Monday, March 12, 2018

 As you might know, I joined a facebook book club at the start of the year called Bookish Mama's. Its not just for mums. Anyone can join but it's run by parent bloggers and their links are at the bottom of the post. 

There is a facebook group where we vote for the next month's books and can discuss how we're getting on with the books and share recommendations. Its a very positive space and I've found it doesn't matter if you love or hate the book there is always someone to offer support and encouragement along the way. 

At the end of the month, the organisers do a facebook live where we discuss the book. The first month I was there for the full live and this month I only managed to catch the second half and I still haven't got round to watching it (sorry) 

Before each live the questions we're going to cover are posted and so far I've answered them myself before each live so I'm not influenced by other peoples opinions. However this month I have gone back over my answers and added in a couple of comments people made which I felt were relevant and that I found useful. 

One word of warning this post will contain spoilers and my post is my answers to the book club questions. Feel free to skip the rest of the post if you haven't read the book or are planning to. 

1.    What did you think of the book? 

It’s never a good thing opening a book review with “I can’t say I was a huge fan of the book”.

I struggled to get past the first 40 or so pages. I spent three weeks on those pages and the book was thrown across the room in frustration more than once. From posts in the group the reactions to the book was overwhelmingly positive and being part of the book club is the only thing that made me finish the book. I was aware it was YA but I wasn’t sure what level. I’ve seen the term middle grade banded about but in reality, I don’t know what middle grade actually is.

The book felt like an indulgence and an excuse to be patronising, the use of “big” words which needed a three-line explanation. Making up words again with a three-line looking them up in the dictionary.

I felt like it was aimed at 9-11 years old but I don’t feel the subject matter would sit all that well with that age group.  A mix of going over their heads, not being interesting and not being a whole lot of fun. I’m thinking back to the people in my English classes in High School and I can’t imagine them giving us this book to read and we read some odd books. (in my opinion – I’m sure they were all national curriculum approved at the time)

I only liked 3 or 4 characters in this book and they saved this book for me and only one of them was a big player. I do find I’m often more drawn to the bit players than the stars in the book recently.

It was well after page 90 that I found my pace and managed to finish the book in three tram rides (which is how I measure my reading speed (35-40 min sittings of just reading))

The book made me, angry and sweary and I found it helpful to make notes in the book as I went. I use pens with erasable ink so I can technically rub out any comments, but most of the comments say “FFS”.

2. What did you think of the main character, Henry? Was she well-rounded?

My overall impression of Henry was that she was a spoiled self-indulgent brat which I was surprised to find was a teenager and not an eight year old. I felt that she was pulled together so many different aspects of what you want for the main protagonist that she missed the mark for me.

I also found her incredibly dull and not the brightest button. One of the notes I wrote was "Thicker than Harry Potter when he received a Broom Stick shaped parcel" Most of my FFS moments came from the things she thought, and I think this is why I kept assuming she was younger than she was, and I was almost gleeful that they forgot her Birthday. Mean I know but she really did rub me up the wrong way.

Partly some of the era came into how she processed her thoughts and I did expect more from her. I was expecting a little more drama and it seemed like her highlight was to be allowed to answer the telephone.

3. What did the ‘parent’ figures contribute, especially Nanny?

Personally, I hated nanny Jane more than Henry. I hated that she was referred to as Nanny Jane all the blooming time. Could we not just call her Jane who is the nanny. I found her overbearing and not all likeable in any way, shape or form. I found myself wishing she’d been carted off to Helldon. I did assume she was in cahoots with the good doctor and found that whole plot a bit confusing. Was she? wasn’t she?  

Towards the end of the book it was clear she wasn’t but despite the era it would have been good if she could have stood up to the doctor, if only about the baby. It seems like she’d been with the family a while and “raised” Henry and Robert and her job was to be the Nanny and look after Children, there was no real need for her to be so passive apart from the era and bowing down to orders however from how strong she had been to Henry, keeping communication from her father from her. Making sure she didn’t see her Mother it hinted at quite a strong personality which was completely side tracked. I could have made quite a good plot twist if she’d been portrayed as meek and timid earlier in the book.

4. How effectively did the novel portray treatment of mental health in the early 20th century?

It didn’t really, it hinted at it and skirted round the edges, but it didn’t really address anything. Clearly as a children’s book it wouldn’t go into graphic details (but it did mention a few possible treatments) I don’t think anyone who read it who didn’t know about mental illness would get those themes from the book and not enough to be able to effectively discuss them in an open forum. I don’t think this books aim was to focus on mental health and while talking about mental health is always a good thing and not something we should shy away from it didn’t seem to be the focus and there was no real discussion or explanation, it was just something that was there to potentially explain some of the other story lines. It would have been a very different book if they had had that as the focus and for YA I’m not sure it was needed, and I hate myself for defending it on that point.

5. What did you think had happened to Robert?

My first thought that the mother had done something, maybe caused a fire that had resulted in his death. There was a lot of references to burns, smoke and with her clearly being in some sort of a breakdown it didn’t confirm either way if this was grief, PND or something like cancer. How the father reacted and seemed cold towards his wife, especially buggering off to Italy as soon as they move in. 

I later dismissed this as and went on to assume Henry had set him or the house on fire with her candle to get him in trouble with tragic consequences. With her having dreams of spoke and visions/hallucinations of her brother it seems more likely that she had been involved in his demise.

6. Who did you think Moth was? What did you think of her character’s development?

I assumed she was the owner of the house from the when we are first introduced to her, I don’t remember having any other thought. As implausible as it is that someone would fake their own death and then essentially go and live in the woods at the bottom of the garden is, I couldn’t really see her as anything but being connected to the house.

For me she was the books saviour of the book. If it wasn’t for her, Mr and Mrs (the cook) and the solicitor I don’t think I could have coped. I’m almost sad she moved into the other cottage and I either wanted her to stay in the woods or fall in love and run away with Truman or her son's friend.

She was warm, not very witch like and I loved she had a cat. The cat needed a bigger part. I wanted to know more about Moth and I would read a whole book about Moth. I think the name was perfect if not a bit contrived how Henry got to it. I do wish she’s said That’s not my name and gave a different one but I guess it could be seen as cute. I’m very cynical and as much as I liked Moth this was a bit much for me and I did groan a lot.

As I read the book I pictured her as an old wizened woman, but I realised during the Book Club chat that it was more likely she was in her late 40s and this changed a few of my thoughts and gave me hope for her. Then I remember it was a book and she had no future!  

7. Was the plot plausible enough, or did it not matter?

The overarching themes such as mental illness, families split apart by war, the need to work away and life at the time is plausible enough. The rescue of mama and piglet not so much. 

The overall execution of the story wasn’t well done in my opinion. There were evil elements such as the doctor which hinted at Mengele like tendencies before Mengele was even about but then as it’s a YA book only some “treatments” were mentioned. I do feel the editing stages probably reigned in some of the nastiness we as adults can see or were hinted and I think one of places we can see this clearly is with the doctor and his good wife when they seemed strong and insistent but then became very passive and this seemed to be a quick gear shift. Others I’ve mentioned such as Nanny Jane.

In the chat a few people mentioned they felt heart broken that the mother hadn’t ever held the baby and maybe it’s my stone-cold heart, I didn’t feel affected by that at all. Maybe because of my initial thought it was all her fault or just because you couldn’t get me to hold a baby for a million pounds.  

8. Does it shape your view of the book knowing that it is a young adult novel? How well do you think teenagers would cope with some of the ideas in the novel?

I think I have covered this above, I don’t think teens would engage with this book and it did seem that it was for the reading stage before YA (9-11 years)  I think with younger teens a lot would go over their heads and because a lot of themes are just skimmed I don’t think they would learn anything or get enough out of the book to spark a debate.

Someone in the chat mentioned they liked the references to other books and they expected this to sit well with younger readers who may want to go and explore those books. I hadn’t thought of this and maybe it is something as an adult that would go over my head.  

9. Was the plot original enough?

In a word no, but you know me why use one word when there are so many others.

The book does cover many topics and it does feel like they have all been done before and in much better ways. I can’t think of a book that I would exactly liken it to, but I think it pulls ideas and themes from a lot of other books.

I’m not a parent but if I was asked to recommend a book to a teen that covered similar themes I would probably go down the route of Good Night Mr Tom or Angelia’s Ashes. I realise neither are the same and are from a male perspective but other than a couple of mentions of gender bias I don’t really think it matters that Henry was a girl. (don’t shoot me for that)

10. What did you really enjoy about the book? Would you recommend it?

I liked the fountain pen and what Moth said to her son’s friend. I underlined it and wrote I like this in my copy.

Moth was the books saving grace and without the book club, I would not have got through it. I felt like there was so much more to Moth that we didn’t get to find out about. While a lot of her character development was shaky she had a lot to offer and now I’ve realised she’s much younger than my initial thoughts I’d love to know more about her and will she get it on with Trueman (Is there any FanFiction about this or is this just me?) or could there be a storyline with her son’s buddy? He was quite handy helping get her cottage habitable. Maybe Moth’s story shouldn’t be a YA book.

Now it’s over I want more but if you asked me to read it again, I would throw it at you.

Would I recommend it? As kindling? Yes. To read? No.  My swear-filled copy is heading to the recycling bin very shortly.

Good reads score 1.5 / 5 (half a point for Moth, The cat and the fountain pen)

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