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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.
A heartrending love story. An ode to vinyl. A poignant evocation of a community of shopkeepers in the late eighties. Like the music beloved by its protagonist, this pitch-perfect novel has an ineffable power to uplift the soul. At the heart of the story - and of run-down Unity Street - is Frank, steadfastly selling vinyl (no cassettes, and definitely no CDs) from his decaying shop: “With vinyl, you couldn’t just sit there like a lemon. You had to GET UP OFF YOUR ARSE and TAKE PART”. The polar opposite of Black Books’s Bernard Black, Frank is one of life’s altruists. He “knew what people needed even when they didn't know it themselves”. But, while his music recommendations transform and heal the loves of countless customers, Frank has neglected to partake in his own life. That is, until a well-dressed woman wearing a distinctive pea-green coat faints outside his shop. Ilse Brauchmann radiates movie-star magnetism, and Frank immediately falls for her, as does pretty much everyone on Unity Street. Ilse sets Frank’s heart-a-pounding, and his nerves-a-tingling, but his past pains (particularly his relationship with his music-obsessed mother) have left him emotionally impotent, and he’s at risk of losing his once-in-a-blue-moon chance to truly take part in life. The groove of this gloriously life-affirming novel gets under the skin and lingers long after the final sentence has been savoured. It’s a newly-heard riff you can’t get out of your head, and the favourite album you’ll return to in times of need. I loved it. ~ Joanne Owen
The party is where it all unravels and where the dark secret between rich, aristocratic Ben and poor, middle-class Martin is exposed. We are kept very much in the dark about the secret until nearly the end of the book. The story is set in different time zones and locations. We start with Martin being questioned by the police just after the party. We flick to school and university days. We come back to Martin’s wife Lucy’s diary she is told to keep in the psychiatric unit. We move to the party itself and so on as the mystery builds and the two young lives are mapped out. Martin plots his way into Ben’s life with care until the perfect opportunity arrives and Ben is suddenly very much in Martin’s debt. So the friendship builds throughout their young lives, careers and wives, they are ‘best friends’ until suddenly they are not. The message is very much “If you’re lucky enough to be born ‘into it’ you are made, if you are not then you are wasting your life trying to break in”. This is dark stuff. All the way through doom hangs over the pages. Will Martin get his revenge? In an elegant read you’ll be hooked finding out. ~ Sarah Broadhurst July 2017 Book of the Month.
Poignant, moving and funny, I chuckled my way through this delightful (but no longer secret) diary from the rather lovable Hendrik Groen. Hendrik has reached the age where his address book is depressingly empty and his life has become an endless string of funerals and conversations concerning bowel movements, the latest list of ailments and euthanasia. The care home he lives in is like a waiting room for death and so in an effort to keep his own sanity he decides to write his memoir. He intends to record it all, the mystery of the fish murderer, the suspicious activities being carried out by those who run the establishment and last but by no means least the happenings of THE-OLD-BUT-NOT-DEAD club. Hendrik is an endearing character who I very much enjoyed spending time with in this gentle read that left me feeling a little sad but hopeful. Snippets of the life he lived and what remains of it filter in throughout the book and have a greater sense of poignancy as they merge in with the everyday happenings of the here and now. When we are old we are still very much the person we have always been, hopefully reading this will remind us all that behind each and every elderly person lies a story. ~ Shelley Fallows Sarah Broadhurst's view... An old people's home in the Netherlands is the setting for this satire but it could be anywhere except for the small amount of political references. But Margaret Thatcher and Nelson Mandela's deaths are commented upon too. With a vast cast of residents and all kinds of worries and problems we concentrate mainly on a group of friends who form the 'old-but-not-dead club' where each member organises an outing. They do more than most old people ever think of: take a cookery lesson, wine-tasting, painting, synchronized swimming, tai chi, bowls, golf and such. Hanging over the home is the threat of renovation, therefore change. Our narrator is determined to get sight of the regulations and decides to challenge the board. Solicitors become involved. His three closest friends have a dramatic and sad year which is sensitively portrayed. The action takes place over that year and is written in diary form. Personally I feel that if you are involved with the elderly you might find this all a bit disturbing despite it's amusing style. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
June 2017 Book of the Month. Brimming with stunning writing and historical illuminations, this captivates the heart and enlightens the mind. It’s 1838 in pre-Civil War America, and the Ohio River snakes between the free states of the North, and the slave states of the South. Twenty-two-year-old May is her cousin Comfort’s “seamstress, dresser, and trunk packer. And a hundred other things as well” when the steamboat they’re on sinks. While actress Comfort is taken in by wealthy abolitionist Flora Howard, and hired to give speeches for her cause, there's no role for May. But being “quite independent in spirit”, as Flora describes her, and an exceptionally skilled seamstress, May finds work with Hugo and Helena's Floating Theatre, a fabulously evoked flatboat that travels up and down the river, coasting the border between the North and South.What follows is the captivating account of a young woman's serpentine navigation of ghosts from her past, secrets, betrayal, and love, at great personal risk, in a land split by slavery. Dazzling, involving, and immensely memorable, I was swept away by the flow of this remarkable novel. A 'Piece of Passion' from the Publisher... ‘A compelling, beautiful and passionate novel The Floating Theatre completely swept me away. With great skill Martha Conway immerses her readers in a time of great turmoil, skilfully weaving sumptuous historical detail into a brilliant narrative peopled with characters that in 1830s United States could only ever find a home on a theatrical riverboat sailing the country’s North-South divide. And in May Bedloe she creates a heroine whose quiet strength and inquisitive nature makes for a page-turning read. A powerful, moving novel about compromise, courage, friendship and love, and one woman’s struggle to find her way in a world riddled with danger, The Floating Theatre is a story I knew I had to publish as soon as I read it. I hope you love this as much as I do.’ ~ Eleanor Dryden, Editor, Zaffre
Finch, the last VanderMeer that I read, was referred to as ‘fungal noir’, a wonderful phrase. With that in mind Borne could be described as a post-apocalyptic thriller with squishy bits, or possible human drama with tentacles. Scavenger Rachel finds a squid-like plant and takes it home where, in true Little Shop of Horrors style, it grows. It is not a plant; it is not a child; it is Borne. In a ruined and decaying city where genetically engineered ‘biotech’ provides everything from security to medicines to rampaging monsters, Rachel attempts to raise and educate Borne and help him become a person. All she has to do is convince her secretive and paranoid lover, avoid the enigmatic magician, find enough food and salvaged scraps to survive and hide from the giant bear which is destroying the city. Told in a bold, clear voice, with humour, love and no small amount of graphic violence, Borne is a stunning book. Secrets, twists and unreliable memories keep Rachel and the reader on their toes, and the dilemma of raising a child who might be a monster, is compelling. In that sense this is truly a human drama of how far the bonds of love will stretch in adversity. Rachel is an excellent narrator and I really enjoyed her no-nonsense tone, upbeat despite the atrocities around her. A real survivor’s tale and a masterpiece of ‘squishy’ sci-fi which I really enjoyed. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
June 2017 Debut of the Month. Winner of the Writers’ Guild Best First Novel Award 2017 - This gentle yet beautifully told story follows recently-widowed Thomas on a journey back to the India of his birth, where he rediscovers not only himself but also the Bureau of Second Chances. Thomas and his wife Nimmy, had planned to retire together in the small fishing village of Kerala but life doesn’t quite go to plan when Cancer takes Nimmy from him. After a lifetime in London, Thomas returns to their homeland alone and soon begins to reacquaint himself with the traditions and life he left behind. When a friend in need asks him to help run his Optical Store, Thomas soon suspects that there is certainly more at work than meets the eye in the store. For the efficient and trusted assistant Rani is also providing lonely men and women the opportunity for a second chance in life and love. Before long Thomas is discovering himself in a way he hasn’t dared before and begins to hope that life may still yet hold a few surprises and the chance of happiness for him again too. Sheena Kalayil paints a wonderfully atmospheric picture of life in India and captures her characters perfectly so that I became invested in their stories and longed for them to find the happy ending they so deserved. ~ Shelley Fallows
June 2017 Debut of the Month. A thought-provoking and wittily pointed debut, about the life and loves of the Plumb family. There are four siblings at the centre of this novel, Leo causes uproar when a chunk of their common nest egg is syphoned off for him. A tale of love, hate and everything inbetween, complicated layers are peeled away, revealing a family in turmoil. There were times I almost felt as though I was eavesdropping, hearing a particularly juicy piece of gossip, could it possibly be true! The tale occasionally slips and slides away from the siblings, to other characters, the links combine to create moments of stillness and thought, or expose and cause mayhem. Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney writes with eloquence, she has a beautifully light touch as she captures moods and feelings and sets them free in your mind, to flicker and provoke. ‘The Nest’ is a gorgeously expressive and captivating read and I highly recommend making room for it on your bookshelf.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | June 2017 Book of the Month. Wow! This is a cracking psychological thriller. Told in first person from two different viewpoints it causes you to question the reliability of both women. Smart, sensitive, talented Bo, always mothering, always looking to save someone and Alice, young, damaged and a drifter. The two meet at a writers retreat and a spark sets off an unexpected chain of events that will change the lives of both women. Alice is in awe of the successful author and in turn something in Alice’s writing captures Bo’s attention. The two embark on an intense, complex relationship which soon becomes obsessive and destructive. I was completely swept up in the brilliance of Sarah’s carefully constructed plot that had me constantly questioning the outcome and eagerly turning the page. The beautifully atmospheric setting of the Lake District and bustling, bohemian Brighton echo the different characters at the heart of this story. It was a chilling read, expertly crafted and difficult to put down. ~ Shelley Fallows Click here to read a Q&A with this author.
June 2017 Debut of the Month. A dazzling debut about a fostered autistic girl’s poignant search for her Forever Home, and her acute need to be needed. Truly a gem that will satiate an abundance of literary tastes, this is surely set to become a must-read sensation. Ginny Moon is almost fourteen, and has autism. After years of neglect and abuse at the hands of her Birth Mother, followed by troubled spells with a succession of foster families, she’s now much more settled with her Forever Parents, Maura, and Brian. But something is playing on Ginny's mind. Really playing on it. Someone needs her, much more than Maura, Brian and new Baby Wendy do, and so Ginny becomes desperate to find her Birth Mother so she can take care of the Baby Doll she left in a suitcase in her mother’s apartment all those years ago. Ginny will do anything to reach her goal - lie, scheme, steal, set up her own kidnapping. There’s tremendous tension, shock, horror and heartache, and you feel desperately for both Ginny and her Forever Parents, to whom the search feels like rejection. Ginny's journey will break your heart, but it will also heal it, for there are many moments of love and kindness along the way, and humour too. Ginny’s Michael Jackson obsession brought many smiles, as did Larry, her adorable classmate and not-so-secret admirer. While Ginny’s worldview is uniquely her own, we can all identify with her deep-rooted desire to be needed. Her unforgettable voice is conjured with tender authenticity, and the shifting, increasingly on-the-edge family dynamics are incisively evoked. This is a wondrous page-turner, with all the appeal of books such as The Curious Incident of The Dog in the Night-time and The Rosie Project. ~ Joanne Owen
Oh what a thrilling and gloriously dramatic tale this is! A violent attack on a parent takes place within the grounds of a private school in Brighton, just days later, Cece moves into the area, her two youngest start at the school, and she becomes friends with the very women the police suspect of the crime. Each chapter is headed by one of the women, each story told in the first person, ebbing and flowing between time periods. Within a short time I didn't have to look to see who was heading each chapter, each voice is absolutely individual and distinctive. I became so caught up in the story, I didn't want to miss a single sentence or word, this really is very clever, compelling writing indeed. I truly love reading Dorothy Koomson’s novels, I think it’s her ability to look beyond the obvious, to seek out hidden feelings, to look underneath our uppermost thoughts, to what really lies within our hearts and minds. As it explores relationships and exposes lies and secrets, ‘The Friend’ reveals itself to be a striking and deliciously entertaining read.
June 2017 Debut of the Month. Right from the start we realise this is a Montague/Capulet situation; a feud between families, in this case from Crete, that spills blood only here our Juliet (Poppy) lives and has a child. It is this London born girl, Angelika, who goes in search of her past and unearths the tragic tale which she shares with us. She is due to get married and would like her estranged family at her wedding. Her mother left Crete before Angie was born and has severed herself from her previous life. Why? Angie finds her grandmother, aunts and uncles and is very slowly told of the atrocities of the Nazi occupation, civil war and then the junta. Graphic, bloody and horrific much is described in gory detail. Families are torn apart. Angie has problems of her own. As her wedding day draws close so the revenge and secrets of the two families come poring out. We race to the end with our hearts thumping. Full of local colour and tradition this is a little slow to start but certainly builds to unexpected conclusions. Terrific stuff. ~ Sarah Broadhurst Click here to view all of the eBook formats for this title.
A most unexpected, if gripping thriller from the author of the much-admired Last Policeman trilogy. The book takes place in an America where the Civil War came to a different conclusion and agreements were fudged to divide the country into two zones, in one of which slavery is still tolerated, while in the North a compromised state of affairs reigns in which a black slave catcher becomes the involuntary hero of the proceedings where he has to smuggle himself behind southern lines to investigate a fiendish plot which could well involve his employers and the so-called liberal North. Intricate, at times breath-stopping, this is a hell of a thriller and one which although set in a dystopian imagined world remains so believable. Will Victor prevail or is he being manipulated and what secrets are kept behind the borderline and the omnous plantations and factories? Answers are provided and they are anything but reassuring. A thriller that dares to ask questions. ~ Maxim Jakubowski Sarah Broadhurst's view... The premise is that four southern states in America did not abolish slavery and formed a republic within the USA. Tightly controlled borders exist and escaped slaves are ruthlessly hunted down. Our protagonist is an escaped slave who tracks down his own in exchange for his “liberty”. He is very good at what he does and goes under many different names. This exciting story centres on a hunt to find Jackdaw, only our hero realises something is slightly off kilter. A relationship develops between him and a white girl with a mixed-race son and so some nice ambiguities are introduced. There is some heavy secret hanging over our hero and as the tale progresses we are never sure if he is good or not. A lot of deal making and double crossing occurs between a group helping slaves, “the underground airlines”, and the marshals, leaving us uncertain as to whom the goodies and baddies are. Then there is an extra twist. Brilliant. A good story on all levels. ~ Sarah Broadhurst