Talking about The Last Runaway with Bibliobeth

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How did I get it?:
Borrowed from Bibliobeth!

Synopsis:

In New York Times bestselling author Tracy Chevalier’s newest historical saga, she introduces Honor Bright, a modest English Quaker who moves to Ohio in 1850, only to find herself alienated and alone in a strange land. Sick from the moment she leaves England, and fleeing personal disappointment, she is forced by family tragedy to rely on strangers in a harsh, unfamiliar landscape.

Nineteenth-century America is practical, precarious, and unsentimental, and scarred by the continuing injustice of slavery. In her new home Honor discovers that principles count for little, even within a religious community meant to be committed to human equality.

However, drawn into the clandestine activities of the Underground Railroad, a network helping runaway slaves escape to freedom, Honor befriends two surprising women who embody the remarkable power of defiance. Eventually she must decide if she too can act on what she believes in, whatever the personal costs.

A powerful journey brimming with color and drama, The Last Runaway is Tracy Chevalier’s vivid engagement with an iconic part of American history.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: Did the opening chapter pull you in?
BETH: Completely. The first chapter introduces our main character Honor Bright, who is leaving her home in England to embark on a sea voyage to America with her sister Grace who is recently married and is joining her husband out there. Unfortunately, her new life does not begin too well as Honor is desperately sea-sick on the journey. This is a wonderful introduction to a stunning piece of historical fiction in my opinion, and I couldn’t wait to see how the story would continue.

BETH: How did you think the slavery issue was dealt with in this novel?
CHRISSI: I think it was dealt with well. It was interestingly portrayed. Tracy Chevalier covers the politics of slavery in a sensitive manner. She highlighted the moral dilemmas faced by those who opposed slavery but were too afraid to help due to the laws of the time.

CHRISSI: Did the use of religion put your off or was it handled well?
BETH: Normally, if a book “harps on” too much about religion, it puts me off completely however I did not feel this way about this book at all. In fact, it made me more intrigued, and I found I wanted to learn more about the Quaker faith by the end, especially in the way that complete silence is advocated and encouraged.

BETH: What did you think of Donovan as a character?
CHRISSI: I found Donovan to be a memorable and believable character. I’m completely undecided about how I feel about him. I was always interested when he appeared in the story.

CHRISSI: What did you think of Belle as a character?
BETH: Belle is a wonderful character. She is the first person who really helps Honor when she first arrives in America and gives her somewhere to stay, encouraging her talent in quilting and bonnet making. I also enjoyed the way Belle came into her own regarding runaway slaves, and I admired her morals and values.

BETH: What did you think of the relationship between Honor and Donovan? What do you think her true feelings are towards him?
CHRISSI: I really liked the relationship between Honor and Donovan. Right from the start I thought there was a spark between them. I think Honor really liked him despite his bad ways.

CHRISSI: Did you like the use of letters in the book?
BETH: I loved them. I found it was a nice break between the chapters, and felt I learned more about the characters than I would have done if the letters had been omitted. I would have liked to have letters from other characters rather than Honor, especially Donovan who was such an intriguing personality.

BETH: Why do you think Honor feels she cannot go back to England?
CHRISSI: I think Honor feels obligated to stay in the US as her sister was meant to be there. It’s almost like she wanted to be there for her sister and by going home she would be seen as a failure.

CHRISSI: What did you think of Honor as a protagonist?
BETH: Honor was one of my favourite characters in the book. We see her strength and forbearance when dealing with tragedy and her determination as she tries to integrate herself with the American Quakers, despite the difficulties. I also admired her morals and ethics when trying to practice her religion in the way that she sees fit.

BETH: Have you read anything else by this author? Would you read another?
CHRISSI: I’ve read Girl With A Pearl Earring which I really enjoyed. I’d definitely read more from Tracy Chevalier.

Would you recommend it?:
BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Of course!

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Talking About Never Coming Back with Bibliobeth

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How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

It was supposed to be the start of a big night out. But when Emily Kane arrives at her sister Carrie’s house, she finds the front door unlocked and no one inside. Dinner’s cooking, the TV’s on. Carrie, her husband and their two daughters are gone.

When the police draw a blank, Emily asks missing persons investigator David Raker to find them. It’s clear someone doesn’t want the family found.

But as he gets closer to the truth, Raker begins to uncover evidence of a sinister cover-up, spanning decades and costing countless lives. And worse, in trying to find Emily’s missing family, he might just have made himself the next target …

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: Were you immediately gripped by the story or did it take you a while to get into?
BETH: I wasn’t immediately gripped to be honest although I did appreciate the quality of the author’s writing. It didn’t really seem to “kick off” for me until the middle of the book, but I do occasionally appreciate the slow-burner, as you know! Once it got going, it was intriguing and I did want to read until the end to find out what had happened to Carrie and her family.

BETH: What did you think of David Raker as a character?
CHRISSI: I didn’t really connect with any of the characters in this book. I did find them believable. David was likeable enough, I just didn’t immediately connect with him. This of course, would be very different if I had read the previous books in the series.

CHRISSI: Did you have any idea what had happened to Carrie and her family?
BETH: No, I had no idea and the author didn’t provide many clues which was good for me, as I tend to like to try and work out things for myself rather than being led into it. When we do eventually find out what has gone on, it was incredibly complex with a lot of twists and turns which I appreciated.

BETH: We don’t learn much about Raker’s friend Healy in the novel but he features quite prominently especially at the beginning. Why do you think this is? Would you like to have read more about him?
CHRISSI: I actually found Healy really intriguing. I’m not sure why we didn’t hear more about him. I don’t know if he previously turned up in the books before these. It’s awkward to read a book mid-series, you don’t know what you’ve missed!

CHRISSI:Did you find the use of flashbacks effective?
BETH: The flashbacks were probably one of my favourite parts of the book. They gave you just enough information to keep you interested about what has happened in the past, without giving too much away. On starting the next chapter though, I often had to think back and remind myself what had happened in the “present” time to avoid confusion!

BETH: Did you enjoy the plot of this novel generally speaking?
CHRISSI: I’m sad to say, I didn’t! I thought it was going to be interesting at the start. It felt quite promising, and then I began to lose interest. I think it’s because I felt a bit lost at the beginning with the change of narrators. Again, I don’t know if it’s because I’m reading this book mid series. I don’t usually do that. Overall, for me, it was an okay plot, but seemed a bit dragged out. There are flashbacks to get your head around, (again, might be easier if you’re not reading mid-series with no previous knowledge) and plenty of twists and turns. They kept me interested enough to keep reading though.

CHRISSI: Would you read another book by this author?
BETH: Yes, I probably would. I’m quite interested to read the rest of the books in the series before this one, as I think this one is the fourth? I don’t normally like reading books in the middle of series, but as this was a Richard and Judy book club pick, I relaxed my rules 🙂 I do think David Raker is an interesting character and I would like to read more about his sad life prior to this book.

BETH: What did you think of the ending?
CHRISSI: I don’t want to spoil it for anyone that hasn’t read it, but I did find the ending slightly disappointing. With the story being so complex, I think I was expecting more. I wasn’t expecting the big twist which was a lovely surprise!

Would you recommend it?:
BETH: Yes! (3.5 stars!)
CHRISSI: Yes! (If you’ve read the others in the series. It personally doesn’t work for me as a standalone but I can see that people would really enjoy it. It’s well written!)

Talking about Heartbreak Hotel With Bibliobeth

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Synopsis:

At Myrtle House, the twin beds have never been so busy…

The irrepressible Russell ‘Buffy’ Buffery has upped sticks from London and moved to a decrepit B&B in rural Wales. He needs to fill the beds, and what better way than with ‘Courses for Divorces’, his new money-making wheeze.

Those checking in include: Harold, whose wife has run off with a younger woman; Amy, who’s been unexpectedly dumped by her (not-so) weedy boyfriend and Andy, the hypochondriac postman whose girlfriend is much too much for him to handle.

Under Buffy’s tutelage, these casualties of the marriage-go-round find themselves re-learning all those skills never thought they’d need again, and a whole lot more besides…

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?
BETH: I found this book very promising at the start, it seemed to be written with very “real” people, which was quite refreshing, and I enjoyed the way that we had multiple points of view, even if I did find myself saying at times: “Now who are they again and what’s their story?!” Having previously read the author’s book These Foolish Things/The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel and reviewed it with you, I was comparing it to that, and on some levels, it was quite similar.

BETH: How does the title “Heartbreak Hotel” relate to the story we are told?
CHRISSI: I think it’s a good title for the story, because it does relate to a lot of the central themes of the book. A lot of the themes that came through for me whilst reading were insecurities, depression, infidelity and loneliness. Definitely issues that cause heartbreak.

CHRISSI: Are there too many characters to follow in this book? Do we get the chance to know them well enough?
BETH: There are a LOT of characters in this novel, and I did enjoy all the different points of view but I do think we probably didn’t get to know them well enough to make them believable, or for the reader to connect with them properly. We do hear a lot more from Buffy, our main character, who is arguably the most important, and I did enjoy his take on life.

BETH: Which of the characters was your favourites (if any) and why?
CHRISSI: I think my favourite was Buffy, and this is only because we seemed to hear a lot more about his story than the other characters. For me, there were far too many characters and points of view. I think I would have enjoyed this book much more, had it focussed on just a few characters.

CHRISSI: How well do you think Deborah Moggach portrayed male characters? Were they believable?
BETH: Buffy is quite a loveable character, and as an actor a bit of a “luvvie,” I think. He had some quite humorous parts, like when his BAFTA was being used by one of the guests to prop open a door (shocking!). I think the author captured the male voice quite well in a number of different personalities, like poor Harold whose wife has run off with another woman, and Andy the postman who really DOES enjoy delivering the mail.

BETH: Was the author successful in her portrayal of middle-aged relationships?
CHRISSI: I think she did portray middle-aged relationships well. I find with Deborah Moggach that her characters are incredibly real and ordinary. They are very like people you may know already in your life.

Would we recommend it?:
CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- Too many characters.
BETH: Yes!

Talking about Instructions For A Heatwave with Bibliobeth

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Synopsis:

The stunning new novel from Costa Award winning novelist Maggie O’Farrell: a portrait of an Irish family in crisis in the legendary heatwave of 1976. It’s July 1976. In London, it hasn’t rained for months, gardens are filled with aphids, water comes from a standpipe, and Robert Riordan tells his wife Gretta that he’s going round the corner to buy a newspaper. He doesn’t come back. The search for Robert brings Gretta’s children — two estranged sisters and a brother on the brink of divorce — back home, each with different ideas as to where their father might have gone. None of them suspects that their mother might have an explanation that even now she cannot share. Maggie O’Farrell’s sixth book is the work of an outstanding novelist at the height of her powers.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: Was the use of different points of view effective?

BETH: Definitely. Personally, I love it when we hear different points of view in a novel. It makes the story much more interesting, and allows us to understand why a particular character behaves the way he/she does. In Instructions For A Heatwave, we hear from all the siblings in turn, and gain an insight into their lives and their relationships, but I would have loved to have more time focused on the mother, Gretta, as I found her such a fascinating character.

BETH: What did you think of the character of Gretta?
CHRISSI: I found Gretta to be a larger than life character. I was surprised as I expected her to want to talk through her problems, and if I’m being a bit mean, I expected her to want sympathy from her children. I guess she got their attention by making them come home. I don’t think Greta had truly accepted what had happened.

CHRISSI: Was there enough about each character?
BETH: I think it was quite equally distributed between the siblings, Monica, Aoife and Michael but as mentioned in the previous question, I would have loved to learn more about the staunchly Irish Catholic mother Gretta, and the disappearing father Robert. Although perhaps the fact that we didn’t learn too much about him made him more aloof and mysterious as a character? I’m not sure, but it certainly was intriguing.

BETH: Discuss the relationship between all of the siblings, did this feel true compared with your own experiences as a sibling?
CHRISSI: I think the family represented in this book are a stereotypical Irish Catholic family. I think the book dealt with differences between siblings really well. There was obvious tension between the siblings, which of course, happens in families. I think as they got older and spent time apart from each other, they grew as people, and were able to come together and try to sort out their differences and move forward from it. I know from a personal point of view, sibling rivalry does definitely occur. I think as you get older, your viewpoint changes, you can reason more and feel more able to be in a position to discuss differences now they’re in the past. Of course, there are some things that happen between siblings that can’t be sorted, but I definitely thought that this book was a true reflection of what happens in families.

CHRISSI: What do you think the significance of the heatwave is?
BETH: I’m wondering if the author is trying to tell us that people do strange things in a heatwave? People always say: “Oh, it’s the heat!” to justify their behaviours at times don’t they? I am too young to remember the heatwave that the author is writing about in 1976, but I listened to an interview with the author on the Richard and Judy bookclub podcast and apparently she talked to a police detective who told her that they had a surge in missing person cases when there is hot weather… how strange!!

BETH: How did you feel Aoife’s difficulties were dealt with through the novel?
CHRISSI: I thought they were dealt with satisfactorily. However, I would’ve liked more emphasis on it, but that’s probably because I’m an educator myself, and I think it’s an important issue that should be addressed and sensitively handled.

CHRISSI: Did you guess what had happened between Monica and Aoife?
BETH: I don’t think I did. I thought it might have been a case of sibling rivalry or jealousy? Their relationship is incredibly tempestuous, but without giving anything away and looking back on the novel, we are left a trail of breadcrumbs to follow.

BETH: What did you think of the ending?
CHRISSI: Considering the amount of family drama, it all seemed to come together towards the end. I’m not sure if that’s totally believable.

Would we recommend it?:
BETH: Of course!
CHRISSI: Yes!