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February book club - The Trouble With Goats and Sheep

(111 Posts)
CariGransnet (GNHQ) Mon 01-Feb-16 09:48:09

Winners should be receiving their copies very shortly. Don't forget, if you do get one, you'll need to leave your comments and questions for author Joanna Cannon here before the end of February. You can find out more about the book here

baNANAGran3 Mon 29-Feb-16 09:09:57

Phew - last day to review. I have not got to the very end, partly because I was reading a long book when this one arrived so I started a bit late in the month. (I somehow cannot cope with reading two books at once). However, I'm really enjoying the three quarters read so far. The narrative suits the period very well and there are many references that take you right back to that hot summer. I would like to know from where the idea of the story came and a small point, a map of the numbers of the houses in The Avenue at the front of the book would have been a good reference, I have to keep going backwards to find out exactly where people live in relation to each other - but maybe that's just me!

Finally, while the print of the book is lovely (big!) I hope that physically large sized books don't become too fashionable because they are a bit unwieldy while reading in bed and to take away travelling. Sorry, this is being picky and not meant to take away from what is an unusual and very enjoyable novel. Thank you GN and Joanna Cannon.

(Sorry if I've repeated, not read all the reviews as don't want to know the ending!)

HMHNanna Mon 29-Feb-16 13:06:22

"The Trouble With Goats and Sheep" written by Joanna Cannon.

The very hot summer of 1976, I remember very well. The story well told through the eyes and thoughts of 10 year old Grace, who I thought was a bit old for her years. All the good descriptive and very correct history of the mid 1970s. I found some of the characters a bit boring but that aside they were necessary to the story.I felt that the story would have been better had it been from beginning to end , rather going backwards and forwards all the time. It did all become clear in the end, however a " time catalogue" at some point might have helped, also as another reviewer wrote a map of the houses and who lived where. I did enjoy the book and have already let a friend borrow it.

ecci53 Mon 29-Feb-16 15:42:16

I was thrilled to receive a copy of this book, but was sadly disappointed when I came to read it. I struggled through about a third and then gave up. I found the characters unlikely and the dialogue didn't fit with the way that young girls converse, in my experience (30 years of working with children). I didn't think that all of the 70s references were particularly accurate and I felt that it needed a really good editor to sort it out and tighten up all the loose ends, airy fairy bits and incongruities.

ginnie Mon 29-Feb-16 17:54:59

I enjoyed this book and found it very visual and real in the everyday details. I think that Joanna Cannon has a gift for making the words come alive and engaging all the senses. I could almost feel the stifling heat of that summer in 1976. I also love her clever use of metaphor, for example....'with a wind that bit scarlet into faces....' on page 271.
There are so many themes running through it......addiction, secrecy,
victimisation...... It was an interesting approach, sometimes humorous,
sometimes disturbing about a group of people forever drawn together by a deep secret which is hinted at throughout.
I'd like to ask Joanna why she decided to tell the story from the perspective of a child and about the religious element, searching for God, and how that relates to the rest of the story. I feel they must be linked, but I would need to read it again!
Once I started the book I couldn't put it down, but I was slightly disappointed by the rather abrupt end. There were some surprises....that it had been Mrs Morton who had taken the baby in 1967, for instance, but I was still left wondering. It is a book that I would like to read again!

Speechgirl1 Mon 29-Feb-16 19:48:47

Thank you for my copy. This was the first book rather than kindle read for me in many years and I was pleased with the format as I needed to flick back and forth quite a lot initially to keep track of who was who? I enjoyed the read and thought the hot summer was well captured and overall the story held together. In particular the relationship of Grace and Tilly felt authentic.

Maniac Mon 29-Feb-16 22:36:32

Like 'Shineyredcar' and a few other readers I struggled to finish this book.
When it arrived I went back to bed with a cuppa and read the first 50 pages very quickly -each time I returned to it was confused by all the names and time switches
Descriptions of the 1976 heatwave were very evocative -remember it well !
I was still married,3 children in school -very uncomfortable car journeys -and dancing naked at night in the garden when we had the first rain shower after weeks of drought!
I would also have liked a map,a timeline and a cast list of the many characters

granniefinn Wed 02-Mar-16 16:05:19

I know I am a few days late sorry but just had to say I have enjoyed this book took me back to my teens and that heat wave the only down side is I am still confused about if they did start the fire and kill the old woman if so does that mean they have got away with it are is there a follow-up book if so I would like to read it

celebgran Wed 02-Mar-16 21:30:39

Thank you very much for my copy Am Not finished yet, I remember heatwave vividly was year. Met my husband!

Denisehop Thu 03-Mar-16 09:07:07

I enjoyed the book but was disappointed with the ending. I prefer books that give me a defined ending.

ShGr Thu 03-Mar-16 09:59:07

Agh Only just found where to review - apologies; it was so straightforward too. Loved this book Funny, straightforward telling reminded me poignantly of times gone by. I am passing this on to my daughter who I know will enjoy it. Looking forward to Joanna's new book!

nannyto5 Thu 03-Mar-16 12:08:28

I just love the descriptions in this book. In a couple of sentences Joanna puts you right in that place, or character. The use of different times is a little confusing but you soon become used to which period she is talking about. The intrigue continued to the very last page. Wonderful read.

lucyinthesky Sat 05-Mar-16 11:22:41

Thank you very much for the book - I had two more I had to read before starting this one and am now half way through.

It is intriguing and like other posters I'm enjoying reliving that hot summer of 1976. I was rather confused at first by the change of character points of view but the more I read the easier it gets.

avery64 Sat 05-Mar-16 22:53:02

Sorry I'm late but found the book such hard going. I remember the long hot summer of 1976 very well. I was a young Mum with two children who found coping with the heat difficult. However, I found that I could not relate to the characters or setting in the book. I had read so many positive reviews before starting to read it that when I eventually finished I just felt flat and disappointed that I couldn't rave about it too.

lucyinthesky Wed 09-Mar-16 09:02:21

Just finished the book which I also found hard going. It began quite well although I did get confused with the multiple points of view. But once they all saw Jesus I felt the book completely lost its way. No idea why Mrs Creasey really went missing (other than it gave the writer a way of showing how all the residents were guilty of murder?) as she 'knew' all their secrets?

CariGransnet (GNHQ) Wed 09-Mar-16 09:08:27

Questions have been sent to Joanna so we will put the answers up when we get them

bumblebee Wed 16-Mar-16 02:21:38

Many thanks to Gransnet / Borough Press for a copy of this book. Have been without Internet access for the better part of the last 2 months, so unfortunately was unable to submit my questions in time. However, it was definitely a book worth reading.

What I expected at first to be a light whimsical read is instead a highly perceptive examination of everyday lives, laced with a ominously dark undertone. The story takes place in an almost idyllic suburban setting, set against the backdrop of a sweltering 1970's English summer. Mrs Creasy has disappeared and 10 year-old Grace and Tilly have taken it upon themselves to investigate. They find their street reveals secrets far deeper than the disappearance itself, but intrinsically tied to that singular event. As stated on the cover, this is "part whodunnit, part coming-of-age",

Exquisitely written, the sheer attention to detail transports us to the 1970's - 'Kays Catalogue', 'Angel Delight', 'Whimsies' and 'Brian Clough'. The story has well-developed characterisation, and is interspersed throughout with humour and a sense of irony. And by the end, we truly see what is meant by poetic justice. A pretty long book (453 pages of story) with an ambitious narrative, but one that clearly a lot of hard work has gone into to get right.

smile

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:17:34

Waveney

I was so excited to get my first ever book from G.N. that I have already read it! I will be careful not to include spoilers for those currently reading it. I had completely forgotten the long, hot summer of 1976 and the memories all came flooding back as I read -it was my second year of teaching in a primary school, no-one wore uniform ( I taught in jeans and the ubiquitous cheesecloth), and I managed to kill gerbils over a weekend having left them in a mobile classroom!
I was initially thrown by the two 'voices' the author used, but as the tale unravelled it deepened the story. I would be interested to know why the author chose this device.
I enjoyed the story, and didn't predict the conclusion!

I’m so glad you liked the structure! I was originally going to have Grace narrate the whole book, but it soon became clear that all the different characters needed to tell their own stories. Firstly, because for Grace to know everything would require a lot of eavesdropping (which would be contrived), and secondly, because the other residents on The Avenue had such strong voices in my own head, I decided they needed to be heard.

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:18:54

grandma60

I'm about 1/4 through this book and really enjoying it. The story is really intriguing making it hard to put down. Best of all though are the memories of 1976 that it brings back. My son was born in December 1975 and we moved into a new build house in the spring of 1976. The heat made the new plaster crack and the newly laid turf in the front garden died as we were not allowed to water it. There was talk of stand -pipes as well. DS was a very grumpy baby as the heat was unbearable.
Did the author have a personal reason for choosing this year?

I’m so glad it brought back a lot of memories! I chose 1976, because I needed a catalyst to break down the neighbours’ seemingly ordinary facades – and heat is such a great catalyst. We all behave very differently in hot weather, and I think people find it difficult to hold things together as well. Also, the book is about communities (and the power of communities), and the 70s was such a turbulent decade, when our idea of communities was changing. However, in the middle of all this chaos, was a seemingly endless summer, when we all had to pull together to get through it. So the time really leant itself to the themes of the book.

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:19:51

DavidH22

For me Ms Cannon has vividly created a time I remember especially well. By liberally sprinkling the story with the sounds, smells and tastes of the 1970s I felt I had been taken back there in a time machine. I could see and taste the Jamaica ginger cake. Lovely. The plot is fast-paced, full of intrigue and left me wondering how it would all work out in the end which was brilliant. I loved all the complications of the characters, each with their secrets, some much darker than others but all told with much humour. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole book.
A couple of questions if I may: Most of the characters are carrying guilty consciences, is this how you see people in real life? Has your work in psychiatry influenced your writing? And lastly why does battenburg cake not get a mention?

I’m not sure that I see everyone as having a guilty conscience (although many of us do!), but more that we’re all “different” in some way. Most people are very keen to go along with the herd (excuse the pun!) and not stand out for any reason, so we adapt our behaviour slightly in order to be accepted by those around us (something we start to do from Grace’s age). However, there are many people who only have one version of themselves to present, as we see with Walter, and that version might not be one society is willing to accept. Working in psychiatry, I meet many people who are pushed to the periphery in a community, because they aren’t able to blend in with everyone else, so my job definitely helped me to see how this affects individuals. Also, it made me appreciate that everyone has a narrative, a story to tell, and the most interesting stories often come from those at the edge. And I do apologise about the Battenberg. This will be rectified in Book 2!

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:20:29

Gagagran

I found the two girls the best bit of this book and laughed out loud at some of their conversations and antics. It also illustrated how much freedom 10-year olds had in 1976 compared to now. You could not imagine two young girls going round knocking at neighbours' doors these days let alone chatting to them as these two did.

The details of 1970s products were spot on and I would like to ask Joanna if they were from research, anecdote or memory?

I did find it hard to engage with the adult characters and would have hated to live in the claustrophobic, small minded and intolerant street described. It does not reflect my memories of life in 1976 at all. Thankfully.

It was a bit of a mixture of all three! Although I was very young, I have extremely vivid memories of the drought, which helped with the story. In addition to that, whenever I mentioned 1976, people gave me wonderful anecdotes about what they remembered. I think these are far more useful than traditional research, because they’re so much more colourful. However, I did have to check TV schedules and music, and when different chocolate bars were manufactured!

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:22:01

nonnanna

Thank you for my copy Gransnet. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole experience. The story made me think of 'Lord of the Flies' in suburbia. The style of writing and the descriptions often made me grin out loud. Like other readers I too was left needing a little more information about Mrs Creasy's disappearance and return. Think I missed something here! Can you enlighten us please Joanna?

SPOILER ALERT!

Aha, the mysterious Mrs Creasy! When I first started writing, I knew the story was going to be about the neighbours’ reaction to her disappearance, rather than the disappearance itself. However, I did leave a few clues in there to what might have happened … at first, we wonder if Margaret didn’t leave of her own volition (especially with the misunderstanding of the shoes by the canal). She knew all the neighbours’ secrets (because they trusted her, and perhaps babbled on a bit more than they should have done – especially Dorothy), and there is the suggestion that one of them might have murdered her. However, at the end of the story, DI Hislop tells us that Margaret has reported to a police station to say that she’s safe and well and just needed to ‘work things out’. The police think this is slang for needing a bit of space, but the neighbours (and the reader), know that she (literally) needed to work out who had started the fire, and whether Walter had, in fact, taken the baby. Margaret had all the information she needed to come to the right conclusion. DI Hislop also tells us that Margaret intends to visit the police station to have a ‘little chat’ with them … so she has every intention of spilling the beans. At the end of the book, all the neighbours wait for her return, and also wait to be judged (by Margaret, society and the police), as they themselves, have judged others all the way through the story. We know now that Dorothy started the fire (from the tea towel clues), and that Mrs Morton took Grace as a baby … but, as Grace quite rightly says, “it could have been any one of them.” They’re all as guilty as each other!

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:22:32

tiggers

Thoroughly enjoyed reading your first book Joanna. It held my interest, from start to finish. A brilliant title and concept for a book. Have already recommended it to friends.

Are you happy to share some clues as to the subject matter of your second book? I am looking forward to reading it. I do like your style of writing.

Thank you again Gransnet for giving me the opportunity to read such a page-turner.

That’s so lovely to hear, thank you! I’m currently writing Book Two, and (amongst other things), it’s about growing old, the importance of a small act of kindness, and they echo we all leave behind in the world.

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:22:50

merlotgran

I really enjoyed this book and agree with the comments made by others so won't repeat them but would like to ask Joanna if Grace and Tilly's conviction that Jesus was not just 'everywhere' but lurking in their community was inspired by Mary Hayley Bell's book, (and subsequent film and musical) Whistle Down The Wind?

I haven’t actually heard of that story, so I wasn’t inspired by it, but I will definitely look it up, thank you!

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:23:35

tinkerbelle

Have now finished the book which I thoroughly enjoyed. Liked the title, how it was referred to during the novel so that you were aware of what it was referring to. Must admit I found it difficult to imagine Jesus in the drainpipe! But then he is everywhere - as Grace and Tilly repeatedly reminded us.
Was this a story you had in your mind for some time Joanna before you finally put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard!)
Am I right in thinking Margaret went away to give people time to reflect on their past actions or have I got totally the wrong end of the stick?
Can't wait for your next book.

I think I’ve always wanted to write about ‘unbelonging’, because it’s something so many people feel at some point during their lives. Working in psychiatry helped to cement that idea, but one of the key moments of inspiration was the case of Chris Jefferies, the Bristol landlord, who was taken in for questioning over the murder of Jo Yeates. We all (including me), judged him on one photograph, and decided he must be guilty because “he looks a bit different.” Of course, he turned out to be completely innocent, and it really made me think about how judgemental we are as a society, and how it must feel to be on the receiving end of that judgement. And you’re absolutely right about Margaret. I think she left The Avenue in order to ponder over who might be guilty, but also to give everyone time to think about the part they played in Walter’s victimisation.

JoannaCannon Mon 21-Mar-16 13:24:02

Miriam

Just finished the book and loved it. Reading it in February I could feel the heat of the long hot summer coming off the pages. I loved the way we gradually got to know more about all the residents and the way information was gradually brought to light. It is so true that children pick up on things we adults think we are clever enough to conceal from them.
Does Joanna have plans for another book? I would imagine a sequel would be difficult but will look forward to reading whatever she publishes next. I will recommend this to all my book mad friends. Thank you.

I do have plans for Book 2 (I’m currently about half way through writing it!) A lot of people have asked me about a sequel to Goats and Sheep, but I think if you revisit past characters, you have to have a really good reason for doing it. At the moment, I will leave Grace and Tilly on The Avenue, watching Mrs Creasy get off the bus … but never say never!