Here are a selection of titles that have been enjoyed recently by some of our Reading Groups. Why not give some of them a try and see if you agree. Perhaps you would like to make some recommendations for other readers to try?
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
I found myself, from the very start, perfectly willing to co-operate with the writer and accept everything she wrote. I allowed myself to be the ideal reader, not looking for faults or trying to analyse it. i did not even attempt to find out how the writer managed to mix her story with a Russian fairy tale. Instead, I allowed myself to be carried along by the narrative. I found it easy to resist the temptation to criticise it. I could have said that it was far fetched; I could have suggested that cultured people, such as Mabel, would find it impossible to live in such a remote place, far away from theatres, museums and so on. These things do not matter. The charm of the novel outweighs any such weaknesses.
Throughout the novel I could see it all in my mind's eye. I had a very clear picture in my mind of the Alaskan landscape, the seasons, the cabin and the people who inhabited it. This not only enhanced my appreciation and enjoyment of the story, these vivid descriptions are what will remain with me. The fact that Mabel herself draws pictures makes this effect even more powerful. The reader does not need to actually see her drawings. It is easy to imagine them.
This leads on to an obvious question. Should they make a film based on this novel? My answer is no. People should read the novel and visualize it themselves. Any film no matter how well made, could not possibly capture the beauty of the novel. It would surely fail to show how Mabel's developing love of Faina is paralleled by her developing love of her life in Alaska. A film would probably fail to convey the depth of sadness of a couple who had lost a child (or to do so as well as Ivey does in the novel). The development of Mabel, from suffering the effects of losing her own child, is very touching. The reader's own idea of Faina is almost certainly better than what could be achieved on film.
Everything else I have read recently tries to find a logical, rational explanation for the world we live in, with a tendency to ridicule things which may be based on something other than cold headed reasoning. This novel reminds us that there is still a place for fantasy, which, I must admit, I had thought had been discredited. I have rediscovered the pleasure of reading a great work of the imagination.
I question the lack of communication between Mabel and Ada. The letters between the two sisters are a great source of enrichment for the novel and I feel the writer could have exploited this much more.
Another significant point is the date, 1920, which is mentioned at the very start. I kept on thinking about how much easier it would have been with modern motorised transport systems and mobile phones, etc. this also gave the writer the additional difficulty of having to write all the dialogue in a 1920's style.
The friendly neighbours, Esther and George, are always a pleasure. Again, the reader can easily imagine them. They are adorable yet perfectly credible people.
I would also add that the scene in which Faina and Garrett kiss for the first time is very skilfully written.
Although I can think of some people who would not enjoy this book at all; there are people who would need more details on how to build a log cabin, how to set traps and so on, I would give this novel 8 out of 10. It is a novel which I strongly recommend.
- David, Bishopbriggs Tuesday Evening Reading Group
The Colour by Rose Tremain
Most of our group really enjoyed The Colour. The difficulties the settlers endured in their first winter near Christchurch was heartbreaking and very vivid. Under these pressures the reasons each individual had for emigrating to New Zealand came to light. When gold or the colour is found this starts a steady decline in the family unit.
Some of our group found the Maori story confusing but others saw the Maori way of life as being contrasted with those of the "advanced" settlers from Norfolk. The differing views on gold and greenstone highlighted this. For the Maori greenstone was useful and could be carved, Gold was useless and soft.
The novel also illustrated the difficulties of travel over large distances of spectacular scenery and extremes of weather. It also dealt with the complexities of love and the quest for happiness. These topics were discussed at great length in our group. This made The Colour a successful read and added to our knowledge of New Zealand in 1864.'
- Killermont Reading Group
The River of Destiny by Barbara Erskine
'This novel was not too well received by us: only one member enjoyed it. The story background has three timeframes centuries apart and the device of narrating each part of the tale concurrently made - it was felt - for a very slow pace.
There is an ancient sword, an Anglo-Saxon burial ground, a Victorian love affair with tragic consequences and a modern day couple who begin to sense something fey in their new converted barn home and environs. Interestingly, in the two earlier times there is a character with power who uses it for his/her own sexual desires. However in modern times the couple, who are steadily growing apart, just find a new
love each and move on. A sign of modern times?
The tale tells of loves thwarted and loves lost, of malice, magic and ancient curses, but it somehow did not enthral and it was felt by some that the ending was slightly anti-climatic.'
- Woodhead Reading Group
The Woodcutter by Reginald Hill
'The woodcutter is Wilf Hadda, known as Wolf, a man of humble origins who has achieved remarkable success in business. He suddenly finds himself imprisoned on horrific charges. Although he protests his innocence, he is totally abandoned by friends and family. He remains silent for many years, but finally he begins to open up to prison psychiatrist Alva Ozigbo (Elf).
This book was enjoyed by everyone in the group. It is well-crafted with strong well-drawn characters within a well-developed plot. However, some felt that that the ending was very contrived.'
- Woodhead Reading Group
The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
'This book tells the story of Allan Karlsson, his exploits and encounters with the assortment of people who he ‘gathers’ as a consequence of his two recent impulsive acts. The first of which was to abscond from the Old Peoples’ Home just prior to the birthday party to be held in his honour, the second being the removal from the bus station of a suitcase which he was requested to temporarily ‘caretake’ by a petty criminal and which, unbeknownst to him, contained 50 million Swedish Crowns - the ill-gotten gains of the ‘Never Again’ gang who were shortly to be in pursuit. The subsequent weeks are a riot of hilarious mishaps, near-death experiences, police pursuit, misunderstandings including the ‘inadvertent’ murder of two criminals.
The novel interestingly switches every few chapters from present to past in which we follow Allan's life and career as a self taught explosives ‘expert’. The comedy is black and outrageous as we find him through happenstance playing a role in many of the major events of the twentieth century. The author roams through these events producing many laugh out loud moments! Allan is a complex person although supposedly with few needs in life: food, warmth and freedom to take up any opportunity which presents itself and interests him (so long as there is sufficient supply of vodka). The book is pure ‘escapism’, very amusing, well constructed with rich dialogue. It has an almost old fashioned slightly formal delivery, is well paced and thoroughly enjoyable if you can accept/ignore the impracticalities of the ‘scenarios’.'
- Westerton Library Reading Group