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 Book for January: Regeneration by Pat Barker 

We move back to WWI in this book, which is the first of a trilogy. It includes a real-life encounter between the poet Siegfried Sassoon and WHR Rivers, an army psychologist and is a fascinating evocation of the agony of war, challenging assumptions about relationships - between men & women, doctors & patients, men & men and between different classes.  This is a fantastic book and highly recommended. It is the first of a trilogy so it is hoped that we may include the others for discussion at a later date. click to buy/read reviews

Book for February: October Sky by Homer H Hickham

This one was highly recommended by one of the group. Originally published as Rocket Boys, the new name seems to have come about as the result of it being made into a film. Quite what was wrong with the original name, I don't know. During our discussion about the book, we decided it was probably something to do with American sensibilities. This is the true story of the young Homer Hickham's quest to build a rocket to rival the Russians, forming "The Big Creek Missile Agency" at the age of 14. The setting is the small mining town of Coalwood in West Virginia. I would never have thought that I would enjoy a book about rockets and mining so much. It was enjoyed greatly by most of the group discussing it and I recommend it highly. The writer has captured 50s A insight into the workings of a young boy's mind as well as small-town relationships.    Buy / read reviews

Book for March: A Crime in the Neighborhood by Suzanne Berne  

This first novel, and winner of the Orange Prize, didn't live up our expectations. Whilst it was a passable read, we felt we were unable to get deeply into the minds of the more interesting characters.  However, I feel duty-bound to say that when discussing the same book at my local reading group, it appeared that we bookworms had missed much of the point of the book! Perhaps it deserves a second reading. 

It tells of 3 events in 1972 that shattered the serenity of 10 year old Marsha's life. Her father runs away with her aunt, a young boy is molested and murdered and Watergate makes the headlines. Marsha begins recording the doings of her neighbours - her "facts" spreading damage and catastrophe throughout the neighbourhood. The reviews for this novel include "Berne's vision is gently " (The Times), "......reminded me strongly of To Kill A Mockingbird......" (Daily Telegraph), "..intensely evocative prose." (Observer)    Buy / read reviews

Book for April:  Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad  

What can I say about this one? The general consensus amongst female bookies was that it was boring, racist, sexist and disappointing. However, there was a more enthusiastic reception from one or two of the male members of the group. A classic of it's time, (published 1902) it is narrated by Marlow to his listeners aboard a ship moored on the Thames. He tells the story of Kurtz, a mysterious agent in the heart of African ivory country. The 1970s Vietnam war film Apocalypse Now was based on the character of Kurtz and this knowledge affected my ability to concentrate on Conrad's Kurtz. The novel is beautifully written but has to be read with the date of its writing very much in mind.  Buy / read reviews

              Book for May/June:  A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving 

This is a wonderful book, one which I found deeply moving. Tiny Owen Meany, aged 11, accidentally kills his best friend's mother with a baseball. in 1953. He believes  that accidents don't just happen and that he is God's instrument. What happens next is both extraordinary and terrifying. It's one of those books that just gets better and better as you read through it - and it's a long book so that is no mean achievement. Combining the subjects of growing up, friendship, religion, literature, politics, and the Vietnam war to name just a few, this book keeps you guessing right to the very end. Likely to be in my all time favourites.   Buy / read reviews

Book for July: The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck 

This classic was voted a great read by virtually all the bookworms. Winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1940, this novel is as powerful now as it was then. It tells the story of the Joad family who are forced by mechanisation and the greed of the corporations to leave their farmland in Oklahoma to seek work in California, the "land of milk and honey" - or oranges and grapes. They endure death, deprivation and suffering throughout the journey but their spirit shines through. Beautifully crafted, the novel is an extremely satisfying, if disturbing read. There is a wonderful analogy very near the beginning which shows the tortured progress of an old turtle, mirroring the journey which the Joads will make. The chapters about the Joads are interspersed with shorter, more general episodes showing the overall plight of the ex-farmers. As one of the bookworms put it, it's almost as if we are shown the big picture and then a magnifying glass homes in on the Joads, showing the personal tragedies that were suffered. The ending of the book is shocking even now - it must have been extremely controversial when first published. Needless to say, the film of the book does not go so far. Curious? Then read the book; you won't be disappointed, but be prepared to be shocked and angry. I certainly was.  Buy / read reviews

Book for August:  The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell 

I started out with high hopes for this book, but gradually became disappointed. The general idea was good but somehow it just didn't come together as well as I had hoped. This view was shared by the majority of the bookworms. The novel tells the story of Father Emilio Sandoz, a Jesuit linguist, and a group of scientists and explorers on an expedition to the planet Rakhat, lured by the wonderful music they have discovered coming from Rakhat. I quite liked the way the story jumped between 2016, the date of the contact between the explorers and the inhabitants of Rakhat and 2060, when Sandoz is being interrogated following his arrival back on earth. At first I wanted to know why Sandoz was in such a poor physical and mental state but later on, hardly cared any more. There are some extremely aggravating characters in the novel - not least of all, Anne, who is all things to all people. Grrrr!! I also found the style of writing rather irritating at times when the author seemed to throw in a few colloquialisms to "keep us on side". I felt she was not living up to her academic reputation. It was a brave attempt to integrate sci-fi and religion and did have some subliminal messages regarding temptation and 'all is not what it seems' but in the end, the bookworms vote was that it failed. However, one or two people did find it sufficiently intriguing to buy the sequel - which apparently clarified many of the issues.  Buy / read reviews

Book for September:  Disgrace by J M Coetzee 

Not for the faint-hearted but well worth reading. This novel won the 1999 Booker Prize, and deservedly so, in my opinion. I have just read it for the second time and it certainly deserves more than one reading. Without giving away too much here, it describes the disgrace of Professor David Lurie, that of his daughter Lucie, and indeed, the disgrace of South African history.  If you read the reviews on the Amazon pages (link above), you will see that it arouses very contrasting views. My view is that you will find it a rewarding read. I confess I was in a minority amongst the bookworms in enjoying it so much. Whilst the subject matter is disturbing, the writing and construction of the novel more than makes up for it. Buy / read reviews  

Book for October: Human Croquet by Kate Atkinson 

I love this book. It deserves a number of readings because there are so many things to think about, and you can never be sure you are on the right track. Central to the novel is the Forest of Lythe, past and present. Isabel tells the story of her search for the truth about her parents, jumping in and out of time, and also narrating the history of past inhabitants of the area, who interlink with Isabel and her friends and family. By the end of the novel, a few things have been answered but the rest is left to the reader - how much of the story happened, how much was in Isabel's imagination? Fascinating stuff. Try it, it's comes highly recommended. Buy / read reviews   

Book for November: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov 

Very controversial, but described as "The greatest novel of rapture in modern fiction", this is a favourite of several of the bookworms. However, it was most certainly not of the others. None of the female readers enjoyed it at all - even those that were able to finish it. Personally I found it tedious and repetitious and only continued to read through a sense of "duty". The writing has been praised but I found it pretentious. Yes, the subject matter was distasteful but then so are many others.  It's hard to explain my dislike - partly down to the totally unsympathetic characters throughout the novel perhaps. I was disappointed in this choice but then I guess you can't win them all.  Buy / read reviews 

Book for December: A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess 

Yet another controversial novel, interest has been re-awakened recently due to the re-release of the Stanley Kubrick film after it was banned for many years. This book is quite unlike anything else I have read. Burgess has created a new language for his "hero", Alex. This language makes it quite difficult to get into the book quickly but you gradually become more familiar with the language used. For me (and indeed other bookworms), the language enabled me to distance myself from the more graphic descriptions of violence. I don't know if this was Burgess's intention, but it certainly made it more bearable. The big question is what is worse - "natural" or state-inflicted violence? You need to read the book to understand what I mean by that.  Buy / read reviews

 

 

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