Books 2005

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Book for January:  Dracula by Bram Stoker

This is the classic Dracula tale, from which all the modern ones sprung. It was good to go back to the roots of the story and I suspect more people are familiar with film versions than this original novel. Quite a few of us read it and on the whole, enjoyed it very much - sometimes against our expectations. The format of the book consists of the journals & diaries of a number of characters, recounting their struggle to destroy the vampire. The book is particularly atmospheric at the beginning where our hero first meets Dracula and is kept in his strange castle. For research purposes, I also watched the Francis Ford Coppola film version and was disappointed with much of it although it was truer to the book than many films. 

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Book for February: The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold  

This is by Alice Sebold and despite the grim subject matter, we found it a really good read. It's about a young girl who is raped and murdered at the age of 14 who tells her story whilst looking down from heaven. Not the easiest of subjects to write about but it's handled very sensitively. There is lots of emphasis on Susie coming to terms with the fact she's not going to grow up and she's reluctant to leave behind the world she knew. I found it a quite convincing explanation of what happens after we die. We had several discussions about it in the Tiscali books forum. 

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BOOK FOR MARCH: The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown 

This hugely popular book has sparked all sorts of controversy, even inspiring a TV programme about it. The fact it is fiction seems to have been forgotten to some extent. It's a thriller, a mystery, involving murder in the Louvre, codes and riddles, and a trail leading to the works of Leonardo da Vinci. It suggests an answer to an age-old mystery and is a cracking good read. Most of us enjoyed it very much, despite the odd niggle about various bits and pieces. It certainly did spark off some very interesting discussion. There is a long thread about it in the Tiscali books forum here.

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BOOK FOR APRIL: Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon 

This latest book is a near-future 'thriller' about an autistic man called Lou. His job involves finding patterns in data, and he has made a considerable amount of money for his employers. But now they want him to change and become 'normal'. He leads a reasonably 'normal' life anyway - so will he want to change things, and if he does, will it work? We all enjoyed this one although didn't really consider it to be a thriller as such. It was well-researched and it was fascinating to see things from the point of view of an autistic man - shades of The Curious Incident but with a more mature outlook. The technical and medical side wasn't over complicated, for which I was grateful, and we found the information on the sport of fencing unexpectedly interesting. There have been recent developments in research on autism, with the prospect of alleviating the symptoms in very young children, and it's very possible that the ethical dilemmas faced in this novel may well be played out in truth in the future. Recommended.

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Book for MAY: Blindsighted by Karin Slaughter 

This is an American thriller in the Patricia Cornwell/Kathy Reichs tradition, nasty subject matter, quite explicit violence, but fascinating characters, well-written and completely 'unputdownable'. A young woman in Grant County is found dead with two knife wounds cut deeply into her stomach in the shape of a cross. She has been brutally raped. A second victim is found crucified, just a few days later. Sara Linton, paediatrician and medical examiner, and police chief Jeffrey Tolliver set out to catch the perpetrator before he can hurt anyone else. The characters are very well-drawn and the book is well written and full of excitement and interest. It's Slaughter's first novel - I have since gone on to read her next 3 books in the Grant County series. We all enjoyed it although there were a few reservations about it, mainly about the murderer and how few clues we were given, also how everything tied up in the end. But generally, I think she's found one or two new fans.

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Book for JUNE: Fingersmith by Sarah Walters 

This novel was televised recently and having seen it, was looking forward to reading the book. It's a modern take on the Dickensian London novels and concerns the lives of two orphans, Maud and Susan. Susan becomes involved in a plot to deprive Maud of her fortune but there are twists and turns aplenty and it doesn't go quite according to plan. I wasn't disappointed - the book was adapted very well, with little changed or cut out, although knowing what happened made it less exciting than it would have been had I read the book first. Well worth reading. It's a fairly hefty tome but well worth the effort.

To quote from Amazon, 'Waters' penchant for Byzantine plotting can get a bit exhausting but even at its densest moments--and remember this is smoggy London circa 1862--it remains mesmerising. A damning critique of Victorian moral and sexual hypocrisy, a gripping melodrama and a love story to boot, this book ingeniously reworks some truly classic themes.

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Book for JULY: Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons 

Sensible, sophisticated Flora Poste has been expensively educated to do everything but earn her own living. When she is orphaned at twenty, she decides her only option is to descend on her relatives, the doomed Starkadders at the aptly named Cold Comfort Farm.' This is a modern classic, a sharp and clever parody of the melodramatic rural novels of the time, and was made into a successful television film which I enjoyed. We had rather mixed feelings about his one, with most of us enjoying it at first but becoming bored towards the end. 

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Book for AUGUST: Black Hawk Down by Mark Bowden Review
In Black Hawk Down journalist Mark Bowden delivers a strikingly detailed account of the 1993 nightmare operation in Mogadishu that left 18 American soldiers dead and many more wounded. This early foreign-policy disaster for the Clinton administration led to the resignation of Secretary of Defence Les Aspin and a total troop withdrawal from Somalia. Bowden does not spend much time considering the context; instead he provides a moment-by-moment chronicle of what happened in the air and on the ground. His gritty narrative tells of how Rangers and elite Delta Force troops embarked on a mission to capture a pair of high-ranking deputies to warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid only to find themselves surrounded in a hostile African city. Their high-tech MH-60 Black Hawk helicopters had been shot down and a number of other miscues left them trapped through the night. Bowden describes Mogadishu as a place of Mad Max--like anarchy--implying strongly that there was never any peace for the supposed peacekeepers to keep. He makes full use of the defence bureaucracy's extensive paper trail--which includes official reports, investigations and even radio transcripts--to describe the combat with great accuracy, right down to the actual dialogue. He supplements this with hundreds of his own interviews, turning Black Hawk Down into a completely authentic non-fiction novel, a lively page-turner that will make readers feel like they're standing beside the embattled troops. This will quickly be realised as a modern military classic. --John J. Miller

Or you could watch the film!

We were a bit mixed regarding this one, since few of us read war books out of choice, but we did agree it was more accessible than expected. 

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Book for SEPTEMBER/OCTOBER: Oryx & Crake by Margaret Atwood

Slightly mixed feelings about this one - I liked it from the start (and have read it twice) but others found it a bit slow to get going. And not everyone was happy with the inconclusive ending. This is a sci-fi book but doesn't really feel like it. It's in the same genre as her earlier novel, The Handmaid's Tale. Atwood's vision of the future is frightening but all too believable. If you're concerned about medical research, internet violence etc., you will see your fears being realised in this novel.

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Book for OCTOBER/NOVEMBER: Any Human Heart by William Boyd

This is one of my all-time favourite books and I was delighted that so many people to whom I recommended it have read and enjoyed it (in my local reading group as well as bookworms). It's a fictional autobiography spanning many countries and almost all of the 20th century, encompassing factual history and real characters as well as fictional ones. As someone who loves both art and literature, I can't praise this book highly enough. Almost everyone felt that the main character was fascinating, albeit flawed, and wanted to know his life history, despite the fact he is fictional. Even those who don't usually enjoy this sort of book found it very readable. It had everything, comedy, tragedy, geography, history, relationships, the list goes on.

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