Monday, 19 May 2008

Mansfield Park - Jane Austen

This was the choosen book for Westbourne Library's Book Group 3 last month. I really had forgotten how good the real classics were. I must say this is not my favourite of Austen's novels. I found Fanny Price very insipid and too worthy to be appealing. The same could be said of Edmund who really is a bit of a prig, so I suppose you could say that they are well suited.
I found the end somewhat rushed, all the loose ends were tied up rather quickly, everyone got their just desserts and it was all very neat but not very satisfying.
The great skill and joy in the novel was in Austen's social commentary. The joy of a reading group is that everyone had a favourite section that reflected this and we were able to tease out just what Austen was trying to say and show her subtle way of reflecting the injustices of society of that day through her characters. I scarcely need say that this is an excellent novel for a reading group to tackle, particularly when it is a mixed group of ages and the sexes!
We also had an interesting discussion on the small screen versions of this novel and all deplored the recent outing on ITV, if anyone was miscast it was Billie Piper, who I admire as an actress, and who on earth let it be filmed with those eyebrows! They were so out of place that it was totally distracting!

In the Shadow of Lady Jane - Edward Charles

This was a strange experience of Deja Vu, having recently read the Alison Weir book, Innocent Traitor, see review below. This is a more male centric novel as our protagonist is male, and very young. I found this rather endearing as we followed his confusion and innocence at court. I also enjoyed it as it fleshed out more of the story and characters and they did not jar with Alison's novel but complemented it. As a critic I would have said that Alison Weir's novel is more literary, weighty and historical but Edward's is more fun. I think it might be interesting for reading groups to read the two together and compare them!

I already have ready to read the second outing of Richard Stocker our protagonist , in The Doges Daughters, so watch this space. I think this series may have promise.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Iris and Ruby - Rosie Thomas

I really enjoyed this book. It really is almost two stories interwoven together. One is the burgeoning relationship between grandmother and granddaughter, the other slips back in time to Iris' experiences in the Second World War in Cairo.
Set in Cairo this book deftly sets the scene, we visit all the major sites and there is plenty of local colour too. Ruby has run away from home and landed in Iris' doorstep. As the plot unfolds we learn more about their characters and their reasons for being who they are.
Rosie Thomas' skill is in her characterisation, her subtle and gentle way of leading us through so that if we are not careful we miss how the characters change through their interaction as time moves on. As this is a great cross generational book I would have thought that there would be enough here for a book club to discuss.

Friday, 9 May 2008

The King of Ithaca - Glyn Iliffe

This is the first of a new series published by Pan Macmillan . I was lucky to receive a proof copy. Thanks Ellen.

Very much in the Manfredi/Iggulden genre, this is a reworking of the story of Odysseus, this book covers his winning of Penelope, something that I was not familiar with. I found it utterly fascinating, the historic detail was excellent. This was an easy and enjoyable read, and I am looking forward to the next instalments to see how he handles the more famous parts of the story.

As a personal read I can absolutely recommend it, I am not sure there would be much to discuss for a reading group.

This book is published in June.

Thursday, 8 May 2008

The Sultan's Seal - Jenny White

This is a great book and I am buying copies for our reading groups. It is a murder mystery based in Istanbul in 1886. It comes with reading group questions at the back as well.

I read this virtually in one sitting, reading late into the night. I just had to find out how it was resolved. It is very clever because it is fairly obvious on the whole what is going on to us the reader. To the protagonists it is not and the mistakes they make have you constantly reading with a wry smile on your face. The history of the time is interesting and handled I thought sensitively, Istanbul is of course exotic and oriental. There is much here that can be discussed........

I am Legend - Richard matheson

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is about vampires but do not let this put you off. It is all set in a very plausible way - forget bodice ripping and Romanian accents! I think it would make an excellent reading group book as it has some very interesting themes. It is a cult classic written in 1954 and set in the then way in the future 1976.
It has been made into 2 films The Omega Man with Charlton Heston and the more recent excellent Will Smith version.
In my view this deservedly rates cult status, the sense of desolation, isolation and at times desperation remain with you after the novel has finished. The scenes with the dog are just heart rending - there may be tears.........
Finally why not read the book and then rent the movie, available both from a library near you!

Innocent Traitor - Alison Weir

I thought this was a fantastic novel. It is totally absorbing and although I already knew the history and the outcome, the fact that you became totally immersed in the characters and the period meant that you were still reading on the edge of your seat until the last chapter. The scenes in the tower were heart rending. Alison Weir is a historian and has written non-fiction books about this period and this really shows in the quality of the detail and in her writing. I cannot wait to read her next fiction novel on the young Elizabeth.

Having read Philppa Gregory with reading groups , I think this too would make a good reading group read.