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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.
Katie Hale is our January 2020 Debut Author of the Month. Click to find out more about Katie on our blog. Oh… my… word, this is one fabulous debut! I found a deceptively simple, and stark dystopian foray into a world blighted by bombs and sickness. Monster is completely alone until one day she finds a child. She becomes mother and passes on her knowledge, but are her mothering skills being received in the way she is expecting them to be? Told in the first person, Katie Hale has created short chapters where thoughts scatter, bounce, zigzag. I filed away feelings and emotions as I read, each within touching distance, lying in wait to prod and provoke. This feels honest, as though looking at a future just within grasp, or back to a history that has already happened. The feelings are raw, sometimes painful, yet relatable and believable. I found the premise of this novel absolutely fascinating, I explored interpretation of meaning, motherhood, and thoughts on the basic cycle of life. ‘My Name is Monster’ is poignant, moving and wonderfully different, it is also incredibly intimate, readable and surprisingly beautiful, I adored it. 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.
Our January 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A complete joy of a debut, bright, observational and incredibly intimate, this book has lodged itself in my heart. Take twelve independent yet linked stories over twelve months about people who are connected to a London park community. The focus changes with each month, allowing individual stories to shine, yet they add up to a vibrantly wonderful whole. Gemma Reeves is beautifully eloquent, she has the ability with a few words, to give you admittance to someone’s soul. While she creates penetrating access to each person, there isn’t always a conclusion, instead life carries on, suggesting potential pathways. I fell in love with this powerfully blended infusion of life. The variety of characters, in age, personality, and beliefs crackle with energy. A new character might wander in for a few moments and then star in the next tale. Some connections may be obvious and linger, others lightly touch before moving on. The stories themselves tug at heartstrings and encourage thoughts to roam, the ending is simply divine and brought tears to my eyes. Thought-provoking and emotionally intelligent, Victoria Park slips with glorious ease onto our LoveReading Star Books list and is a Liz Pick of the Month, it really is very special indeed.
Our October 2020 Book Club Recommendation. Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. An absolutely charming and thoroughly entertaining mystery debut starring four septuagenarians. A real-life murder tickles the detective fancy of certain members from a well-to-do retirement village. Led by Elizabeth they sneakily make themselves indispensable to the investigating officers. I’m already working out who I would cast as Elizabeth, Joyce, Ibrahim, and Ron if this was made into a TV series. Each character in this amusing (yes it is charming and amusing even with a murder to solve) story is perfectly placed. There is a sense of ease, an inviting warmth, and a hint of old-fashioned, yet this story is actually bang up-to-date. A sharp edge to observations slices through any thoughts of cosy, while there is a gentle poking of fun at middle England. Richard Osman has created a wonderfully readable story that is the perfect introduction to a new series. I can't wait to see what comes next! The Thursday Murder Club has waltzed its way into my heart and the LoveReading Star Books list - highly recommended.
“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.
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.
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. Explore our '80+ Books That Deliver a Hug' listicle for more feel-good or uplifting books.
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.
Often eye-opening and heart-wrenching, always elegant and absorbing, Hafsa Zayyan’s We Are All Birds of Uganda is an outstanding debut that crosses continents, cultures and generations. Remarkable in its exploration of identity, family bonds, racism, colourism and the phenomenon of twice migration through characters who’ve moved from South Asia, to East Africa, to Europe, I read Sameer’s story in one sitting, utterly engrossed by his awakening from a state of unrest to finding new purpose as he redefines the nature of success. At 26, Leicester-born Cambridge graduate Sameer is flying high as a lawyer in London, and on track to fast track it to partner when he’s offered a post in Singapore. Life seems sweet, except for fearing what his parents will think of the move, the “filling a quota” remark made by a colleague, and a bullying new boss who excludes him from a social event because “you lot don’t drink”. Then comes news that one of his best friends since childhood has been left in a coma after a vicious attack, and Sameer begins to question everything - who he is, what he’s doing with his life, where he wants to be. Skipping back to 1945, we follow another Asian Ugandan voice via Hasan’s heartfelt letters to his deceased first wife. Through these we see colonialism through Hasan’s eyes. We read how the British “have crept up on us, unwittingly seeped through our skin and into our bones, and settled comfortably inside each of us like veins”, how they excluded Hasan from their Sports Club, and then comes the rise of anti-colonialism, a push for Ugandan independence, hostility towards and legislation against Asian Ugandans: “We are not natives and we are not Europeans.” Back in Sameer’s narrative, wealthy Mr Shah, a family friend, speaks of the betrayal of “being turfed out of the country in which you were born, the only country you’ve ever known, like you’re no one, like you’re nothing.” With his move to Singapore looming, Sameer decides to visit Mr Shah in Uganda to find out more about his family history, with monumental effects. Emotionally rich and deeply resonant, it’s no wonder this gem co-won the inaugural Merky Books New Writers' Prize.
From the author of the divinely dark The Binding and several acclaimed novels for young adults, Bridget Collins’s The Betrayals murmurs with menace and the mystery of the grand jeu, an arcane intellectual game that melds music, maths, poetry and philosophy. The novel’s world - at once familiar and strange - is conjured with crystalline clarity and populated by a cast of distinctly charismatic characters. Set in an unnamed disintegrating European country in the 1930s, the story begins when thirty-two-year-old Leo is removed from his post as Minister for Culture and exiled to his former academy, the exclusive Montverre. Here the nation’s cleverest are schooled in the art of the grand jeu, and here Leo is forced to face tragedy from his past as he forms an unsettling connection with the academy’s new female Magister Ludi. Part homage to Hermann Hesse’s The Glass Bead Game, this boasts a compellingly jolting plot that will keep readers on their toes, and a delicious dénouement - it’s a delight for lovers of literary conundrums. Find out more about Bridget Collins in our 'Putting Authors in the Picture' blog!
Our December 2020 Book Club Recommendation Set in a future that feels as though it really could be just around the corner, this eloquent, intense, and chilling novel merges literary psychological thriller with dystopian apocalyptic fiction. A family from New York rent a luxurious and peaceful getaway, when the owners of the house return in a panic due to a power outage in the city which has also knocked out the TV and internet at the home, an uneasy truce settles. Whilst huge in scope, this is actually an achingly intimate novel and it creates an atmosphere that slid into my thoughts and thoroughly ruffled my equilibrium. Rumaan Alam sets the scene with a thoroughness that is almost poetic as he points out the ridiculous and highlights the irrelevant. The characters are almost touchable, awkward moments hum with intensity, points are made, thoughts shuffle. This LoveReading Star Book doesn’t shriek or clamour, answers lie hidden, which somehow makes the story even more unnerving. Touching family, race, and human nature in the most precarious of moments, Leave The World Behind is an incredibly penetrating and surprising read.
This really is the most gorgeous read, it’s poignant, almost unassuming and gentle, yet capable of capturing and causing emotions to expand and explore. It’s 1977 and Calista joins a film set to act as interpreter for Hollywood director Billy Wilder. As Calista begins to experience the wider world, Wilder is aging and his influence is subsiding. Two tales are on offer here, the coming of age and waning star stories entwine and flow as one. Some Like It Hot, directed by Wilder is one of my all-time favourite films, so I was intrigued by the premise of this blend of fact and fiction. Jonathan Coe delves into the life of this influential and talented director, the acknowledgements and sources establish his research and recognise the specific incidents and quotations from Wilder. While the director is fascinating and absolutely compelling, it is Calista, as she remembers her past and looks to her future who allowed my thoughts to reach out and settle with new awareness. I really wasn’t expecting the last line, and it landed with exquisite delicacy and made me cry. I have quite fallen in love with Mr Wilder and Me, it sits as both a Liz Pick of the Month and LoveReading Star Book too.
Spiralling down into darkness this fascinating and compelling historical novel is based on the true story of an inmate of Bethlam Royal Hospital (Bedlam) between 1800 to 1815. James Norris an American, was restrained, chained to a bar and confined in isolation for more than ten years, here Emily Bullock takes a look at possibilities and makes them fly. James tells his own tale, the words slinking, twisting, disappearing into the fog of his memory and thoughts. Bedlam broods its way through the centre of this story, with other inmates and the keepers affecting the atmosphere. As James visits the past in his mind, his relationship, role as seaman, and even Fletcher Christian, famous for his part in the mutiny on the Bounty all entwine to explain the man James has become. The writing sparked vivid details in my minds eye, and although my heart physically ached at times, there are also moments of hope to be found within the pages. Inside the Beautiful Inside is a rather special book, it opens a door and shines a penetrating light of awareness into the shadows of history. Highly recommended.
Our November 2020 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. A powerful, provocative, and darkly stunning debut. This is a book that tore my heart into pieces while simultaneously showing me the wonder of love and imagination. Romilly’s childhood is one of fame and isolation when her father includes her as the main character in his books for children. While the world believes that the books lead you on a treasure hunt, a more private and heartbreaking journey awaits Romilly. This isn’t an easy read, but it is a beautiful one. Polly Crosby somehow balances some incredibly difficult issues with a sense of wonder, she really does have the most eloquent pen. The prologue has huge impact, sweet, sharp, and bitter notes struck my awareness, and I reread the words before allowing them full access into my thoughts. I initially felt as though I was stepping into a half remembered mysterious photograph. As bites of reality began to appear, they caused a mental and physical ache for all that was lost and uneasy. As the ending settled and I sat back and contemplated, I concluded that it was the most pure and perfect conclusion. Romilly is so special, she has taken up residence inside my thoughts, and she is more than welcome to spend time there. The Illustrated Child is a vibrantly unique and thought-provoking read, it has been included as one of our LoveReading Star Books, and will sit as one of my favourite novels of the year.
Be prepared for a reading maelstrom to suck you in whole when you open this LoveReading Star Book. Set in 1634 a boat leaves the East Indies with a detective duo on board. Although one is locked up and facing execution, their skills are very much needed when the voyage is beset by a terrible forewarning. Stuart Turton’s debut picked up the Costa First Novel Award Winner for 2018. The Devil and the Dark Water is just as fabulous and will be going straight onto my list of favourite books this year. It is the perfect novel to read as the nights are drawing in, the story built itself into a reality, I was there, bearing witness. Surprises wait in store, strange beings stalk the decks, and several locked room/ship mysteries just beg to be solved. My thoughts were broken open, and exploded one way then the other as I sought answers. All of the characters are fascinating in their own unique way and while I initially thought I was meeting a Holmes and Watson pair, I quickly realised they were very much their own men. The Devil and the Dark Water crosses genres in the most wonderfully entertaining way and sails straight onto my list of Liz Picks of the Month. I’ll be standing and applauding this one!