Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Friday, September 30, 2005


Hi all. Sorry for the long silence - computer prob's and then life in general. I haven't read How I live now or Counselling for Toads yet although Emily has lent me the latter. I have had counselling myself and some training in counselling techniques so I'm keen to see how Toad gets on.

I wanted also to reply to an earlier post on chick-lit fiction which I love for when I can't cope with a 'serious' book (most of the time lately) and also to let you know that I'm into 4 figure page numbers on A Suitable Boy. I'm finding the political stuff a bit wearing but I'm desperate to know how everything works out. I've really enjoyed getting to know all the characters but I wish he wouldn't refer to some by their full title (e.g. Mrs Rupa Mehra) all the time.

Best wishes to you all.

Thursday, September 29, 2005

A Lovely little read

Counselling for Toads was fantastic. I am a big Wind in the Willows fan and thoroughly enjoyed being reunited with the characters. As a child I saw an animated version on TV starring Michael Horden as the voice of Badger and David Jason as Toad, so I had these voices in my head as I read it. Heron (great choice of animal I thought) made a lovely addition to the original group. Very interesting to see how counselling can work and it even became quite a page turner to see how Toady was going to turn out in the end.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Two in One

Two In One

Thanks to Emily, I have just finished How I Live Now and Counselling for Toads. I hope to put them through your door on Saturday, Emily.

I think that How I Live Now was a pacey read that tried to engage the reader in a lesson on the vulnerability and shallowness of a lot of our modern way of life without it becoming boring or seem like a lecture. At strategic points the story jolted you and made you eager for the next chapter. The style, however, I didn’t find convincing, as excited children who talk in long sentences and want to get it out as fast as possible tend to be under ten, not 15. I can’t think of a teenager I know who rattles on like that. Please tell me I’m wrong if you know otherwise.
So what’s wrong with quotation marks? They do make speech obvious and you don’t have to keep checking the sense of what you’re reading. The ‘whatever, as if’ tone PROBABLY appeals to the TARGET age group, but I found it a bit WEARING.

Counselling for Toads was a terrific little book. I love the Wind in the Willows characters and the way they were used to show how counselling works was brilliant. I learnt a lot from reading it, as I feel anyone would. One for the shelf, I think.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Excerpt from Counselling for Toads

John - who is not only tech support for us all but has read the book on Pella's recommendation and is now hoping everyone else will too - has found the following. I'd been worrying that the book might not sell itself to you, and that's probably because the most eloquent recommendation for a one-off such as this might be the text itself, and not clumsy explanations. If you click here, it will take you to a list of search results. Click on the first one and it'll let you read the first page. (To check a further page, use the "search within this book" facility on the left hand column using the word "toad".)

Wind in the Willows is, I understand, the springboard for this book, but de Board seems to give the reader all she needs as an introductory/refresher course to the original, and to have written a book which is emphatically not for children. And I mistrust spin-offs, sequels-not-by-the-author etc, so I hope you will join me in giving it a go in a spirit of adventure.

Wednesday, September 14, 2005

October's book choice

Hmmm... so this is what happens when I leave the country. A conspiracy to diss my choice... The Famous Five? I think you're missing out on the Rosoff if that's how you find her, but hey. Glad to see you're all cheerfully disagreeing with me. Except Helen D, who I'm confident will love it (no pressure). And Pella, who I'll pay later. :-)

Talking of which, suggested book for October or therabouts is recommended by Pella: Counselling for Toads, (click here for Amazon's details) by Robert de Board. She's recommended it to me, but I've hijacked it as October's choice. If you dislike it, blame me. It's billed as "A psychological adventure" and I'm sure some of you WILL find it rather surprising, but I rather hoped this reading group could be a non-standard-issue one where we could read things which we wouldn't normally, and which reading groups wouldn't normally. Open the envelope a bit.

The book's also super short, and doesn't look half as heavy or technical as the Amazon reviews make it sound. It seems funny and sharp and refreshing from a first look. I have my copy and Pella's to lend out, so let me know if you want to borrow it.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Does it matter when the then was?

Am very tempted to say I thought How I live now was "really, really nice", but conscious that this sort of appraisal doesn't belong here, and will be totally disatisfying to my fellow "Together in Spirit" colleagues - sorry it's my warped sense of humour coming out!

Anyway, did truly enjoy How I live now. Struggled initially, but warmed hugely to it. And the reason being largely to do with the title of my posting. At first, like Ruth and Helen S (I think it was you two) was left with too many unanswered questions, connected with when was this going on, what was the wider context - so found it frustrating. But then accepted that these questions were unlikely to be answered, and in fact lead credibility to the narrator's voice - it reminded me that recollections of events are so personal, and this was the story of a 15 year old and her "war" and hence the particular lens through which we were party to the events that unfolded.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

How I Live When?

I totally agree with Val and Kirsty. A good page turner and thereby a very quick read, but ultimately only a pleasant short story. I thought it was a cross between The Famous Five and Z for Zachariah (another teen novel set in post nuclear Armageddon). I could not work out when Rosoff was supposedly setting the story, with references to mobile phones and e-mails one minute and Blyton-esque children and dim farming yokels the next! If it was the twenty-first century or beyond then did Social Services have Aunt Penn on their registers? Surely cigarette smoking, jeep riding Edmond should have been wearing a hoody?!

I did think the teen voice started well but got rather lost once they started tramping the countryside. I also thought Daisy was able to explain and get over her anorexia rather too easily and quickly and felt that Rosoff was rather buying into the ‘all we need is a good war for the youngsters of today to realise how lucky they are’ mindset. I didn’t think the romance was particularly convincing and found Ian Mcewan’s Atonement and ultimately Graham Greene’s The End of the Affair far more satisfying as novels about love thwarted by war.

Just a note about my comfort reading. Not sure I do any. I am afraid that, unlike Emily, I only have the intellectual and emotional capacity to read one book at a time. I tend to get very involved in a book, particularly if it is a long one and therefore need some time-out afterwards before reading the next thing. I tend to find dipping into some short stories nice during this period, like a snack between main meals. I have found Chekhov’s and Wilde’ short stories fit the bill nicely. Otherwise I may dip into some non-fiction, which at the moment is dominated by books on parenting! When you come out of the library with one novel and four books on parenting you know you are in trouble (and when one is entitled What’s that rash? You know you’ve reached an all-time low!)

Thursday, September 08, 2005

How I Live Now

Thanks Val - I'd been wondering what it reminded me of, and it was indeed very Famous 5. Enjoyable, particularly the opening chapters, and there were some nice insights into the teenage mindset, but I did find my attention wandering a bit when Daisy and Piper were helping the army out and then meandering round the countryside. Seemed a tad unlikely that the soldiers would be so impressed with a couple of kids. But then I'm probably being a bit harsh. This is a teenage book after all, so the central characters have to be young and very definitely the heros of the tale.
I do wish the character of Edmond had been developed more deeply, and believe Rosoff missed a trick by not showing more of Osbert. I think there would have been some good ground in seeing why he seemed to pretty much abandon his family as soon as the army turned up, and how that made him (and them) feel. (And if he was that keen why wait for them to come knocking on the door before joining up?)
Overall then, I'd have to agree with Val - a good teenagers' book, and a good stepping stone from Blyton, but not really meaty enough for me personally.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

How I live now

I think How I live now is a very good children’s book. It reminds me of nothing so much as the Famous Five, complete with Jet as Timmy the dog and Piper as Anne etc. (Rosoff touches on this herself with one of her capitalised references, which I can’t now find). Those who know me well know I’m a great Blyton fan - for getting youngsters reading, and this would certainly make them see the point of carrying on. But for adults?

So yes, pacy yarn; good believable narrator; rather sketchy others; Edmond never much developed beyond the promising smoker at the airport and thus his fate seemed random; survival on nuts and berries has been done many times before – cf Laura Ingalls Wilder among others; the inexplicability of the War works to start with, but becomes unbelievable when Daisy returns as an adult – like Ruth I need to know what was going on and think Rosoff is lazy not to tell us. Oh, and you don’t harvest broad beans in September.

I don’t know enough about teen fiction to be able to judge this critically, but as an adult I found it a page turner that was ultimately unsatisfying.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

How I Live Now

Hi, all. 2 sentence review of How I Live Now coming up... In my personal opinon: original and authentic voice (narrator's); immaculate use of language; intense; gripping; things deftly omitted (cf Homestead); startling; engaging and plausible characters; imaginative; unafraid. I loved it and would have given it 9 out of 10 if I was scoring it, which is pretty unusual for me when I love a book but haven't found it specifically edifying; that said, it was sufficiently thought-provoking when it was being disturbing for it to get away with it (unlike The God Of Small Things which I found similar in some themes but which didn't have enough hope for a romantic like me). Anyone who objects to the length of my sentences can blame my father, who taught me everything I know about semi-colons... Since we're still generally busy reading this, I'll suggest an October book choice later this month.

futuristic books

I meant to reply to Ruth on this last time. I have little to offer as I usually avoid these like the plague but, assume you have read Margaret Attwood's Handmaid's Tale (v good)? What about her new one Oryx and Crake - you can report back as it doesn't appeal to me.