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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.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Shortly after the Russian revolution, a White Russian count is spared execution because of a subversive poem he wrote defying authority before the fall of the Czar and is, instead, exiled to an attic room in a luxury hotel in the heart of Moscow, where he once enjoyed a luxurious suite and all the amenities that wealth could provide. As he adapts to his house arrest, we follow his encounters with the motley denizens, employees and visitors of the hotel and watch how his state of mind changes alongside the Russia outside the walls of the hotel. Both meditative and, at times, truculent, this also forms a parallel history of Russia over the following forty years or so until the death of Stalin and for a narrative isolated inside a closed locale becomes amazingly broad in scope, reflective, expansive and so often terribly moving, albeit with much wit and humour. Unforgettable characters, both fictional and real life, a web of subtle relationships: all human life is here and a triumphant follow-up to Towles' debut novel which had been set in the glitter of New York in the 1930s. Long but wonderfully rewarding, this will make you laugh, cry and smile, an epic that never even moves outside the hotel's lobby! Loved it. ~ Maxim Jakubowski February 2017 MEGA Book of the Month. The Lovereading view... Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, the gentleman of the title, is not executed with his fellow aristocrats for he had already left Russia at the start of the Revolution and he returns in 1918. This mystifies the Bolshevik tribunal he stands before in 1922. He wrote a poem which is deemed a call to arms, but for which side? So he is placed under house arrest for life. Conveniently his address for the last four years has been The Hotel Metropol, the best in Moscow. Now moved to humble rooms in the old servant quarters in the belfry, he nonetheless has the run of the beautiful establishment, the restaurants and bar. He makes friends with the servants and guests alike and is dubbed by an old student friend who has suffered in the Gulag, “the luckiest man in Russia”. Intrigue, romance and friendship pepper the years as we follow the Count from 1922 to 1954, a time of huge change as a new Russia is created. With a nod towards the period in its style and lots of philosophy, I wouldn’t say this was compulsive but it is strangely hypnotic, one is certainly drawn to it although it isn’t an easy read. It is a comfortable book to be with despite its horrific span in history for imprisoned in his hotel, Rostov is indeed one of the luckiest in Russia. ~ Sarah Broadhurst Click here to read a Q&A with the author about this book.
October 2017 Book of the Month A short, emotional and entirely captivating novel based on the real events that surrounded, enclosed and smothered the notorious Mata Hari. Mata Hari is a name that still evokes and conjures vivid images, this is a story that releases fact and weaves in fiction, until you're left with a concentrated, intense tragedy. The prologue introduces the end, a chillingly evocative photo followed by a news report, this may be a novel, but it doesn't feel like one, instead it feels as though reality is spilling from the pages. Several photos add an intensity to the already striking and memorable tale. By writing in letter form, Paulo Coelho allowed me to touch, to feel, to question, he made me look at Mata Hari as a woman rather than an exotic creature. ‘The Spy’ strips glamour, discards enchantment, yet there still remains an air of mystery about the fascinating Mata Hari, and I’m left with her still in my mind, I’m left wanting to know more. ~ Liz Robinson If you like Paulo Coelho you might also like to read books by Laura Esquivel, Diana Cooperand Louise Erdrich.
This book seemed to come out of nowhere. It was the first Afghan novel to be written in English and it became a word-of-mouth bestseller in no time at all. Telling a tragic story of childhood jealousy and fear, it covers a bitter part of Afghan history in a painful tale that truly pulls at the heartstrings. A brilliant book. ~ Sarah Broadhurst Voted 2nd in the Books of the Decade by Lovereading readers. Richard Charkin, Executive Director of Publisher Bloomsbury, said: “We’re delighted that The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini has been selected by Lovereading as the number two title of the last Decade. We’re so pleased it continues to resonate with today’s readers and hope it will continue to do so for many decades to come.” Voted as the Penguin/Orange Reading Group Book of the Year 2006 and 2007. The Bloomsbury Modern Classic Series Restless by William Boyd Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke Eat Pray Love by Elizabeth Gilbert Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini Fugitive Pieces by Anne Michaels The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale The Little Friend by Donna Tartt
Absolutely fascinating, a beautiful yet quirky read, this is a tale to make you wonder, to make you feel… A grandfather, on his deathbed, tells his grandson about his life, from rocket ships to prison, from love to aching for revenge, all is revealed. The story isn't released in sequence, instead it flits around in time, I was initially thrown but soon got used to, even welcomed the sudden disturbance to the storyline. Michael Chabon writes with an understated, elegant, yet wickedly spiky hand. There were times when I lost myself in the words that danced across the pages, others when I was brought up short, shocked and surprised. The author’s note at the beginning suggests there is a connection to his family, the acknowledgment at the end gives source to information, how much is actually true though, isn't revealed, but I have fallen in love with the memories scattered on the page. In the vast open thrilling space of ‘Moonglow’ is a wonderfully intimate collection of meandering, amusing, achingly sad, and truly fabulous stories. ~ Liz Robinson
Shortlisted for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction 2017. Three women are at the heart of this beguiling, elemental novel, in which the dialogue dances, and the force of Irish fairy lore weaves its eerie, all-consuming ways through a superstitious rural community in the early nineteenth century. Nóra’s husband was “a fit man, in the full of healthy” when he dropped down dead at a crossroads reserved for the burial of suicides. Nóra has already lost her daughter this year, and now cares for her grandson Micheál who, inexplicably, has ceased speaking and walking. In the words of Mary, the young girl who comes to work for Nóra, he’s like a “strange scarecrow”, “a baby’s plaything, made from sticks and an old dress”. The locals whisper that he’s a changling, that his mother was carried away by the Good People (the fairies), that he played some part in his grandfather’s untimely passing. Terrified of him, (Nóra’s nights are “shattered with the boy’s screaming”), and at her wits end, she takes the desperate measure of whipping Micheál with nettles, thinking the sting will make him move. It’s then that a neighbour says Nóra must seek advice from Nance of the Fairies. With her wise woman’s knowledge of herbs and spirits, Nance is “a pagan chorus”, “the gatekeeper at the edge of the world”, and has healed many a person in need. Although the new priest “has the word out against her”, healing is what she does, and so Nance agrees to “put the fairy out of [Micheál]”. As further misfortunes are blamed on the child, the three women work to restore him amidst an atmosphere charged with increasing hostility.Inspired by a real-life event, this is an absolutely stunning account of a poor community clinging to superstition and ritual in order to make sense of their isolated world. Chilling, and charged with earthiness, I loved it. ~ Joanne Owen The Walter Scott Prize Judges said:‘This is a marvelously physical evocation of rural Ireland, which is deeply personal without ever being mawkish. With a cracking good narrative, Hannah Kent has conjured up an entire world that most of us would never see or know about, and has created three entirely different female characters who resonate long beyond the novel. The hold of the church and of superstition over the people is both totally believable and plausible.'
October 2017 Book of the Month | Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2017. From the imagination of the peerless Ali Smith comes a shape-shifting series, wide-ranging in timescale and light-footed through histories, and a story about ageing and time and love and stories themselves. Here comes Autumn. On being Longlisted for the Man Booker prize Ali Smith said; "A lovely surprise – I'm very very chuffed – but especially to be on this longlist, in such bloody good company". You can read an interview with her on the Man Booker website here.
Set in the deep American south between the wars, this is the classic tale of Celie, a young poor black girl. Raped repeatedly by her father, she loses two children and then is married off to a man who treats her no better than a slave. She is separated from her sister Nettie and dreams of becoming like the glamorous Shug Avery, a singer and rebellious black woman who has taken charge of her own destiny. Gradually Celie discovers the support of women that enables her to leave the past behind and begin a new life. Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.
Three years ago Cardiff born Ellie moved into a small block of twelve flats in Kensal Rise, London. Her life is dull. She does tele-ad sales for a trade mag and then suddenly she gets postcards from Greece addressed to a S. Ibbotson at her address. They are from an “A” in Greece as he travels round the country. She loves them and sticks them to her flat wall. After a few months she is inspired to go there herself. As she leaves for the airport she picks up a small package from her post pigeon hole. It contains a notebook in “A”’s handwriting. So we learn the man, Anthony, was expecting his love to join him for a fortnight’s holiday though she never came. He was in Greece researching a book and has the advance which will last a year if he is careful. Dejected and in despair he goes travelling to forget, escape, lose himself … all those things Greece can offer, plus fantastic scenery and sunshine. As he is alone the locals embrace him and many tell him tales. There follows a series of short stories as he moves from village square to village square and listens. They are gentle, poignant, very Greek and quite charming. Some have religious undertones, some touch on mythology, quite a few are just human drama tales of love, deception, loss and sadness, although many do have happy endings. The most horrific is The Honeymoon, the sweetest Air on a G String. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
Shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards 2017, Costa Novel Award Flora Mackie leads a remarkable life. Daughter of a whaling captain, with her mother dead, she spent many of her teenage years sailing with him and living with the Inuit of Greenland. When grown, it naturally suits her to join an Arctic expedition with a British scientific team. Jakob de Beyn’s obsession with ice and glaciers also leads him north with an American expedition. Though they meet only briefly, he and Flora live similar lives with many parallels and some extraordinary stories. Hardship and determination colour both to the point where it is the Arctic that feels like home and the civilised Victorian world that seems hostile, and it is those sections that I found the most thrilling. Stef Penney’s book is huge; in length, in distances crossed, in ideas, in drama. Her elegant prose is a joy to read. Stretching from 1883 to 1948, it is not a novel of one thing only; not a portrait of a time, not a love story, not a cultural exploration, not an adventure story but all these things together, making it, above all, an excellent read. ~ Sarah Broadhurst A Piece of Passion from the Jane Wood, Publisher, Quercus: Dear Reader, I hope you’re wrapped up warm. Within these pages are driving blizzards, weeping glaciers and a sea frozen into concrete – all conjured so realistically that you may find your breath misting in front of you as you read. Stef Penney’s power to create a world remote in time and place that feels as real as the book you are holding is unparalleled, and in Under a Pole Star she outdoes even her stunning achievements in The Tenderness of Wolves.Although this book has a cold setting, it has a warm heart. I fell completely in love with clever, wry Flora Mackie and her determination to be an Arctic explorer. As she overcomes all obstacles to be seen as a real scientist and a true leader, I hope you will be as swept up in her adventures and her life-changing love affair as I was.Under a Pole Star is a truly epic story that will stay with you long after you read it. Enjoy the journey. The Costa Judges say: ‘A novel of huge scope with a tremendous sense of period and place.’
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | September 2017 Book of the Month Shortlisted for the CWA John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger 2017. Ooh, this truly is a fabulously captivating and unpredictable tale, and it kept me clinging to the very edge of my seat. Annie’s mother is a serial killer, Annie informs on her mother and we hear her story as she attempts to deal with her new foster family and the approaching trial. Immediately from the start this feels different, my mind flashed onto high alert setting and remained there for the entire story. Annie's name is changed to Milly and she tells her own tale, speaking in short, sharp, powerful sentences. I felt her confusion, loneliness, and wanted to hug her as her thoughts tumbled in limbo. Her feelings wormed their way into my mind, making me think, making me question. Ali Land doesn't hold back, ‘Good Me, Bad Me’ is uncomfortable, powerful, provocative, and an absolute knockout. ~ Liz Robinson
August 2017 Debut of the Month Provocative and stimulating, this debut crime thriller set in Canada, slams with impact. Two detectives begin an investigation into the death of a man who may have been involved in the Srebrenica massacre during the Bosnian war in 1995. Ausma Zehanat Khan holds a PhD in International Human Rights Law with a research specialisation in military intervention and war crimes in the Balkans, her experience and knowledge sets the tone of the novel as she takes fact and blends in fiction. It did take me a little time to settle into the story, and I appreciated the setting of the background of the Canadian police unit and politics. Each chapter is headed by a compelling, sometimes heartbreaking quotation which is explained in the notes. The story slowly grows and gathers pace, creating an intricate, intriguing moving jigsaw of pieces. The most striking part of the story for me, was when the past began to speak, I found myself flinching and yet I couldn't turn away. ‘The Unquiet Dead’ is quite simply, as fascinating as it is a challenging read. ~ Liz Robinson
An enjoyable yet penetrating read, one that can lull you into a false sense of security before it jabs and stings at your awareness. A mystery sits centre stage, yet there is much more on offer here than may first appear. Set in the 60’s, the fabulous descriptive detailing ensures you are set firmly not only in the place, but also the time. This story feels like a tapestry of different threads that are slowly twisting together to create one intense and vibrant picture. There is a subtlety at play here, the story can float in different directions before it blasts your thoughts aside in a hit of raw, flinch-inducing reality. I loved the echoes of disappointment and hope that brought ‘Miss Treadway and the Field of Stars’ to life, this really is a rather lovely and engaging read. ~ Liz Robinson