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      Something Wicked This Way Comes...   10/09/2019

      The Autumn Supporter Giveaway!       Welcome to the very first of the seasonal BCF supporter giveaways! This month also marks one year since I took on the forum, so I want to say an extra huge thank you to all of you for keeping this place going. I have a little bit more to say about that later but, for now, let's get to the giveaway!     The Autumn Giveaway winner will be getting two Penguin Little Black Classics, The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe and To Be Read At Dusk by Charles Dickens. Both of these little books contain three atmospheric short stories, perfect for autumnal evenings. The winner will also get Mary Shelley tea (a lavender and vanilla black tea) from Rosie Lea Tea's Literary Tea Collection (https://www.rosieleatea.co.uk/collections/literary-tea-collection) and a chocolate skull, to really get that spooky atmosphere .   and...   A special treat for a special month. The winner will choose one of the following recent paperback releases from the independent bookshop Big Green Bookshop:       The Wych Elm by Tana French A House of Ghosts by W.C. Ryan Melmoth by Sarah Perry The Familiars by Stacey Halls  The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White   The winner will be chosen via the usual random selection process in one week. Patreon supporters are entered automatically. If you aren't a patreon supporter but you'd like to join in with this giveaway, you can support here: https://www.patreon.com/bookclubforum.   I really hope you're all going to like this introduction to the seasonal giveaways. It's been a lot of fun to put together. Other chocolate skulls may have been harmed during the selection process…     
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Janet

Janet's Log - Stardate 2016

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013-2016-Feb-09-Hard%20Times_zpsiqg358kp

Hard Times by Charles Dickens

The ‘blurb’
Facts alone are wanted in life': the children at Mr Gradgrind's school are sternly ordered to stifle their imaginations and pay attention only to cold, hard reality. They live in a smoky, troubled industrial town so entertainment is hard to come by and resentments run deep. The effects of Gradgrind's teaching on his own children, Tom and Louisa, are particularly profound and leave them ill-equipped to deal with the unpredictable desires of the human heart. Luckily for them they have a friend in Sissy Jupe, the child of a circus clown, who retains her warm-hearted, compassionate nature despite the pressures around her.

Hard Times tells the story of the Gradgrind family who comprise Thomas senior, a rich retired businessman, his invalid wife and children Tom and Louisa and their younger siblings. They live in Coketown, an industrial town in north England. Thomas senior is friends with a man called Josiah Bounderby who owns a local mill and likes to boast that he was born with nothing and is a self-made man.

Thomas Gradgrind subscribes to the theory that the most important thing in the world is facts and therefore his children are not permitted to daydream or to have any unnecessary emotions – this leaves them unprepared for normal life. Gradgrind establishes a school which his children attend. A pupil there called Sissy who is the daughter of a circus performer is taken in by the Gradgrinds after her father disappears, and although is there as a kind of servant, she is treated kindly by the family. She tries to befriend the eldest Miss Gradgrind, but Louisa is aloof and rejects Sissy’s attempts at friendship.

Meanwhile, Stephen Blackpool, a mill-hand at Bounderby’s mill, is in love with a woman called Rachael, but is trapped in a loveless marriage with an alcoholic woman who only appears in his life from time to time. When Stephen refuses to join a new union at the mill, Bounderby uses this fact to his advantage, as does the younger Tom Gradgrind. Stephen, finding himself ostracized, leaves Coketown but later the worlds of both mill-owner and mill-worker collide which has far reaching consequences for all concerned…

It is my aim to read all of Charles Dickens’ novels before I die! I didn’t know anything about this one before I started it so I had no great expectations! It is my understanding that this book is different from other Dickens’ novels as none of the action takes place in London, but instead in the industrial north. Dickens examines the social conditions of the poorer classes and makes the point that being rich and prosperous doesn’t necessarily mean having a moral character or even guarantee happiness.

The more Dickens I read, the more I want to read (so that’s good!). I love the characterisation and I love the fact that Dickens cared about people and wanted to show up injustice and unfair treatment of the poorer classes as a bad thing (understandable given the well-documented fact that his father ended up in a debtors’ prison). As ever with Dickens some of the names reflect the personality of their ‘owners’ including the imaginatively named schoolmaster Mr M'Choakumchild (although he doesn’t appear in the novel a great deal, and there is no suggestion that he actually practises child abuse!), Mr Bounderby is indeed a bounder, there is a Mrs Sparsit who lives a sparse life, having fallen from her previous high position… it is no wonder that Dickens’ works which were published in instalments were looked forward to so much in the same way that some people today devour soap operas. I really enjoyed this story and I am definitely looking forward to reading more of Dickens’ works. :)

The paperback edition is 283 pages long and is published by Vintage. It was first published in 1854. The ISBN is 9780099518921.

5/5 (I loved it)

(Finished 9 February 2016)
 

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Great review Janet :)Hard Times is one of the Dickens' that I haven't read .. though I have heard bits of it on the radio so I think, when I read it, some of it will be familiar. You've made me want to pick it up sooner rather than later :)

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I'm impressed by your plan to read all of Dickens, Janet.  I've enjoyed the few I've read, but I'm not sure I'll read everything ... but never say never, I guess! :D

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I only mean the novels (and A Christmas Carol, which is classed as a novella).  :)   I've done 5 so that leaves 11!  :thud:  

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Great review of Hard Times - like you I read this knowing nothing about it, but it's one of my favourite Dickens novels.

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014-2016-Feb-13-The%20Adventures%20of%20
 

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

The ‘blurb’
With two modern film adaptations starring Robert Downey, Jr. as the titular detective, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories have that rare, compelling quality which has enabled their popularity to endure for over 100 years. People are as ravenous for these clever, spirited mysteries – and the eccentric, irreverent man who solves them – today as they were in 1892, the year that The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes was published. The 12 classic stories contained in this collection include “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Adventure of the Speckled Band,” two of Holmes’ most famous and enjoyable cases.

sherlock_zpstzyzjufr.gif

As my next book was to be The House of Silk for my book club, Anthony Horowitz’s take on Sherlock Holmes, I thought I’d better try the real thing! I chose this particular one, despite it not being the first book to feature Holmes, because it is a Counties Challenge book.

It’s a collection of 12 stories including such tales as Scandal in Bohemia about a woman who holds a photo of the King of Bohemia, which, if it got into the wrong hands, would have far reaching consequences for the him, The Adventure of the Speckled Band where a woman visits Holmes in fear of her life after her sister has died in mysterious circumstances which now seem to be repeating themselves for her, and The Adventure of the Copper Beeches about a young woman who is offered a position as a governess, on the condition she cuts her auburn hair into a particular style and agrees to wear clothes given to her by her employer.

Holmes, together with his good friend Dr James ‘John’ Watson investigate these cases, often putting themselves in great peril. I very much enjoyed the stories and I loved Holmes and Watson’s friendship.

I have seen, and loved, the BBC’s Sherlock featuring Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular character in a modern setting but hadn’t read the books or seen any of the TV adaptations. Having read this, I wonder why I left it until now to read any of the books featuring this brilliant detective and his trusty sidekick!

Coincidentally, immediately after finishing this book I was channel hopping on TV and noticed one of the ITV Sherlock adaptations from the 1980s (ITV?) TV adpatation featuring Jeremy Brett as the great detective was on one of the Freeview channels. It was The [Adventure of the] Speckled Band and was a great adaptation – seems I should have tried it when it first aired!

The paperback edition is 320 pages long and is published by Penguin. It was first published in 1892. The ISBN is 9780140623352.

4/5 (I really enjoyed it)

(Finished 5 February 2016)
 

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Great review of Hard Times - like you I read this knowing nothing about it, but it's one of my favourite Dickens novels.

Thanks, Ian. :) I've loved all of the Dickens books that I've read so far.

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Glad you enjoyed the Holmes stories - I've still only read two novels, and really need to start that collection! 

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015-2016-Feb-16-The%20House%20of%20Silk_

The House of Silk by Anthony Horowitz

The ‘blurb’
THE GAME'S AFOOT . . .

It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks.

Intrigued, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston and the mysterious 'House of Silk'…


This is Antony Horowitz’s take on Sherlock Holmes and was written with the blessing of Conan Doyle’s estate. It is narrated by Watson.

An art dealer called Edmund Carstairs arrives at 221b Baker Street seeking Holmes’s help after becoming convinced that a member of the notorious Boston-based Flat Cap Gang called O’Donoghue has been watching him and his family. Holmes investigates with the help of Watson and of his Baker Street ‘Irregulars’, a group of ragamuffin homeless street kids. Together they track down O’Donoghue and Holmes leaves one of the boys to watch the house whilst he explores other avenues, but events take a sinister turn when the boy is murdered. Just what is the mysterious House of Silk? As Holmes digs deeper it soon becomes apparent that someone will go to any lengths to stop Holmes revealing the truth…

Horowitz’s writing pedigree in undeniable and includes, amongst other things, The Alex Rider books from which the film Stormbreaker was made and the TV shows Poirot, Midsomer Murders and Foyles War. I think Horowitz has captured the perfect blend of Conan Doyle’s Sherlock and the BBC’s Sherlock. In the latter, Holmes is much more intense and whist it is undeniable that he is fond of Watson, he is rather abrasive at times. Doyle’s Holmes clearly respects Watson very much and is slightly… warmer, I guess. From the ‘real’ Sherlock stories I’ve read (two at the time of writing this review) I have to say that this feels darker than the originals – unsurprising really as it’s reflective of today’s world, but I liked that darkness. I enjoyed the book very much and think the author did a great job of emulating the great detective and I will definitely try Moriaty at some stage.

The paperback edition is 405 pages long and is published by Orion. It was first published in 2011. The ISBN is 9781409157243.

4/5 (I really enjoyed it)

(Finished 16 February 2016)
 

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I'm the same normally.  :)  I forgot to say in my review that this was a Book Club read - I wouldn't have picked it up if it wasn't chosen for me. 

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I loved these reviews Janet - The House of Silk sounds right up my street! 

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016-2016-Feb-21-The%20Stars%20Look%20Dow

The Stars Look Down by A J Cronin
 
The ‘blurb’
The Stars Look Down was A.J. Cronin's fourth novel, published in 1935, and this tale of a North country mining family was a great favourite with his readers.Robert Fenwick is a miner, and so are his three sons. His wife is proud that all her four men go down the mines. But David, the youngest, is determined that somehow he will educate himself and work to ameliorate the lives of his comrades who ruin their health to dig the nation's coal. It is, perhaps, a typical tale of the era in which it was written - there were many novels about coal mining, but Cronin, a doctor turned author, had a gift for storytelling, and in his time wrote several very popular and successful novels.In the magnificent narrative tradition of The Citadel, Hatter's Castle and Cronin's other novels, The Stars Look Down is deservedly remembered as a classic of its age.

A J Cronin was a doctor by trade and wrote his first novel after being prescribed six months’ bed rest following an illness. He is probably most famous for creating Dr Finlay who featured in a TV series in the late 1960s (not that I’ve ever seen it, but I had heard of it!).

Set in fictional Sleescale, a mining town on the coast of Northumberland and in Tynecastle (which is, as the name suggests, based on Newcastle upon Tyne) The Stars Look Down focuses on three men from Sleescale – Davey Fenwick who works in the local Neptune pit with his father and brothers, Joe Gowlan who also works in the mine and Arthur Barras who is the son of the pit’s owner. Whilst Arthur lives a life of privilege, both Davey and Joe live in poor circumstances and have aspirations of escaping from the mine and making more of their lives. Davey dreams of becoming a teacher whilst Joe plans a less principled route to improve his lot – but both men’s lives are still inexorably bound to the mine and the lives of those who still live in Sleescale. Some of the characters in the story do escape their past, whilst others come full circle – not everyone gets their just deserts!

This rich, absorbing novel, which has a large cast of interesting characters starts in 1903 and spans three decades, covering subjects such as the proposed nationalism of the mining industry (which didn’t actually take place until the mid-forties), the changing place of women in society and the First World War, including the problems facing those who objected to the conflict. It took me a little while to get into the story, but once I did I found it compelling and I couldn’t put it down! The writing is compelling and one description of an incident in the mine in particular had me holding my breath! It’s one of those books where each chapter focuses on one character although the lives of the characters do overlap with the chapters – I like that style of writing.

In terms of the Counties Challenge, the mining element of the story gives a real feel for the area – I loved the tightness of the communities which came together in times of trouble. I enjoyed the historical aspects very much – the striking miners in this reminded me of my time at college when the 1984 strike was taking place and dominated the headlines. I say historical, but of course at the time this was published it was a contemporary novel and might even have ruffled a few feathers with its pro-nationalisation stance.

There is no doubt that Cronin was a born storyteller. This ‘saga’ type of novel might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I loved it and I hope those reading it as part of the challenge enjoy it too. It’s not the first of Cronin’s books I’ve read. Beyond This Place was a real favourite of mine when I was in my late teens and I read it several times, and after reading this I will probably revisit that one and I’m determined to try more. Top stuff.
4/5 (I really enjoyed it)

(Finished 21 February 2016)

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Thanks - that's kind of you. :)  Sadly we don't have Sky but I will keep an eye out for it on the Freeview channels.

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Ooh, is it.  Thanks, Claire.  :)  I looked on tvguide.co.uk and it said it's not currently on TV.  I will definitely try to watch it. 

 

Can you tell me when, please?  I can't see it listed.  :blush:

Edited by Janet

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