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Book for January: All The Pretty Horses  by Cormac McCarthy 

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This book, the first of a trilogy, tells the story of two young men who leave their Texan homes to seek adventure in Mexico. They befriend another on the way and "enter a country beyond their imagining: a barren and beautiful, ragged yet cruelly civilized: But a place where dreams are paid for in blood..." Not an easy book to read but worth the effort. Not many of the Bookworms read it so our discussion was very limited. I found it quite a struggle at first but after the initial hurdle of wondering where it was all going, was engrossed. It is at times beautiful, at others savage and is not for the squeamish - some of the description is very graphic. The relationship between the boys and the horses is a fascinating one and some said reminiscent of The Horse Whisperer (a book I haven't yet read). Recently filmed and starring Matt Damon, this book deserves a bigger audience. However, having read the reviews, I am unsure if the film will do much to help.  Certainly the potential was there - the book is immensely visual - but can film ever do justice to a book such as this one? I doubt it.  

Book for February: Headlong  by Michael Frayn 

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Amazon's reviews of this book range from a single * to *****, the comments from "A mish-mash of overlong, pseudo art history together with a not very well worked farce" to "The history, the humour, the tension, the suspense all add up to a book that is impossible to put down." Bookworms' reactions were very similar, with the majority view being that there was a bit TOO much emphasis on historical fact. Very briefly, the plot involves the discovery of a painting that the narrator feels is a lost Breughel and he plots to outwit the owner. Some explanation of art history is necessary but Frayn does seem to be making a point about exactly how knowledgeable he is. I was more interested in the narrator's battle with his conscience and the increasing tension between him and his wife. The climax of the book is rather farcical and not particularly believable.  Although I enjoyed it very much to begin with, I don't felt it really lived up to my expectations. An enjoyable read, but not one I feel I wish to read again. 

Book for March: The God of Small Things  by Arundhati Roy 

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This is one of my favourite books and I very much enjoyed re-reading it for Bookworms. The overwhelming impression I had of it as I read was one of richness and colour, clearly demonstrated by the opening few lines: "May in Ayemenem is a hot, brooding month. The days are long and humid. The river shrinks and black crows gorge on bright mangoes in still, dustgreen trees. Red bananas ripen. Jackfruits burst. Dissolute bluebottles hum vacuously in the fruity air. Then they stun themselves against clear windowpanes and die, baffled in the sun." Some reviewers have criticised the language as being excessively flowery but I feel that it added to the experience of reading the novel. Set in Kerala, this book explores the fate of a family which "tampered with the laws that lay down who should be loved, and how." It's both funny and tragic and I understand was in part based on the writer's own life. I found a couple of very useful links about Roy and her novel - click here for information about the writer and here for a study guide. 

Book for April: A Game of Thrones  by George R R Martin 

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This is the first in a fantasy trilogy and gets rave reviews on the Amazon site. We read little fantasy for Bookworms so it was with some trepidation that I started this giant of a novel (over 800 pages) but I was pleasantly surprised. I do concede that much of my enthusiasm was possibly because I was ill with flu when I read it so it was a great distraction from feeling awful! As I was confined to bed, I was able to read it in huge chunks which made it much easier to follow. There are a number of storylines but all have well-drawn characters and lots of excitement.  Although a 'fantasy' novel, it didn't seem, for the most part, any more unbelievable than most adventure stories. It tells the tales of Kings and knights, goodies and baddies, castles and hovels, with a very medieval feel about it. Bookworms' reactions were mixed but in general it got the "thumbs up". 

 

Book for May: The Sea, The Sea by Iris Murdoch 

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This book tells the story of Charles Arrowby, an actor/director/playwright who retires to a cottage on the edge of the sea to "abjure magic and become a hermit". The novel consists of Charles's entries into his diary/journal/autobiography, gradually piecing together the details of his life intertwined with his musings on his cottage and the sea - and the monster he sees in it. This is a wonderful book and the reader is kept guessing what will happen. Past and present come together when Charles meets up with the lost love of his life but not everything goes according to his plans. There is so much in this book - love, hope, loss, death, mystery, friendship, nature, kidnapping, obsession. All packaged in a beautifully written and readable novel that manages to keep the reader enthralled throughout. Unfortunately our attempts at discussing this book were thwarted several times but everyone that read it, thoroughly enjoyed the experience. Highly recommended - one of the best I have read recently and definitely worthy of repeated reading.

Book for June: Under the Skin by Michael Faber

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I have just read this one and must warn you that it's not for the squeamish! It tells the story of Isserley, a young woman who has an obsession with picking up male hitchhikers, the more muscled, the better. To say too much would be to spoil the plot - suffice to say that it'll make anyone wary of hitching a lift again. It's a much shorter book than those the Bookworms have read recently and is quite a quick read. Quite a few of us did manage to read this one and the general view was very positive. It's interesting and thought provoking and might even make you change one aspect of your lifestyle - beyond that I shall say no more!

Book for July: In a Land of Plenty by Tim Pears

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I loved this book which opens in 1952 and covers the next 40 years of the lives of the family of Charles Freeman, successful postwar industrialist. It concentrates mainly on the life of James, one of Charles's sons. The family have very diverse personalities and they are interwoven with the other, equally interesting, characters of the novel. The historical background is fascinating, especially as I write as someone who lived through the strikes of the 70s and the breakdown of the manufacturing industry in the 80s. Recently serialised on BBC2, the book does hold a few surprises for those that have seen the TV adaptation. I enjoyed both tremendously and was pleased to hear that the author was very happy with the changes that were made. This is one of my favourite books of the year so if you want a really good book to get your teeth into, try this. It has over 650 pages though, so ensure you have time to give it the attention it deserves. Oh - and make sure you have some tissues handy ;-)) The Bookworms were rather divided over this one, much to my surprise. One even abandoned it halfway through and several found it hard to empathise with the characters. Indeed, they didn't feel that they were very well-drawn, but luckily I wasn't the only fan!

Book for August: The Way I Found Her by Rose Tremain

This is the second time Rose Tremain has been chosen for our book of the month - back in 1999 we read Restoration, a book that I enjoyed immensely. This book tells the story of a visit to Paris by 13 year old Lewis and his mother Alice. Alice is there to translate a novel written by Russian emigrée Valentina, an intriguing larger-than-life character with whom Lewis falls passionately in love. The book is narrated by Lewis, who at times seems much older than his years, particularly in his reading habits which include classics in French. It's a lovely book, extremely evocative of Paris and one which I thoroughly enjoyed. the latter part of the book didn't quite ring true however - maybe because I just wasn't expecting it. We had mixed feelings about the climax of the novel - but I can't really expand on that without spoiling it for those planning to read the book.

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Book for September: The House of The Spirits by Isabel Allende

This family saga spanning four generations has been translated from Allende's Spanish and received rave reviews. From The Times, 'A remarkable achievement...a big book that can comprehend the history of a nation, and so many lives, with love.'  From Die Welt 'A truly great read: a novel thick and thrilling, full of fantasy, terror and wit, elaborately crafted yet serious and accurate in its historical and social observations'.

I did enjoy it but found it very long and circumstances meant it took me a whole month to read, so at times I did lose track of some of the characters. However, having said that, it was a lovely book with some incredible characters. I liked the way the book jumped between an omniscient narrator and Esteban Trueba, the rather unpleasant patriarch. It did allow the reader a little sympathy with him which wouldn't have been present otherwise. The jumping was perhaps a bit confusing as there wasn't any warning - it didn't happen at the beginning of a chapter, just every now and again and before you knew it we were back with the omniscient narrative again.

I liked the ending - it was honest and not a cop-out like in some books. It brought the book round full circle. Not many bookworms read it so our discussion was quite limited. If I get any further feedback, I'll post it here.

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Book for October: White Teeth by Zadie Smith

Dreadful. I don't think any of the bookworms bothered to finish reading this although I did my best. It's a massively long book filled with characters with whom none of us could raise much enthusiasm or sustain much interest. I was very disappointed, having been taken in by all the hype when the novel was first published. The actual writing, which is quite innovative & experimental, is fine but the characters just didn't live up to expectation. There are over 100 reviews on Amazon's UK site so if you want to find out more, take a look at some of them! 

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Book for November: Mirage by Bandula Chandraratna

This is a short and deceptively simple little book and is quite unlike most of the books I read. The language is unpretentious, almost child-like in its innocence. Through the story of Sayeed and his new wife, Latifa, we are given a clear insight into Muslim life in a desert community. We also learn how their way of life is affected by westerners coming to work in the cities. The minutiae of daily life is acutely observed and never bored me. I was brought up short by the ending - totally unexpected. This novel is very accessible for most readers of whatever age. It was disappointing that not enough bookworms managed to read this for us to discuss it, so the views here are entirely my own!

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Book for December: Gertrude & Claudius by John Updike

In this novel John Updike has taken Shakespeare's play Hamlet and written its prequel. It's a fascinating insight into what could have happened prior to the events of Shakespeare's Hamlet. John Updike has used historical references, hints in the play and his own judgment and imagination to create this novel. We hear about Gertrude's childhood and early marriage to Hamlet, the birth of her only son and her subsequent relationship with Hamlet's brother, Claudius. I suppose you could classify it very loosely as a historical romance but it's much more than that. Claudius was a traveller and medieval Europe and Asia are depicted as fascinatingly as Northern Europe.
You don't need to know the play Hamlet to appreciate this book although that knowledge gives it an added frisson. Just a couple of further comments - the book is divided into 3 parts and different versions of the characters' names are used so it can be slightly confusing, although it is explained in the Forward. And one gripe, pointed out by a bookworm during our discussion - in the last few words, Updike uses the word 'gotten' as in 'he had gotten away with it'. That sounds a bit too 20th century American!

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