Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton

Booze and Booze Tipple: 
Two Words - Hot Toddy.

The Introduction of Penalties.

 ‘Ethan Frome’ is a classic example of Book and Booze Club ‘coalition style democracy’ in action;  our sleepers wanted something literally ‘thin’ and our worms wanted something ‘meaty’.

The solution? Google-hey-presto. Pulitzer prize winning author Edith Wharton - coming in at one hundred and fourteen pages?   Done.

Deal sealed with a smug chink of the glasses and a chorus of resounding promises to deliver – in our world,  that means actually read the bloody book.   

And what a great Book and Booze Club session we could have had, if even just half of my gorgeous, loveable, lazy-arsed-neighbour-friends honoured their promises and tried a little harder to resist the ever buzzing evening i-phone lure of  'Words with Friends'' and get past the (if I'm honest) bleak (yes-symbolic) Wordsworth Classics front cover.

In my little sugar tempered world of imagined perfection and opportunities seized, in a world where I wasn't the only Book and Boozer to complete this story, we, amongst other things, might have chatted about:

1    Duty and choice:  
     Duty to others? Duty to oneself? Duty to fulfill ones obligations? Duty to follow your heart?  

2   Women and the cruelty of culture
     Mattie Silver and Zeena Frome – A cautionary tale for women who are kept isolated and dependent?  

THEN... get a bit boozy, cracking open the chinks in our finely turned out relationships.  

BUT....we didn't do any of that. (Well, obviously there's always going to be few chinks chipped open and grievances aired in a room full of women and booze.)   

THUS...sadly, our little democratic compromise failed to deliver. 

I think I might even be suffering with survivors guilt. 

Edith Wharton – I’m sorry we cocked up and let your great tale elude the rigours of conversation. May this blog right our wrongs. Should it come to pass that I am in fact, actually not blogging to myself, here’s hoping another less boozy, more disciplined, bookish book club might take up the mantle, read all one hundred and fourteen pages and bring 'Ethan Frome' in from the cold.

And so it came to pass a month later, on a 'less book, more booze' eve, talk evolved in regard to introducing - for strictly motivational purposes -  a ‘Penalty Policy’. Proposed penalties varied in severity, decency and logistical possibility, but I take heart in the collective desire to save the 'book' in Book and Booze Club.

That was a year ago.   

Policy takes time.

Book and Booze Club Rating:
Four Empty glasses just longing to be filled.

The Techy Speccy Blurby Bit

United States
Publication date
Media type
Print (Hardcover and Paperback)
195 pp

This story takes place against the cold, gray, bleakness of a New England winter. Ethan Frome is an isolated farmer trying to scrape out a meager living while also tending to his frigid, demanding and ungrateful wife Zeena. A ray of hope enters Ethan's life of despair when his wife's cousin Mattie arrives to help. His life is transformed as he falls in love with Mattie but their fate is doomed by the stifling conventions of the time. Edith Wharton's Ethan Frome is a compelling classic of American Literature and a powerful tale with compelling characters trapped in circumstances they seem unable to escape.

Monday, 28 October 2013

One Day, David Nicholls.

Book and Booze Club Tipple: Nothing less than 'a grocer's white wine' to start - and finish with a splash of Absinthe.

Fabulously, emotionally draining. 

I remember reading One Day for book club nearly two years ago now - and sobbing away just as my partner walked in the door from his daily two hour Canary Wharf train commute. With barely a glimpse he declared, "Not you too. Everyones got their heads buried in it" (+Craig Ward - genius cover design), then moaned about wheelie bags on the tube, quilted jackets and men in troubadour hats,  before his finely tuned commuter eyes noticed the mascara glistening down my face.

My attempt to explain just didn't translate. 

At some point, very, very early on, you become emotionally attached to the main characters, Emma Morley and Dexter Mayhew.  They become, for want of a better word, a  'bitza': a bitza of every flawed friend, acquaintance, drunken shag, philosophising shag, never had shag, awkward experience, forgotten ambition and urban myth you've encountered during your twenties and thirties. A bitza broken mirror into your own life and others - and when a novel can do that, it really is something special.

I cried a ridiculous lot. 
Happy and sad. 
It just felt good.

One Day is so effortless to read, it feels like a guilty pleasure; but it shouldn't.  I understand the Emma Morley draw towards 'small print Russian novels', but sometimes you've just got to allow the author to lead, and let yourself go. And that is nothing to feel guilty about.

+David Nicholl's writing is 'red wine, chocolate and snuggle in bed' par-excellence. When confronted with the inevitable end and subsequent post 'one night' come down, I just had to top up with his 'The Understudy' in an attempt to cocoon myself in a Nicholl's  induced world for a little longer.  

Book and Booze Club loved this one too - a universal crowd pleaser. We paid homage to the ones that got away, laughed about  the lucky escapes and drank like we were infallible graduates.

Book and Booze Club Rating:  A thoroughly fabulous 5 boozy glasses full.

'One Day' Techy Speccy Blurby Bit.


15th July 1988. Emma and Dexter meet on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways.

So where will they be on this one day next year? And the next year after that? 
And every year that follows?

Sunday, 27 October 2013

On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan

It was some time ago since Book and Booze Club read this one.  And I'm starting to think, since commencing these reviews from the past two years, that the true test of a great read can be found in the feelings it evokes after the passing of time.

Just picking up 'On Chesil Beach' and holding it's hard back cover in my hands again, has genuinely transferred a reflective, quiet calmness.  Considering I've just ranted to my hearts content minutes ago when reviewing that insidious tea and biscuit book, this is quite a turn around in emotional disposition. 

A pre-re-read catharsis perhaps.

Ian McEwan is an absolute gift.  He constructs 'On Chesil Beach' with such uncomfortable, familiar, beautiful, universally observed tension.  It is compelling and whilst a cliche, I actually couldn't put it down and finished it cover to cover in one session.

Book Club Experience:

It always amuses me, at the risk of sounding like a dated, Derridean post-modern moron,  how a novel - like music and art - becomes infused with meanings embedded by our own contexts, therefore is experienced, even if in just a small way, differently every time. 

It is a stormy night tonight and I plan to snuggle up and re-read 'On Chesil Beach', only this time I will have memory traces of our book club discussion shaping and altering my experience.

One of the ladies drew links - with some necessary speculation -  between the fictional Edward and Florence and her own parents marriage - and subsequent divorce -  at a similar historical time.  This shared book club hypothesising by a daughter, which could really only have been enriched through the voices of her mother or father, imbued this story with even more poignancy and relevance.

'On Chesil Beach' is indeed the story of Edward and Florence. 
But bring it to Book Club and I'd be surprised if it doesn't become the story of stories.

No flippancy in this blog today.

Just beautiful.  

Book and Booze Club rating;  Five Full to the Brim Glasses.

'On Chesil Beach'  techy, speccy, blurby bit.

  • Publisher: Vintage; Reprint edition (3 Jan 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0099512793
  • ISBN-13: 978-0099512790

It is June 1962. In a hotel on the Dorset coast, overlooking Chesil Beach, Edward and Florence, who got married that morning, are sitting down to dinner in their room. Neither is entirely able to suppress their anxieties about the wedding night to come...

On Chesil Beach is another masterwork from Ian McEwan - a story about how the entire course of a life can be changed by a gesture not made or a word not spoken.

Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down, Wifey and Nicey

 I'll make this quick. Bit of a marmite one. I do not like marmite.  

 Highly amusing for the first few pages - all that cutesy, quirky Wifey/Nicey, irreverent take on British tea culture...rah ha ha, jolly funny one sport. But a whole bloody book? Honestly - I have NEVER EVER read anything that has:

1) Made me lose the will to live with such gusto,

 2) Incited such violent thoughts about where one might dunk Nicey's Rich Tea, 

3) Or had me pondering the likelihood of Nicey and Wifey (yes, I'm sure they are very lovely) simultaneously choking to death on a Tesco Value Ginger Nut.

Quite simply - I cannot reclaim the hours of my life wasted  reading this  book.   

But. But. But.

In the interests of fairness (and rational maturity?):

1) A couple of the Book Club ladies found it both amusing to dip into and funny,

2) It is culturally well observed...having passed my British Citizenship test a few years ago, it probably offers more relevant information than the Governments 'Being a British Citizen' study material, that covered such vital material as   'Where does Santa Claus live?" (Multiple choice answer - in the absence of the North Pole, I plumped for Lapland). 

3) There's at least 100 second hand copies going begging on Amazon at rock bottom penny prices, which would  make for a cheap book club month. 

4) And for a real Book Club jolly -   at a suitable point  of liquid induced cheerfulness -  what could be more fun than personifying each other as a biscuit - and simultaneously identifying Brian as a Garibaldi?    

'A Nice Cup of Tea and Sit Down' is exactly WHY Book Club must also be a Booze Club.

If you really want quirky British culture, cast your eyes upon this lovely gentleman in all of his farmer tan glory.  

Then go to the pub.

Book and Booze Club Rating (not representative) : One miserable empty glass.   

Techy Speccy Blurby Stuff if you are sure you really want to go there....

Nice Cup Of Tea And A Sit Down 

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Sphere; New Ed edition (1 Sep 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0751537659
  • ISBN-13: 978-0751537659

Put a cup of tea in your hand, and what else can you do but sit down? This wonderful new book is a celebration of that most British of life's cornerstones: taking a break, putting your feet up and having a breather. There is, however, a third element that any perfect sit down requires and it is this: biscuits. As Nicey so rightly points out, a cup of tea without a biscuit is a missed opportunity. Finding the right biscuit for the right occasion is as much an art as it is a science, and it is a task that Nicey has selflessly worked on for most of his tea drinking life.
From dunking to the Digestive, the Iced Gem to the Garibaldi, everything you'll ever need to know about biscuits is in this book, and quite a lot more besides. Is the Jaffa Cake a cake or a biscuit? And have Wagon Wheels really got smaller since your childhood, or have you just got bigger? Unstintingly researched, Nicey and Wifey's Nice Cup of Tea and a Sit Down does exactly what it says on the biscuit tin. So go on. Take a weight off, put the kettle on, and enjoy.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

The Help, Kathryn Stockett

  • Book and Booze Club Remembers, 
  • Oct 2011
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett

  • ***BOOK AND BOOZE TIPPLE: Enjoy 'The Help' with a warming nip of Southern Comfort...or...do what we do... just nip on down to the local shops and nab yourself some more cut price Prosecco.
  • Honestly, I'm personally just not so sure about this one.

    But before I get to that....a bit about The Help's Book and Booze Club provenance....it holds the honorary title of our first ever book club read.  Back then, grappling with the concept of how to actually 'do' a book club,  there was just four of us sitting around the table (and an honourary, crudely drawn head stuck onto a spoon, where a last minute slacker should have sat), eyeing of the vino and weighing up the pro's and con's of outing oneself as 'a woman of thirst'.

    Book Club Anxieties.

    I genuinely don't know what I expected.... I just know I don't like to miss out on a gathering so was definitely in.  I guess I was a bit anxious it might be a bit like a amateur dramatics role-play; a lot of trying to sound informed,  offering covert-self-promotional 'enlightened-me' opinions in a slightly convoluted setting. You know.  That kind of 'cringe-verbal diarrhoea-just shut-up stuff' we say (ok-maybe its just me)when we meet people... and walk away with a far superior, witty, genuine conversational replay in our heads.  And, then, oh god - what if Book Club means one actually has to create and even worse - sustain - the illusion of a worldly intelligence to develop a bit of neighbour kudos and self-branding? It's all coming back to me now....I'm surprised I didn't bottle it and end up being honorary crudely drawn head, mark ii.

    Well, it turns out there was perhaps a bit of that to start, and a lot of nodding and respectful listening to the viewpoint of others (note to self - this is a good thing).....but at some point,  possibly a bottle or two of Chablis later - actually, who am I kidding' - make that Pinot - a thirst is a thirst - the nervous facade and over-processed contributions became, well, genuine and interesting chat. The tone also got a bit more animated and excited as common ground was discovered.  
  • Brain buzz. Booze buzz. Positively under-graduate.

    Anxieties pushed aside and glasses re-topped, Book Club turned out to be surprisingly, honestly good.  Ice broken and safe in the knowledge that we would 'do it again next month' there was just simply no point trying to 'crowd please' - the real beauty of neighbourhood book clubs.  Can anyone be bothered to try and sustain a false facade amongst people we will pass on the street every day?

    What a relief..... and combined with our host and founders very studiously composed list of rather bloody good questions, I think The Help represents our first (and possibly last!) excited, animated, mature, focused literary discussion.

    Oh god, that's right. That last bit I said - the mature bit - bit of a lie...the night did end up with our founder, the eccentric Mrs K, wrestling me to the ground to demonstrate her strength. (Just as her seemingly sensible husband arrived home from work - awkward.).
    And I did think it would be amusing to make my 'table offering' a Mississippi Mud Pie- strictly Hummingbird Bakery recipe....(read the book!).

  • Mature or otherwise - it was a great night.  An unexpected great night.  A night that concluded with ( well, beyond the contextually incongruent bruises and battering) a lovely buzzy feeling that something good is going to happen and ( just privately) comfort in the knowledge that the walk home would be safe with Mrs K and her muscles living only next door bar one....

    The Help

    And so, on reflection,  I guess when I say I am 'not sure' about The Help, what I am really grappling with is my own reconciliation of the difference between 'great book club material' Vs 'enjoyable private reading'.

     It is clearly a great conversation starter for Book Clubs - with lots of obvious discussion points you'd expect when discussing a novel written by a white southerner from the perspective of black maids - and there are plenty of less obvious points for discussion as well.  But, as a novel - from a purely private reading perspective - I did initially find the use of dialect onerous and off-putting. It also took me some time to work through conflicting thoughts whilst reading it, about authorship and point of view.  Hence, I'm still just not sure.  Perhaps it was just bit of a slow starter.

    In any case. You know what? It is memorable. It creates an impact. It invites lively discussion. Its a great excuse to eat pie.

  • And because it was my first taste of book club...and has since gone onto be made into a film ( bit of a deal breaker for the 'Book Club Willing-Reading Challenged' ones.....I'll give it a Book and Booze FOUR glasses.


  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (13 May 2010)
  • Language: Unknown
  • ISBN-10: 0141039280
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141039282

  • The Help is an international bestseller (that inspired the Oscar nominated film) by +Kathryn Stockett.
    Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren't trusted not to steal the silver . . .

    There's Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son's tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.

    Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they'd be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell...

Tuesday, 22 October 2013

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, Rachel Joyce.

BOOK AND BOOZE TIPPLE:  Harold Fry likes tea, but we all deserve a good British fizzy drop -try Gilbey's own Pheasant Ridge Brut;  or, sod it- hold onto your hard earned cash and hunt down some Blue Nun for a drop of nostalgia.  For Teatarians, a brew of Tetley will work just fine.

Book and Booze Club says..... 
(September, 2013)

I would officially like to declare The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry a book club success, by sheer virtue of the fact that:

 1) Time was spent actually discussing this book.
 2) At least three of the book club members had finished reading it.
 3) Most of us finished the evening with a sobering tea (thank you Harold) in a desire to reclaim Book Club cred, rather than sucking the life out of another innocent bottle of Prosecco.

A bit of context to qualify this with.....

Of course, a Book Club success is also dependent on what your group hopes to achieve; I think our group (clue is in the name) has become all about;  hijacking the mens' poker night concept, reinvigorating some of the cerebral matter that seemed to go into hibernation upon the birth of our children and/or discovering our first chin hair, building friendships that go beyond play-date discussion of which kid slept through the night, and for some of us, getting one guaranteed-non-wardrobe-stress-night out every month.  Our objectives are simple, yet important.

Our members are neighbours, thus geographically located within walking distance....and we, due to terrace house limited capacity size issues, have ironically become a little exclusive based not on snobbery but on the simple fact that there's just no space around our tables for any more members...think we are up to nine now which is somewhat bursting at the seams and on the rowdy side with multiple sub-chat groups emerging !  To sum us up, you might say we are a mixed bunch of lapsed and/or aspirational literates with varying degree's of reading stamina, booze consumption skills and mid-life crisis' AND we all do seem to love a good public airing of our past and present life experiences.

With that in mind, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is a cracking good story that cuts to the core of Middle England's  'net curtained life' ( well, this is Windsor-- less 'net' more plantation shutters) and unpacks our assumptions about what goes on behind closed doors - metaphorical and physical.  It invites all manner of reflection about... well, to name a few we discussed.....hope, regret, love, mental illness, opportunity, assumption and choices.

Harold Fry, plus a brilliant line up of characters including my favourite - the gorgeous 'wish he was my Grandad' neighbour,  alongside a  healthy dose of truth inducing vino - got everyone talking. Now, that  amounts to a lot of opinion to digest and reflect upon, over the course of 3-4 hours.

This novel is so deceptively easy to read and entertaining, that it simply deserves Book Club treatment to give voice to the themes and ideas it traverses. And the bonus -- it's a quick read for any book clubers who are time/sleep deprived......I believe our 'number one book snoozer' got beyond a page a night before falling asleep!

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry is unassuming book club gold -- a defo for generating intimate conversation and making life feel a little less lonely.  I'm just so pleased we got it together this month and did the novel justice

I give it a Book and Booze Club five glasses.


The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by debut author Rachel Joyce

Publisher: Doubleday (15 Mar 2012)
ISBN-10: 0857520644
ISBN-13: 978-0857520647
When Harold Fry nips out one morning to post a letter, leaving his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other. He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone. All he knows is that he must keep walking to save someone else’s life.