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Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2006.This review is provided by bookgroup.info.We chose this book at our last meeting and I picked it up when my bookgroup colleagues had gone intending to read a few pages before I went to sleep. I finally put it down at 3am. Such is the power of the writing in this second novel by M J Hyland. The story concerns an eleven-year-old boy, John Egan, (donâ€™t be put off as I was initially, itâ€™s not jumping on the Curious Incident bandwagon) who is too tall for his age and as fragile as a piece of glass. He relates a year of his life in which the family moves from the relative comfort of his grannyâ€™s house in rural Wexford, to a squalid high-rise in Dublin. This is a boy with only one real friend, and too much in the company of adults. The relationship between John, his parents and his grandmother is uneasy. John feels disconnected but doesnâ€™t understand why. His out of work father, a â€œcouldâ€™ve beenâ€ academic procrastinates about entering university life, forcing the family to live with his mother, a mean-spirited woman who holds financial power over the family. His mother is on the edge, concerned about her strange son and wayward husband. When they fall out the move to Dublin tips her over. John suffers terribly at this time. Heâ€™s lost his only friend, his mother is depressed and on the brink of a breakdown and his father is in and out of work, gambling and consorting with prostitutes. The shocking denouement jolts the family into realising that their son needs help and we can only hope that they find redemption. M J Hyland really gets into the head of this boy. Written in spare, flattened prose, it is a sensory tour de force.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.The setting is Norfolk in the long hot summer of 2003. The Smart family are staying in a miserable cottage for the holidays while the war in Iraq rumbles in the background. The story is told in turn from the point of view of the four family members; Astrid a bright, video camera wielding, twelve year old girl; Magnus her seventeen year old brother, traumatised by the suicide of a bullied classmate for which he feels partly responsible; Eve the children’s mother, a writer with writer’s block, and Michael their lecherous, lecturer step-father. If it all sounds rather tediously familiar so far but don’t despair. Events take a turn when a mysterious blonde female stranger infiltrates their lives. But who is Amber? Eve supposes she’s one of Michael’s lovers. Michael supposes she’s come to interview Eve and the kids are just glad there’s someone else there to relieve the tedium. No-one challenges her appearance at the house and all four are seduced by her and ultimately forced to re-examine their lives. This is just the story. The book’s tour de force is Ali Smith’s use of language. She is clever, funny and completely unpretentious. I particularly like the (totally believable) voice of twelve year old Astrid:“They’re all asleep. Nobody knows she is awake. Nobody is any the wiser. Any the Wiser sounds like a character from ancient history. Astrid in the year 1003BC (Before Celebrity) goes to the woods where Any the Wiser………” and so it goes on as we enter Astrid’s stream of consciousness. This is the contemporary novel at its best - rich and satisfying.The Lovereading view...The engrossing tale of a middle-class family and the events that unfold when a stranger steps into their midst. Amber's arrival changes the family's lives dramatically as she quickly bonds with the Smarts, bewitching them all. Smith's writing is fantastic, capturing the voices of all the characters superbly, but especially that of the adolescent Astrid who steals the show. On the Orange Fiction Prize 2006 short list and utterly compelling.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.This book provokes strong reactions – some dislike the huge number of characters and ambiguous narrative. I loved it – for the wonderful characters, fresh language and sensitive feel. This quirky, powerful story may divide your group. Several narratives develop simultaneously and alternately, several characters develop and intertwine and several ages are evoked all of which add up to a complex and successful interweaving of lives and stories. Elderly Leo sits alone and isolated in his New York flat. He has lost all his family and friends. He is terrified of the strong possibility of dying alone, which prompts him to write out his details and planned funerary arrangements on a scrap of paper, to be carried at all times. Apart from occasional visits from equally elderly Bruno, who he contacts via tapping on the hot water pipes in the apartment block, or trips to a life drawing class to pose as a nude model, Leo is utterly alone. The solitude allows him to assess his life and the hand fate has dealt him and his tale of love, loss and survival is both unique and, I suspect, similar to many others of those who fled the Holocaust. Leo is a heartbreaking mix of pride, bravery, humour and pathos. As the daughter of a very elderly father, I felt both sadness and wonder at Leo’s struggles - the small significances, small details of a good man’s life and the tiny imprint he makes on this world.But this is only one narrative in The History of Love. Elsewhere in the novel, an obscure and fascinating book, also called ‘The History of Love’ is being translated by teenage Alma’s bereaved mother and the whole nature of creative writing is assessed in detail. Krauss’s novel has evoked passionate responses, including criticisms of the baffling narrative and ambitious cast. For me, this did not detract from the dazzling characterization and sheer range of people conjured up. Alma’s young brother Bird is a wonderful creation. Krauss’s superb writing both amazed and moved me and personally I would like to take Leo home, listen to his stories and cook him supper…but that’s another story.Sarah Broadhurst's view...Reviewed on Richard and Judy on 18 January 2006. This is the sort of book you will either love or hate, reactions can be pretty strong. Interestingly a girl at Penguin broke off her longstanding relationship once she had read it, so convinced was she by Nicole’s illustration of love. She knew her’s didn’t match the feelings she had just experienced in words, words that transmitted such truth to her heart. It says quite a lot about a book for it to have that sort of power. This is heartbreaking stuff.Comparison: Annie Proulx, Paul Auster, Michael Cunningham.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.Lynne Truss begins by thanking all the writers, editors and hundreds of members of the public who responded to articles in The Daily Telegraph, The Author and Writers' News and Truss writes that it was good to know that she was not alone in her zero tolerance to punctuation. There are a lot of them out there. Or should I say us? This book has made me realise that there are others just like me and that I too, am a stickler and have 'Punctuitis' (as I like to call it), albeit quite mildly. This is the whole point of the book. Either you get upset about punctuation or you don't. My entire family see my 'Punctuitis' as a sad, lonely sort of condition, brought on entirely by oneself and the hallmark of a petty, small minded and pedantic sort of person. That used to make me feel a bit sad. It's true, I'm not altogether happy that I am the sort of person who feels faint at greengrocers' signs and is moved to take a paintbrush to billboard hoardings and correct the wretchedly mis-punctuated film Two Weeks Notice. Why is there no apostrophe? If it were one week, then surely the missing item would have been spotted.Truss observes; "Either this will ring bells for you, or it won't." The rung bells are the important matters of redundant or missing apostrophes, meaningless commas and sprinklings of dots and dashes like an awful rash. In this world of plummeting standards the stickler is continually tormented. "The sight of the plural word "Book's" with an apostrophe in it will trigger a ghastly private emotional process similar to the stages of bereavement, though greatly accelerated." When words such as phenomena, media and cherubim are treated as singular, I feel rage building up inside. Truss offers some very practical advice for those suffering from more extreme forms of 'Punctuitis', such as; if you take hyphens seriously you will surely run mad and it's best to remember them only to avoid serious cases of letter collision. Also, never forget that a comma may become a life or death matter and the "yob's comma" is a well-known and well-documented affliction which appears to be spreading and may achieve pandemic status, if aggressive treatment is not applied. This book certainly did ring bells for me and I was transfixed, muttering agreement, sharing the small shocks and generally behaving very strangely from page one. My rational side knows that there are more important things in life and that I should observe the errors, maybe privately correct them and then just get over it. Alas, sticklers simply cannot do this. 'Punctuitis' has rendered us incapable, forever stuck in a routine of correction, locked at some stage of development, which cannot progress. Do not expect this book to help you to overcome your impatience with poor punctuation. It is not soothing, but instead offers a pro-active rallying cry to all sticklers. The fact that Eats, Shoots & Leaves has been a runaway success does not surprise me at all. The book's success is testament to the fact that there are an awful lot of us out there and we are getting angry. Truss has given us a voice and now is the time to use it - get tough, fight the crisis and adopt a zero tolerance to poor punctuation. Good for you, Lynne!Sarah Broadhurst's view...This witty, informative, delightful bestseller on punctuation comes into a neat little paperback with a pull-out sheet of commas for you to be able to correct public notices when you see the need! I think everyone should own a copy.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.THE LOST ART OF KEEPING SECRETS, set in 1954 - 1955 is more than a fluent and very enjoyable love story. Although Eva Rice fails to resuscitate a war ravaged country house, she describes an evolving generation to a T. Gleefully, but with compassion, she makes light work of the heavier-than-air predicament of the young. Given a good editor and a modern setting, her next book could be a classic. I loved the book but could not help being aware of Enid Blyton and Nancy Mitford lurking in the walled garden and behind the suits of armour. I hope she will write with confidence of now or just yesterday. She has no need of dead poets: today is her time, her style and her joy. We need her now, with her breath of genius, we really do. The Lovereading view...Reviewed on Richard and Judy on 22 February 2006. This is a pure delight, a charming period piece of social change in the 50s when appearances and standards began to disappear as the impoverished middle-classes adapted to a new age. A tale of an unexpected friendship, of love, of heartache, music, youth and hope. It throbs with unexpected energy, a coming-of-age novel with an old-fashioned feel. I loved it.Comparison: Jane Austen, Elizabeth Buchan, Victoria Clayton.
Author winner of the Man Booker International Prize 2011. Sarah Broadhurst's view...A stunning work, a literary giant and a thrilling read. The reactions of the Jewish population of Newark on the election of Charles Lindberg, known to be a Nazi sympathiser, is portrayed in a masterly fashion. There is a summary of historical facts at the end for those who are confused; I needed it.Comparison: Norman Mailer, John Updike. Similar this month: Tom Wolfe. This review is provided by bookgroup.info.Philip Roth just gets better. This, his latest novel, is a stunning achievement. In THE PLOT AGAINST AMERICA, Roth poses a terrifying, yet perfectly plausible, ‘what if..’: What if Charles Lindbergh, suave aviator hero and proto-fascist, had become President of the United States in 1941? Roth constructs a chilling scenario where America not only fails to engage in World War II and prevent Hitler’s march across Europe, but allows its government to implement anti-Semitic programmes that are sending it on the road towards a ‘final solution’ for the Jewish population. The story is told in the voice of Philip Roth, nine-year-old second generation American Jew, living in Newark, New Jersey. The perspective of the young boy is not only completely convincing – his limited understanding, his undeserved guilt, his admiration for less than worthy heroes – but it also creates an empathetic viewpoint for the terrible events that shape the lives of his family and friends. The story is engrossing, Roth’s characterisation is, as always, deft – Philip’s father, brother, cousin, uncle are all too plausible in their fallibility – and the effortless brilliance of some of the passages is breath-taking. My only reservation about the book is that it is written about an era, twenty three years before the Jim Crow laws were repealed, when segregation – in schools, restaurants, cinemas, buses - was not only commonplace but was legal. By ignoring this fundamental aspect of American social history, and writing it from a purely Jewish standpoint, Roth leaves a gaping hole in the narrative of an otherwise fantastic novel. Written in the context of the ‘soft fascism’ of the Bush regime and the erosion of civil liberties in the UK, the novel serves to remind us of how fragile racial tolerance can be and how we should guard against a complacence that allows discrimination, legal or otherwise, in our multi-cultural societies.
Exlusive Limited Edition. Barcelona, a city of secret police and secret love. In it a bookseller’s son finds a forgotten novel and stumbles upon a mystery as all copies of the author’s books are sought and destroyed by a sinister character who calls himself after the devil. The reason why and the intrigue surrounding the author’s fate hold us through this extraordinarily compulsive, yet satisfactorily literary thriller, one of the best books of the year. Quite brilliant. This new edition contains the first chapter of The Angel's Game, Ruiz Zafon's eagerly awaited new novel. Comparison: Iain Pears, Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason, Giles Foden.
Barcelona, a city of secret police and secret love. In it a bookseller’s son finds a forgotten novel and stumbles upon a mystery as all copies of the author’s books are sought and destroyed by a sinister character who calls himself after the devil. The reason why and the intrigue surrounding the author’s fate hold us through this extraordinarily compulsive, yet satisfactorily literary thriller, one of the best books of the year. Quite brilliant. This title is also available as an Audiobook, in CD format. Comparison: Iain Pears, Ian Caldwell & Dustin Thomason, Giles Foden.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.As the title suggests, this is very dark indeed. A middle-aged psychic medium is in crisis. Tormented by cruel spirits from the other side, her life becomes intolerable. As the book progresses we discover the appalling abuse she suffered as a child and the suffering she is now forced to live with begins to take on quite another interpretation. Alison has, since adolescence struggled with her gift as a psychic. Now in middle age she takes stock of her life as a successful medium and takes on an assistant Colette to help with running her life. This oddly matched pair take on the various problems of bookings in nameless village halls, conference rooms in motorway hotels and a grueling schedule of appearances and meetings. Ever present is Alison’s loathsome spirit guide a man who was base and cruel in life and even more so in death. He torments and corrupts Alison at every opportunity, and his gang of like-minded fiends exert an enormous and sinister power over her, demanding all her strength to repel them. These rebellious, sadistic spirits are as real as Alison, Colette and the rag bag community of psychics and mediums. Here lies the real subject of the book – the spirits she endures on a daily basis are very similar to the men who tormented her throughout her childhood. As Alison assesses her extraordinarily abusive upbringing, and her mother’s role in permitting the abuse to occur, so the vile voices take on quite another interpretation – as a manifestation of her trauma and possibly the signs of schizophrenia. The book poses many questions about how one is to survive childhood abuse. Alison has a dual struggle – firstly to try to make sense of the past piecing together the half-remembered narratives and forgiving her atrocious mother. Secondly she must subdue the terrible voices and protect herself against the harm they may do her. To the reader it becomes clear that the two activities are interdependent, but it is only with cognitive ability that this heroic task can be achieved and we are unsure how much Alison is prepared to accept. The novel is set against a backdrop of unbelievably grim landscapes, forgotten hinterlands beyond the M25 motorway. Mantel makes some astonishing descriptions of these wastelands – the first page is a wonderful piece of descriptive writing. This book is so powerful, so beyond black that it cannot help but make meaningful discussions for any group. However, as a word of warning, it is very adult and deals with terrible sadness and struggle. Mantel’s light touch seduces the reader into a world of ghosts and mediums, but what lies beneath is very dark and bleak, a very human struggle against the damage done by a truly dreadful past.Sarah Broadhurst's view...A rich and vibrant, emotive and evocative tale of a medium with a weight problem and a control freak with a husband problem. An unlikely pair who find solace and purpose with each other until the final crisis drives them apart. Throughout we are given a very different view of ‘spirit guides’ and loved-ones from ‘the other side’ than the normal portrayal of beneficent and happy ‘departed’ with messages of encouragement and love. The ghosts here are uninvited and unpleasant, malicious, wicked and jealous. The characters are brilliant, the whole work a great read which deserves to be read a second time.Comparison: Julie Myerson, Rachel Cusk, A M Homes.Similar this month: Sabina Murray, Ian McEwan.
I was privileged to visit Kate in her Carcassonne retreat and be shown the numerous locations she used throughout this novel; the exact tower, steps, house, street etc that feature in the action in this exciting tale. It’s a time-slip adventure, a grail-tale, a history lesson, and a thumping good read that effortlessly links medieval France with the present through two strong heroines. I loved it. ~ Sarah Broadhurst
Winner of the Richard & Judy Best Read of the Year at the British Book Awards 2006. I was privileged to visit Kate in her Carcassonne retreat and be shown the numerous locations she used throughout this novel; the exact tower, steps, house, street etc that feature in the action in this exciting tale. It’s a time-slip adventure, a grail-tale, a history lesson, and a thumping good read that effortlessly links medieval France with the present through two strong heroines. I loved it. In addition to our Lovereading expert opinion for Labyrinth a small number of Lovereading members were lucky enough to be invited to review this title - 'The spellbinding “Labyrinth" by Kate Mosse is one of the books that got me hooked on historical fiction...' - Claudia Stach. Scroll down to read more reviews. A brand new two-part adaptation of Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth starring John Hurt and Jessica Brown Findlay was shown over Easter weekend 2013. Click on the screen below to view the trailer. The Languedoc series. 1. Labyrinth 2. Sepulchre 3. Citadel Comparison: Dan Brown, Diana Gabaldon.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.This extraordinary novel by William Nicholson (better known as the playwright responsible for Shadowlands and co-screenwriter of Gladiator) is a surprise from start to finish. The narrator is a young man, passive to the point of inertia, whose motto is 'Life is hard and then you die'. He spends his time in his bedroom doing nothing - really nothing at all - until a pigeon gives him a sign that he should get away. This sets him off on a Kafkaesque journey where he is hurtled from violence to danger and back again via a cast of strange characters. His wry and, at times, very funny commentary reveals his personality (which is actually quite lovable) and its development along the way. It is a philosophical and spiritual journey and I have to admit that, as someone with a profound distrust of religion, I was tempted to put the book down as soon as the G word was mentioned. I had to remind myself that I read because I want to know what other people have to say and to keep my mind open. I'm glad I did because ultimately it's a thought-provoking book that calls for an oblique and humane perspective on the world. It also engendered a very lively discussion amongst our group.Sarah Broadhurst's view...Renowned childrenâ€™s author has written his first adult novel that he describes as â€œa thriller about the meaning of lifeâ€. It stars a normal teenager with no direction, no ambition and no motivation who sort of falls into hitch-hiking round Europe. With no destination, he goes wherever the lorry driver is going enduring the manâ€™s philosophical chat along the way. Borders are crossed and suddenly we are in very foreign territory indeed, a dangerous, frightening Kafka-esque place and our teenager walks into a nightmare. Reading it is like receiving a sharp punch in the stomach. A staggeringly impressive work.Comparison: Bernhard Schlinkâ€™s The Reader, Jim Crace, J M Coetzee.Similar this month: Yasmina Khadra, William Sutcliffe.
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.Purple Hibiscus is the story of a fifteen-year-old Nigerian girl, Kambili, and describes her life under the constraints of her father's strict regime. When life in the city becomes dangerous during a military coup, she is sent away to stay with her aunt where she eventually finds love and happiness. Written from Kambili's point of view, it is a powerful story that is remarkable for the subtlety of the telling. Papa, a newspaper owner committed to reporting the truth about state corruption, revered by the community for his generosity, is in many ways a monstrous figure. At home he is authoritarian and bullying, narrow-minded and intolerant, yet he is motivated by profound religious beliefs. And, although his love for them is beyond doubt, his cruelty to his family in order to keep them on the path of righteousness is chilling. The delicacy of the relationship between father and daughter is especially painful: locked to Kambili's fear of her father is an unquestioning love and belief. She describes how she would "snuggle into Papa's arms when harmattan thunderstorms raged outside, flinging mangoes against the window netting and making the electric wire hit each other and spark bright orange flames. Papa would lodge me between his knees or wrap me in the cream blanket that smelled of safety." And even after she finally breaks away from the security of his violence and begins to become independent, she remains devoted to him. Like most Nigerian novels, Purple Hibiscus necessarily deals with the tension between Catholicism and traditional religion, but Ngozi Adichie also tackles the more recent problems associated with an African state emerging, as Kambili does, from the destructive legacy of a paternalist power. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has won the 2005 Commonwealth Writers Prize First Best Book award for Purple Hibiscus. Welcome to another wonderful Nigerian writer.The Lovereading view...A powerful and compelling coming of age novel of a family, a faith and a country, all in an awful turmoil. It has been highly rated by reviewers
This review is provided by bookgroup.info.This is a re-telling of a familiar and historic fairytale - how a beautiful young queen falls from enchantress to public enemy. As she attracts increasingly bad press, both King and court choose to believe the worst about her. Suzannah Dunn adds her own stamp to the catastrophic story of Anne Boleyn. Divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived. We all know the deaths of Henry's six wives, but how much is known of their lives? This is the starting point for Dunn's clever, compelling new book - the obscure and intriguing life of Anne Boleyn. The story is told by two narrators, Queen Anne on the eve of her execution and Lucy Cornwallis, who was the only female cook in Henry's kitchens, and had the important role as the King's sweet maker. It becomes clear that Lucy is the eponymous queen, and whose subtleties - delicious sugar and marzipan confections, could rival any mistress for the King's affection. As we all know, Henry's court was a dangerous place, full of intrigue and plot, especially for a young queen who had yet to forge powerful alliances. Gradually Anne becomes deeply woven into a web of deceit as her enemies conspire to bring about her downfall, through whatever means they could. This also went as far as a near total discrediting of her only child, Elizabeth; but as they say, the rest is history. How you feel about Queen of Subtleties depends on your view of historical novels in general. So little is known about Anne's life, because her enemies simply erased or blackened her memory and Suzannah Dunn has pieced together a jigsaw puzzle of known and fictionalised pieces. This cleverly creates a plausible and enchanting version of Anne's life, written in a completely modern, vernacular style. This book certainly challenges preconceptions about Anne, and I rather hope that she was, as Dunn has written, a courageous, likeable and quick-witted woman. The Lovereading view...A lovely author giving us a fresh spin on Anne Boleyn. This time she is clever and independent minded rather than scheming and deviant
Perfect Books for Reading Groups
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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