Archive for January, 2015

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Mock‘Shoot all the bluejays you want, if you can hit ’em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’

A lawyer’s advice to his children as he defends the real mockingbird of Harper Lee’s classic novel – a black man charged with the rape of a white girl. Through the young eyes of Scout and Jem Finch, Harper Lee explores with exuberant humour the irrationality of adult attitudes to race and class in the Deep South of the thirties. The conscience of a town steeped in prejudice, violence and hypocrisy is pricked by the stamina of one man’s struggle for justice. But the weight of history will only tolerate so much.

Well, I’m not sure where to start with this novel, and I’m not sure I’m aloud to describe it with the millions of adjectives I have in mind, so I’ll pick my favourite one and that should sum the book up nicely.

Outstanding. Simply, outstanding.

Why it’s taken me so long to get around to reading such a classical book I have no idea, but I’m thrilled I finally ticked it off my list. As a group we’ve recently read quite a few contemporary ‘book group’ reads and to be honest, we’re sick of them. Little originality, very few meaningful plots and writing styles that, quite frankly, should never have seen the light of day. We’ve also had quite a few that read as though they’ve just hatched out from a creative writing egg. Dull, dull, dull. So you can imagine our delight when we all thought that this book was wonderful.

It’s a very powerful eye-opener, and we all thoroughly enjoyed reading it, but it does have some very sad issues with a front row seat to an appalling miscarriage of justice. What makes it a difficult read is that these events and prejudices were genuine across America at the time. It’s just incredibly sad what humans will do to one another and it really does knock your faith in mankind.

Harper Lee manages to grab your attention from the word go with interesting characters and a perfect protagonist. Seeing through the eyes of a child really emphasises some of the incredibly deep points in the novel and is probably what makes it so meaningful. As a group we could have discussed this book for hours. For me, I became hooked when it came to the trial of Tom Robinson. Not only was I intrigued by the case, but I was also intrigued by the eclectic range of characters on both sides of the trial. As a group we discussed the implications and consequences of the verdict and it seemed that none of us could foresee the outcome. The outcome was indeed, heartbreaking, but the final few chapters manage to pull together some form of justice for the Robinson family.

I’ve never become emotional when reading a book but this nearly had me in tears. It is so beautifully crafted that you end up enjoying the read rather than feeling lost and empty by the end. Harper Lee has touched on such delicate issues, which don’t have a favourable resolution, yet still manages to allow the reader a sense of comfort and closure at the end. Everything knitted together perfectly. There were no loose ends and no wondering what happened next. We all agreed that the book was fulfilling and even the characters were aloud closure.

Overall it’s probably the best book we’ve read in book group. It has everything you would want from a great read and it’s such a sad shame that the author has never written anything else. I can’t recommend this book enough. Whatever your taste in books, this is definitely worth your time. It’s incredibly well written and considering the serious tone of the novel it still manages to be both warm and humorous in parts, so add it to your list – you won’t be disappointed.












We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

51xeXD2W63LRosemary’s young, just at college, and she’s decided not to tell anyone a thing about her family. So we’re not going to tell you too much either: you’ll have to find out for yourselves, round about page 77, what it is that makes her unhappy family unlike any other. Rosemary is now an only child, but she used to have a sister the same age as her, and an older brother. Both are now gone – vanished from her life. There’s something unique about Rosemary’s sister, Fern. And it was this decision, made by her parents, to give Rosemary a sister like no other, that began all of Rosemary’s trouble. So now she’s telling her story: full of hilarious asides and brilliantly spiky lines, it’s a looping narrative that begins towards the end, and then goes back to the beginning. Twice. It’s funny, clever, intimate, honest, analytical and swirling with ideas that will come back to bite you. We hope you enjoy it, and if, when you’re telling a friend about it, you do decide to spill the beans about Fern – it’s pretty hard to resist – don’t worry. One of the few studies Rosemary doesn’t quote says that spoilers actually enhance reading.

I recently overheard a friend recommending this book to someone else. A few weeks later I heard another friend singing its praises. Another week later and it’s on the Man Booker Prize shortlist. Wowzer, I thought to myself, I better get this on the reading list. So, I blindly put this book on review with one of my book groups. I say blindly in that I simply read the blurb. It sounded promising, intriguing and certainly different from our recent reads, so I was quite excited to read a book which was: ‘Hilarious and heartbreaking’, ‘Irresistible’, and has ‘One of the best twists in years’.

Now, imagine my disappointment when I read this book and found no evidence of the above quotes. It had so much promise and yet I felt thoroughly disappointed. When it came to our meeting I was a little worried, however, if it’s one thing that our group can do it’s have a jolly good moan in a very professional way! From style to plot, to pace and ending, we just simply didn’t enjoy it. After a quick 15-20 minute discussion about what we didn’t like, what we didn’t like the most and what we thought was particularly unlikeable, I turned to our sparkly, new member and asked for her opinion.

She loved it.


So, after a slight panic attack (worried that the poor soul would be eaten alive) I was pleasantly surprised that the group sat back and took in what she had to say. It turned out that she had worked in the industry in which the book is set, so maybe this was our reason for not enjoying the book. Maybe we were ignorant to the way in which it was written and didn’t stop to think that maybe it was written in a certain fashion and style to emphasise certain points? Possibly, but we have recently read various books with similar content and found that our knowledge and experience of a certain subject/area doesn’t necessarily play a big part in our enjoyment. What does play a part is the style as well as the plot. But that’s books for you. If we all enjoyed the same work it would be a pretty boring world.

Quite a few of us were disappointed in the twist. It had been hailed as a brilliant and unexpected twist but I (and a few other too) by-passed it completely. It wasn’t really a twist and we found it a bit of a let down. I know that twists come in all shapes and sizes, but I think we felt a little empty with this one. In theory it should have been a genius piece of writing, but it simply lacked on the wow factor unfortunately.

To conclude I think I can safely say that it was loathed by all (but one). However, we managed to drum up quite a bit of discussion and I can’t fault the book for not giving us enough to talk about. We went over our normal chatting time and we hadn’t even had chance to discuss the latest book-turned-film. We also managed to discuss the core plot of the book, which, to be fair, is very interesting and emotive.

This genuinely seems to be a ‘Marmite’ book: you either love it, or you hate it, which gives you a 50/50 chance of coming up trumps. Good luck!


About the group

The Tees Valley Book Group meets at Stockton Central Library at 6.30pm on the first Tuesday of the month.

If you would like more information about what the group is reading, please visit


Blog Stats

  • 39,896 hits