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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.
In a Nutshell: It takes courage for the show to go on Highs, lows, love and laughter - this big-hearted circus-set debut has it all. Siblings Finch and Birdie Franconi are high-flying trapeze artists in their family circus school. They’re fearless in flight, and also in fashion. Their no-nonsense attitude and endlessly inventive ensembles of bright blazers, tutus, paisley print, polka print and outlandish accessories certainly make them stand-out at school, and also attracts the attention of brainy new boy Hector. Reluctant at first, Finch agrees to teach seemingly hapless Hector circus skills, but when Birdie has an accident on the trapeze, his world begins to unravel. Finch feels fear for the first time, and it falls to Hector to show him that the show must go on. Alongside the tension and turmoil around Birdie’s condition, and the radiant razzle-dazzle of the circus, there’s a magnificent (if rocky-roaded) romance, and many words of wisdom come courtesy of Birdie’s blog posts: “You can’t control everything. That’s where courage comes in; sometimes you have to just go for it”. Complex questions are put under the spotlight as the main characters try to navigate their way in the world, wondering who they are, who they should be, how they fit in, and these big issues are all explored with clarity, humour and a whole of lot of heart beneath Franconi’s exhilarating Big Top.
In a Nutshell: Young carers learn to live for today Tender in both name and tone, this involving debut tackles tough themes with heart-wrenching honesty. Marty’s mum struggles to get out of bed, while for Marty it’s the going to bed that’s the problem, “because that’s when the thinking starts… Give me the mornings anytime. Give me the light”. Marty’s life was on track until his dad died, but he’s now all but dropped out of school and is terrified of what might happen if the social workers knew how ill his mum has become. But it’s the social workers who give him a leaflet about a young carers group, which is where he meets Daisy… Daisy has problems of her own. Her beloved brother Harry has debilitating muscular dystrophy. During one young carers meeting, Daisy is passionate about wanting to see the world, which seems impossible to Marty. His world is poorer and smaller. It’s confined to his estate and revolves around his mum. But, while they come from different worlds, they’re united by that fact that they both feel powerless when it comes to what matters most. Daisy can’t make Harry well, and Marty can’t bring back his dad or fix his mum. Consequently, they find solace - and more - in each other. Honest on the realities of mental illness, grief and how it feels to be a teen carer, this truly touching read shines a bright light of love and hope through Daisy and Marty’s darkest days.
In a Nutshell: Be Your Best “Be bold. Be brave. Be beautiful. Be brilliant. Be (your) best”. So resolves main character Jade in this timely, inspirational novel that will surely motivate many young women to do the same. Talented collage artist Jade is a bright teen with her eyes wide open to the world. She wants to learn Spanish “to give myself a way out. A way in. Because language can take you places”, and she has a scholarship to attend a mostly-white private school. While this is a great achievement and will open doors for her, Jade is acutely aware of how different she is from her classmates, not only because she’s black but also “because their mothers are the kind of people who hire housekeepers, and my mother is the kind of person who works as one”. Initially reluctant to accept a place on a programme for “at-risk” girls (she’s fed up of being labeled as someone who needs help), Jade takes it because “girls like me, with coal skin and hula-hoop hips, whose mommas barely make enough money to keep food in the house, have to take opportunities every chance we get”. Maxine, her mentor, takes her out to eat and buys her art books, but clued-up Jade is pretty sure that flaky Maxine could do with learning some life lessons herself, plus she creates some rifts between Jade and her mom. In fact, everywhere she turns, Jade encounters conflict, leading her to wonder “if a black girl’s life is only about being stitched together and coming undone…I wonder if there’s ever a way for a girl like me to feel whole”. But one thing’s for sure, Jade’s not going to let anything distract her from being a success and making a difference. At once moving and motivational, this incisive novel tackles issues of race, class and identity with power and depth, and Jade is one of those extraordinary characters you’d love to meet in real life - we could all learn a lot from Jade. ~ Joanne Owen
An emotionally tough read that tells a story which must not be forgotten. Based on the lives of two of the central characters, Sophia and Misha, it centres on an orphanage in the Warsaw ghetto during the Second World War and of the work of Dr Janusz Korezak, the Good Doctor of the title. The story begins in 1937 when Poland is independent. The anti-Jewish bigotry festering in fascist Germany is slowly spreading throughout Central Europe but life is still pleasant in Warsaw. Misha and Sophia are in love. There is a charming chapter when, in July 1939, the children from Korezak’s orphanage are taken to the country for a month of games and fresh air; an idyllic time and a poignant contrast to the horror to come. I do not need to tell you what happens, just to mention the word Treblinka is enough. Getting there in August 1942 is harrowing yet compulsive reading as we follow the adventures of Misha and Sophia and indeed the wonderful Dr Korezak. There is a postscript about the site today where a large stone monolith commemorates the awful events carried out there. It is surrounded by smaller stones each representing a village, town or city from which the Jews and Romanies were taken. Only one stone has the one word, Korezak.
Shortlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize 2018 | Category Winner for the Costa Book Awards 2017, First Novel Award | It is the standard reply when people ask, “How are you?” ....you say “I’m fine.” Well, Eleanor is most definitely not fine and has not been since she was 10 years old. Shifted from one foster home to another, she does eventually go to university where she ends up in an abusive relationship. On graduation she gets a job in the accounts department of a graphic designer and there she is when we meet her, aged 31 and desperately lonely. Eleanor is on the spectrum with her life overshadowed by some dreadful childhood tragedy which has left her face badly scarred. She keeps her head down at work and spends the weekends with two bottles of vodka. She speaks to her mother on the telephone on a Wednesday and dreads the call. We are uncertain as to whether her mother is in prison or an asylum. Life ticks by until her works’ computer needs attention and enter one geeky IT man. How he and others break down her barriers is beautifully done. Very slowly we learn more about Eleanor and her past. Very slowly a future develops but once the geek (Raymond) arrives the novel is by no means slow. It becomes a page-turning, compulsive read of great charm.
An engaging and charmingly bittersweet slice of fiction set during the Second World War. In a Kent village during 1940, the vicar closes the choir, as the ladies of the village start their own choir, the small rebellion creates a chain reaction within their hearts and minds. The war lurks in the background, it’s presence undeniable, yet this tale almost feels timeless. The story is told in a variety of methods, from journals, diaries and letters, to newspaper articles, notices and telegrams. The author Jennifer Ryan creates a beautiful balance in this tale, gentle humour sizzles alongside slicing reality, and a spoonful of love helps proceedings along very nicely. We are allowed to see into the souls of the characters, and yet the gaps are filled in by the telling observations of others. Soft and gentle, yet cutting and knowing, ‘The Chilbury Ladies’s Choir’ is an absolutely gorgeous debut. ~ Liz Robinson
February 2018 Debut of the Month. Oh my word, this is an absolutely cracking psychological thriller. Anna is unable to leave her house, she views the world from her window and connects with it on her laptop, when she witnesses a horrific incident in a neighbouring house, turmoil awaits. The first few pages set me on edge, and I remained on high alert throughout the story, doubting and questioning my own reasoning. Even if you suspect, you can’t be confident, and there are plenty of shocks and surprises lying in wait. Set over a few weeks, the short chapters whipped into my consciousness, yet the story reveals itself gradually. A. J. Flynn allows the tension to build, slowly, torturously, and exquisitely. Anna tells her own story, wounded herself, can she be trusted? When the revelations came, they spilled from the page and slapped my thoughts. So clever and focused, yet utterly mind-bending, ‘The Woman in the Window’ is a heart-hammering read and I highly recommend stepping into Anna’s world.
A wonderfully distinctive, intense, and piercing read. In 2014 a young woman Arla Macleod kills her family, later, as investigative journalist Scott King begins to unravel the story with podcasts on the internet, danger steps into view and stalks ever closer. The second in this fresh and different series takes a short step back in time from the first, while you can certainly read this as a standalone, I do recommend beginning with Six Stories. Matt Wesolowski excels in creating individual voices, each podcast sounded as clearly as a bell tone in my mind. I could hear each character speak, see them gesturing, I looked into their eyes and beyond, and they demanded my attention. A featherlight connection to Arla is created, which strengthens with each podcast. As the countdown to answers continued, my thoughts writhed on a jagged cliff edge, and there was only one way down. Hydra provokes thoughts and rattles feelings, creating an original and enthralling read, highly recommended. ~ Liz Robinson
January 2018 Book of the Month Abundant in moving insights into identity and memory, this charming slice of humanity is as elegantly formed and sweetly satisfying as the Battenberg cake depicted on its cover. Eighty-four-year-old Florence (Flo to her best friend Elsie) has fallen in her flat and, as she awaits help, wondering whether she’s “reached the end of her story”, her musings reveal a long-buried secret. “Everyone’s life has a secret, something they never talk about,” she remarks. “It’s what you do with your secret that really matters”, and what Elsie does with hers is determined by the unlikely reappearance of a man from her and Elsie’s past. Florence’s reflections on she how hasn’t done enough with her life, how life takes you down paths you hadn’t intended to wander, are wholly heartrending. She wanted to be a scientist, to devise a world-changing invention, but instead she and Elsie ended up in a factory for the entirety of their working lives. While there’s loss and sadness as the twisting tale unfolds, this is also a tonic for the soul - upliftingly wistful, poignantly funny, and the relationship between Flo and Elsie is wonderful. At once a bittersweet ode to the elderly and the passing of time, and a compelling mystery, this proves that sometimes it’s entirely appropriate to judge a book by its cover. I adored it.
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 dicussed. 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.
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