Friday, 26 February 2016

My Review of the Best Book Club Reads

There have been lots of articles in the press this week about the positive benefits of being in a Book Club. I'm sure anyone choosing to read this blog doesn't need to be told this! An article about "How Many Book Clubs is it Possible to be Part of at the Same Time" might be more appropriate for some of us! 
The benefits are very obvious and really important. They make you read, they make you read different things, they help you find new authors and genres, they make you socialise and meet new people or let you get to know your friends more deeply, you learn things about yourself, your fellow group members and your reading habits. Apparently it has now been proved it's good for your mental health too, protects against the ageing process and can reduce the risk of dementia. Reading is good for you and your brain! Who knew?!

The Reading Agency published a full report on their research into reading groups which they spent most of 2015 compiling with the assistance of 1500 nationwide book groups. You can see the full results on their website reading groups.org or through their Twitter feed @readingagency. Here are their results for what they found to be the "Top Ten Book Group Reads" in order. How many have your book group discussed?

1. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee 
This would work well is discussed alongside her new release Go Set a Watchman. GCSE classic text which most of us read at school but remains resonant today. Highly readable. The story is about Atticus Finch and his court case defending a black man during a time of deep racism. Told through the eyes of his daughter Scout, it is a coming of age novel; highly perceptive and captivating. 
2.Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey 
The protagonist is suffering from Alzheimers and therefore the author's writing is incredibly clever as she manages to capture the thought process of someone who is unable to retain everything but knows something is very wrong. It is part mystery about what has happened to Elizabeth but also a reflection on ageing and memory. It could also be used to consider writing styles and narrative voices.Why not pair up with Lisa Genova's stunning "Still Alice" which also portrays dementia? 
3. We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver
Highly controversial since its publication, this novel is told through the letters written by Eva to her absent husband about her relationship and feelings towards her son who is responsible for shooting 9 people during a rampage at school. It is a difficult read but throws up numerous points for discussion. 
4. The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
This really is a fantastic book and was a record breaking best seller. It is set in the Second World War in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death. It is a beautiful, life affirming story about the power of words. It has also been adapted into a very good film if you want to reward yourselves after reading or compare.
5. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows
Set just after WW2 in Guernsey this is about life under German Occupation. It's a light, easy, well paced read but some of the stories told about what happened prevent it from being too saccharine. It has always been a very popular pick for book groups and appeals to a wide audience.
6. The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton
This book was a runaway success and winner of many awards. It also featured in Richard & Judy's Book Club. It is a magical tale set in Amsterdam in 1686. It's a weightier read than it appears but very different and worthy of consideration. 
7. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini 
Set in Afghanistan this is possibly one of the most powerful and moving books I have read. It is not an easy read in places and is harrowing at times. The writing is stunning and incredibly well crafted. It is thought provoking and will stay with you. You must read "The Kite Runner" if you missed it.
8. The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
This was a novel that surprised book sellers with its popularity! More a novella than a novel, it is a gentle read about a man walking the length of Britain to deliver a message. Endearing, with some revelations, reflections and musings on life, love and families. Could be paired with Joyce's recent "Love Song of Miss Queenie Hennessy" which explores the "other half" of the story. 
9. The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt 
This is not for the faint hearted Book Groups! At a whopping 881 pages this takes some real commitment! However, Tartt is an exceptional writer and this is an engaging story with a vivid and appealing main character. But I definitely preferred her first book, "The Secret History" and it is still one of my most favourite reads. 
10. The Help by Kathryn Stockett 
This really is an amazing read. Set during the Civil Rights Movement in Mississippi it is about three women, a book, a quiet revolution and a pie! I could quote passages from this for hours. The film is true to the book and as moving and poignant. Well worth reading and watching! 

What would I recommend for a good Book Club Read?
Seriously, you want to get me started on this???! It will be the longest blogpost in history! Ok, I'll give you five and save some more for later! 
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1. The Home-Maker by Dorothy Canfield Fisher 
This was first published in 1924 and I recommend it to every Book Club that are foolish enough to ask me for a recommendation! It is about an obsessively controlling housewife Evangeline, who is quite difficult to read about as she is so neurotic. Her husband has a terrible accident and is wheelchair bound forcing Evangeline to go to work in a Department Store and for him to stay at home - hugely controversial for 1924. The story then follows the transformation and blossoming of both Evangeline, her husband and their children. Moving, poignant, thought provoking, accessible and easy to read, this is a truly fascinating novel. Ps I totally love Persephone Books - please visit their website, indulge in their gorgeous books that are too lovely to put away on shelves and treat yourself to stunning stationary..... gift vouchers always welcome!!!!!

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2. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
This novel follows the relationship between Ifemelu and Obinze over the course of thirty years. It begins in Nigeria and then moves to America where Ifemelu travels to start a new life. It is an engaging and fascinating account of their experiences within the two different cultures and I found it quite unputdownable. It's 610 pages long so another heavy investment for a group looking for more of a challenging read but thought provoking and full or relevant issues for a global society. 
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3. The Story of a Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
I don't want to be stopped by the adjective police for overuse but this really is beautiful! A lighter read than the above, it begins with the escape of Lynnie and Homan from the "School for the Incurable and Feebleminded". I'm not saying anymore. Stunning, enthralling, moving, captivating and just a great book. Enjoy!

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4. Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal? by Jeanette Winterson
This is a complete contrast and is the autobiography of the outspoken and controversial author of "Oranges are Not the Only Fruit." In fact, this non fiction account has been described as the silent twin to "Oranges" which was a fictional account of a traumatising childhood. In words taken from Amazon's blurb, it is "full of hurt and humour and a fierce love of life. It is about the pursuit of happiness, about lessons in love, the search for a mother and a journey into madness and out again." It is honest. It is truthful. It won't suit everyone, but is worth considering as a good discussion starter and insight into Winterson's upbringing as an adopted child with a mother who is overly zealous in her religious beliefs and somewhat unhinged in her approaches and views of life. It is about Winterson's emotional survival as a child and resolving this mental anguish as an adult.

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5. Wonder by R J Palacio
I can not not recommend a Young Adult novel in my selection - I am a passionate advocate of Teenage Fiction and it should never be underestimated! This is a very special book which will grab you from the outset and stay with you. Ten year old August is born with a terrible facial abnormality and so far as been homeschooled. He wants to be accepted and ordinary but can this ever really be? Meet the most inspiring young boy you are ever going to come across! A book which is worthy of the description "epic" and it really will "blow you away!"

I hope that has given you some inspiration! Do let me know what you think! I shall post some more suggestions soon but will just leave you with the following thought......!!!

For more recommendations, reviews and bookish chat, follow me on Twitter @katherinesunde3 or sign up for the email notification on the right hand side! 



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