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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.
The Song of Achilles was a beautiful and evocative retelling of a Greek myth which well deserved its praise and prize. It is possible that this second offering is even better. The language is poetic with not a word wasted, a real joy to read. I remember Circe was one of the challenges met by Odysseus, the one who turned men into pigs. The beautiful character who narrates this story is that same “wicked witch” but a far cry from how Homer portrayed her. She is lovely, misunderstood, wilful and brilliant, a strong woman slowly growing into her power. Many famous mythical figures pepper these pages; Jason, Prometheus, the Minator … but don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them all, this spellbinding story gives you all you need to know. If you are familiar with the myths you will find new life in them in this enchanting retelling. I really cannot praise it enough. It is a special book, bridging romance, fantasy, poetic literature and feminist writing to create a work of high standard with wide appeal. I loved it and I think you will too.
Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
An engrossing thriller replete with family drama, psychological intrigue, cunningly-plotted deeds, authentically complex characters and a tree-lodged skeleton at its root. With a good job, adoring girlfriend, loyal mates and wealthy family, Toby is a privileged sort whose life implodes when he’s badly beaten by thieves who break into his Dublin apartment. Left with some speech and mobility impairment and memory loss, Toby decides to move into the rambling family home to be with his terminally ill genealogist uncle. Soon after, while Toby struggles with the trauma and effects of the beating, a skeleton is found inside an ancient wych elm in the garden, and it’s not long before detectives find a connection with Toby. The gritty, authentic portrayal of family dynamics centres around a set of bickering cousins, whose bitter teenage experiences rear their heads as a truly multi-layered mystery unfolds. Toby being a quintessential unreliable narrator adds further tension to the tale, with unexpected twists coming to the very end. This character-driven crime thriller sure packs a powerful paranoia-fuelled punch.
Random House presents the audiobook edition of Educated by Tara Westover, read by Julia Whelan. Tara Westover and her family grew up preparing for the End of Days but, according to the government, she didn't exist. She hadn't been registered for a birth certificate. She had no school records because she'd never set foot in a classroom, and no medical records because her father didn't believe in hospitals. As she grew older, her father became more radical and her brother more violent. At sixteen, Tara knew she had to leave home. In doing so she discovered both the transformative power of education, and the price she had to pay for it.
A stunningly beautiful, courageous story, one that crosses through time to 1612, when witchcraft allegations went hand in hand with fear, power and corruption. This is a work of fiction based on real people, local residents, Pendle witches and all. Mysterious, yet almost gentle, I let the words take me, I felt myself floating, and then bites of uncertainty and disquiet started to gnaw at my awareness. The persecution of the women hammered home while an otherworldly existence lodged itself in my thoughts, and remains there. Deceptively powerful, moving and provocative, Stacey Hall has created a beautifully eloquent tale. Opening a window into a vivid feast of a read, as a debut novel The Familiars stands out from the crowd.
What a truly beautiful read this is, light, bright and cheerful (yet not at all frothy), there are also some heartachingly deep and dark depths waiting to be discovered. It’s 1941 and Emmeline desperately wants to become a war correspondent, she somehow finds herself working for an agony aunt and begins to secretly reply to the letters Mrs Bird refuses to answer. Emmeline tells her own tale in the most wonderfully spirited tone of voice, I could hear her so clearly, and immediately warmed to her energy and courage. A.J. Peace weaves the story of sparkling, heartfelt friendship quite marvellously through the air raids, dances, blackouts and rationing. I found myself immersed in 1941, I opened my eyes and my heart to the characters and evocative descriptions. Part of me wanted to encourage Emmeline, to clap and smile as her subterfuge escaped notice, while the other part offered caution, a number of ‘eeeks’, and I had a cushion ready to hide behind just in case. Dear Mrs Bird is just so gloriously readable, it really is an entertaining, affectionate discovery of delight and I’m keeping my fingers firmly crossed that there is more to come from the gorgeous Emmeline.
The unnamed narrator of this remarkable novel is a vulnerable, bookish eighteen-year-old who lives in a close-knit community beset by sectarian violence. Harassed by an older man she calls Milkman, she’s compelled to keep her encounter with this sinister figure a deeply buried secret. She’s isolated, silenced, and must remain silent, and it’s this that cuttingly resonates with the #MeToo movement, and also with the situation of many teenage girls whose early experiences of womanhood all too often involve fear, shame and secrecy. Many reviews of this novel speak of its “challenging” nature, its “difficult” experimentalism, but whether a reader finds it to be “difficult” very much depends as to how one engages with the narrator. It took a little while to fall in step with her rhythm, but I found her stream-of-consciousness voice compelling and richly rewarding. Sharp on the psychology of small communities and the repercussions of inaction, and quirkily comic to boot, this is an exhaustively exceptional novel.
Interminably long hours being pulled from pillar to post, shifts peppered with horror stories and tears of joy this is the memoir of a sharp-witted storyteller which made me laugh, cry and everything in between. A brilliant book that must be read to really understand the daily battles of our doctors in the NHS. Deborah Maclaren, from our Best Autobiographies Ever Blog.
March 2018 Book of the Month | On the National Fiction Shortlist the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards 2019 “To believe, to obey, to fight” is the new prayer of Mussolini’s Italy in 1936. We are in Fosso, a town in the rural district of Veneto on the fertile plains where food is plentiful until the Germans and then the partisans help themselves. Maria, our protagonist, helps run the local grocer with her husband Achille, until he is imprisoned for black-marketeering. She needs to keep her family of 5 children alive and safe until her husband is released… or not. She will do anything to protect and fight for her children, anything to keep them safe, fed and alive. Coming from a large family herself she is not afraid of hard work. So we live with her through the war to the 1950s, through times of dreadful hardship and fear to new beginnings. Laced with the feel of Italy, its food, traditions and scenic splendour, this is a very fine novel indeed. Stylish and beautifully archaic in its writing, it has a hypnotic quality, difficult to draw yourself away from. Highly recommended.
In a Nutshell: Hearty hope-filled ode to food-love, self-love and living out loud As energising as a super food salad, as satisfying and nourishing as your favourite home-cooked meal, this delectable novel about feeling comfortable in your own skin has been prepared with sisterly love and comes served on a bed of inspiration. Meet your new favourite character, Bluebelle, also known as BB, or Big Bones. She’s a one-woman carnival of confidence and style. She likes “being big. Because there’s something of me. I feel wholesome, there alive”, but she’s super-aware of all the double-standards around size and gender. While it’s OK for boys to “want to seem big”, in contrast “it seems the world wants us girls to be tiny and petite and taken care of. What’s all that about?” BB becomes further entangled in this web of weight obsession when a nurse tells her to lose weight and keep a food diary. She gets on with her life - working in a coffee shop, exchanging top bantz with her adventurous sister, and writing the diary - until a family misfortune throws her off-course. How BB handles this situation will truly make your heart sing. Stuffed with lashings of laugh-out-loud loveliness (just wait until you read about Bum Tills...), relatable real-life truths and love in all its complicated, dizzying forms (food-love, friend-love, sisterly-love, boy-love, self-love), this is, quite simply, the best YA book about self-esteem and body image I’ve ever read.
In a Nutshell: Centuries-old sisters wreak revenge An ancient curse haunts a contemporary town, with a seventeen-year-old heroine at the very heart of its darkness. Two centuries ago, three sisters accused of witchcraft were drowned as punishment for their alleged sorcery. And every year, the sisters rise from the waters to inhabit the bodies of three local girls, set on seducing and drowning boys in revenge. This annual act of vengeance has become something of a macabre tourist attraction, with hundreds of visitors descending on the insular town of Sparrow ahead of the sisters’ return. 18 year-old Bo is among them this year, but he’s not Sparrow’s usual kind of tourist, as Penny discovers. But then Penny’s not your usual kind of local, either. She’s an outsider who lives with her grief-stricken, fortuneteller mom on an island off Sparrow. When Bo and Penny’s lives collide on the night the sisters rise from the depths, a thrillingly lyrical tale unfolds and crashes to a pulse-quickening crescendo as an age-old tempest of emotional turmoil plays out against the wild winds of a Pacific storm. Weaving folkloric elements into a contemporary setting is no easy feat, and here this has been accomplished with panache - the writing is as beguiling as the Swan sisters themselves and makes for an exhilarating devour-in-one-sitting reading experience.