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    UrbanCoffeeCo bookclub: Never the Bride by Paul Magrs (review and bookclub questions)

    I know it’s midway through March, but the book club choice for February (Never the Bride by Paul Magrs) counts towards the British Book Challenge I’ve signed myself up to. Plus, I wanted to write a bit more than the general review I do for the coffee shop it’s hosted at.

    Although some people in the book club really hated the book, I found it quite a pleasant book to read. It’s very easy to read, which meant that I managed to finish it without really feeling like it was a lot of effort. It read to me very much like a Sunday afternoon show on the BBC. It’s quaint, fun, a little dark, but in a wholesome kind of way. To the point where I was a bit shocked when one of the characters swore – it’s very middle England by the seaside, with a bit of a Doctor Who spookiness going on.

    The chapters weren’t really chapters, and more a way of splitting up episodes of short stories. This works and doesn’t, as the short story nature of the book meant not everything was resolved. Being a fan of the monster-of-the-week type shows, I know they usually show the monster rising from the dead or something, but this didn’t feel wrapped up enough.

    Not really sure who the book is aimed at either. But would say if you want a nice, light-hearted book to read and enjoy a bit of supernatural mystery, then this is probably for you. Suspect it would make a good holiday read.

    • Questions for a book club/group on Never the Bride by Paul Magrs:
    • What did you think of the book, would you recommend it?
    • Did you finish it?
    • Who did you think it was aimed at? There have been some suggestions it’s teenage fiction, does this fit with the characters and could you see teenagers reading it?
    • What did you think of the Christmas Hotel and its owner?
    • What did you feel about the chapters, did they feel like episodes?
    • The book is the first in a series, would you read the others?
    • Did you like the pop-culture like Manifest Yourself (we thought it was like Most Haunted) ?
    • … and the literary references and Whitby & Bram Stoker and Frankenstein?

    The book for the end of this month is The Bell by Iris Murdoch. My friend Liz is doing a piece of research into how book clubs respond to Murdoch and we’re her guinea pigs. She’s got some other groups signed up to read it too – if you’re interested, check out her blogpost on it.


    UrbanCoffeeCo bookclub: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories by H.P. Lovecraft (review and book club questions)

    Call it pathetic fallacy, but sat enjoying a warm coffee on a cold, dark night was the perfect setting to discuss this month’s book club choice; H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories.

    Even though most people struggled to read more than a few of the short stories, the discussion was lively and everyone had plenty to say.  It seemed a mix of reasons why people hadn’t finished the book – some don’t like short stories, others aren’t fans of horror, some didn’t like the writing style and others just ran out of time.  But everyone recognized the importance of Lovecraft to the horror genre today – the documentary style reminded me of the X-Files, the lack of women brought us on to talking about Buffy the Vampire Slayer and I’m sure at one point someone mentioned Start Trek.

    I’m genuinely glad I attempted to read some of Lovecraft’s work.  I’ve been meaning to for years, and whilst I didn’t really get into it in time for the book club, I suspect it’s the kind of thing I might try and dip into every so often.  Sure the language wasn’t what I’m used to and some of the stories felt a little like the interesting stuff had happened off page, but they were worth a read – and definitely a notable classic, I’m sure.

    The usual questions asked at most of our book club

    • Did you enjoy the book?
    • Would you recommend it to others?
    • Did you finish it?

    More specific questions for The Call of Cthuhlu and Other Weird Tales:

    • How did you feel about reading short stories?
    • How did you feel about reading horror?
    • The writing style – did it feel older than the 1920s?
    • Could you see how Lovecraft influenced the horror genre today?
    • Did the device of the documentary style put you off or did you like it?  Do you think it made it feel more real – would audiences at the time feel the same?
    • Did anyone notice the lack of women and how foreigners were treated in the stories?

    Next month the book club is reading Never the Bride by Paul Magrs.  It’s not chicklit, despite what the title suggests (my friend Liz described it as ‘mad old lady lit’).  And double-points, because it’ll count towards the British Book Challenge!

    *This was originally posted on my old blog Sisyphean Solutions*


    Artichoke Hearts – Book review (British Book Challenge)

    After a year of trying to read proper books, I’ve cracked and gone back to reading what I know and love: Young Adult novels.  The first of which was one I saw recommended on a few YA blogs (including Wondrous Reads) and my first read for the British Books Challenge – debut novel by Sita Brahmachari, Artichoke Hearts.

    And what a novel.

    I could feel myself welling up from page fifty when the main character’s dying grandmother goes to visit the art-shop for the last time.  Towards the end of the book I was in tears.  There is something so touchingly simple about this book that you cannot help but wonder what will happen to twelve-year-old Mira, her grandmother and Mira’s burgeoning interest in her classmate Jide Jackson, a boy with more to him than meets the eye.

    The main arch of the novel is the way Mira deals with grief for the first time, but Brahmachari gentle description of other new eye-opening experiences, like Mira’s discovery over the genocides in Rwanda is dealt with in an honest and un-patronising manner, something which sadly is not always the case (particularly in YA novels).

    I slowed down the speed I usually read in order to savour this book, I was that taken with it.  And I’ve already recommended it to three other people.  It’s a truly delightful, subtle yet powerful read.  Highly recommended.



    British Books Challenge 2011

    I’m not really one for new years resolutions, but I realised that last year I read less novels than I’d have liked.  I joined a couple of book clubs (one at my previous job and one I’ve ended up running), but the guilt of having to read to monthly deadlines stopped or discouraged me from reading outside of this.

    Well enough of that. So I’m signing up to the British Books Challenge 2011 over at The Bookette’s website (not longer seems to be active).  I stumbled across this after late night searches for my first-literary love, Young Adult novels.  And after testing myself out with picking a book because it’s British and having loved it, I think I can squish in another 11 amongst the book club (and guilt).

    I’ve just finished Artichoke Hearts by Site Brahmachari and am aiming to read Never the Bride by Paul Magrs as part of the Challenge too.

    Bring on the books!
    (recommendations gratefully received)

    *This was originally posted on my old blog Sisyphean Solutions*


    UrbanCoffeeCo bookclub: A Quiet Belief in Angels RJ Ellory (review and book club questions)

    This month, my book club read local author RJ Ellory’s arguably most well-known novel, A Quiet Belief in Angels. Although the meeting was last week, I haven’t yet finished. Not because I didn’t find the novel readable (I did), but more out of time, finishing one job, starting another etc…

    I’ve tried to read the novel a few times and each time I’d never managed to get past the first few pages. There are a couple of reasons for this, which I think are a bit unfair. The blurb on the back was clearly written by someone who’d never read the book and along with the first page of reflection it put me off. I confess I’m one of these people that if they don’t like a book in the first few pages I put it down and read something else. There are too many books to read one you’re not going to like.

    Anyway, the novel wasn’t as bad as I thought. It is far more descriptive than I like novels to be, but I happily skim-read these bits (like only a degree in English will teach you) and leisurely read the other bits. It’s very readable. Even people in Book Club that didn’t like it still read to the end. There are a lot of bits of plots that do feel were a bit frayed and a little unnecessary (I never understood the need for the Guardians, I don’t think they offered anything to the book and feel a bit like they’re there because someone insisted). But considering the book has been on my shelf for years I didn’t hate it and was quite glad I had the push to read it.

    Book club questions we discussed:

    The title – did it make sense/fit with the novel?
    The blurb on the back.
    The historical and geographical setting – did it feel authentic?
    Likeability of the main character
    The time Joseph spends in New York, particularly the first time.
    The novel’s relevance to American literature – given it was written by an Englishman and the references to Capote, Steinback etc…
    Our copies had suggested reading that mentioned On the Road and Catcher in the Rye – what people thought of this.
    We’re not having one in December as it falls in the vortex between Christmas and New Years, so the next one is January. We’ll be reading HP Lovercraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. I am really looking forward to it!


    UrbanCoffeeCo bookclub: One Day by David Nicholls

    Urban Coffee Company’s monthly book club is growing month on month.  It started off with two, got to four, jumped to ten and this month there were fifteen of us.Urban Coffee Company book club April 2010

    April’s book was One Day by David Nicholls – a book about two friends, Dexter and Emma, following their relationship from the last day of university, every year on that day for twenty years.  The story showed the idealism of wanting to change the world upon finishing university and the reality of finding a job and growing up, together and apart.

    The book split the group somewhat.  Two readers disliked it, with one admitting he had problems with the male character from the first twenty pages and subsequently only read every five years/chapters or so.  The other found the female character too similar to her own experiences and found the reading uncomfortable. Apart from that, everyone else seemed to enjoy the very human aspect of the writing and will-they-won’t-they element of the characters relationship.  There were some concerns that parts were clichéd, but several of the group admitted to seeing these clichés in their own lives.  Observations about the role of alcohol and the subtle socio-political elements of the book made for a thoroughly interesting discussion.

    Next months book is by local author, Christine Coleman and is her second novel, Paper Lanterns.  It can be purchased direct from her website, on Amazon or in select meetings around Birmingham, but best to try and stick to getting it online!  The group meets in Urban Coffee Company, Church St, Birmingham, at 6pm on the last Thursday of the month.  Meetings are entirely free and suggestions for the next months read are encouraged!

    *This was originally posted on my old blog BeanHeartBatman*