The Sorrow of War by Bao Ninh

About the book

Kien’s job is to search the Jungle of Screaming Souls for corpses. He knows the area well – this was where, in the dry season of 1969, his battalion was obliterated by American napalm and helicopter gunfire. Kien was one of only ten survivors. This book is his attempt to understand the eleven years of his life he gave to a senseless war.
Based on true experiences of Bao Ninh and banned by the communist party, this novel is revered as the ‘All Quiet on the Western Front for our era’.

Reviewed by Yateley Library Reading Group:

This book provoked very strong reaction. 50% loved it, 50% hated it. A good discussion was had. Generally people thought it provoked the pointlessness of war very well but was sometimes harrowing. Hard to read as it jumped between past and present and future. Worth preserving with.

Star rating: ***

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The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

About the book

This is the extraordinary love story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry thirty. Impossible but true, because Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock periodically resets and he finds himself pulled suddenly into his past or future. In the face of this force they can neither prevent nor control, Henry and Clare’s struggle to lead normal lives is both intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

Reviewed by Robins Book Group:

Love story with a ‘twist’. A way of using a concept lie time travel to explore a story of love, passion and loss.

Star rating: ***

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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

About the book

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life–even after death.

Review by North Baddesley WI 2 Reading Group:

All members finished the book, one found it depressing. We thought it well written and interesting to observe life from a ghosts point of view. Thee was a great deal of insight into how one of the characters worked through his bereavement. It gave the group plenty to talk about.

Star rating: ***

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The Society of Others by William Nicholson

About the book

Cool, clear-eyed, and bluntly cynical, the young narrator of The Society of Others embarks on a journey without a destination. He hitchhikes through Europe only to find himself in a mystifying country where terrorists are inexplicably after him, and so is a sinister government. In a surreal landscape where people are shot to death without reason and social control runs deep, he must learn who to trust–and what to stand for. Fast paced and provocative, a gripping philosophical thriller, The Society of Others is an ingenious meditation on the nature of contemporary innocence and identity.

Reviewed by The Benches Reading Group:

The author’s first adult novel gave our group much thought for discussion with a range of views concerning the subject person in the story. Quite well written, good description of people, country and urban areas. The inclusion of several painting masterpieces added special interest in the tale. Ending speculative – who was shot!

Star rating: ***

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Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

About the book

In 1919 a generation of young women discovered that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round, and the statistics confirmed it. After the 1921 Census, the press ran alarming stories of the ‘Problem of the Surplus Women – Two Million who can never become Wives…’. This book is about those women, and about how they were forced, by a tragedy of historic proportions, to stop depending on men for their income, their identity and their future happiness.

Reviewed by Selbourne Book Circle:

Unanimous opinion – the subject was interesting and she wrote well, but the book was repetitive, too long and the type too small. However, it led to a good discussion.

Star rating: **

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The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicolson

About the book

The Perfect Summer chronicles a glorious English summer a century ago, when the world was on the cusp of irrevocable change. Through the tight lens of four months, Juliet Nicolson’s rich storytelling gifts rivet us with the sights, colors, and feelings of a bygone era. That summer of 1911 a new king was crowned and the aristocracy was at play, bounding from one house party to the next. But perfection was not for all. Cracks in the social fabric were showing. The country was brought to a standstill by industrial strikes. Temperatures rose steadily to more than 100 degrees; by August deaths from heatstroke were too many for newspapers to report. Drawing on material from intimate and rarely seen sources and narrated through the eyes of a series of exceptional individuals–among them a debutante, a choirboy, a politician, a trade unionist, a butler, and the queen–The Perfect Summer is a vividly rendered glimpse of the twilight of the Edwardian era.

Reviewed by Botley Book Circle:

We felt that there was more focus on the ‘aristocracy’ than the ‘man on the street’ and we would like to have had the other perspective. Some of the group are now interested in learning more about this period of history through other books.

Star rating: ***

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One Day by David Nicholls

About the book

Emma and Dexter meet for the first time on the night of their graduation. Tomorrow they must go their separate ways. So where will they be on this one day next year? And the year after that? And every year that follows?

Reiewed by ArleReading Group:

A good book for the younger generation and yet, one for any age as we watch the characters mature. Well constructed, but a slow start as we get to know the characters. Worth persevering to the end.

Star rating: ***

A Short walk in the Hindu Kush by Eric Newby

About the book

The view was colossal. Below us on every side mountain surged away it seemed forever; we looked down on glaciers and snow-covered peaks that perhaps no one has ever seen before, except from the air.’
Feeling restless in the world of London’s high-fashion industry, Eric Newby asked a friend to accompany him on a mountain-climbing expedition in the wild and remote Hindu Kush, in north-eastern Afghanistan. And so they went – although they did stop first for four days of climbing lessons in Wales – becoming the first Englishmen to visit this spectacular region for more than half a century. Newby’s frank and funny account of their expedition to what is still amongst the world’s most isolated areas is one of the classics of travel writing.

Reviewed by Kingsclere Reading Group:

A mixed response: some loved it, others found it a bit dull. Good discussion about the attitudes shown by writer to ethnic groups he met. Quality of his writing enjoyed. All pleased that we read a book we might otherwise have rejected.

Star rating: ***

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Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

book cover

About the book

In 1941, Irène Némirovsky sat down to write a book that would convey the magnitude of what she was living through by evoking the domestic lives and personal trials of the ordinary citizens of France. Némirovsky’s death in Auschwitz in 1942 prevented her from seeing the day, sixty-five years later, that the existing two sections of her planned novel sequence, Suite Française, would be rediscovered and hailed as a masterpiece.
Set during the year that France fell to the Nazis, Suite Française falls into two parts. The first is a brilliant depiction of a group of Parisians as they flee the Nazi invasion; the second follows the inhabitants of a small rural community under occupation. Suite Française is a novel that teems with wonderful characters struggling with the new regime. However, amidst the mess of defeat, and all the hypocrisy and compromise, there is hope. True nobility and love exist, but often in surprising places.

Reviewed by  Enjoying Books Reading Group:

Unusual book – wonderful prose, a great insight into French life during the war. Beautifully drawn characters.

Star rating: ****

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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

About the book

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI Reading Group:

Fascinating. Very condensed and slow reading because there was so much to take in. A vivid picture of life in Tehran and subjugation of women.

Star rating: ***

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