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The Island by Victoria Hislop
 
Informative, Insightful, Dramatic
Interesting but poorly written.

It was an eye-opener to realise that leprosy was so recently an incurable disease. Life on Spinalonga was fascinating, and, ironically, an escape from the atrocities of WWII. But unfortunately the book was not a well written account and this spoilt the read for me.
I would have preferred to have cut out the clumsy structure of the book as a young girl's search into her mother's hidden history and concentrated on life for a leper as it was in the first half of the twentieth century.
It was scope for such a wonderful tale, centering around the leper island and the neighbouring mainland, but it had an unbelievable element to it.
Having said that, our book group gave it a hesitant seal of approval simply because it caused us to think about an horrendous disease that changed people's lives so dramatically up until quite recently.

I shall now go and find a copy of Under Their Skin by Dinah Kung as recommended by several other reviewers.

Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer
 
Confusing, Interesting, Difficult
Half the group gave up.

I quite enjoyed this book. It has a most unusual quirky style that took some getting used to but put off many readers.
It's loosely based on a visit J S Foer made to the Ukraine in search of his ancestors - he came away with nothing, so in that respect this is 99% fiction.
It was a bit confusing and the ending wasn't as I'd hoped but it did make for a good discussion amongst those of us who had read it.
Can't recommend it though as at least half the book group gave up on it and that's not the idea of a good book group read.

 
Interesting, Dramatic, Epic
Enjoyed by those who got through it.

This is a book for book groups whose members have plenty of reading time and who enjoy a bit of a challenge. I got as far as P170 and gave up - it had taken 2 weeks to get that far and I'm an avid reader. Those who got through it really enjoyed it though and encouraged me to have another go!
From the discussion of those who read it, I would say that the title is a bit of a misnomer; the hermaphrodite character is only part of the story, the remainder is more of a family saga.
Recommended with reservations as only half the group completed it.

 
Book Club Recommended
Adventurous, Dramatic, Interesting
Wonderful characters and interesting historically.

I loved this book and have recommended it to several book groups.
Very few people have not shared my enjoyment of it.

Breath: A Novel by Tim Winton
 
Not bad discussion

This was one of those books that people seemed to love or hate but the resulting discussion was quite good.
Personally I thought there was too much description of surfing but there were many redeeming features and astute observations.
The story went into great detail of Pikelet's early years but whizzed through his later life at disprportionate speed.
In its defense, this book makes some interesting comments on fitting in and dicing with danger as a teenager.
I'd give it 3 out of 5 as a book group read.

 
Not what the cover offers.

This is wrongly sold as an amusing book.
While there are amusing elements - not least the outrageous insults that Valentina hurls at her enemies when riled - it is overall a sad refection on old age and the vulnerability and gullibility of the aged.
There are some great characters and an interesting background of events around the time of WWII and the build-up to it.
This book offers much more than the comedy advertised on the cover and I wish I had approached it with a different frame of mind.
Our book group is this evening and I expect to have an interesting discussion.
4 stars.

 
Insightful, Beautiful, Inspiring
Felt rather like an A Level text.

I know I'm going to be shot down in flames for not enjoying this as much as other readers, but for me it was slow going. I can appreciate its merit as a study of a bygone era and there was much to admire in the characterisations, but a book is not enjoyable if I have to force myself to pick it up.
I was reading it for a book group and the ensuing discussion was excellent but it put me in mind of Carson McCullers' The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which I also found hard work.

The Nolans are a poor Brooklyn family with an industrious mother but an alcoholic father. Not a nasty alcohlic, in fact a fun loving, gentle alcoholic, but not a regular wage earner. The two children, Francie and Neeley, do everything they can to help bring in a few extra coins and the family scrapes by.
As the years pass we follow the family's fortunes through Francie, the eldest, as she goes out into the workplace at 14 and starts to earn a living.

Interestingly, much of the book seems to be autoboigraphical as Betty Smith was born in Brooklyn at about the same time as Francie and would have lived a similarly difficult life. Her Bio does not mention if her father was an alcoholic but no doubt she would have had neighbours with similar problems.

I can see why this has become a classic and the other memebers of our book group gave it high marks, just not my cup of tea.

 
Written from the heart.

The author lost his girlfriend in a bus accident, as Leo loses Eleni. Although the book is not autobiographical, it is written from the heart. The struggle to resume normal life after such a devestating loss is felt strongly by the reader as we follow Leo through the ensuing months.

Alongside this storyline, is a parallel tale, also based on a true journey; the walk from Siberia to Poland undertaken by the author's Grandfather during the First World War. This is an amazing tale of survival.

Both stories are motivated by love and interspersed throughout the book with sayings and pictures representing various aspects of love.
A beautifully composed book that took 5 years in its completion.
Recommended.

Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky
 
Dark, Confusing, Difficult
A slow read.

Be warned, this is a time consuming read.
Only three people managed to attend our meeting this month but shamefully none of us had managed to finish the book.
We managed a passable discussion of the first half.
I fully intend to complete it but to date it is still on tbr.

Run by Ann Patchett
 
Insightful, Dramatic, Addictive
Great read.

Ann Patchett has written a beautiful book.
I loved the way the reader suddenly finds that his preconceptions are jolted and a new reality takes their place.

Having had one child, Sullivan, Bernard Doyle and his wife Bernadette find themselves unable to have more. They decide to adopt, taking into their family an African American baby, Teddy, ten years younger than Sullivan. They can't believe their luck when Teddy's one-year-old brother, Tip, is also offered to them. Life is perfect - until the tragic loss of Bernadette throws out their comfortable existence.
The loss affects the boys differently and Sullivan is the hardest hit. His life loses its direction and he eventually goes to live in Africa.
The younger boys compensate by doing everything they can to please their father, right up to their college days.
When a passing stranger saves Tip from walking in front of a car, she and her thirteen-year-old daughter suddenly become part of their lives.
Nothing will ever be the same again.

My only hesitation with this book was the ending which I found abrupt and frustrating. So many questions that could not be answered and sudden changes in direction that I did not feel warranted.
In spite of this I gave it 5 stars as I unjoyed every page until I reached the last chapter.
Excellent.

Boy A: Movie Tie-in Edition by Jonathan Trigell
 
Won the World Book Day best book for discussion award.

This was a very clever book that rightfully earned the accolades it has accrued. We read it for a book group and it engendered some lively discussion about the fate of young offenders.

I was impressed how we were persuaded to feel affection for a character who we believed had committed an atrocity as a 10 year old, in spite of the unacceptable nature of his deed. We almost forgave him his 'misdemenour' as he made his way through life as a naiive young adult.

The author has a wonderful way with words - I particularly liked the quote: "He dunks a chunk of his tomato into the ketchup, before he realizes the absurdity of the action, and then finds that, in fact, even tomato is improved with ketchup".

Boy A does not slot into life on the "outside" easily and I think it is the way he genuinely struggles to make a go of it that endears him to the reader; we have the advantage of viewing his life from the inside and it is this that distinguishes him from other offenders.

The book certainly provides lots of food for thought and grounds for discussion. In fact several members of our reading group were reluctant to read it because of the subject matter, and in the end were very glad that they had.

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