The Highway by C.J.Box

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81t4M2JzvhLTwo sisters set out across a remote stretch of Montana to visit a friend, the girls–and their car–simply vanish. Former police investigator Cody Hoyt has just lost his job and has fallen off the wagon after a long stretch of sobriety. Convinced by his son and his former rookie partner, Cassie Dewell, he begins the drive south to the girls’ last known location. As Cody makes his way to the lonely stretch of Montana highway where they went missing, Cassie discovers that Gracie and Danielle Sullivan aren’t the first girls who have disappeared in this area.

This majestic landscape is the hunting ground for a killer whose viciousness is outmatched only by his intelligence. And he might not be working alone. Time is running out for Gracie and Danielle…Can Cassie overcome her doubts and lack of experience and use her innate abilities? Can Cody Hoyt battle his own demons and find this killer before another victim vanishes on the highway?

The book was generally enjoyed: ‘a page turner’, would read more by this author’, ‘suspenseful, you know who’s doing it but you don’t know if the girls are going to be rescued in time.’ The Chief Investigator Cassie Dewell, – an overweight deputy hired because the department needed to employ a woman, is strong and not too stereotyped, but was this a transparent effort by Box to ‘provide a woman to solve the crime against women?’ She turned out to be pretty much like a man anyway, shooting dead the suspect in a very ‘American’ way.

One rather dreaded descriptions of the gratuitous horrors that might be inflicted on the girls, but luckily were spared. There was obviously a back story involving Cody and the sisters, but no details were given. We were all surprised by the demise of the seemingly, main character, halfway through the book, and it would appear there must be a sequel, since the ‘Lizard King’ is still on the prowl..

Rather weak and predictable in places. Averaged a 6/7 out of 10.

Sara, Clapham Library Crime Reading Group

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To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

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lighthouseThis simple and haunting story captures the transcience of life and its surrounding emotions. To the Lighthouse is the most autobiographical of Virginia Woolf’s novels. It is based on her own early experiences, and while it touches on childhood and children’s perceptions and desires, it is at its most trenchant when exploring adult relationships, marriage and the changing class-structure in the period spanning the Great War.

In this classic work, Woolf has tried out an experimental writing style – writing a stream of consciousness. Many of the group did not like this style of writing calling it drivel; pointless and incomprehensible. There is no real plot. The book is divided into three parts. The first part, “The Window”, catalogues the thoughts and feelings of most of the characters – the Ramsey family and their guests – throughout one afternoon and evening. This is the longest section.

The second part, “Time Passes”, covers the next ten years in a couple of paragraphs. It also includes a description of the Ramsey’s summer house in a state of decay because of being left for so long, plus it describes how the cleaning woman is struggling to prepare the house for the family’s return.

The final part, “The Lighthouse”, describes the long awaited trip to the lighthouse and the characters’ thoughts and feelings at this reunion where three of the earlier characters have since died. Some of the group enjoyed the perceptive characterisation revealed in the internal monologues and could relate to certain characters. We all agreed the language is poetic and evokes the life of a middle class family in the early twentieth century. There are strong elements of feminism and debates about the pros and cons of the contrasting worlds of work and domesticity. The reading group members gave a range of scores between 1 and 9. The overall score was 5 out of 10.

Elisabeth, Upper Norwood Library Reading Group

The Dry by Jane Harper

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The DryA small town hides big secrets in this atmospheric, page-turning debut mystery by an award-winning new author.

After getting a note demanding his presence, Federal Agent Aaron Falk arrives in his hometown for the first time in decades to attend the funeral of his best friend, Luke. Twenty years ago when Falk was accused of murder, Luke was his alibi. Falk and his father fled under a cloud of suspicion, saved from prosecution only because of Luke’s steadfast claim that the boys had been together at the time of the crime. But now more than one person knows they didn’t tell the truth back then, and Luke is dead.

Amid the worst drought in a century, Falk and the local detective question what really happened to Luke. As Falk reluctantly investigates to see if there’s more to Luke’s death than there seems to be, long-buried mysteries resurface, as do the lies that have haunted them. And Falk will find that small towns have always hidden big secrets.

We really liked this, average score 8 out of 10, and would really recommend it as a good read. We were all glad to hear that this is the first in a series to feature Aaron Falk, (the second, Force of Nature, was published recently). Our group felt that it had a good plot and was a definite page-turner.

‘I felt the heat in more ways than one!.. the flashbacks were revealing, the characters well-developed.’

‘The writing is excellent, the pacing was quick with fully fleshed characters, and the ending was satisfying without being too cut and dry. Half the fun of this story is, even if you guess at the who, you probably won’t guess the why until it’s revealed’.

 

Sara, Clapham Library Crime Reading GRoup

The Magic Toyshop by Angela Carter

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magictoyshop-242x387‘This crazy world whirled around her, men and women dwarfed by toys and puppets, where even the birds are mechanical and the few human figures went masked… She was in the night once again, and the doll was herself.’

One night Melanie walks through the garden in her mother’s wedding dress. The next morning her world is shattered. Forced to leave the home of her childhood, she is sent to live with relatives she has never met: gentle Aunt Margaret, mute since her wedding day; and her brothers, Francie and Finn. Brooding over all is Uncle Philip, who loves only the toys he makes in his workshop: clockwork roses and puppets that are life-size – and uncannily life-like.

We all agreed that the book had a highly visual opening sequence, setting the tone of magic realism with its fantastical quality and Carter’s obvious use of sexual metaphor. Some found the beginning too absurd and laden with symbolism to truly enjoy the story, which only got worse with the introduction of the oddball Flower family. Others appreciated the deceptive simplicity of Carter’s writing, finding the eccentricities of the ‘cast’ intriguing, with much to ponder on the muteness of Margaret and the tyranny of Philip.

We talked about the timeless feel of the text, as though Carter is deliberately discombobulating the reader (and Melanie) further in this odd world. We also picked over (conscious or subconscious on Carter’s part, we weren’t sure) literary nods: the ‘Dickensian’ aspect of the Flower family’s lifestyle and dress, the ‘girl’s adventure’ way that Melanie finds herself orphaned and then off on a (mis)adventure. We rated Angela Carter’s The Magic Toyshop 7 out of 10, with scores ranging from 1 to 9.

Rita, Carnegie Library Reading Group

A Star called Henry by Roddy Doyle

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A Star Called HenryBorn in the Dublin slums of 1901, his father a one-legged whorehouse bouncer and settler of scores, Henry Smart has to grow up fast. By the time he can walk he’s out robbing and begging, often cold and always hungry, but a prince of the streets. By Easter Monday, 1916, he’s fourteen years old and already six-foot-two, a soldier in the Irish Citizen Army. A year later he’s ready to die for Ireland again, a rebel, a Fenian and a killer. With his father’s wooden leg as his weapon, Henry becomes a Republican legend – one of Michael Collins’ boys, a cop killer, an assassin on a stolen bike.

We had a lively discussion about Roddy Doyle’s “A star called Henry”. Many of the group had been unsure about reading it because they could see it would be about Ireland’s troubled history and lots of violence, but actually, once they read it, they viewed it positively. In fact everyone who attended the discussion, enjoyed the book, though they found the history it portrayed, very upsetting. Henry Smart and his father carry the tale that is written in the oral tradition style, yet with vivid description in pithy couplets. Henry Smart and his father for whom he has been named, are larger than life characters who use his father’s leg as an effective weapon. As with the scene at the General Post Office, there is an element of myth and legend, more grandiose in the telling. Doyle gives a positive view of women as they fight alongside the men and particularly his wife causes a lot of damage. Doyle provides a vivid picture of the Dublin slums in the 1920s and 30s. It is a political novel but does not take sides. It was what it was. The conditions were deplorable for the ordinary people and soldiers returning from the war, suffering from post-traumatic stress and with no job or income, were an easy target for the British to use to keep order in Ireland as the Black and Tans. So people were ripe for rebellion against the British. However as Henry Smart found, they were all just used for political ends and social reform did not happen. Instead the IRA got power and destroyed any who disagreed with them, or who stood in the way of their own political or monetary gain. Henry Smart started off being hunted by the British, but by the end he was also on the IRA hit list – the very people he had helped bring to power. He realises his ideals of fighting for reform were only his and that he has been used. He ends up on the run, leaving for America.

There were less of us at this reading group session so maybe that has skewed the figures, but we gave this book 8 out of 10.

Elisabeth, Upper Norwood Library Group

The Caller by Chris Carter

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BG‘Tanya Kaitlin is looking forward to a relaxing night in, but as she steps out of her shower, she hears her phone ring. The video call request comes from her best friend, Karen Ward. Tanya takes the call and the terror begins.

Detective Robert Hunter of the LAPD Special Section and his colleague Carlos Garcia, are thrown headlong into a horrific investigation, chasing a predator who scouts the streets and social media networks for victims. It’s a race against time – whose phone will ring next?

We didn’t think much of this. Rather formulaic, and annoyingly no real suspects. The murderer was introduced in the last few chapters, and the motive didn’t really match the scale of his gruesome murders. On a more positive note, we quite liked the assassin being an unintentional victim, and it did instigate an interesting conversation about how people use social media. Wouldn’t recommend.

Sara, Clapham Library Reading Group

 

The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore

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The Greatcoat by Helen DunmoreIn the winter of 1952, Isabel Carey moves to the East Riding of Yorkshire with her husband Philip, a GP. With Philip spending long hours on call, Isabel finds herself isolated and lonely as she strives to adjust to the realities of married life. Woken by intense cold one night, she discovers an old RAF greatcoat hidden in the back of a cupboard. Sleeping under it for warmth, she starts to dream. And not long afterwards, while her husband is out, she is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young RAF pilot, waiting to come in.

His name is Alec, and his powerful presence both disturbs and excites her. Her initial alarm soon fades, and they begin an intense affair. But nothing has prepared her for the truth about Alec’s life, nor the impact it will have on hers …

Upper Norwood Library Reading Group had a pleasant discussion about The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore. There was still some disagreement between those who enjoyed it and those who didn’t. Those who didn’t, felt there was a grey, drear atmosphere throughout the book which depressed them. Those who did enjoy it, agreed about the grey sense of the book particularly the beginning, but felt this represented how it was after the war. We felt Helen Dunmore portrayed life in the fifties extremely well, using a minimal amount of words. It is evocative of that era. We felt the attitude of the doctor towards his wife – protective breadwinner whose wife should stay at home – is also representative of the fifties. We had a discussion about the genre of the book. The publishers call it a “flesh-creeping ghost story” but we didn’t find it scary at all. Although there is a strong sense of atmosphere, interestingly the predominant “ghost” is actually flesh and blood: he drops blood and eats, drinks and makes love. He is not just an apparition. A suggestion was made that maybe the episodes with Alec, the ghost, were only in Isabel’s imagination. In many ways the story is more a time-travel story where Isabel takes over the past life of their landlady.  The plot is really to resolve a tragic situation that happened in the war. Alec is trapped in the last few days of his life and Elizabeth is forever waiting for him. His greatcoat is the vehicle used to summons Alec back but he appears to the younger Isabel and thus the original tragedy is resolved and the dead are at peace. The story is a homage to all those bomber pilots who never came back. We scored this book 6.5 out of 10.

Elisabeth, Upper Norwood Reading Group