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Did you know that the first recorded reading groups were among women working in factories in the nineteenth century? And now, according to research undertaken a few years ago, there are tens of thousands of groups meeting regularly in the UK reading everything from literary classics to technical manuals! Of course, if you are in a book group, choosing what to read next can be a serious matter as not every book has subject matter that can really be discussed. So to help you LoveReading has decided to lend a hand by, each month, selecting a number of books we feel are perfect and will give your group a rewarding discussion as well as a rewarding read.
Beautiful, brutal and raw - I cannot praise Michael Crummey’s The Innocents highly enough. Set in an inhospitable isolated area of the Newfoundland coast in the nineteenth-century, it’s a remarkable Garden of Eden, Babes in the Wood masterwork in which we witness age-old nature-nurture conflicts ebb and flow as we observe two siblings living on the edge, in every sense. Through their poignant passages to adulthood we see humanity at its most elemental, and we’re compelled to consider what it means to become a human adult Siblings Evered and Ada have survived the loss of their mother and baby sister Martha, though Ada still hears and speaks to Martha. Now their father has died and there’s no one but them to remove his body from their home. No one but each other to ensure they survive. Equipped with very limited knowledge of the world, and facing perilous poverty, the siblings fish and cure their catch, as their father used to, but the catches come either in unmanageable excess, or not at all. They are never far from the ravages of starvation, or wild storms. As time passes, Ada and Evered derive secret knowledge from their bodies, as well as from infrequent interactions with outsiders. Once a year, men come to collect the sibling’s paltry cured fish, dropping off scant supplies as payment. Then there are chance visits from seamen surprised to find them living alone in this precarious way. The siblings assimilate new knowledge from these unexpected visitors – knowledge of brewing, hunting, history and human relationships - who in turn leave indelible marks on Ada and Evered, leaving them changed to the extent that “each in their own way was beginning to doubt their pairing was requisite to what they might want from life.” Inspired by a story the author found in local archives, this is an incredibly haunting novel – the language powerfully pure, the story uniquely thought-provoking.
Powerful and poignant, moving and provocative, this beautifully eloquent novel is set before and during the Second World War. People Like Us highlights love, humanity and kindness in the terrifying face of intolerance and hate. Hetty’s father is an SS officer and she passionately believes in Hitler, as anti-semitism grows Hetty finds herself falling in love with Walter. Walter is blonde and blue-eyed, Walter saved her life when she was seven, Walter was best friends with her brother who has joined the Luftwaffe, Walter is a Jew. Hetty narrates her own story, creating a bond, a link to this child who is raised as a Nazi. Louise Fein builds Hetty’s world for us from 1933, I could feel Hetty growing through the years, her voice changing as her thoughts formed, hesitated, altered. Hetty and Walter are relatable, believable, touchable. It is absolutely fascinating to see this life, from this viewpoint, one that you can consider and wonder, ‘what if that had been me’. People Like Us was: “inspired by [the author’s] own family history, and by the alarming parallels she sees between the early thirties and today”. The author’s note at the end sent goosebumps shivering down my arms. As well as being a stunner of a read (you may want tissues handy), People Like Us has huge impact and deservedly sits as a LoveReading Star Book and Debut of the Month, this is one to climb the rooftops and shout about.
Our August 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Glorious! A novel of such startling sincerity, clarity and eloquence it feels as though the narrator herself is stamped onto every page. A Room Made of Leaves is inspired by letters and documents on entrepreneur and pioneer John Macarthur and his wife Elizabeth. They left England in 1788 for New South Wales in Australia when he was posted as Lieutenant to the penal colony of Sydney Town. This is Kate Grenville’s first novel in a decade, she is the author of the 2006 Man Booker shortlisted novel The Secret River. Elizabeth narrates, headstrong and wilful she nonetheless finds she is folding herself smaller and smaller in order to not be observed. Each chapter may be short but they are full of suppressed emotion, candour, and are as compelling as can be. The chapter headings, if all joined together, would create a story in themselves. As each word, as each sentence and chapter flowers, the inner being of Elizabeth opened to allow me to see, and also feel her emotions. The cover is gorgeous and the understanding of the title when it came, made the beauty resonate all the more. Australia is obviously much loved, and I in turn loved reading between the lines of history. Unique and spirited, A Room Made of Leaves truly is a beautiful novel, it also deservedly joins our LoveReading Star Books.
Our July 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A completely divine and ultimately uplifting debut, I cried, I smiled, I laughed, I loved it. With the best intentions Andrew has told a fib which has grown to surround and become a part of him, his life is then thrown up in the air when he meets Peggy. Ahh, Andrew, I admit to completely falling for this shy, kind, thoughtful man. The first few pages had me smiling, humour finely balancing and holding hands with poignancy. Richard Roper has developed the most fabulous characters and one heck of an emotional setting, which he handles with beautiful sensitivity. As the story developed, I hoped, oh how I hoped for a happy ending but I really couldn’t tell what the final outcome was going to be. With heartache tempered by gentle good humour Something To Live For casts the warmest of glows. I have no doubt that it will be topping my favourite reads of the year. We adore this quirky must-read and have chosen it to sit as a Debut of the Month, Liz Pick, and LoveReading Star Book!
A scorching, provocative, heady hit of a read, that also feels refreshingly unique. The setting is Australia, three girls disappear and years later Tikka looks back at what happened and how the events have affected her life. Felicity McLean sets two time frames in motion, but the story doesn’t flow in a straight line, words meander, get caught in an eddy before rushing onwards again. It took me a few pages to settle into the writing, and that is just because it is so wonderfully and distinctively different. Tikka’s voice is compelling, her childhood evokes bright vivid colour and touchable vibrant feelings which all spill from the page. She didn’t just visit my thoughts, but set up home too. As I read, punches of realisation landed with precision, opening my eyes, making me consider. The Van Apfel Girls are Gone really is the most special debut, it is dark, atmospheric and tragic, yet bright, engaging and satisfying too. Also chosen as a LoveReading Star Book and Liz Pick of the Month, this Debut of the Month is one that I can highly recommend.
Prepare yourself for an emotional read… full of deep abiding love and hope, there are also parts of this book that caused an intensely physical ache long after I’d finished reading. I don’t want to give too much away, I want you to be able to enter as I did, and experience all that is on offer. So, let me just say that Max and Pip have to make an impossible decision, one that will affect them forever more. The prologue sets the scene perfectly, and I felt a fellow sharp intake of breath at the last sentence before moving to chapter one. This is one of those books where I didn’t make many notes as I read, I was completely caught up in the story. Each character is perfectly placed, their emotions reaching out from the page to touch my heart and soul. There are times when right and wrong do not exist in a clear, comprehensive format and this book successfully shreds presupposition into tiny confetti-like pieces. After I had finished reading, the note at the end by Clare Mackintosh sent goosebumps skittering down my arms. After the End is powerful, provocative, and I can wholeheartedly recommend this extraordinarily beautiful read. I have chosen it as one of my picks of the month and a LoveReading star book.
A super read! This is a sneak past your guard and send you reeling type of book. It’s fast-moving, yet is intimate and fully connected with my feelings. I completely forgot I was meant to be reviewing and just read! An armed siege takes place in a cafe in London, the story weaves between the gunman, captives, and police officers creating the most intense and readable storyline. The introduction to the characters immediately captured my interest, each of the chapters are headed by one of the characters, allowing the creation of smaller stories within the main tale. Each person is memorable, fully developed, and created their own place in my thoughts. Charity Norman is on my list of favourite authors, she has the most wonderful ability to look beyond the obvious and really make me think, while at the same time telling a vivid, emotional, and hugely entertaining story. The ending held immense impact, and really tugged at my heartstrings. Not only a book of the month, but a LoveReading star book, and a Liz Robinson pick of the month too. The Secrets of Strangers is a clever, eloquent, and dramatic story, it comes as highly recommended (with extra emphasis) by me. Check out our Putting Authors in the Picture piece for May!
“For the last thirty-two years, you’ve not once trotted out for a run around the block. And now you tell me with a straight face that you want to run a marathon.” So begins this scathingly amusing novel that sees 64-year-old Remington - recently forced to retire early after an unsavoury employment tribunal – develop an unhealthy obsession with extreme exercise and his hideously competitive trainer, Bambi. Remington’s wife, sixty-year-old Serenata has always been a solitary exerciser (“I find large numbers of people doing the same thing in one place a little repulsive”), so the fact that her “husband had joined the mindless lookalikes of the swollen herd” comes as a shock, and an insensitive affront too, given that she was recently compelled to give up a lifetime of running after a diagnosis of osteoarthritis in both knees. Their spiteful bickering begins immediately, with neither party displaying themselves in a favourable light. Indeed, both characters are largely unlikeable, which makes their sniping all the more entertaining. Remington bemoans accusations of privilege, thus revealing said privilege: “I’m a little tired of being told how ‘privileged’ I am... How as a member of the ‘straight white patriarchy’ I have all the power. I’m supposedly so omnipotent, but I live in fear, less like a man than a mouse.” After (eventually) crossing the finish line of his first marathon, Remington signs-up for a gruelling triathlon, with his farcical persistence in spite of serious incidents and injuries making this novel both hilarious and excruciatingly cringe-worthy, albeit with an unexpectedly bittersweet upshot.
Ancient gods and the elemental spirit of an island are interwoven with modern reality in this remarkable debut that begins with a family impoverished by the decline of the sugar cane industry. In the pounding, poetic words of Augie, the father of the household: ”I was once the sugarcane. I was the cane and clacking and the sugar-sweet smoke of the reaping season.” Amidst escalating money struggles, a shiver of sharks save seven-year-old Nainoa from drowning, which the family embrace as a sign from Hawai’i’s ancient gods, especially when Nainoa also seems to have been bestowed with healing powers. Throughout the writing is majestically powerful, from punch-packing phrases that slam you in the gut, to monumental descriptions that rise, crash, roar and swell like Big Island waves, not least when life unravels again after Nainoi – now a young adult - and his siblings leave the island for various parts of the USA. Sister Kaui captures one of the novel’s core themes when, relocated to San Diego, she speaks of being, “A person of here and there, and not belonging in either place.” Meanwhile, in Portland, struggling with his healing gift, and the failings of this gift, Nainoa recalls the shark incident and memories call to him: “Home. Come home.” With its sweeping sense of myth, this multi-voiced family saga is a brilliant, involving exposition of how the places we inhabit also inhabit us at bone-deep level. It rings and rages with the wrath, revival, healing and hope of its characters. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
This is an astounding novel telling the stories of twelve characters living across the country and through the years. Each character is vivid as they take centre stage to share their story with us. Whether it's the sassy, argumentative Yazz, or the devastating narratives of Carole and Dominique. This book is filled with humour, culture and passion and I think it is a must-read for everyone. Composed as poetic prose, Bernadine Evaristo's lyricism throughout makes the sections flow, hammers home key points and gives each character their own unique tone. This is a book that will stop you in your tracks as you find out more about the characters but will also stop you reading as you contemplate the beauty in Evaristo's style of writing. "It's a novel about who we are now". Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Set aside plenty of quality time, as once I started, this was a read in one beautiful, heartrending, fully immersive sitting for me. When Elissa is abducted, her hopes of escape flame into being after Elijah finds her hidden in the heart of Memory Wood. A truly fabulous opening sets the scene, I felt as though I knew Elijah, his very being is stamped on the pages, and yet there is so much that remains unknown. Knowing the abduction was coming set my heart pounding and added to the tension rather than dispersing it. While the seven days of the story slide backwards and forwards in part one, I was completely confident and very much in every moment. In part one chapters are headed by the day, and one of the characters, while in part two you know exactly when you are. Sam Lloyd’s words were so in tune and belonging to each child that I almost didn’t need to know who was heading the chapter. I was on edge and uncertain as to the outcome throughout, as the ending hurtled towards me I gasped and felt utterly consumed. The Memory Wood is one of those novels that I almost wanted to read from behind a cushion, and yet I couldn’t put it down. Chosen as a LoveReading star book, this is a must-read for me.
A quietly powerful book containing an inner core of steely strength. Set in the heart of Hitler’s hideaway lair the Wolfsschanze, this story focuses on Rosa, one of ten women chosen to taste his food in case of poison. Inspired by the true story of one of Hitler’s food tasters, and translated from Italian, this penetrating story concentrates on the intimate to highlight the truth of human behaviour and war. Author Rosella Postorino has the beautiful skill of pointing out the hidden in normality to allow a greater understanding. The seemingly simple story connected to my thoughts, she made me think in a different way, to consider the small things that can turn into an avalanche of awareness. There is one point where the very structure of the Nazi salute is dissected and the shock of realisation that hit has stayed with me. The Women at Hitler’s Table is fascinating, haunting, and a worthy read indeed.
A debut novel to read slowly, to savour, to adore. Yes, this is a rather special and beautiful read, and I want to climb a few rooftops to shout about it. Missy Carmichael is lonely, she lives by herself in a huge house, when opportunities arise for friendship and more, can she reach out and take them? I admit to having fallen in love with Missy, she isn’t perfect and she makes mistakes (who doesn’t!), yet there is something about her that tiptoed into my heart and soul and has taken up residence. So often we just see a snapshot of someone, a moment or period in their life, however not here. Beth Morrey has not only brought her to life, but by also dipping into the past, we discover the gems that make Missy, well, Missy! The surrounding characters are a wonderfully quirky bunch, and Bob is an absolute delight. I laughed and I cried (oh how I cried). Saving Missy meanders gently, poignantly, beautifully, to what was for me, a perfect ending. I adored meeting Missy and so have chosen this lovely debut novel as one of our star books.
An incredibly engaging, fascinating, and rather beautiful read, this book will stay with me for some time. A couple seek refuge after the Spanish Civil War and end up in Chile, where years later they again face exile. Covering the period from 1938 through to 1994, this is a story that crosses continents, examines topics such as fascism, war, and migration, yet is as intimate as intimate can be. I entered and thought no more about the fact that this was translated from Spanish by Nick Caister and Amanda Hopkinson, it is so clearly, simply, and fabulously done. Within the first few pages there were tears in my eyes. I couldn’t stop reading, thoughtful and sensitive, yet not afraid to focus on unbearable sorrow, this feels as though it could be a biography. As Isabelle Allende explains in the acknowledgments, while this is a novel, with fictional characters (though based on people she has known), the historical events and people are real. She says: “This book wrote itself, as if it had been dictated to me” and I truly felt that. A Long Petal of the Sea opened my eyes and my heart, and has left me wanting to know more. Coming as highly recommended by me, it has also been chosen as a LoveReading Star Book.
An intriguing and altogether thrilling tale that played games in my mind and twisted my thoughts. A man with no memory is found on a Norfolk beach, neuropsychiatrist Dr Emma Lewis is asked to assess him. Emma, however, has secrets… and Norfolk is the very last place that she wants to be. The prologue focussed my attention and stayed with me throughout. As chapter one and day one started, followed by chapter two and day six, I realised that an unsettled feeling would also be keeping me company. Time slides forwards from each of these two chapters, the jagged sequence leaving my emotions hanging as the following chapter sped away again. Catherine Steadman allowed me to see, feel, and experience, her descriptions vivid in their intensity. As suggestions whispered and cajoled, the story eventually overtook and whipped them into shape. If you like to be kept on your reading toes then Mr Nobody could just be the very book for you.