“Memphis” by Tara Stringfellow




“Memphis” by Tara Stringfellow


This is Tara Stringfellow’s debut novel; she is a former attorney and known for published poetry and prose and her love and use of language is displayed throughout the novel. The story follows four strong women over three generations and is based around the family home in Memphis. The author uses her own family history to base the novel on and some of our group felt that this intimate family connection led to a positive bias of the women in the story compared to the men, whose story was not told in any detail. The story has lots going on in it and does have some upsetting content but is also filled with joy and laughter. Stringfellow writes about each of the women in different chapters and the story moves back and forth between different eras; this means that the story jumps around. The majority of our group felt that to enjoy the novel, they had to continually refer back to the family tree to establish which character they were going to read about and what period they were in. The book did split the group’s view of it, with one member rating it extremely highly and a “must read” where others struggled to find a connection to the story. The majority of us enjoyed exploring the characters and following the story through the years.

The average marking of the group was 6



“Christmas is Murder” by Val McDermid




“Christmas is Murder” by Val McDermid


 

A book of twelve short stories with different themes: detective, revenge, supernatural and historic. The settings were varied. Several readers felt that short stories worked well for bedtime reading. The stories were generally felt to be well written, but not chilling. Members who enjoyed other books by Val McDermid, felt that these tales were not up to her usual standard. Our favourite story was ‘Holmes for Christmas’ because it incorporated real historical events and the famous Sherlock Holmes. Our least favourite was ‘The Girl Who Killed Santa Claus’, since it was too predictable. Score 6/10.

 



“The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell




“The Marriage Portrait” by Maggie O’Farrell


Regular readers may remember that we reviewed this book briefly last month; it was received by one of our group from our “lucky dip” read in December. Our group member recommended that we should all read it as our January book.

The author Maggie O’Farrell has based this book loosely on historical characters who lived in 16th Century Italy. Lucrezia de’ Medici was a 16 year old who, it is rumoured, may have been murdered by her husband. The author came across a very small oil painting of Lucrezia and felt that she could imagine the life of this young girl who died at such a young age.

In 2020 O’Farrell started writing a novel about this imagined life. The book focuses on Lucrezia who was the third daughter of the Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici of Florence. Her older sister was betrothed to 27 year old Alfonso, Duke of Ferra. Sadly, this young woman died before they married and it was decided that the 13 year old Lucrezia would become Alfonso’s wife. The marriage is one of political convenience and Lucrezia is a pawn in this power union. The story starts one year into the marriage and Lucrezia is convinced that her husband is intent on killing her. The narrative rewinds to show the reader what has happened in Lucrezia’s life to reach this point. O’ Farrell’s writing is descriptive and she paints vivid images. She beautifully illustrates life in an Italian court in the 16th century and the insignificance of women in the courts of powerful men at that time. The story alternated between two time periods and several members of the group did not enjoy this, stating that it was difficult to follow.

The group also spent time discussing whether this book could be classed as a historical novel or a novel with historical content. The majority of the group felt that they became emotionally engaged with the characters especially the main one, Lucrezia and enjoyed the surprise ending.

Although two members of the group felt that this was not one of Maggie O’ Farrell’s best novels, the rest thoroughly enjoyed the story and gave it strong recommendations. The overall score was 8 out of 10



Recent Holiday Book List




Various Books Read over the Holidays


During the December meeting of The Page Turners each member contributed a book to a lucky dip. Whichever book was drawn, was to be read by that member and then discussed during the January meeting. The results are briefly summarised below and each book scored out of 10:

A GENTLEMAN IN MOSCOW by Amor Towles. This novel tells the story of Count Alexander Ros-tov, who in 1922 is sentenced to house arrest and is imprisoned in an attic room in the Hotel Metropol in Moscow for many years. A book with humour and interesting characters, a very good read which is recommended and scored 8.

MRS VAN GOGH by Caroline Cauchi. The artist Vincent Van Gogh died in 1890, penniless and un-known. Joanne, married to Theo Van Gogh, Vin-cent’s brother, is determined to bring Vincent’s talent to public attention and works tirelessly for many years to achieve that goal. Our reader thought the novel, although slow at first, became very interesting and gave a score of 7.

THE BULLET THAT MISSED by Richard Osman. The third in The Thursday Murder Club series, it is recommended by our reader that the previous books in this series be read first. A really enjoyable novel with lots of humour scored 9.

CHRISTMAS IS MURDER by Val McDermid. This collection of twelve short stories is perfect for reading before going to sleep at night. Well written and atmospheric with various interesting characters. Al-so the perfect book to put on the bedside table in a guest room. Score 8.

THE OLIVE READERS by Christine Aziz. Our reader describes this book as a cross between the novels “1984”, “Harry Potter”, “Lord of the Rings” and “Animal Farm”. A dystopia novel set in a future with no past and is not recommended. Score 2.

THIS MUST BE THE PLACE by Maggie O’Farrell. An ex film star goes to live in the wilds of Ireland. This is a book about family and love, full of interest-ing characters, beautiful words and descriptions. Thoroughly enjoyed by our reader scored 9.

THE MARRIAGE PORTRAIT by Maggie O’Farrell. Historical fiction inspired by the true story of the young Italian Duchess, Lucrezia de Medici, daughter of the Grand Duke Cosimo de Medici of Florence. At the age of 15, Lucrezia was married to 27 year old Alfonso, Duke of Ferrera, and becomes convinced that he is planning her death. Beautifully written, descriptive and interesting. Score 9.

 



“The Labyrinth of the Spirits” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón




“The Labyrinth of the Spirits” by Carlos Ruiz Zafón


The first few pages of this 500 page novel giving the description of Regina Aeronautica’s bombardment of Barcelona during The Spanish Civil War and the subsequent escape of Alicia Gris, the heroine, was extremely evocative and the brutality of the Franco Fascist era from 1936 until his death in 1975 particularly well written.
The story is basically a detective novel where Alicia Gris acting as a police agent is commissioned to find Don Valls who has mysteriously disappeared.
The novel is gritty, gripping but at times very dark with several difficult passages of graphic details of gruesome tortures.
Despite the fluency of the narrative the writing occasionally becomes rather mundane and the momentum is lost but Zafón soon rectifies these passages by introducing an absorbing twist.
Apart from two dissenters the group found the tome fascinating and a real page turner with most of the group awarding marks of 9 and 10. The overall mark was 7.
Thank you must go to our hostess, Jill, who provided us with delicious cake



“A Terrible Kindness” by Jo Browning Wroe




“A Terrible Kindness” by Jo Browning Wroe


This debut novel promoted an interesting and lively discussion between the Page Turners.

William Lavery is a young, recently qualified embalmer who has joined the family business. When news of the disaster at Aberfan reaches him, he immediately volunteers to attend and it becomes his first job as an embalmer. The care and compassion he shows to the mostly young victims of that terrible tragedy, was beautifully portrayed, but had a profound effect on William’s life, to the extent of leaving his wife in later years because of his fear of having children of his own. He is forced to face up to his own issues concerning family and friendship which had been left to fester over many years rather than being dealt with. The book proceeds to become William’s biography.

Following the death of his father, an undertaker in the family business, William wins a music scholarship and becomes a Chorister in a Cathedral School. However, rather than pursuing a musical career, which his mother desperately wishes him to do, family traumas redirect him into a career of embalming and results in him becoming estranged from his mother for many years.

It was mostly agreed by the Page Turners that the book was very well written, thought provoking with interesting characters, and extremely emotional at times. However, some thought that it was very inappropriate to use the tragedy of Aberfan as the opening to a fictional novel. Additionally, it was pointed out by a few of the group that the story became predictable and thus a happy ending was perhaps produced too easily. William was not always a likeable character and some of the traumas he experienced were as a result of his own actions and should not have been blamed on others.

Despite the difference of opinions, the final score of 8 confirms that this novel is recommended as a good read. A Terrible Kindness by Jo Browning Wroe

“THE PAGE TURNERS”

 

“THE PAGE TURNERS”

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee
Harper Lee wrote the Pulitzer Prize winning novel
To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960 which became a
classic of modern American literature and went onto
become an iconic film starring Gregory Peck.
Following its publication, Harper Lee was subjected
to a whirlwind of publicity tours which she found
difficult. It remained her only published work until
2015.
Lee is reported to have said in 2011 that there were
two reasons that she never wrote again; “One, I
wouldn’t go through the pressure and publicity I
went through with To Kill a Mockingbird for any
amount of money. Second, I have said what I
wanted to say and I will not say it again.” She died
in 2016.
To Kill A Mocking Bird remained her only
published work until Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015. It is understood that
she didn’t want the book to be published.
It was therefore with interest that the Page Turners
group read Go Set a Watchman. The book contains
versions of many characters from To Kill a
Mockingbird although it is set some years in the
future when Scout is a young adult and returns to her
childhood home town. The book was completed in
1957, although it has been published as a separate
piece of work.
Nearly all members of the group were very
disappointed in the book feeling that it was very
much a first draft and was a series of disjointed
thoughts and ideas. It was difficult to read it as a
stand alone book without comparing it with To Kill
a Mockingbird.
The book received an overall score of 4.

 


 

“The Reindeer Hunters” by Lars Mytting




“The Reindeer Hunters” by Lars Mytting


For the Page Turners, the Reindeer Hunters was an eagerly anticipated read, after the first book in the trilogy, the Bell in the Lake, had received unanimously good reviews from all the book club members. However, there were disappointing reviews from the majority of the Page Turners and a rapturous reception from an enthusiastic minority. All agreed it was well written, but most were unhappy with the pace of the story and found it boring and uninteresting! Those that enjoyed the book were drawn into the book by the characters, and the description of a rural Norwegian village and the hardships that were endured at the beginning of the 20th century. Some were looking forward to the publication of the final part of the trilogy….others were definitely not!

A range of scores, with an average of 7…so have a read, and see what you think!

A score of 10 for Helen’s brandy ice cream was agreed by everyone!!



The Island of Missing Trees by Elif Shafak




“The Island of Missing Trees” by Elif Shafak


A rich magical tale of belonging and identity, love and trauma, nature and renewal. This was a book that the whole group enjoyed and more than one person scored it as 10 out of 10 – a rarity indeed! The book is narrated from an unusual viewpoint, which some people found difficult at first! But all were in agreement that Elif Shafak uses exquisite language in her writing and intend to read more of her books.

An interesting discussion was generated re: truth and reconciliation and the potential impact on all involved – victims, perpetrators and innocent family members. We discussed the effects on soldiers of fighting during WW1 and the resultant unimagined effects on people. At that time, there was no psychological support offered to veterans. In contrast, people are encouraged to talk about their experiences in today’s world. However, first and foremost the book is a love story! Well worth reading!

 



Lucky Dip Books




Various Books


During our December meeting each member placed a book into a Lucky Dip and the individual books drawn by the Page Turners were read and summarised for our January meeting as shown below:

Leonard And Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession

This is the story of two ordinary single friends, Leonard and Hungry Paul. They are quiet, gentle and kind. There is no dramatic plot, just the humorous details of their lives. Well written and a relaxing read. Score 7 out of 10.

City Mission: The Story of London’s Welsh Chapels by Huw Edwards

Broadcaster Huw Edwards tells the history of the setting up of the Welsh Chapels and Churches in London and examines the patterns of Welsh migration. Milk Couriers from Wales drove their dairy herds to the Royal Parks in London and local residents would take their jugs to buy milk. The Milk Couriers then gave monies to build the Chapels and Churches and having made their fortunes returned to the Welsh valleys. An excellent book. Score 8 out of 10.

Red Dog by Louis de Bernieres

A short novel by the author of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. This is an enchanting story about a dog in Western Australia which alternatively has you in stitches or floods of tears. Very enjoyable and highly recommended. Score 8 out of 10.

Becoming by Michelle Obama.

An autobiography by Michelle LaVaughn Robinson Obama and details her life from a young child in Chicago to First Lady of the United States of America. She is always striving for perfection but is likeable, hard-working and very genuine. She tells her story in her own words and it is extremely well written. A very enjoyable book and highly recommended. Score 8.5 out of 10.

Dictator by Robert Harris

An historical novel which is the third part of a trilogy and covers the final 15 years of the life of the Roman lawyer and politician Cicero as seen through the eyes of his loyal Scribe Tiro. It is extremely well researched and covers the period when Julius Caesar was assassinated, and the Roman Republic collapsed. Highly recommended. Score 10 out of 10.

The Bonesetters Daughter by Amy Tan

This book deals with the relationship between a mother and daughter and tells two stories. One is about Ruth, born in the USA. The second is about her mother, LuLing who was born in China in the early 1900’s and later emigrated to the USA where she married and was widowed when Ruth was very young. LuLing’s story is revealed in stages, as is that of her mother, father and their families and is both fascinating and complicated. A really interesting and enjoyable book. Score 8 out of 10

 



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