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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.
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.”
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.
February 2012 Debut of the Month. A beautiful, haunting literary debut from an extraordinary new talent who we can see scooping future literary prizes. When you are the Director of the Creative Writing Course at Oxford University there is, understandably, quite a lot of interest when you decide to write your first novel but Clare Morgan clearly hasn’t let it effect her.Looking at the lives of two academics through their passions for the philosopher Nietzsche and novelist Virginia Woolf, A Book for All and None, is highly accessible and thought provoking. Why not try the free Opening Extract?
One of our Books of the Year 2016. A brilliant debut from a fresh and unique voice, ‘A Boy Made of Blocks' is a book that will make you laugh, cry and think to yourself ‘thank goodness, it’s not just me!’ This wonderful book is one that every parent, every friend of a parent and every person who ever raised a judgemental eyebrow whilst witnessing a ‘difficult’ child should read. Alex is reeling from life. He's left the family home and has never felt further from his wife and son. He loves them both dearly but parenthood can put a strain on any relationship and having an autistic son adds even more pressure. Sam, his beautiful yet unreachable son, is a problem that Alex is finding impossible to solve and whilst suffocating under the responsibility he feels towards his family Alex finally hits rock bottom. Until that is Sam discovers Minecraft and so begins an adventure of a father finally finding a way to understand his son and maybe himself too. I adored Keith Stuart’s writing style. It was fresh and honest but with no trace of bitterness. Some moments were so beautifully written they made my heart ache and moved me to tears. He captures so much in so few words and I came to love his characters and felt truly sad when I reached the final sentence. A beautiful debut that not only changed the way I look at autism and children considered ‘different’, but also the struggles we all face within our lives today.' ~ Shelley Fallows A 'Piece of Passion' from the publisher... 'It’s hard for me to be objective about A Boy Made of Blocks: it’s the book I most want people to read, partly because when they do, they universally love it. It both has massive commercial potential and is a singularly modern, heartfelt and meaningful piece of writing. It is absolutely not an ‘issues’ book, but a wonderful, funny, emotional story full of memorable characters, wit, and warmth. It’s the kind of novel people fall in love with – I certainly did – and has one of the most uplifting finales I can ever remember reading.' ~ Ed Wood, Editorial Director – Sphere Fiction
In a truly beautiful reading experience, encounter the footnotes of a time long ago, meet people capable of committing murder, of holding a stinging need for vengeance, of feeling deep abiding love and friendship. If you see the term fantasy and usually turn away, please don’t, instead choose to step inside and feel the connection to the Italian Renaissance, allow the people to become known, experience their emotions, appreciate the eloquence of the writing. I adore the work of Guy Gavriel Kay, and have done since I was a teenager, epic in scale, intimate in focus, these are books that have allowed me to step outside of myself and experience a different world, though one that feels recognisably ours. You can read this as a standalone, however if you have read some of his other novels, then the land in which this is set will call to you, and there are moments of awareness as you look around and feel the landscape, architecture and even at one point the half-forgotten presence of an age-old entity. I can recommend ‘A Brightness Long Ago’ with my heart and soul, it really is wonderful and so sits as one of my picks of the month.
As decadent and scandalous as New York Society in the roaring twenties, A Certain Age will whisk you back to a time of Jazz, elegance, charm, and murder as only Beatriz Williams can. The world is slowly recovering from the horrors of the Great War. Women’s hemlines are rising and the world offers new freedoms to them. Mrs Theresa Marshall loves her husband but she’s also fallen for her young lover, Captain Octavian Rofrano. After Theresa’s brother announces his engagement to a young, beautiful heiress he asks her to find him a Cavalier to propose to the girl in question in true Marshall tradition. She turns to Rofrano to carry out this small favour and sets in motion a string of events that will change their lives forever. Thrilling and heady, A Certain Age is a delightful novel to escape into. ~ Shelley Fallows Click here to read a Q&A with Beatriz Williams. Click here to view the Reading Group Notes for this title.
Longlisted for the Man Booker Prize 2011. Narrated with a distinct and fiery spice, Jinx and Lemon must find their own paths to redemption in this stunning debut novel in which over the course of one weekend they strip away the layers of the past to lay bare a story full of jealousy and tragic betrayal.
May 2016 Debut of the Month. Longlisted for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction 2016. A bittersweet, page-turning love story which jumps back and forth in time. It tells of a Japanese couple, Ameterasu and Kenzo, now living in America and the loss of their daughter and grandson after the bomb dropped on Nagasaki. We learn of Ameterasu’s great love before she married and then of their daughter’s great love. The identity of these men is at the centre of this tale. We start it as a very disfigured man arrives on widowed Ameterasu’s doorstep claiming to be her grandson. So the past is revealed to us in dramatic bursts and Ameterau tells us of the emotional conflict between her and her daughter: so sad. At the beginning of each chapter there is a Japanese word and an explanation of its meaning and usage, not always relevant but always interesting, hence the title. Highly recommended.
One of Our Books of the Year 2017 | Shortly after the Russian revolution, a White Russian count is spared execution because of a subversive poem he wrote defying authority before the fall of the Czar and is, instead, exiled to an attic room in a luxury hotel in the heart of Moscow, where he once enjoyed a luxurious suite and all the amenities that wealth could provide. As he adapts to his house arrest, we follow his encounters with the motley denizens, employees and visitors of the hotel and watch how his state of mind changes alongside the Russia outside the walls of the hotel. Both meditative and, at times, truculent, this also forms a parallel history of Russia over the following forty years or so until the death of Stalin and for a narrative isolated inside a closed locale becomes amazingly broad in scope, reflective, expansive and so often terribly moving, albeit with much wit and humour. Unforgettable characters, both fictional and real life, a web of subtle relationships: all human life is here and a triumphant follow-up to Towles' debut novel which had been set in the glitter of New York in the 1930s. Long but wonderfully rewarding, this will make you laugh, cry and smile, an epic that never even moves outside the hotel's lobby! Loved it. ~ Maxim Jakubowski February 2017 MEGA Book of the Month. The Lovereading view... Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov, the gentleman of the title, is not executed with his fellow aristocrats for he had already left Russia at the start of the Revolution and he returns in 1918. This mystifies the Bolshevik tribunal he stands before in 1922. He wrote a poem which is deemed a call to arms, but for which side? So he is placed under house arrest for life. Conveniently his address for the last four years has been The Hotel Metropol, the best in Moscow. Now moved to humble rooms in the old servant quarters in the belfry, he nonetheless has the run of the beautiful establishment, the restaurants and bar. He makes friends with the servants and guests alike and is dubbed by an old student friend who has suffered in the Gulag, “the luckiest man in Russia”. Intrigue, romance and friendship pepper the years as we follow the Count from 1922 to 1954, a time of huge change as a new Russia is created. With a nod towards the period in its style and lots of philosophy, I wouldn’t say this was compulsive but it is strangely hypnotic, one is certainly drawn to it although it isn’t an easy read. It is a comfortable book to be with despite its horrific span in history for imprisoned in his hotel, Rostov is indeed one of the luckiest in Russia. ~ Sarah Broadhurst Click here to read a Q&A with the author about this book.
From the author of TV Book Club favourite The Legacy, comes an emotionally powerful story exploring the dark heart of love. Just before WW2 Mitzy Hatcher’s lonely Dorset life is transformed by the arrival of a renowned artist for whom she becomes the muse. However, as she grows up innocent love becomes obsessive with consequences that reach forward over 70 years. Webb is simply an excellent storyteller and she is getting better with each book.
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.
There is something about Ove. At first sight, he is almost certainly the grumpiest man you will ever meet. He thinks himself surrounded by idiots - neighbours who can't reverse a trailer properly, joggers, shop assistants who talk in code, and the perpetrators of the vicious coup d'etat that ousted him as Chairman of the Residents' Association. He will persist in making his daily inspection rounds of the local streets. But isn't it rare, these days, to find such old-fashioned clarity of belief and deed? Such unswerving conviction about what the world should be, and a lifelong dedication to making it just so? In the end, you will see, there is something about Ove that is quite irresistible...