Florence’s Book club

Welcome to another book club – it’s been a while since we have shared some good reads and I’ll be reading with particular interest today, particularly in the comments as I’m going away soon and could do with some holiday reading. 🙂 Thank you to Alexa and Victoria for providing the reviews this month and do let me know if you have any great reads we should be sharing soon – just send an email to me with a short review.

Longbourn by Jo Baker

My name is Victoria and I am a Pride and Prejudice addict. I’ve read the book countless times. I own the 90s BBC series on VHS, DVD and have it saved on my Sky+ for emergency Jane Austen watching. The recent Keira Knightley version continues to grow on me after a number of re-watches and I’ve also dabbled with the “sequels”, but remain largely disappointed. (As an aside, thoughts on Death at Pemberley this Christmas?)

So it’ll be no surprise that, while searching for some literary escapism on the shelves of my local bookstore, I was hooked by a quote on the back cover of Longbourn by Jo Baker:

“If Elizabeth Bennet had the washing of her own petticoats,’ Sarah thought, ‘she would be more careful not to tramp through muddy fields.'”

This isn’t a sequel where we follow the characters in to the next step of their lives, although there is a little glimpse of life post Lizzie-Darcy nuptials. Nor is it a re-telling of the original from a different perspective, though we do see a lot of behind-the-scenes action around the key events of the original tale. It’s actually a parallel story about the servants at Longbourn, in particular Sarah the housemaid, and their lives, loves, worries, woes and the secrets they hide.

P&P fans should, however, read with caution. The author takes some liberties with one or two of our favourite characters with a shocking-ish plot twist or two (I guessed, not sure if I liked), we see very little of Darcy and Bingley and far too much of the dastardly Wickham and, be warned, as you follow Sarah’s story your love for Miss Lizzie may start to wane just a little.

My main criticism would be that there was a little bit too much back-story devoted to life outside of Longbourn for one particular character where I lost interest slightly but overall, for P&P fans I’d recommend this as a good light read.

– Victoria

Dominion – CJ Sansom

What if Churchill hadn’t become Prime Minister in 1940? Set in 1952, Dominion works on that idea and gives an alternative history of what could have happened if Britain had surrendered to Nazi Germany in 1940 and instead become, in essence, a Nazi satellite state. Within a few chapters of the book, Britain is a place where press, radio, speech and the streets are controlled by the state and subject to violent police and sometimes Gestapo rule and where there is an ever increasing move towards anti-Semitism.

The story focuses on David Fitzgerald, a disillusioned civil servant who becomes a spy for the resistance and is tasked with helping an old university friend escape a mental hospital with a secret that could change the balance of power all the while keeping his actions secret from his wife.

Interwoven with actual events and real people, it’s an incredibly thought provoking book about one of the many alternatives to what could have happened if Britain hadn’t continued the war effort. It’s part spy thriller, part love story, but also part what could have happened. Maybe it’s coming from a Jewish family, or some of the current rhetoric from certain political parties but it really made me think about undercurrents of thought that sit in society and can easily come to be accepted and mainstream beliefs.

The Fault in Our Stars – John Green

I’d recommend you start this book with a lot of tissues close by. And also probably some chocolate to hand. The Fault in our Stars tells the story of Hazel, a 16 year old cancer patient who attends a support group (somewhat unwillingly) and meets August Waters, a 17 year old amputee and ex basketball player.

It’s billed as a young adult book but I don’t think anyone would struggle to relate to the characters or the experiences through the book which although ultimately are a story about death, actually are more about life and living and taking chances. John Green writes beautifully and has a way of making you feel for all the characters from Hazel’s parents to Hazel and Augustus themselves, without making you feel pity. And don’t worry; some bits will make you laugh as well as cry.

– Alexa

Have you read anything good lately readers?


Found: What should I read next?

As I’m on holiday, it seemed an apt time to share a website I found recently called What Should I Read Next? One of the things that gets chief importance on my holiday packing list is planning my reading material. I have a fear of being stuck with nothing to do on holiday and so you can see that Florence’s bookclub was not an entirely self-less series idea 😉 – I love that it provides new ideas for my reading list and sometimes things I wouldn’t have normally tried.

So when I found What Should I Read Next? I was intrigued. Put in your favourite book or a recent read that your enjoyed and it gives you 20 similar books that you should enjoy.

I tested the theory with Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – one of my favourite books. Inevitably, some of the listed titles I had already read, Birdsong for example. Interestingly though, it did throw up some of those ‘I’ve been meaning to read that,’ books and I thought it was worth sharing.

Head on over this morning, plug in your favourite and let me know in the comments box what it came up with, or if any on my suggested reading list are particularly good! 🙂


The Summer reading list…

Hello Findettes… Gemma here!

I’m stripping this post back to basics.  See, I read a LOT.  I’ve also just discovered that I’m a speed reader, apparently, and I normally get through five to seven books a week.  I live for fiction, and I’m not afraid to be seen on the train with a Penny Vincenzi.  However.  The first draft of this summer reading list would wallpaper our flat.  So I’ve stripped it back to five books, and five only. I’ve tried to avoid things that are getting a lot of press at the moment and instead categorise them into the five different things I’m looking for in a holiday read at the moment.  (I’ve was told I could only take five with me to Spain on holiday.)  I’m also not going to tell you too much about the plot of each – what’s the point? I hope you’ll find something here you’d like to try for yourself. Here goes!

1. “Literary fiction” which is easy to read.   Maybe you’re going on holidays this year with a scarily-well-read friend, colleague or in-law.  Maybe you are just a bit fed up with the standard of free books available on the kindle.  Whatever the case, Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman, is impossible to put down and in my humble opinion, he was robbed of the Booker prize for it.
Harri, the 11 year old protagonist, is a Ghanian immigrant living with his family on a council estate.  Moving between Harri’s adaptation to life in the UK and his small daily triumphs and tribulations and a broader perspective on modern-day gang culture, it is hilarious and heartbreaking in equal measure.  If you’ve not already, read it now before the TV series comes out. (the BBC have commissioned an adaptation directed by Adam Smith of Skins fame.)

2. Something your boyfriend/husband/dad/brother can borrow from you: The Other Hand, by Chris Cleeve, (published in America as Little Bee) is so good, so funny, so powerful, easy to read and yet so quirky and insightful into various issues, including that of working mums, that I find it very surprising that it was written by a man.  This book will definitely spark discussions between you and whoever you’re on holiday with, so make sure you time the lending of it carefully – I finished it in one sitting and then stood over Mr C-S while he read it so that we could talk about it.  Little Bee is a young Nigerian refugee who comes to England and stays with Sarah, a magazine editor and her Batman-obsessed son Charlie.  I should warn you that it is also devastatingly sad at times, but the more beautiful for it.  Oooooooh! Alert! I have just discovered that Chris Cleave has a new book coming out in a week’s time, called Gold, which is about Olympic Speed Cyclists. If you had said to me this morning ‘Gemma C-S, what is the one topic you are most unlikely to want to read a book about while you’re on holiday?’ That’s probably what I’d have answered.  But now? Well, I’ll be outside the bookshop before it opens with sweaty palms (which isn’t actually an uncommon occurrence.)

3. Alternative reality science fiction aimed at teenagers, or, the new Hunger Games.  Ugh. How many times lately is a book hyped as the new Hunger Games?! Too often for my liking. The Chaos Walking Trilogy series, by Patrick Ness, actually came out a couple of years ago, before HG, and for my (pocket) money, is better written and just as gripping.

It too is set in a dystopian world, it too features a strong male and female protagonist, and also deals with themes of war, good and evil, redemption and gender politics. In three volumes, it follows the story of Todd Hewitt and Viola Eade whose relationship unfolds against a society in turmoil.  Oh, and it includes an incredibly loveable dog.

4. Crime fiction: Through my teen years I read crime fiction voraciously, the gorier the better. These days though I find my tolerance for American whodunnits has waned a little, and I’m more likely to enjoy something from this side of the pond.  If you’ve never read them, can I recommend Kate Atkinson’s frankly phenomenal Jackson Brodie books, but entry number four on this list actually goes to the Isabel Dalhousie series by Alexander McCall Smith.  Featuring a Scottish philosopher who occasionally dabbles as a sleuth, they are heart-warming and funny detective stories which feature flashes of razor sharp insight into the human psyche.

5. For those who were obsessed with Judy Blume as girls: Did you know Judy Blume has written for adults too? Travelling to Paris a couple of weeks ago I took Summer Sisters.  It was a good, solid, engaging read and having a ‘new Judy Blume’ to pack in my case made me beyond happy.  Following the friendship of Vix and Caitlin throughout their childhood and into their adult years, it has a distinct Jodi Picoult-esque flavour to the narrative with the authentic Blume voice which made us all devour books like Are you there God, it’s me, Margaret, and Deenie.  Also, it’s mainly set during summer holidays on Martha’s Vineyard. Perfect summer reading.

Now, as I’ve said, this is just a tiny selection of what I’ve been reading this summer.  Please leave us your suggestions of what to line up for or what to avoid!
What’s your favourite book of all time?

Gemma C-S

PS. If anyone’s interested, here’s the speed reading test I took, via Stylist Magazine.

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