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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.
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.'
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. Visit our 'Women's Words - 60+ works of feminist-minded fiction' to explore our collection of feminist-minded fiction from around the world, and across centuries.
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.
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
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.’
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
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
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
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.
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. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
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
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