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Book Club Recommendations

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.

56 Days

56 Days

Author: Catherine Ryan Howard Format: Hardback Release Date: 19/08/2021

56 Days is entertaining and fast paced - a tale of two strangers who make a hasty decision at a time of extreme stress, fear and anxiety. Multi-layered, brimming with suspense and with well-portrayed characters, this book certainly kept me on my toes. Set in present times, it felt very familiar, occasionally too familiar - a reflection of the early days of the pandemic, when no one could have predicted what was to come. The book has a dual timeline, focusing on a murder investigation in the present day and an exciting new relationship in the past. Occasionally, the two main characters give their persepctive on the same scenes, leading to some repetition, but I found myself trying to read between the lines - what they weren't telling each other, the secrets they were hiding ... 56 Days was a brave book to write (who could have known we would still be living in a Covid-19-filled world on publication day), but it doesn't come across as gimmicky at all. An engaging, unsettling and surprising domestic noir thriller - Brief Encounter with a rampant virus and decomposing body. 

Books of the Month
Looking for the Durrells

Looking for the Durrells

Author: Melanie Hewitt Format: Paperback Release Date: 05/08/2021

The Durrell family and their writings have been a source of wonder and inspiration to book illustrator, Penny, since her Father read Gerald Durrell’s “Corfu trilogy” to, and with, her when she was young.  Now an enduring bond between them as his life nears its end, when the dread day comes, Penny, grieving and needing time and space, embarks on the promise that she and her dad couldn’t fulfil together, a Durrells’ pilgrimage. Suffused throughout with the scent of flowers, lemon and garlic and the dual salves of sunshine and sea, Hewitt’s tale weaves the lives of fishermen, restaurateurs, holiday company representatives and more into a loving nurturing community, offering a balm to Penny’s spirits. Each character so perfectly drawn and credible, that you feel you know them, might even have actually met them. At heart this is a story of belonging, proof of the Edna Buchanan phrase that “friends are the family we choose for ourselves.” Penny’s quest for the Durrells’ various homes and the restaurants they ate in, slowly revealing that while she can’t live their lives, she can and should live hers and live it well. There ought to be a better word for the way sunlight sparkles so brilliantly on the sea, thought “glisters”, as a conflation of “glistens” and “glitters”, gets close, and this book does exactly that, shining calmly and thoughtfully from beginning to end. This is such a enchanting, uplifting story of love for Corfu, for Corfiots and for life rediscovered, that one wonders why Hewitt has waited to debut.  That she has done so with such a perfect story, written with charm, insight and an utterly captivating sense of humane sensitivity, augurs well for future novels. And yes, tissues are advised while reading, there may be tears!

Books of the Month
Patience

Patience

Author: Victoria Scott Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/08/2021

This poignant page-turner switches between the four members of the Willows family - a sixty-something couple and their two daughters, one of whom, 38-year-old Take That fan Patience, has Rett syndrome, a progressive genetic neurodevelopmental disorder that almost exclusively affects females. While she can’t speak or move, Patience is incredibly perceptive. She takes everything in and knows everyone’s secrets. She’s wryly funny too, remarking to herself that, “I’m still lying here, like Miss Havisham’s mouldering wedding cake, at least ten years after I should have left.” Former nurse Louise has devoted her life to Patience and understands her daughter better than anyone. Meanwhile, Patience’s 36-year-old sister Eliza is in denial about being dumped by her fiancé, while Dad Pete works overseas most of the time. Then comes a ray of hope, in Louise’s eyes at least. She takes on a job with a leading Rett syndrome consultant, essentially so Patience can be part of his potentially ground-breaking gene therapy trial. While Professor Larssen thinks the therapy could reverse the syndrome’s symptoms, Pete is vehemently against Patience’s participation - he thinks the risks are too great.  Despite the dangers, they go ahead, and the story accelerates to an emotional, edge-of-your-seat ending, underpinned by a fine exposition of how humans weather the worst of life’s storms to cope with the unexpected hands we are dealt.

Debut Books of the Month
All My Mothers

All My Mothers

Author: Joanna Glen Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/08/2021

What a truly special book this is, thoughtful, refreshing and comforting, this novel has entered my heart and soul. From a young age Eva has questions about who she is and where she has come from. As she grows up, alters and changes, the questions remain and she begins to find answers. I adored Joanna Glen’s debut, The Other Half of August Hope which hurtled straight into our LoveReading Star Books collection, and this, this is just as memorable, just as beautiful, and firmly cements this author as one I will be looking out for. Eva has the most honest and contemplative voice, her voice is so individual that you can hear her, even feel her as she speaks. Even the smallest of her small thoughts planted seeds which rooted, grew, divided, and she entered my awareness and took up residence. Joanna Glen has a real gift, she is able to go beyond the surface of things to find the unfamiliar and make it feel like home. I love it when a book provokes new thoughts and feelings, and that is exactly what All My Mothers does. It also joins the LoveReading Star Book list, and becomes one of my Liz Robinson Picks of the Month. Congratulations to Joanna Glen, All My Mothers balances fear and wonder, loneliness and belonging, despair and elation, it is a true joy to read.  

Star Books
 The Pavilion in the Clouds: A new stand-alone novel

The Pavilion in the Clouds: A new stand-alone novel

Author: Alexander McCall Smith Format: Hardback Release Date: 05/08/2021

Alexander McCall Smith’s The Pavilion in the Clouds is a stirring, evocative psychological mystery set in 1938 as the British Empire limps through its final days. A Scottish family in Ceylon, as Sir Lanka was then known, live in the Pavilion in the Clouds on their tea plantation. Yet for all the idyllic beauty of their bungalow, the surrounding jungle represents the unknown - snakes might strike at any moment. Indeed, when eight-year-old Bella sets off unpleasant suspicions about her governess, Miss White, her mother, Virginia, comes to believe a snake might live among them. Virginia’s sense of being an outsider, uncomfortable being in someone else’s country, is palpable. Then there’s the boredom and ennui of having no purpose: “Time was an emptiness. It was a billowing, echoing void… We were just a little rock, hurtling through space, and we were the tiniest things on that rock”. Add to this the paranoia that’s intensified by Bella’s words and deeds, and by a friend Virginia confides in, and we have a tinderbox situation. The novel is also excellent on relating how children view the world and make sense of adult behaviour - in Virginia’s words, “Children were unpredictable. They accepted so much because they were used to things happening to them, rather than making things happen themselves.” Bella’s relationship with her two dolls - she talks to them, and they offer her advice - is used to great symbolic effect towards the end the novel, years later, when Bella visits Miss White as a young adult to say sorry, now she’s old enough to make things happen herself. Engaging in a read-in-one-sitting kind of way, Miss White sums up the novel’s most lingering theme when she remarks, “It’s strange isn’t it, how we carry some bits of the past with us for a long, long time – when we don’t really need to.”

The Tiny Gestures of Small Flowers

The Tiny Gestures of Small Flowers

Author: Emily Critchley Format: Hardback Release Date: 15/07/2021

Though The Tiny Gestures of Small Flowers is Emily Critchley’s debut novel for adult readers (Notes on My Family was her widely acclaimed debut for young adults), it’s an accomplished, powerful, mesmerising story that explores a seventeen-year-old’s embroilment in an abusive relationship with an older man. Shifting between two timelines, it’s also a potent coming-of-age novel, and a fascinating portrait of a mother-daughter bond. The steady, measured style coupled with the present tense immediacy creates tremendous tension. There’s a sense that something is simmering. In Nell’s past, which we enter in 1983, she and her artist mother Alice move from London to her deceased Grandma’s rural cottage. Everything is new and different, not least because this is the first time Nell attends school, where she experiences a succession of awakenings as her world opens up. Here she realises that not everyone is the same, that boy and girls are “very different.”  After a nasty falling out with the group of wealthy, sneaky girls she’s fallen with, Nell experiences the worst of school relationships: “Girls sneak up on one another with whispered words and turned shoulders. Girls work slowly, stripping away the thin layers of self-esteem.” And then, after her harrowing first experience of sex, Nell loses all hope for her future, concluding that “her life is no different to anyone else’s and she hates herself for ever thinking it might be.” The narrative shifts back and forth between Nell’s school days and 2003. At 17, she’s moved to Brighton vaguely hoping to start a new life. She’s still bookish and thoughtful, but has never found her way. Her life here begins in a bookshop, for she “needs somewhere safe to think about what comes next, to reflect on her first night in the city.” She starts dating Scott, who’s more than ten years her senior, and it’s not long before instances of coercive control escalate. Worse follows. Much worse. And though Nell is aware that “there was something wrong with her life, she had no idea how to change it.” Reaching out to her mother helps, though, and light and hope glimmers through the fog of Nell’s life as a young adult.

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Everyone in This Room Will Someday Be Dead

Author: Emily Austin Format: Hardback Release Date: 08/07/2021

Our July 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. This deliciously quirky, amusing and sharply-pointed debut novel slowly wormed its way into my heart and soul. Anxiety is plaguing Gilda, who also has death on her mind, she unexpectedly finds herself in a new job, fending off unwanted attention from men while keeping her girlfriend secret, and investigating a suspicious death. Emily Austin writes with such honesty and empathy, I found her words burrowed their way into my mind before reaching beyond thought, to feelings. It took me a while to get to know and warm to Gilda, she borders on awkward as she tells her story. I gradually found myself getting closer and closer to this fragile yet thoughtful and beautiful woman. The plot weaves a unique magic as it ranges from mystery to family drama to relationship story. The humour is pithy and smart, the observations can sting yet are compassionate, and the descriptions simply sing. I really have fallen in love with this book, and can’t wait to see what comes next from Emily Austin, she is a writer I will be looking out for. Everyone In This Room Will Someday Be Dead is a compelling, provocative, and beautiful LoveReading Star Book. 

Star Books
Build Your House Around My Body

Build Your House Around My Body

Author: Violet Kupersmith Format: Hardback Release Date: 08/07/2021

Though complex, subtle, and rich in history and myth, Violet Kupersmith's Build Your House Around My Body makes an instantly potent impression. Her writing is at once measured and vivid, infused with the elemental power of Vietnamese folklore, and with the histories, fates and desires of its protagonists. Following the lives of two fearless women who both went missing (though decades apart - one in 1986, the other in 2011), and who both seek revenge, Build Your House Around My Body is hauntingly poetic, playful, and a puzzle, of sorts. A multi-layered Russian doll of a story with magic realist elements - ghosts, time travel, snake monsters. Indeed, the whole novel might be described as a coiled serpent that spirals and springs when you least expect it. Despite their very different backgrounds, the women are bound by the past, and by ancestors and ghosts. It’s a mystery, a mythic epic, a slippery history that defies classification, and I loved it.

Star Books
The Disaster Tourist

The Disaster Tourist

Author: Yun Ko-Eun Format: Paperback Release Date: 01/07/2021

Yun Ko-eun’s The Disaster Tourist is a triumph of originality and slick, satirical style. It’s a richly wry, cuttingly dark comedy that shines a light on the absurdities (and ethical dubiousness) of certain tourism practices, and on modern life more generally, with its understated lyricism packing poignant punch. Through Yona, we certainly see the bizarreness of the world we live in. A world in which a thirty-three-year-old woman works for a travel company that specialises in disaster tourism package holidays. To compensate Yona for being sexually harassed by him, her boss allows her to take a break on one of the trips they’re thinking of axing. What a deal! What a way to deal with harassment! Yona goes on the trip to the remote Vietnamese island of Mui, where the major attraction is a supposedly catastrophic sinkhole. When she becomes trapped here, the island takes on the appearance of “a theme park that wasn’t yet open”. Then, after making a hideous discovery, cutting truths are revealed like exposed nerves amidst escalating absurdity - and tragedy. Quite brilliant.  

Star Books
Moth

Moth

Author: Melody Razak Format: Hardback Release Date: 24/06/2021

Moth is absolutely gorgeous. Fair warning, it broke my heart, but is still completely and utterly gorgeous! Partition in India slices the country through its soul, one liberal family find themselves adrift and battling for survival. Set in 1940’s Delhi this story focuses on family, and in particular women as the world around them boils with political unrest and danger. The beauty and pain of the prologue turned my thoughts inside out, I had to stop for a moment before carrying on. The awareness of the prologue stayed with me as I continued to read, consume, feel. This is Melody Razak’s debut novel and was written on long train journeys across India. Here she takes an intimate story set in an epic, huge moment in history, and makes it feel real. Snippets and slices of all emotions are brought together to form the most wonderfully told story that highlights the tragedy that falls. Her writing caught me, lulled me, shocked me, seduced me. She writes with huge compassion, the smallest of details weave together to form a vivid and vibrant tapestry of life. It is all too easy to imagine this happening anywhere in the world, yet among all the pain is strength and hope. The moments of calm, love, humour, sharing, and kindness all combine to ensure that you can still feel delight among the pain. Oh, and I must just mention the stunning cover too, it matches the beauty within. Moth, so exquisitely emotional, powerful, and harrowing, will be one of my favourite books of the year, it is so special, I just had to choose it as a Liz Robinson Pick of the Month.

Star Books
Unbury Our Dead with Song

Unbury Our Dead with Song

Author: Mukoma Wa Ngugi Format: Paperback Release Date: 22/06/2021

Setting out its stunning stall as “the story of how a Tizita musician stopped the Ethiopian-Eritrean war”, Mukoma Wa Ngugi’s Unbury Our Dead with Song casts a uniquely beguiling spell. Its narrator, tabloid journalist John Thandi Manfredi, has an engaging, down-to-earth style that shifts as he himself falls under the spell of tizita - usually translated as ‘nostalgia’, or ‘longing’, tizita is form of bluesy, folksy ballad music from Ethiopia and Eritrea. Through Manfredi we meet four musicians - The Diva, The Taliban Man, The Corporal and septuagenarian bartender Miriam - who are in Nairobi, Kenya, competing to be hailed the best tizita performer. Their music has Manfredi in their thrall, to the extent that he journeys to Ethiopia to discover more about them. During their meetings, Manfredi uncovers raw truths and secrets about each artist, and through them he learns to read the layers of life and longing he’s heard (and felt) in tizita performances: “I knew enough about telling stories - they were also about the storyteller,” he says. In this case, the four musicians have very different stories to tell - hugely different histories and longings - as imparted through their performances. Propelled by a subtly mounting sense of mystery and discovery to a stirring tizita soundtrack that plays out in your head, this captures the indefinable, almost magical, power of music and art to inspire awe - which is exactly what this novel does with sweeping verve.

Star Books
Erringby

Erringby

Author: Gill Darling Format: Paperback Release Date: 17/06/2021

Our June 2021 Book Club Recommendation Click here to see our Reading Group Questions. Heady, rich and evocative, and while a reimagining of Great Expectations, this debut stands as a unique and startling read in its own right. As a child, orphaned Kit finds the world of his Uncle and Aunt an enticing place to be, as he grows older he discovers that all that glitters isn’t necessarily gold. Gill Darling travels through three decades from the 1970’s, creating the most spelling-binding novel. She doesn’t flinch from the harsher side of life, and while building an enchanting world, exposes vulnerability, selfishness, and excess. The characters feel as real as can be, with a tapestry of traits they ensured my feelings moved through the gamut of emotions. While I knew this was inspired by Great Expectations before I started, I entered and read it as Erringby, completely absorbed and only looking between the two when I had turned the last page. I found growing up with Kit at times disturbing, while at others I relished his adventures, and the ending sent little goose pimples skittering down my arms. When I finish reading I always return to the cover again to see with new eyes, and oh what a gorgeously expressive and clever creation it is! Thoughtful and loving, yet passionate and provocative, Erringby is a truly striking coming-of-age novel and a deserves its place as a LoveReading Star Book.

Star Books