LBC White Swan
Venue: White Swan Leeds
Date: Sunday 10th of April 2016
Address: Swan Street, Leeds
A powerful, tender story of race and identity by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the award-winning author of Half of a Yellow Sun.
Ifemelu and Obinze are young and in love when they depart military-ruled Nigeria for the West. Beautiful, self-assured Ifemelu heads for America, where despite her academic success, she is forced to grapple with what it means to be black for the first time. Quiet, thoughtful Obinze had hoped to join her, but with post-9/11 America closed to him, he instead plunges into a dangerous, undocumented life in London. Fifteen years later, they reunite in a newly democratic Nigeria, and reignite their passion—for each other and for their homeland.
About the author:
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie grew up in Nigeria. Her work has been translated into thirty languages and has appeared in various publications, including The New Yorker, Granta, The O. Henry Prize Stories, the Financial Times, and Zoetrope. She is the author of the novelsPurple Hibiscus, which won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the Hurston/Wright Legacy Award, and Half of a Yellow Sun, which won the Orange Prize and was a National Book Critics Circle Award Finalist, a New York Times Notable Book, and a People and Black Issues Book Review Best Book of the Year; and the story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. Her latest novel Americanah, was published around the world in 2013, and has received numerous accolades, including winning the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction and The Chicago Tribune Heartland Prize for Fiction; and being named one of The New York Times Ten Best Books of the Year.
A recipient of a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship, she divides her time between the United States and Nigeria.
As a group, most of us had really enjoyed this book – some of us more than we’d expected to, as from the blurb the plot looked very slight.
The real strength of this book is in the characters. All were very relatable, well-drawn and sympathetic. There was particular affection for Ifemelu’s Aunty Uju. For a book with such a large cast of characters, it would have been easy for some to have felt like stereotypes, but this never felt the case. Even characters that only appeared briefly were well-rounded and believable. There weren’t really any dislikeable characters, with the possible exception of Blaine’s sister Shan, but we felt this was because the characters didn’t like her either!
Some of us felt the plot was almost incidental – that this was more a novel of ideas than plot – but that this wasn’t a negative thing. Someone had quoted the author as saying she was more interested in substance than structure, and this felt very true of this book. Having said that, we also thought that it was structurally very clever, and well-crafted. The word “unputdownable” was used! Apparently the author spent 5 years writing this book, and the craft and care taken are apparent.
The narrative is interspersed throughout with excerpts from Ifem’s blog, these are thematic rather than chronological. Although this can sometimes be a slightly irritating device in books, here we all thought it worked really well. We all really enjoyed the style of Ifem’s blog – if it were a real blog, we would have followed it!
Our only small criticism of the book’s structure was that it would have been nice to see more of Obinze – although some in the group would have preferred to do without his sections at all and just focus on Ifemelu! We all agreed though that the divide between the two characters was rather uneven. For example, Obinze’s journey from being deported from the UK and returning, broke, to Nigeria, to becoming a wealthy but corrupt businessman, was glossed over. Some of us would have liked to see more of how he had made this journey, but we thought it was probably glossed over as it reflects Ifem’s view of him, as she would also have perceived this change as jarring.
There was lots in this book that made for slightly uncomfortable reading, in particular the portrayal of Ifem’s white, liberal friends in the US, and their varying discomfort and cluelessness around race. It also raised a lot of issues that some of us hadn’t been familiar with (although some had come across them before), for example the politicisation of black women’s hair. We thought it was notable that Ifem’s starts wearing her hair naturally around the same time she stops faking an American accent – we saw this as her realisation that being accepted as American isn’t what she needs or wants.
Most of the story is fairly timeless, with limited details that fix it to a particular time period. The exception to this is of course the sections detailing Barack Obama’s election as US President, which we had mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it was felt that this took us out of the story somewhat, grounding it in a specific time and place, which was a little jarring. On the other hand, in a book about an African woman living in the US and blogging about race, such a significant event in US racial history could hardly have been ignored! We also wondered if, without the context of Obama’s election placing the narrative in a specific time period, it would have been easier for readers to have dismissed the racism Ifem experiences as a thing of the past.
We had mixed feelings about the ending. Some of us felt it was unrealistic for Ifem and Obinze to have ended up together, with them having grown apart so much. We wondered if perhaps Ifem was clinging on to her memories of the Obinze she had known and been in love with in the past. The ending was the only real let down for some of us, the romantic “happy ending” felt a bit shoehorned in.
Other than that minor note, we all rated this book very highly, and would definitely read more of this author’s work.
A Visit from the Goon Squad
by Jennifer Egan
A Far Cry from Kensington
by Muriel Spark
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 firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet me @LeedsBookClub!
Next Months books are……
drum roll please….
LBCWhiteswan 10th April – Americanah by Chimamanda – Ngozi Adiche.
LBCMedusa13th April – Dark Eden by Chris Beckett
LBC3Reads16th April – All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque
LBCPuffins 20th April – Watership Down by Richard Adams -(we will be picking next two books at this meeting)
All the dates all the venues here https://leedsbookclub.com/2016-calendar/
The next three books for LBCWhiteswan are:
- 10th April – Americanah by Chimamanda – Ngozi Adiche
- 8th May – The Bees by Laline Paull
- 12th June -All the Light We Cannot See -Anthony Doerr
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.
Director Mark Romanek and writer Alex Garland (Ex Machina) bring Kazuo Ishiguro’s (‘The Remains of the Day’) hauntingly poignant and emotional story to the screen. In this remarkable tale of love, loss and hidden truths, Kathy (Carey Mulligan), Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Ruth (Keira Knightley) live in a world and a time that feel familiar to us, but are not quite like anything we know. They spend their childhood at Hailsham, a seemingly idyllic English boarding school. When they leave the shelter of the school and the terrible truth of their fate is revealed to them, they must also confront the deep feelings of love, jealousy and betrayal that threaten to pull them apart.
After the recent showing of Never Let Me Go (part of the Human Nature season) by @MinicineYorks, we held an after film discussion comparing the book to the film.
The sound is a tiny bit hollow but the chat was ace!
Venue: Crowd of Favours
The Shining Girls
The girl who wouldn’t die, hunting a killer who shouldn’t exist…
A terrifying and original serial-killer thriller from award-winning author, Lauren Beukes.
1930’s America: Lee Curtis Harper is a delusional, violent drifter who stumbles on a house that opens onto other times.
Driven by visions, he begins a killing spree over the next 60 years, using an undetectable MO and leaving anachronistic clues on his victims’ bodies.
But when one of his intended ‘shining girls’, Kirby Mazrachi, survives a brutal stabbing, she becomes determined to unravel the mystery behind her would-be killer. While the authorities are trying to discredit her, Kirby is getting closer to the truth, as Harper returns again and again…
*SPOILERS* *SPOILERS* *SPOILERS*
I’m not sure how to start this review as the book itself was quite a strange one, a story which in itself seemed to become circular and come back on itself. It had so much in it, including time travel being the main source of transport.
Before we even discussed the story we were straight in talking about the time leaps and how each chapter flitted back and forth through the centuries, finding each chapter in a different era which the group thoroughly enjoyed even referencing it to the film Memento and wondering whether if the book was laid out in order would it work as well.
Then it was straight onto the characters and how Kirby – who survived Harper’s attack goes in search of him, even though he thinks she’s dead and then she turns the tables on him. As a group we thought the characters were quite strong in this book, especially the house and as one person said ‘The is a character with a capital ‘H’ and would have loved to know more about its history, and how it came to be able to open up on different times, did it absorb the person inhabiting it? Did it consume their potential? Did two become one? who knows? You decide?
This led onto the description, strength and use of characters, and how well they were written from Kirby the main female character who survives a brutal attack to Dan who pops up in the story, an ex-homicide reporter who covered her case, who she finds to help her investigate her attack, and future partner, made jealous by the young whipper snapper Fred. The dog who got killed when Kirby was attacked (this didn’t go down well with our group). There’s, Bartek (killed by the frozen turkey?) one of the original keyholders (we think there maybe more) in the story who made thousands through the house by gambling. Then there’s the house, everyone is intrigued with the house, why is it hiding itself, is it like Howl’s moving castle. Had it been on D.I.Y. SOS a lot with change of interior was it supporting/ encouraging a person’s’ habits i.e. Bartek and his gambling or Harper and his planned killings and finding the graffiti on the walls written by Harper, how Harper is drawn to it constantly and not understanding why and then we find ourselves back at the beginning and wondering if we picked up one of those adventure books which says you have two choices, turn to page 32 to find out about this or page 66 and you’ll go to the end or something like that. Revealing that the house is eternal and both Bartek and Harper are brothers (only kidding) and the biggie when the house burnt down did it regenerate in a different time like in a Star Trek episode????
Then there was the objects used within the storyline, did they have magical powers, how did he select the? What objects you cry? You see each time Harper kills he leaves an object on the body, these are things he picked up from different eras and either gave them to the victims years before or whether he picked them up and just placed them there, but as one member said the time continuation of the acts of killing and how it sometimes broke up would never have happened in Star Trek, the breaking of the time continuum would not have worked at all.
You see there’s so many unanswered questions yet the book was enjoyed by all, It was well researched and written, dramatic tension towards the end. The characters were well written some used well as plot devices like Dan and the poor dog who got killed, brave dog, no one is happy on that count. Yet we still find ourselves coming back to the beginning and asking questions. If you have read the book let us know what you think, in the meantime here’s a load of questions we just couldn’t answer……
Questions left unanswered….
What was Harper’s Motivation?
Why was the house there?
Did the house absorb the person inhabiting it?
Did the house consume their potential? Did two become one? who knows? You decide?
The house was the key to the killings but why? If only we had more information.
and if was set in today’s timeline with mobile phones and technology would the story of worked?
and why kill the dog?
Let us know what you think?