champion of the human race when he is asked by his former lover (Julianne Moore) to escort a young pregnant woman out of the country as quickly as possible. In a thrilling race against time, Theo will risk everything to deliver the miracle the whole world has been waiting for. Co-starring Michael Caine, filmmaker Alfonso Cuaron’s Children of Men is the powerful film Pete Hammond of Maxim calls “magnificent…a unique and totally original vision.
This may have to do with the altered setting:
- the film shows the country in a violent and dangerous flux after the discovery of the fertility problem,
- whereas the book seems to be set much later, when the ageing population has calmed somewhat and just wants to ensure a peaceful, safe existence, free from boredom.
One reader suggested that the book would have been more interesting without the baby, simply telling the tale of the demise of the human race until the lights went out. Certainly the disturbing idea of the Quietus – not used in the film – gives a glimpse of the brutal possibilities. So to a major criticism of the novel: coincidence. It was felt to be somewhat unrealistic that Theo just happened to know someone at the Quietus he attended. In a rather larger example, how fortunate that of all the women who could get pregnant, it was one of the rebel group. Some book clubbers pointed out that in the novel the population has shrunk significantly and society is very insular, so it is less unrealistic. The film does not suffer from this problem. In the novel, it is men who have become infertile – a clever device, as it narrows the window to recover the human race in a way that infertile women does not. The latter is the case in the film, which some felt disempowered women and at the same time changed the dynamic of the rebel group. The characters in the novel are thoroughly unlikeable, be it unpleasant or completely devoid of personality, and none of us felt any sympathy for them. Some readers pointed out that this would not have been a problem had they been interesting. Sadly, so often not the case. We agreed that the one character we really wanted to know more about was the Warden, whose motives were never entirely clear. Both novel and film were felt to be hyper-realisations of immigration policy. The film, with its detention centre, took this to extremes, while the book only mentioned in passing the trials and treatment of the ‘sojourners’. A good point was made that this element of the story could not have worked anywhere but on an island. British society has fought to retain the country as a last bastion of civilisation and hope, resigning itself to dictatorship in order to retain order. We had an intriguing conflict of opinion about Theo’s actions at the end of the book. Some of us felt that unpleasant as Theo was, it was only when he donned the ring at the end that he lost his morality and humanity; others disagreed, claiming that the ring was a temporary measure and his actions redeemed his earlier crime of wilful blindness. You’ll have to read the book yourself to decide! Criticism of the author’s repetitive style also caused discussion, with a few readers feeling that it built in atmosphere and emphasised the religious tone, while others claimed that it made the book more difficult (in one case impossible) to read. The religious theme and references throughout the book annoyed some readers (partly owing to recognising vaguely, but not fully understanding them); however, it was acknowledged that the author and any readers with a similar viewpoint would enjoy their significance. We felt that this dystopia was a realistic imagination of events that could genuinely come to pass, with some nifty nods to long-term British political issues. Our criticism was more of writing style than storyline, and this is reflected in our scores. The film probably won out in the end, though.
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCGiraffe
Within the concealing walls of an elegant forty-storey tower block, the affluent tenants are hell-bent on an orgy of destruction. Cocktail parties degenerate into marauding attacks on ‘enemy’ floors and the once-luxurious amenities become an arena for riots and technological mayhem.In this visionary tale of urban disillusionment from the renowned author of Crash and Cocaine Nights, society slips into a violent reverse as the isolated inhabitants of the high-rise, driven by primal urges, recreate a dystopian world ruled by the laws of the jungle.
Huge thanks to the wonderful @AlisonNeale for providing this write up and co-ordinating the Dystopian book club!
Possibly the oddest opening line I’ve ever read and the book only gets weirder. We agreed at the start, however, that this book is not intended to be realistic – although those of us living in blocks of flats could see flashes of realism in the situation – and is instead an allegory and an amplification of the actions of humanity in times of crisis.
High-Rise interestingly reveals that even among people of one class or social stratum, divisions and shifts of allegiance into tribes will take place. There’s always someone to look down on or blame. Politically, this is perhaps a particularly good time to be reading such a book.
The story switches between representatives of the tribes, allowing the reader alone to realise the depth of paranoia among the inhabitants of the high-rise. Alongside the author, residents are shown to be orchestrating and furthering the ‘experiment’, videoing events and manipulating those around them. We found it hard to understand why they wished to exacerbate the situation and at the same time keep it a secret from the outside world. As society breaks down, the adults become primeval cave(wo)men – a behaviour that in the character of Laing, for example, leads to uncomfortable extremes.
Find fellow members on twitter by searching for #LBCGiraffe
From the Author (from Amazon)
The Miracle Inspector is a blackly comic dystopian novel inspired by my time spent volunteering as a mentor for exiled writers in London through British charity Freedom from Torture.
Rather than try to tell the stories of the people I met, I wondered what it would be like if I had to flee from London without money or possessions. How would I escape? What kind of reception would I get if I arrived somewhere without money or possessions, with little understanding of the culture? How would I know who to trust? That was my starting point. I hope people will finish the book asking some of the questions I started with.
About the characters
The Miracle Inspector by Helen Smith caused something of a split in opinion. In an issue that has arisen before when discussing dystopian novels, some readers wanted a feeling for the world but concentration on characters and plot, while others wanted detail, detail and more detail. This novel satisfied the former group: plotlines went unexplained and the causes of the strangely isolated London of the story were never fleshed out. Some book clubbers felt that what was known of the situation, while possible in our tabloid-obsessed society, could not have happened quite as rapidly as suggested. It was perhaps a little too ‘convenient’ to appear realistic.
However, there was some discussion of how scarily close the circumstances of women in the novel matched those of some countries today, and recent events in Egypt show how quickly existing freedoms can be lost. Book clubbers pointed out that, as we have seen in the UK, freedoms are lost bit by bit, in an almost inconsequential manner.
The fear of relationships and human interaction was certainly an interesting, rather modern theme, and the reactions of the escapees to life in Slough, with its nail varnish and online dating were quite insightful, although some readers felt they were a little simplistic: the point was delivered with a sledgehammer, someone said.
Perhaps our biggest problem with the book was that the characters were unsympathetic and the relationships unconvincing. It is possible that some further dystopian detail might have made up for this. What detail did appear was enjoyable, such as the havoc that UN peacekeepers were causing in the countryside, and the utopian ideal of Cornwall – not entirely unknown today!
The lack of detail was lauded in the torture scenes, and yet an oddly brutal murder scene earlier made us query the dual approach to portrayal of violence. Everyone, I think, liked the ending with its lack of resolution, which we felt worked well with the odd, varied pacing of the latter half of the book.
One particular complaint made here, but more generally applicable to dystopian fiction we’ve read so far, was (and I quote) that ‘no one gets to enjoy a nice bit of sex’. Sex is often shorthand for a Bad Thing, be that an opiate or comfort blanket to avoid facing the bigger questions, or simply used to make a point of hypocrisy.
In conclusion, then, everyone agreed that the shining reviews in various newspapers and online seemed thoroughly at odds with what they had read and, sadly, the scores reflect this. This was not a satisfying dystopian novel but we all felt that there were some really good ideas that with a little more thought and work could have made a much better story.
So gutted that I wasn’t able to attend the meet up – I really enjoyed this book and would have loved a good debate about it!
It’s the 23rd Century and at age 21… your life is over! Logan-6 has been trained to kill; born and bred from conception to be the best of the best. But his time is short and before his life ends he’s got one final mission: Find and destroy Sanctuary, a fabled haven for those that chose to defy the system.
But when Logan meets and falls in love with Jessica, he begins to question the very system he swore to protect and soon they’re both running for their lives. When Last Day comes, will you lie down and die… or run!
Leeds Book Club are delighted to present – due to popular demand – another review by the youngest on our writing team – Evan Shelton.
Evan is an avid reader and enjoys reading and writing about books. He’s also had a birthday since his last review – so many happy returns for that too!
Here is his review of the Percy Jackson series as a whole – SPOILER ALERT – he really likes it!
The books are all about American children, who are half mortal and half Greek god. They spend their summers in Camp Half-Blood, which is a protection from monsters, where they train to get assigned for quests.
Percy Jackson is a son of Poseidon, the god of the sea and his
girlfriend Annabeth is a daughter of Athena, who is the Goddess of wisdom and Athens. The most recent book is The Mark of Athena,
which is partially about Annabeth. This book is in the Heroes of
Olympus series, a sequel to the Percy Jackson Chronicles.
Some people might have heard of The Percy Jackson books because
Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief was film adapted.(NOTE FROM LBC – the second film is due to be released this year – but this is subject to change).
From the moment I picked the first book up and read the blurb I fell in love with them (I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but there you go).In my opinion, Greek myths are absolutely fascinating so a book that’s flooding with myths and is modernised sounded ideal.
One of the reasons I am so interested in Greek myths is because I
have been to Greece twice and both times was engrossed in their
regional myths. I read my first book in Knossos, where the labyrinth is supposed to be and appropriately the actual book I read was the Battle of the Labyrinth.
Riordan’s skill to write what the myths would be like in 2013 is
fantastical. Even better is that nearly everything is set in the U.S.A.. Although my favourite is how modern landmarks are famous
mythical places – the Empire State is Mount Olympus!
These are my favourite books and I learnt loads of myths they are
certainly in my top 10 favourite series. I would strongly recommend these books to anyone.
By Evan Shelton: Age 10
Trailer for Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief
Novel by Jack London, published in 1908, describing the fall of the United States to the cruel fascist dictatorship of the Iron Heel, a group of monopoly capitalists. Fearing the popularity of socialism, the plutocrats of the Iron Heel conspire to eliminate democracy and, with their secret police and military, terrorize the citizenry. They instigate a German attack on Hawaii on Dec. 4, 1912; as socialist revolutions topple capitalist governments around the world, the Iron Heel has 52 socialist members of the U.S. Congress imprisoned for treason. Elements of London’s vision of fascism, civil war, and governmental oppression proved to be prophetic in the first half of the 20th century. — The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature —
NOTE FROM L.B.C.
Sadly there is no write up.
@Monkeyson had promised to polish his notes up. We met for a quiet pint. He revealed his plans for me to start a new book club and immediately afterwords mysteriously disappeared.
Never to be heard of since.
It’s all very sad.
However, the following document has become available and may answer some of your questions about the book club that night. Not about the disappearance.
All very sad.
The Monkeyson Manuscript
Introduction by unknown scholar from the future.
# The Iron Heel by Jack London. ## Foreword It cannot be said that the "Monkeyson Manuscript", a write-up of October's dystopian Leeds Book Club meeting, is an important historical document. Looking back across the months that have lapsed since the group met, it is clear that many points of discussion regarding characters and plot development that were confused and veiled to the manuscript author are now clear to us. He lacked perspective. He was too close to the club meeting he writes about. Nay, he was merged in the events he has described. Nevertheless, as a personal document, the Monkeyson Manuscript is of inestimable value. Especially valuable is it in communicating to us the FEEL of that meeting. Nowhere do we find more vividly portrayed the psychology of the persons that attended that club between 1800 and 2130 - their insight and analysis, their jokes and humour, their inconceivable delusions of convincing their benevolent dictator to set up another book club. These are the things that are so hard for us of this enlightened age to understand. It is apparent that @monkeyson began the Manuscript during the last days of the Leeds International Film Festival. It is quite clear that he intended the Manuscript for immediate publication, as soon as the book club was over. Then came the frightful watching of the 31 films, then Christmas, and it is probable that in the subsequent and dispiriting moment of a Saturday night in with no Doctor Who to watch that he dashed off the entire Manuscript and emailed it to the Leeds Book Club blog. ## Chapter One. The Challenge. It was lunchtime when Leeds Book Club DMed me* to ask if I could host the dystopian book club that evening. Due to foreseen circumstances she could not make it, and due to unforeseen circumstances neither could her backup. I was only about two thirds of the way through the book, but I accepted the offer and started reading furiously. I hoped to finish it before the meeting took place. _* Direct message. A means of communicating in private on an otherwise public social network._ The book was _The Iron Heel_, a novel by American author Jack London. It was based on the "Everhard Manuscript", a woman's account of life during the rise of the Oligarchy (or "Iron Heel") in the United States from 1912 to 1932. The book begins with a fictional introduction written from the perspective of a scholar from 2600 and is interspersed with a series of (often lengthy) footnotes also from the scholar.* _* Most of the group read the free e-book edition which suffered from some confusing formatting. The footnotes were often interleaved with the main text and it was hard to tell where the footnote ended and the manuscript continued. One member's version used a different font for the footnotes which helped to some extent._ The book was thus written on several levels, with the scholar correcting the author's errors, and elaborating upon the author's incomplete understanding of the situation.* _* For modern day readers there is an additional layer to enjoy. The novel was written in the early 1900s - before the First World War and during the birth of the communist/leftist movement. At times London's vision is surprisingly accurate._ At 5 o'clock I raced home, reading the final chapters on my phone, dodging recklessly from side to side to avoid cars and pedestrians. I finished the book with moments to spare. ## Chapter Two. The Meeting. The group met upstairs at the Giraffe Bar and Grill*. Drinks were taken. Food was ordered. The guests were a select group; few in number but with plenty to say. _* A friendly restaurant on Greek Street that offers good food and drink at reasonable prices._ We started by discussing the lead characters Ernest and Avis. Ernest Everhard was a socialist revolutionary and his wife Avis was the author of the manuscript. Avis was the daughter of an accomplished scientist who was later silenced by the Oligarchy. Earnest was not a popular man. "Why was Ernest seen as such a perfect husband?" asked one guest. "He was always right. Patronising. Imagine if he came to your dinner party!" "You'd need a lot of wine," somebody exclaimed. "All he talked about was his ideology and how wonderful he was." Ernest's behaviour in the early sections of the book was criticised for affecting the pace. It meant there was a very slow start with whole chapters devoted to Ernest's dogma. "It dragged." complained one person. "There were too many speeches" said another. We liked Avis. She was brave and showed diligence and kindness when investigating the accidents in the factories. "But was she doing it to impress Earnest?" asked one member, "she was a bit of a fan girl... hey, don't write that down!"* _* Too late. It was written down._ And it was nice to have a female voice in a dystopian novel, even though some felt that the narrative did not project a particularly female (nor male) viewpoint. It was hard to get attached to many people in the book but we felt sad for minor characters such as the bishop and Avis's father: the people who bought into the ideas the most also suffered the most. We picked up on some flaws in the plot. Ernest and Avis "were masters of disguise", able to completely change their appearance (and faces!) to remain undercover. We couldn't quite work out how the lead characters became counter agents, nor understand how the oligarchy controlled the flow of information. "The book fell down here. How did the socialist network function?" asked a book clubber. Despite printing and publishing being very locked down, conveniently the network was still somehow able to distribute information and organise a rebellion. After a slow start the plot picked up pace but we felt it moved too quickly by the end. The final chapters were very violent and brutal. Although there was little in a way of a happy ending for the characters we had been following, there was a happy end in the long term.* _* Through the footnotes it is mentioned that the oligarchy was overthrown, though not how this happened._ The manuscript, by its nature, was very one sided - much was described on the revolutionary side, but very little information was given on the oligarchy. We felt the footnotes could have provided more detail about The Heel and its downfall. But in a sense the enemy (the oligarchy) was faceless and grew naturally. There was no big bad, no evil mastermind plotting the events. This felt similar to Fahrenheit 451*. Everyone in the world clung to what they knew, and in doing so couldn't see the wider problem or help themselves. _* Fahrenheit 451 was read by the book group in July 2012._ _The Iron Heel_ was a book filled with socialist propaganda. The author clearly supported it - but also showed it failing. ## Chapter Three. The End. As the meeting reached its latter stages, we talked more about the meta elements of the book. "I enjoyed the layered world. There was a lot of work involved in creating it. The author did a good job." We would have liked to know more about the time the book was written. How well was Marx known? What story elements were coincidence, prediction or true? "I struggled to know what was real - and I have a history degree!" said one person.* _* The same person who said to not write down the fanboy comment._ The manuscript predicted many aspects of society that we have now (or have seen since it was written) - talk of super cities, cities for the sake of it. Dubai. Multinational corporations. War. Final thoughts: "It was clever but not fun to read." "I feel different looking back on it than when I was reading it." Finally we gave our votes for the book.* I abused my authority in the proceedings by giving an unbalanced half mark*\* - meaning the final score for _The Iron Heel_ was a slightly awkward 4.625 out of 10. _* The convention at this club was to give marks out of 10: five for the story and five for the writing style._ _*\* The benevolent dictator of Leeds Book Club did not approve of half marks for arithmetical reasons._ With that we finished our drinks and made plans for the next meeting. I had been instructed to set the date in the new year, but rebellion was in the air. We could overthrow authority! If we wanted an extra meeting before New Year, by God we could have one! Names were placed in a hat. In hushed silence, the next book was drawn. _Brave New World._ Aldous Huxley. We decided on November. And while we were at it, we'd get that _Adults Reading Children's Books Book Club_ started too... The magnitude of the task may be understood when it is taken into* _* This is the end of the Monkeyson Manuscript. It breaks off abruptly in the middle of a sentence. He must have received a DM from Leeds Book Club asking him to send it in whatever state it was in and get it published. It is to be regretted that he did not have time to compete his narrative, for then, undoubtably, we would have learned how wine he had drunk._
|The book in question|
As an avid Michael Morpurgo reader myself, my collection was not complete without this book.
In the Leeds town hall, which is a beautiful building, as remarked by Michael Morpurgo himself, me and my Mum went to see him speak.
He talked about how he could not come up with magical worlds like J.K Rowling but needs fact to an extent to inspire him.
Then he started talking about Walter Tull, the inspiration for the book, who was an orphan, black man and he was a wizard at football. He was so good that Arsenal signed up for him
but the First World War started and he became a soldier and the first black officer in the British army. He also said the book was about secrets.
On to the book, the way he read a Medal for Leroy was amazing as was the book.
|Meeting the author!|
During the reading he came up to the point where Leroy, Walter Tull’s Grandson, discovered his secret.
In my opinion, A Medal for Leroy is a fantastic book. I was completely engaged in how they had been banished (I’m not telling who). And also how things were covered up disgracefully
with secrets because they had to hide their own identity and race!
By Evan Shelton
Aged 9 years
|Enjoying a good read|