Monday, 30 December 2013

Robert Galbraith - The Cuckoo's Calling

I came upon this rather late and I have to say it really was very good and I do hope this is the start of a series. I found it interesting in that at the beginning I felt Robert ( aka J K Rowling) was fighting her natural style to make this a fast paced thriller. In the second half I felt once this was relaxed her true voice came through and I couldn't put it down. I love her flawed detective Cormoran Strike.
My husband read the book on audio and he enjoyed it immensely too, so this book is a rare feat in that it appeals to cross gender which is hard to do in an overcrowded crime genre,

Given that this has much to tell about the perils of fame, I think it will make an excellent reading group pick.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Fay Weldon - Habits of the House

 We had a fantastic event at Bournemouth Library with Fay Weldon and she enthralled us with tales of how she came to write and in particular how she wrote this trilogy.

This series is a must for Downton Abbey fans, particularly if you like a bit of wry humour and feminism thrown in. We discovered that Fay wrote the first few episodes of Upstairs Downstairs, the original series, and has been waiting to return to that era for many years.

We follow the Countess of Dilberne as she attempts to marry off her wilful son to a Chicago heiress for a badly needed cash injection. This is a clash of cultures that lends itself to much wry humour and social comentary from Prince Bertie himself to the lowliest cook.
Well all I can say it was worth the wait. This will make an excellent reading group book as there is much to discuss,

I have been really busy with a wonderful project we have had  here in Bournemouth. We now have a Poet Laureate for Bournemouth - James Manlow.

Here is a link to the project and more info

Friday, 18 October 2013

Natasha Solomons - The Gallery of Vanished Husbands

We had a fabulour event with Natasha last week at Westbourne Library, where she talked eloquently about her inspiration for Juliet. If you can catch her anywhere else she is an engaging speaker and well worth making the effort to see.
Here is my review.

Once again I sit in awe at the quality of Natasha's writing.This is a clever book in that Juliet is clearly beautiful to be immortalised by so many artists but the story is told in such a way that we the readers never resent her, in fact we too become fascinated by her.
The book also highlights an interesting part of Jewish life, that of the abandoned wife who is a sort of non person in the ultra conservative Jewish community in which she resides.
However it is the character of Juliet who absorbs us and the fascinating life that she creates for herself. The descriptions are bliss and you can just see and smell and feel yourself within her work. When you put the book aside it is like waking from a dream so immersed in it are you.
There is much for a reading group to get their teeth into, Juliet's life is so rich and interesting. I won't say too much as I want you to read it!

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Marlen Suyapa Bodden - Wedding Gift

This was a bestseller self published  on Amazon in the US. As a result it  was bought and published in print. We were lucky enough to get proofs to read through the Reading Agency.
This is a brilliant plot, a plot that wants you to keep reading but is spoiled by lack of good editing and advice.
The author is a leading black lawyer and she knows her stuff, being involved in the prevention of modern slavery.
The only trouble is that her style of writing reads a little like a legal report. The novel lacks description, which in some ways is good in that the reader is left to fill in the atmosphere and surrounding with their own imagination but I feel with a really good editor this could have been addressed before going to print. many of us are not aware of what the deep south in the US is like and would have welcomed some description.
However I am sure it will be in her next novel and this book is certainly good enough for there to be more.
It will make a good reading group novel as there is so much in it that unless you were an expert on slavery you would not know. It is absolutely appalling how slaves were treated in the US and a sobering reminder to us all that it still goes on around the world now.

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Gilian Flynn - Gone Girl

This is billed thriller of the year. Shocker of the year more like. This is one of those books that you are convinced x is correct only to have it completely overturned some chapters later. The jaw dropping cliff hangers just keep coming.

 The book begins with Nick's wife Amy going missing. The novel then switches between the narrative as told by Nick and the diary of Amy. What is going on. Who is telling the truth? Are either of them telling the truth? It is a great mind switch challenge.

I also found it a fascinating look into the USA in recession. The abandoned malls inhabited by the homeless stick with you.

There is a great deal for reading groups to get stuck in here. I cannot revel too much without massive spoilers!

Monday, 23 September 2013

Jacqueline Winspear - Elegy for Eddie

Once again another excellent 'Who dunnit' from Jacqueline Winspear featuring he psychologist sleuth Masie Dobbs. Here she highlights the abject poverty that existed in the East End, whilst unscrupulous millionaires made money hand over fist.
The plot is nicely complex and as usual her excellent writing carries you back into that time frame easily. As the novels progress we move further into the 1930's and we can sense the presentiments of war. This novel involves the violent death of  Eddie Pettit, his fellow costermongers do not believe it was an accident and hire Masie to delve into it. Using her local background she manages to blend in enough to get the trust of local people and unravel the background

 Not sure whether this would make a good reading groups read, as the story arc is so engaging. As a stand alone novel it works as well and there is enough to engender discussion but it is not an obvious controversial choice. However, the series is fantastic as is her writing and I say each time start at the beginning and read them in order to gain the most benefit from your reading.

Friday, 20 September 2013

Kate Atkinson - Life after Life

I seem to be on an amazing run of reading excellent books. This book is just stunning. I have read everything Kate Atkinson has written and in this book she has surpassed herself.
 Why it has not won a prize I cannot fathom.
It is just so clever, beautifully written. It follows the premise, what would happen if you could start your life again, and again and again. Would you carry with you trace memories of previous lives, so you could attempt to correct the wrongs? At what point could your own life become widely divergent depending on the decision you made?
This book makes you think, to delve into your own history and ask, what might have happened if I did x?

Once again there is so much for reading groups and I can predict a lively discussion. So tell me, which version of Ursula's life resonated the most for you?
Did you want to change her life too?

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

Kathleen Grissom - The Kitchen House

Published 29th August
This is a book that stays with you long afterwards. Even now writing this review I am transported back to the plantation.
This book is much better than The Help with which it is being compared.

A young Irish child Lavinia is orphaned on a ship being transported over to the USA in the late Eughteenth Century. The Captain also has a plantation, his sea faring trips paying towards his upkeep. He seperates her from her brother sells the boy into indentured service and takes the girl home with him and sets her to work with the black kitchen slaves.
This is a clever plot device as it allows us to compare and contrast the plight of the black slave against the dirt poor white.To look and kindness and corruption in equal measure.
Seen through the eyes of a child as she grows up and the eyes of the illegitimate half caste daughter of the owner, we see both sides of the coin.

This book does not pull any punches and the horrors of slavery are shown in all it 's gory detail.

There is a huge amount in this book for book groups. Slavery, child abuse, neglect, alcoholism, madness - it has the lot. I highly recommend it.

Friday, 9 August 2013

Katherine Webb - The Misbegotten

Well what a pot boiler and I do not mean this disparagingly This book starts slowly and I have to confess that I found it at first hard to get into. Indeed I put it to one side and read another book and then came back to it. I am so glad that I did, by half way though I was hooked and unable to put it down - the pot that had been simmering came to the boil.
The fact is that like real life, I was unsure as to whether I liked any of the characters, but as I read I came to know them better and they separated into those I think I liked , those I think I didn't and those I was unsure about even at the end.

This is a book about lies and mysteries. It is set in Bath and Bathampton spanning the years from 1803 - 1822. However, drop any illusions about Regency Bath a la Jane Austen. This is the underbelly, the dark places where rot breeds, where the gentile and impoverished sink into the mud of poverty and corruption. Here we follow the fortunes of Rachel who escapes her life as a governess to marry an up and coming wine merchant. Through him she comes to know the Alleyn's and is quickly drawn into their dark secrets when she is employed as a companion for the son, invalided in the Peninsular war. We come to know Starling the foundling, whose determination and anger precipitate the events that unfold.

It is a long book at 570 pages for book groups but there is so much in it to discuss, it is worth the initial groans when they see the size of it. It will be read quickly I can assure you.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

Martin Davies - The Year After

This is a real page turner from one of Richard and Judy's bestsellers.

Here we have all the ingredients of a country house drama, set in 1919, our hero has returned from the war a wiser young man than when he left. After a chance encounter he is unable to resist and invite down to the house that featured so prominently in his youth and the stellar family that lived there.
Now he sees it all with new eyes and is quickly drawn into the family lies and deceit as he attempts to unravel the mystery surrounding the traumatic events that occurred in 1914.

I am unable to amplify too much of the plot without revealing spoilers. This book is well written and atmospheric and I guarantee you will be unable to put it down. He has captured the period perfectly. I think it would make an excellent book for a reading group as there is much to discuss, not only the plot but also the social attitudes of the day.

Friday, 2 August 2013

Charlie Lovett - The Bookman's Tale

This excellent book has recently been published and I highly recommend it.
It is an intelligent and fast paced thriller but also a timeslip novel in which we alternate between the modern day, our heroes youth and back in time as he chases the provenance of a book that might prove that Shakespeare was indeed the author of his plays.
There is even an element of the supernatural when he finds an Victorian portrait that looks just like his dead wife. The book also travels from the US to the UK and this also added interest.
I like the way the book progressed and we flipped between time periods, it kept up the suspense. I particularly found the Antiquarian side fascinating, but then I would as a librarian. I found the dip into Shakespearean history believable and interesting. All in all an excellent debut and I suspect we will see more of our intrepid antiquarian bookseller Peter Byerly - at least I hope so!

I think this would make an excellent reading group book as there is plenty to discuss. The whole Shakespeare, did he did he not write his plays issue could take up the whole of a meeting on it's own.

Monday, 1 July 2013

Lucy Clarke - The Sea Sisters

No wonder this book was picked for the Richard and Judy Summer read, it is really great. Having learnt that the author lives in Bournemouth, I took the book away with me on holiday and it was first on my list.
As the title suggests it looks at the relationship between two sisters. Katie is shocked to learn that her wild and impulsive younger sister has died in Bali, whilst on an impulsive backpacking world travel journey. The police state it was suicide and they even have witnesses that back this idea up. Unable to accept this and grieve stricken Katie comes into possession of her sisters travel journal. In a bid to understand her sister better and try and unravel what happened to her, the normally sensible Katie, decides to follow her sister. She gives up her job, abandons her fiancee and begins to backpack across the world with her sisters diary for company.
I cannot say too much about the rest of the plot without spoilers. What did impress me was the quality of the writing, the careful plotting that kept me reading on the edge of the seat and her tremendous insight into the relationship of sisters. It was spot on. 
This will make a great reading group read and there are copies available for reading groups in Bournemouth Libraries. A stunning debut and an author to watch.

Friday, 26 April 2013

Graeme Simpson

To say I hated this book is an overstatement, but I am absolutely sure that I did not like it. Perhaps I lack the requisite sense of humour.

This book left me feeling very uncomfortable as it stayed into the realms of disabilism, perhaps it is OK to mock someone with autism in  Australia but I don’t think that is OK here. This is not a gentle exploration of the condition as in The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, because our hero has no idea of his condition we are forced from the outside to look on. This then is the rub, one could see that this book was set up as a future film to appeal to the ‘jackass’ fans who don’t mind watching someone with a disability thrust into situations where they are bound to fail. It left me wondering what sort of educational system they have in Australia if our hero is meant to have reached being a professor at a university without being properly diagnosed.

Our hero himself is a likable character but he is certainly no Mr Darcy as I have seen touted elsewhere.

Given that I disliked the book I am sure it will be successful and will be a hit at reading group, where blows may even be exchanged. Is it ever right to laugh at someone disabled?

Thursday, 14 March 2013

Alma Books Competition

Hi, I have just heard about this competition. Good luck!

Manisha Jolie Amin - Dancing to the Flute

I have recently returned from 3 weeks in southern India and what a book to take with me to accompany me on my journey. This book is superb, lyrical, evocative, magical and spiritual. Manisha beautifully captures rural India, at it's best and worst. She does not balk at describing the poverty and inequality but has the rare quality of not sinking to the maudlin. She effortlessly creates pace in the background to send us on wishing to genuinely know what will happen. Her characters are full and well drawn, by the end of the book I felt I knew them well and was invested in their futures and lives.
Then throughout the book is the music, the flute, the Ragas, the hint of Krishna himself. It is this that makes the book soar. That and the feeling of hope, friendship and love.

This will make a superb reading group selection I have already ordered our copies for Bournemouth Libraries.