The Devil in the Grove
by Gilbert King
“I didn’t enjoy it at all, but I’m glad I read it” is, in a nutshell, how we felt about the “The Devil in the Grove”.
The civil-rights case that came to be known as the Groveland Boys, or the Groveland Four, which involved the 1949 claim by a white woman that four African Americans raped her was a truly reprehensible example of racism in rural Florida. It is a complicated and meticulously researched story, involving different trials and appeals, and several defence attorneys spread over a number of years. Most of us found the book to be overly complicated from this point of view making it difficult to piece together the actual trail of events of the central case.
Some of us also felt King stretched the narrative too far in attempting to combine the facts with thriller-type reconstructions of the events surrounding the trials.
It proved to be somewhat difficult to review (from the discussion leader’s perspective) as there is simply no debate to be had on the rights or wrongs of the narrative. As such, we concentrated primarily on the characters in the story.
But overall, a must read if you want to learn more about the sorry plight of African Americans in the Jim Crow South.
The Enfield Conspiracy
by Ken Brewer
The Enfield Conspiracy received high praise for its ‘ripping yarn’-ness from the WBBC – even more when we were honoured and highly entertained by a visit from the author, Ken Brewer! (The Earl of Chatham’s Artillery Punch, containing champagne, bourbon, run, brandy, iced tea and more added an explosive element to our party mix!)
Ken’s background – 21 years in the police force including years writing up New Zealand’s police history – obviously contributed to his book’s character development and settings. But his tight Victorian military mystery kept us all intrigued. Would hero Nick survive to save Queen Victoria? Would evil Prasad triumph in his chase across oceans?
Our discussion ranged across the many characters, from the honourable General Humphries, to the likable Martyn and Marks, the stalwart Sgt Fowler and of course, the hero, young Nick.
Best of all, the WBBC got hints of the story to come in Brewer’s sequel: Nick returns to New Zealand from England…just in time for the Land Wars…..
Monty: 3.5 wine glasses
“For me the the most important factor in an action novel or movie is the "quality" of the villain. There must be a clear and present sense of menace/threat throughout the book . The villain must have an elevated level of malevolence, social anaesthesia and sudden - unexpected brutality. These qualities are the antithesis of the hero. (My absolute favourites are Hannibal Lechter / Silence of the Lambs & Wendy Kroy / The Last Seduction)
“In this regard; I found Prasad to be satisfying.
“I enjoyed the side reading about the Indian and NZ conflicts including the ordinance as well”
Richard: 3 wine glasses
“It was a thoroughly readable and pacy romp through the same territory as Sharpe and Flashman, with lashings of good and evil, and a real 'hero's journey' narrative. Maybe not a degustation meal at the French Cafe, but definitely a top tasty Friday night takeaway, and I'm looking forward to reading more to see what happens to Nick and Fowler.
“A true monomyth: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monomyth
Philip: 3 wine glasses
“It’s amazing what a good plot does in terms of providing a good read!
“As a communicator I was amused by reading of the time and distance constraints of getting a message out to or from the field. Horses shot out from under you, boats sinking, death – just a few challenges…”
Katherine: 3.5 wine glasses
“Strong plot and action carried the book. Maybe not for all tastes due to the topic and the writing is relatively light on insights into character motivations etc. It was great to have the author join us and explain his thinking and process of writing. “
Katherine asked this interesting question of Ken: “In the book it seemed that most characters were basically good with a few bad eggs. Is that how you see people?”
Ken: “I believe most people are good. 80%? More? You do get a biased view as police, seeing the bad sides of people, but I was constantly reminded how the majority of people are good, with generous hearts. So yes, I reflected that in the book.”
Steve: 2 glasses of merlot (nearly made it to 3 of cabernet sauvignon but for my taste it lacked a little tannin).
“The story structure, heroes and villains place in the 'ripping yarn' category; an engaging story that anyone could read - teenagers to grandparents.”
Rob: 3 very full glasses of wine
“Very good summer holiday fare. Ignore the editing (or lack of it) and this is a ripping "boys own" yarn. Starts slowly in an almost fumbling way (like guests arriving at a dinner party) but fairly soon picks up pace and you can't help but want to keep reading to find out what happens to Ensign Nick, Privates Martyn and Marks, and the dastardly Prasad. Leaves you feeling like you had port and cheese rather than anything too sickly sweet at the end. Definitely want to read the follow on book.”
Kathy: 3 glasses
“This really is the perfect summertime beach book! And, a great Christmas present for someone who enjoys historical fiction.
“I am looking forward to learning what happens in book two.”
Mary: 4 wine glasses
“I love military histories, and this book took me around the world, into battle, back across the oceans and ultimately landed my in New Zealand. I fought off evil-doers, nasty characters, loaded cannons and rifles, met ex-convicts and Maori natives. Better than Hornblower and took me back to the reading material of my youth.”
And The Mountains Echoed
by Khaled Hosseini
An unforgettable novel about finding a lost piece of yourself in someone else.Khaled Hosseini, the #1 New York Times–bestselling author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, has written a new novel about how we love, how we take care of one another, and how the choices we make resonate through generations. In this tale revolving around not just parents and children but brothers and sisters, cousins and caretakers, Hosseini explores the many ways in which families nurture, wound, betray, honor, and sacrifice for one another; and how often we are surprised by the actions of those closest to us, at the times that matter most.
Following its characters and the ramifications of their lives and choices and loves around the globe—from Kabul to Paris to San Francisco to the Greek island of Tinos—the story expands gradually outward, becoming more emotionally complex and powerful with each turning page
Led by Philip, those of us who hadn’t read anything by Hosseini loved it. Those who were already aficionados of this adept writer had some strong criticisms. We felt all the characters were remarkably well developed, considering how many subplots and twists this tale took – yet there were some crucial questions left unanswered.
From our Facebook page:
Dee-Ann - I enjoyed this book very much. It was not a "feel good" book, more a hauntingly provocative novel. So vast yet intricately woven with very sudden tugs at the heart! Hosseini masterfully takes you deep inside the numerous characters and then beautifully carries you through an expanse of time and distance in a brief amount of time! It makes you ponder what you would do under similar circumstances that linger even after you have put the book down! This was not a book to read "lightly"! He packed SO much in that you couldn't even blink! It was real, it was raw, it was life under the most tragic conditions! I could go on and on and ask a million questions but I won't!
Megan - In the middle. It wasn't either Fabulous or Fail
by Hannah Rothschild
Beautiful, romantic and spirited, Pannonica, known as Nica, named after her father’s favorite moth, was born in 1913 to extraordinary, eccentric privilege and a storied history. The Rothschild family had, in only five generations, risen from the ghetto in Frankfurt to stately homes in England. As a child, Nica took her daily walks, dressed in white, with her two sisters and governess around the parkland of the vast house at Tring, Hertfordshire, among kangaroos, giant tortoises, emus and zebras, all part of the exotic menagerie collected by her uncle Walter. As a debutante, she was taught to fly by a saxophonist and introduced to jazz by her brother Victor; she married Baron Jules de Koenigswarter, settled in a château in France and had five children.
In the early 1950s Nica heard “’Round Midnight” by the jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk and, as if under a powerful spell, abandoned her marriage and moved to New York to find him. She devoted herself to helping Monk and other musicians: she bailed them out of jail, paid their bills, took them to the hospital, even drove them to their gigs, and her convertible Bentley could always be seen parked outside downtown clubs or up in Harlem. Charlie Parker would notoriously die in her apartment in the Stanhope Hotel. But it was Monk who was the love of her life and whom she cared for until his death in 1982.
Hannah Rothschild has drawn on archival material and her own interviews in this quest to find out who her great-aunt really was and how she fit into a family that, although passionate about music and entomology, was reactionary in always favoring men over women. Part musical odyssey, part love story, The Baroness is a fascinating portrait of a modern figure ahead of her time who dared to live as she wanted, finally, at the very center of New York’s jazz scene.
The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
by Rachel Joyce
Meet Harold Fry, recently retired. He lives in a small English village with his wife, Maureen, who seems irritated by almost everything he does. Little differentiates one day from the next. Then one morning a letter arrives, addressed to Harold in a shaky scrawl, from a woman he hasn’t heard from in twenty years. Queenie Hennessy is in hospice and is writing to say goodbye. But before Harold mails off a quick reply, a chance encounter convinces him that he absolutely must deliver his message to Queenie in person. In his yachting shoes and light coat, Harold Fry embarks on an urgent quest. Determined to walk six hundred miles to the hospice, Harold believes that as long as he walks, Queenie will live. A novel of charm, humor, and profound insight into the thoughts and feelings we all bury deep within our hearts, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry introduces Rachel Joyce as a wise—and utterly irresistible—storyteller.
Richard was our moderator, and a brilliant leader he was!
The WBBC had considered reading Harold before, but the description of the plot let the great reviews down. It just did not sound like our kind of read. No wonder Richard led off with this question:
“If you were the author, and trying to sell your book to a publisher, what’s your 30-second elevator pitch?”
This is a modern day ODYSSEY.
A retired colourless and lifeless old man uncharacteristically undertakes to walk the length of the UK in the hope that it will save the life of a long forgotten and wronged friend.
During the journey, he becomes the man he could and should have been long ago, and his wife finally sees the man he always was, but was too emotionally blinded to see. Its a story of love and friendship; their painful loss, and their re-discovery.
“A sad, ordinary and older man’s life-changing walk through England.”
“Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in a modern setting, with all the eccentric characters, moral overtones and journey to a new and improved promise. A modern English morality tale.”
A whimsical tale featuring an ordinary man who takes on an extraordinary task, which he completes wearing boat shoes.
Richard’s Harold Fry thoughtful discussion-leading questions:
Pretend you are Rachel Joyce pitching the book to a publisher – what is the pitch?
What was the significance of the yacht shoes?
What did the book say about England and English society?
What did the book say about the nature of memory?
What role did the media play?
Would the book have worked with a female protagonist?
What was the significance of the incident on the beach with his son?
Why did people Harold met on his pilgrimage open up so much for him?
What was the role of some of the secondary characters (Rex, Marina, Queenie, Wilf, Rich Lion)?
How did Harold’s own family history shape his relationships with Maureen and David?
What didn’t you like about the book?
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