REVIEW: After The End

“When you stand at the crossroads you cannot see each destination, only the beginnings of the paths that will lead you there. All you can do is hope that someone will walk with you.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

This was a Beth’s Book Club pick for September/October and I’m ashamed to say, this has been the only time I haven’t finished the book in time for the book club discussion…shame on me, I know. 

But I started it on the Friday before the discussion on Sunday and I was determined to finish it. I guess that’s one of the best things about virtual book club discussions, especially Beth’s, I can easily catch up on what was discussed if I couldn’t make the discussion.

What Did I Think?

So I picked this book up after getting some pretty bad news and I did think to myself whether I’d be able to concentrate on the book whilst my head had fallen off. I took a weekend off social media (something I do every weekend now) and dedicated it to doing some feel-good stuff. 

Yet this book is far from feel-good so it probably wasn’t the best pick. If you don’t know After The End is about a couple who have a terminally ill son who need to make a BIG decision regarding his care. The book is slightly unusual in the fact that we follow the two main characters, Max and Pip, in the future and see how the court decision impacted their relationship. The concept was really strange and it took me a while to understand what was happening but, I think Clare Mackintosh did a wonderful job of exploring how parents’ lives are changed/affected when you have a disabled/seriously ill child. 

“No one knows what’s going to happen in the future. The only thing we can do is make our choices on the way we feel right now.”

However…I don’t think I was ever really hooked on the story and that could have been because I was reading it at the wrong time. I would definitely say that After The End wasn’t the best book I’ve ever read but I enjoyed the narrative and I had never really read a story like this before. I also think it was incredibly brave of Clare to write this book based on her personal experience. It must have been hard for her during that time, and to relive that experience whilst writing this book must have been even harder, yet also a kind of healing process for her?

After The End

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Publisher: Sphere
Published: 2019
# of Pages: 370
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Disability, terminal illness, ICU, intensive care, court cases, life vs death, divorce, grief
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

REVIEW: Fifty Fifty

“Most killers I’d come across I could make a stab at some kind of explanation for their behaviour. I was always able to rationalise it. This time, there was no easy explanation.
No key. This one I couldn’t rationalise.
There was something dark at the heart of this case.
Something evil.
Watching.
Waiting.”

Why Did I Read This?

This was my local book club pick for October and I have to say this book won all but one vote! Everyone was desperate to read this thriller…and I can see why.

What Did I Think?

OK, guys…it’s been a while since I’ve read a thriller and this book reminded me EXACTLY why I love this genre. 

If this is the first time hearing about this book, Fifty Fifty is about two sisters who are BOTH on trial for the murder of their father. Each thinks each other has killed him. But one is a LIAR.

This was my first time reading a Steve Cavanagh novel, but I had heard extremely great things about his other novel, ‘Th1rte3n’. This book had everything a good thriller needs. Intertwining stories. Different narratives. Twists. Turns. Suspense.

One thing I loved about this book was we get a narrative from the killer herself but Steve Cavanagh does an incredible job of keeping her identity under wraps right until the VERY end. That’s what I love so much about a good thriller, you’re kept guessing right until the final pages and this was certainly the case with Fifty Fifty.

Cavanagh also did a great job of giving us a perspective from a female lawyer within the industry. Kate’s perspective and the experience was one of my favourites throughout the novel because all the odds were against her. She starts the book by being controlled by a horrible, sexist, and pervy boss. Cavanagh was clever and brave to address the sexual abuse and biased behavior within the legal system.

I loved both the lawyers (even though they were fighting on different sides) because they each had their quirks but worked extremely well together. 

There wasn’t anything I didn’t particularly not enjoy about this book because like I said before, I thought it included everything a good thriller should, but when my boyfriend asked me if it was a 5-star, I had to think about it. And for me, if I have to question whether a book deserved 5 stars, then it probably didn’t. However, my opinion might change once we discuss it with the book club because those discussions either go one of two ways; I either end up loving it more or loving it less! 

Safe to say though, I have added a few of Steve Cavanagh’s other books to my TBR!

Fifty Fifty

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Publisher: Orion
Published: 2020
# of Pages: 349
Genre: Thriller
Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, murder, abuse, graphic scenes, self-harm, drug and alcohol abuse, sexual abuse, inappropriate behaviour at work
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

REVIEW: Expectation

“I think the pressure for women to have a perfect home is one of the greatest heists of capitalism.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

This was the September pick for Beth’s Book Club and I luckily had a brilliant copy due to it being one of Richard and Judy’s Summer 2020 Book Club picks too! 

I had heard very good things about the book and whilst I was reading it, it seemed that everyone else on my social media was too! 

What Did I Think?

What I liked the most about this book was that it portrayed the modern woman’s life perfectly. There was no beating around the bush that Anna Hope wanted to create a story that shows the pressures of womanhood in these modern times. 

If you are unaware, Expectation follows Hannah, Cate, and Lissa who are young, vibrant, and inseparable. They live on the edge of a common in East London, and their shared world is ablaze with art and activism, romance and revelry – and the promise of everything to come. They are electric. They are the best of friends.

Ten years on, they are not where they hoped to be. Amidst flailing careers and faltering marriages, each is hungry for what the others have. And each is wrestling with the same question: what does it take to lead a meaningful life?

Expectation honestly depicts female friendship and how it changes with age and milestones. All three women lead different lives but each woman has something in her life that she wishes she could change. One is desperate for a child, one is regretting ever having a child and the other is desperate to for that BIG break in her dream career. I think throughout the story, you feel for each character but you find yourself disagreeing and becoming angry with the choices they make. 

It feels like each woman is having a mid-life crisis and is questioning whether the life they are leading was what they wanted. It was extremely refreshing to hear the problems that these women were facing are problems that we all face from time to time. Questioning whether you’re leading a meaningful life is something I suppose everyone questions at some point in their life and it was refreshing to see this from a female perspective. 

Anna Hope does a fantastic job of playing with societal ‘expectations’ (excuse the pun) of what women need in their life to be considered ‘successful’ or ‘happy’. I think the title works fabulously in a bunch of different ways, whether that be society’s expectations or the expectations that each character holds when they are young and fresh out of uni with their whole lives ahead of them. Each character ‘expected’ their life to be completely different from the one they eventually end up leading but is that always a bad thing? 

I enjoyed this book, but I feel like the first part of the book is a lot more enticing than the second part. I did find myself losing interest towards the end but I think that also may be because I started to dislike one of the characters in particular and reading her narrative did become unbearable. Apart from that, I did enjoy it and I enjoyed discussing it with Beth’s Book Club too as it was extremely poignant discussing the expectations that we as women feel we are bound to. 

Expectation

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Published: 2019
Publisher: Penguin Random House/Black Swan
# of Pages: 324
Genre: Contemporary/Women’s Fiction
Trigger Warnings: Miscarriage, IVF, depression, sexual scenes, post-natal depression, adultery, job rejection
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

REVIEW: Half A World Away

“Small movements make life worth living…cherish each and every moment, good or bad, whether joyful or painful, as the precious fleeting gifts that they are.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

As a newbie to my local book club, it was my turn to pick the book of the month and it was a toss-up between Saltwater and Half A World Away. As we read Educated last month and it was quite a tough read for everyone, we decided we needed something a little easier and uplifting to read this month and therefore Half A World Away was the chosen pick.

What Did I Think?

I had heard mixed reviews of this book, with some people on social media loving it and others not convinced. So I was excited to finally get around to reading it myself, as it’s been one on my TBR for quite some time now. 

I was thrilled to read that the author, Mike Gayle, studied at Salford University which is just around the corner from me and it isn’t often that you see authors who studied in the North get the recognition they deserve. 

If you didn’t know, Half A World Away is about two people who were separated when they were young and put into care. One of them went to a lovely and wealthy family, whereas the other stayed in care until she was legally classed as an adult, and left to fend for herself. 

After some years, the two are finally reunited, but it’s clear that their history and different experiences have had a long-lasting effect on the both of them and they must go against everything they’ve ever known to make sure they don’t lose everything they love. 

What I loved most was the difference between Noah and Kerry’s life as it added to the story. The two characters were strong for different reasons; Kerry because she had to be a mother to Noah when she was a baby herself as well as deal with being in care her whole childhood and Noah, because he had to continue (and succeed) with his life despite the demons inside his head that he had never fully addressed. 

For me, Half A World Away was a really easy read and was full of loveable characters, especially the children who offered a breath of fresh air and elements of comedy to the story. 

I guess the one thing I probably didn’t enjoy was I found Kerry’s character voice quite exaggerated and forced. I feel like the author included old and not-that-common colloquialisms to differentiate between her and Noah but it wasn’t necessary in my opinion. But once I got over her character voice, I just settled into the story and enjoyed every bit of it.

Half A World Away

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton
Published: 2019
# of Pages: 352
Genre: Contemporary
Trigger Warnings: adoption, drug & alcohol abuse, broken families, long-lost relatives, cancer, death, grief, miscarriage
Links: Goodreads, AmazonBlackwells

REVIEW: Educated

“You could call this self-hood many things. Transformation. Metamorphosis. Falsity. Betrayal. I call it an education.”

Why Did I Read This Book?

The other month I bumped into a fellow book lover when out walking my three dogs with my mum, and was informed about a local book club that met once every month in the park across the road from me…WHAT A RESULT! I joined them in time for their August discussion which was Educated by Tara Westover.

What Did I Think?

I have to say that I had seen this book everywhere but never really delved into what it was about until my friend told me. Then when it was picked for book club, I couldn’t wait to get stuck in.

It took me a while to get into and throughout the whole of the book, I found it difficult to read. There are some extremely graphic scenes in this book and I don’t know whether it was because I was reading in the car but I felt quite nauseous when reading about Tara’s experience on the farm.

Educated is a memoir based on a young woman’s experience of growing up in an extremist Mormon family in America and we follow her on her journey to education, even if it means that she loses everything that was important to her growing up.

I had never really known about Mormons and this book does a great job of educating people on how other religions/societies choose to live. Obviously not all Mormon families are extreme like Tara’s was, but I’m so glad she shared her story and her experience so people can understand how hard it was for her to get to where she is now. She is one of the strongest people out there; there were so many chances and opportunities for her to just give up but she didn’t. She fought for her freedom and chance of a new life and I’m so glad she did.

Tara always believed in the best in people but was always let down by those around her. In my opinion, she trusted too many people but I have never been in her situation so I guess it is hard to comprehend how I would respond to the things she was experiencing. The more I read this book, the more I found myself getting angrier and angrier at her family, her mother, her father, her siblings and sometimes even Tara herself.

I think this story shows how family love and loyalty can make you put up with awful treatment and situations because they are your blood. They say that blood is thicker than water but sometimes, you have to cut all ties for a better and happier life.

“You’re at least 20. Aren’t you?
I turned 16 in September.
Oh. Well, don’t worry about it then. You can stay…hard to keep track of how old you kids are.”

Educated

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Published: 2018
Publisher: Windmill Books
# of Pages: 384
Genre: Memoir
Trigger Warnings: Violence, graphic scenes, depression, bipolar, schizophrenia, religion, paranoia, cult, domestic abuse
Links: Goodreads, Amazon, Blackwells

Emma: July Book Club Discussion Summary

Our theme for July was #JaneAustenJuly and to celebrate her life and work, we as a book club picked Emma for our next classic. Many claimed that it wasn’t their favourite Austen and some (including me) struggled with the language/pace at times, but we persevered and most of us were proud to have finally tackled one of Austen’s novels.

Between the hour of 8pm – 9pm (UK time), eight questions were posted for book club members to comment with their thoughts. Here is what they said:

Q1: How long, if at all, did it take you to get into the book/story?

For some, this was a re-read, but for others, this was their first time reading an Austen classic and therefore it took us a while to get used to the language and the pace of the novel. If you go into a classic book thinking it’s going to be all twists and turns and full of drama, you will most likely be bitterly disappointed so it took some of our members (including me) time to adjust to Austen’s writing style. 

Most of us agreed that it took a few chapters for us to understand who everyone was and what role they played in the story. I think the general consensus was that the second half of the book was much better and easier to read, as the plot was beginning to take place and there was suddenly a lot going on!

Q2: How did you view Emma’s friendship with Harriet Smith?

As a whole, most members felt sorry for Harriet because she was unaware of Emma’s meddling and we could see her naivety. We as readers knew Emma was using her as some sort of project, and we could sense that Emma simply using Harriet as her protégé would only end in tears. 

Some of us questioned whether their friendship was genuine, and we began to question why Emma was using her? Was it her because she was bored and needed something to entertain herself with? Was it because she was lonely now that Mrs Weston had got married and moved out? Was it even an ego-booster for Emma to be seen as a do-gooder? Or perhaps the saddest reasons of them all is that Emma never really had any female companionship and with Harriet being so keen to have Emma as a friend, perhaps Emma could now fully experience what it is like to have a sister?

I think we all agreed that there was definitely some sort of motive behind her friendship with Harriet.

Q3: What did you make of Mr Woodhouse? What kind of daughter is Emma to him?

Members were very torn on their opinion of Mr Woodhouse as words such as ‘irritating’, ‘hilarious’, ‘endearing’ and ‘cute’ being used to describe him. I think we all agreed that he was suffering from some sort of nervous disposition, probably caused by grief. One of the members said that everybody knows a Mr Woodhouse and we all surprisingly seemed to agree with this! 

Most of us felt sorry for Mr Woodhouse because he was obviously a sensitive soul and it’s easy to see why. All the women in his life seem to come and go, for example, his wife, Emma’s sister and Mrs Weston, but with Emma’s marriage to Mr Knightley, hopefully, she can remain at home with him. 

What we all agreed on was that Emma’s relationship with her father is one of the few relationships that Emma holds with true love and real compassion. Some argued that her reason for not wanting to marry was because she didn’t want to leave her father, and was putting her life on hold to ensure her father’s happiness. Her love for her father seemed to be her only redeeming quality and we all admired Emma for this.

Q4: What did you think of Mr Knightley? Did your opinion change at all?

Mr Knightley was a HUGE hit with the ‘Let’s Get Classical’ Book Club. Although we were a little unsure of him at first because he seemed to question Emma about everything and was extremely patronising, we grew to love him towards the end and agreed that he was definitely a good match for Emma. 

Mr Knightley did wonders for Emma’s development as he was the only character who didn’t hang on Emma’s every word. He was often considerate of others, especially Mr Woodhouse and Harriet and some of us stated that ‘he is just what a young man ought to be’. 

One of our members even pointed out that Knightley’s judgements are often clues and foreshadow was it about to happen in the book. Turns out that Mr Knightley isn’t just a pretty face after all…

Q5: Do you think Emma learnt anything from her behaviour? Do you think she grows as a character?

A lot of members mentioned that when Emma is rude to Miss Bates during the picnic, this seems to be a turning point in the novel. Emma finally realises the woman she is becoming and she doesn’t like it. I think from this point forward, she realises that she is quick to act before she thinks and that her actions impact those around her. She always believes she is doing the best for everyone but soon realises that her meddling can have severe consequences. 

Some of us even noticed that Emma seems to realise at the end of the novel that money, class and social status isn’t everything to everyone and once she realises this, she becomes a more compassionate and ‘real’ character. 

Most were frustrated by her journey to realising this, as it was only right at the very end that she has her epiphany, but others were sceptical to whether Emma would actually ever fully change her ways.

Q6: Marriage is a central theme in Emma. What do you think Jane Austen was trying to say about marriage?

As this was my first Austen novel, I was unaware that most of her female heroines marry for love. Many of the marriages we witness in the novel (and there’s a few!) are more about gaining social status or financial stability. Emma doesn’t need any of those things and therefore vows never to marry. Maybe there is a fear that with marriage, she will lose her independence and that scares her. 

Many of us debated what Austen was trying to say about marriage through the novel and most of us agreed that she was promoting getting married for love and nothing else. Perhaps Austen was proving that marriage shouldn’t just be for securing wealth and class but should be because you’ve fallen in love with the right person at the right time. 

We also loved that she was ahead of her time by proving that women have a choice when it comes to marriage when she said:

“If a woman doubts as to whether she should accept a man or not, she certainly ought to refuse him.”

Q7: “I am going to take a heroine whom no one but myself will much like.” Did you like Emma?

The general consensus around this question was that we didn’t like Emma at first and we found how she loved to meddle and gossip in affairs that did not involve her, unbearable to read at times. Yet as the book progressed, we grew to love her sass and independence. 

Some of us questioned whether she would be someone we’d hang out with, and most of us agreed that although she loved to gossip, Emma knew her own mind and she knew what she wanted out of life, which to us was admirable. 

Members agreed that we wanted to read a sequel to see how Emma and Mr Knightley got on with married life and to see whether she really had changed. Yet what we loved most about Emma was that her flaws made her a more relatable and real character which brings us nicely onto our next and final question…

Q8: In what ways, if at all, can Emma be viewed as a feminist novel?

Members were torn about this question because Emma somewhat is and somewhat isn’t a feminist novel. Emma is sassy, independent and headstrong; she knows what she wants. She knows her wealth and status around Highbury and because of this, she, therefore, has the confidence to do exactly as she pleases. 

A few of our members raised an interesting point when they argued that it is because of her wealth and social status that she has the option to marry for love, instead of only marrying to secure financial security. Poorer people at this time would not have had these same luxuries. 

Yet one thing we all agreed on was that Emma showed us that women can have faults and they weren’t always these perfect little wives that men at this time wish they would be. Women should have their own say in who they marry and why they marry, and that should never be frowned upon, but instead celebrated. 

As Emma marries Mr Knightley in the end and is kind of ‘tamed’ by him, we all said we wouldn’t go as far as naming it as a feminist novel but it is definitely ahead of its time.

And there we have it, I hope you enjoyed reading this book club discussion summary, and if you would like to get involved next month, make sure you join the Let’s Get Classical Book Club Facebook Group! We are currently voting for our August book club read, so be sure to head over there to have your say!

The Great Gatsby: June Book Club Discussion Summary

As there were so many great things discussed during the book club discussion of our June book, The Great Gatsby for my ‘Let’s Get Classical’ Book Club, I thought why not create a little discussion summary. So for those that missed out or for those who want to see the consensus on what people thought, its all here for you!

Between the hour of 8pm – 9pm (UK time) eight questions were posted for book club members to comment their thoughts. Here is what they said:

Q1: What do we make of our narrator? Do you think his character was intentional by Fitzgerald?

Most members viewed Nick as an unreliable narrator and a character who offered a flawed and biased perspective. There were many loose ends in his narrative, as well as contradictory statements.

Nick, in our members’ opinion, was an outsider/observer looking into the world of Gatsby, who was intentionally created by Fitzgerald to act as a mouthpiece for the story. Most members didn’t care much for Nick and viewed him as having the common blissful ignorance of the middle classes, as he chose to only see and believe the things he wanted to be true.

Q2: What do you think about Daisy’s assessment that ‘the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool’?

Many viewed Daisy’s assessment as a superficial and outdated way of thinking. The popular opinion stemmed from members not being a fan of how women were represented in this book, and it portrayed a number of gender imbalances withing a male-centric novel.

Yet there were some members who introduced a great point about Fitzgerald using the character of Daisy to play upon the social norms/expectations of the 1920s woman, portraying her as silly, vain and only valued in terms of beauty; all of which were stereotypes created as an anti-suffrage protest.

Yet this statement also implies that Daisy knows what a woman needs to be to survive in a male-orientated world. She knows that ‘ignorance is bliss’ when it comes to living a happy and care-free life, and many members agreed this was probably why she turned a blind eye to Tom’s cheating.

Q3: What is your opinion of Tom? Do you think he truly loves Daisy?

So one thing we all agreed on was how much we hated Tom. His character is controlling, patronising, manipulative and incredibly hypocritical. Tom carelessly uses people to get what he wants, and enjoys baking his cake and eating it.

His arrogance and jealously confirms the old saying that ‘once a cheat, always a cheat’, and most members agreed that he didn’t truly love Daisy. Daisy was his trophy wife; his possession that suited his social status and therefore only suited him for when he wanted to play happy families.

It infuriated readers when Tom got jealous about Gatsby and Daisy, even though he was off doing the same and arguably worse, and we were even more angry at Tom setting up Gatsby with the murder of Myrtle. Yet some were also quick to notice that because our narrator Nick does not like Tom, us as readers, are less fond of him too, at least compared to Gatsby.

Q4: Do you think Daisy makes the right choice? What would you have done, if you were her?

Members did not hold back on their thoughts regarding Daisy. Some believed that Daisy was the end of Gatsby and her carelessness meant that she was never held accountable for her actions. Many members believed that she made all the wrong choices in life and even though she may have loved Gatsby, she would have always ended up with someone like Tom because she cannot stray from her rich and privileged life (hence why she couldn’t marry Gatsby as he was poor).

Yet some members argued that Daisy had little choice in the end and had her power taken from her by men in the book. She may have come across as selfish and careless but lets take into account for a second whether the grass is always greener on the other side. Many members argued that Gatsby represented an idealistic, responsibility-free life, whereas Tom was real. What would Daisy and Gatsby’s relationship had been like if they has eloped together? I can only imagine Gatsby as a jealous and manipulative husband, not so different to Tom.

Q5: Do you consider Gatsby to be this ‘self-made man’? Is he a good portrayal of the ‘American Dream’?

A common theme running through members’ comments on this question was that Gatsby represented the typical 1920’s ‘American Dream’ and was therefore right for its time. Yet, Daisy was his dream. Daisy = happiness for Gatsby, and we noted that as soon as Daisy began visiting his house, the lavish parties stopped.

Most members agreed that although Gatsby had all the materialistic happiness, his life had no meaning without the love of Daisy. Many argued that through the character of Gatsby, Fitzgerald was showing us how the ‘American Dream’ is unattainable and unachievable, and perhaps predicting its downfall.

Q6: How do you think love is portrayed by Fitzgerald in the story? Is this a love story?

We all agreed that love was not the main theme in the book, and that The Great Gatsby is more of a social commentary. Love is portrayed as fickle and fragile, with Gatsby’s love being borderline infatuation. Was this infatuation with Daisy herself of the idea of Daisy?

An interesting point made by one of the members was that this book can be viewed as a modern tragedy as the two deaths that occur are of the characters of the those ruining the equilibrium within the story. It was also discussed how the characters’ greed outweighed their love, as they were too prioritised with the lust for material things and social status rather than the real thing.

There’s no doubt that there are elements and discussions of love throughout the book but it is not the main lesson to take away from the book.

Q7: What do you believe to be the true message of The Great Gatsby?

So what is the true message of this book? Most members agreed that money was the real theme. Money can’t buy happiness is what most members took away from this story, as money brought everyone to Gatsby’s parties but once he was dead, no one cared enough to turn up to his funeral. Fitzgerald is obviously implying that money is shallow and hope is pure.

A few members also commented on how the book was Fitzgerald’s way of commenting on the society he lived in. How the rich and powerful were careless and had the privilege to walk away in ignorant bliss, whilst the others in society suffered and were witness to their destructive behaviour.

Another interesting point made was how Fitzgerald through The Great Gatsby predicted how the roaring twenties culture and the ‘American Dream’ would inevitably implode and shatter, which is did after the Wall Street Crash.

Q8: Fitzgerald apparently hated the title The Great Gatsby and begged for it to be changed. Why do you think that is?

Many agreed that once you’ve read this book, Gatsby isn’t so great after all. The ironic title builds this expectation of the mythical Gatsby, which is extremely fitting to Gatsby’s character. The grandeur of Gatsby may have earned him this title but it is in fact a complete facade.

This could have also been a way Fitzgerald played upon how society viewed the rich and famous, as well as emphasising the fact that this story is supposed to be written by Nick, who we all know secretly adored Gatsby, and therefore this definitely would have been a title Nick chose.

‘Under the Red, White & Blue’ was an alternative title, but we all agreed that we’re glad The Great Gatsby has stuck in the end.

And there we have it, I hope you enjoyed reading this book club discussion summary, and if you would like to get involved in the next book club discussion, make sure you join the Let’s Get Classical Book Club Facebook Group! Join us on the 26th July at 8pm (UK time) to discuss Jane Austen’s Emma.