Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton

About the book

With this intensely moving short novel, Edith Wharton set out ‘to draw life as it really was’ in the lonely villages and desolate farms of the harsh New England mountains. Through the eyes of a visitor from the city, trapped for a winter in snowbound Starkfield, readers glimpse the hidden histories of this austere and beautiful land. Piecing together the story of monosyllabic Ethan Frome, his grim wife, Zeena, and Mattie Silver, her charming cousin, Wharton explores psychological dead-lock:frustration, longing, resentment, passion.

First published in 1911, the novella stunned its public with its consummate handling of the unfolding drama, and has remained for many readers the most compelling and subtle of all Wharton’s fiction.

Reviewed by The Olive Tree

A beautifully written evocation of a time and place. A terribly sad story which as Lauren Sage says is ‘a kind of perverse projection of despair’ It led to some very good discussion”

star rating ***

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The Irresistible Inheritance of Wilberforce by Paul Torday

About the book

Late one summer evening, Wilberforce – rich, young, and work-obsessed – makes a detour on his way home to the vast undercroft of Caerlyon Hall, and the domain of Francis Black, a place where wine, hospitality and affection flow freely.

Through Francis, Wilberforce is initiated into a life rich in the promise of friendship and adventure, where, through his new set of friends, the possibility of finding acceptance, and even falling in love, seems finally to be within his reach.

Wilberforce becomes a willing pupil to Francis, and in the cellars of Caerlyon he nurtures a new-found passion for wine. But even the finest wine can leave a bitter aftertaste, and Wilberforce will learn the undercroft’s unpalatable secrets, and that passion comes at a price …

Reviewed by The Village

“Beautifully written but subject matter distasteful. Would read more by the same author”

star rating ***

 

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Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

About the book

Frances Mayes – widely published poet, gourmet cook and travel writer – opens the door on a wondrous new world when she buys and restores an abandoned villa in the spectacular Tuscan countryside. She finds faded frescoes beneath the whitewash in the dining room, a vineyard under wildly overgrown brambles – and even a wayward scorpion under her pillow. And from her traditional kitchen and simple garden she creates dozens of delicious seasonal recipes, all included in this book.
In the vibrant local markets and neighbouring hill towns, the author explores the nuances of the Italian landscape, history and cuisine. Each adventure yields delightful surprises – the perfect panettone, an unforgettable wine, or painted Etruscan tombs. Doing for Tuscany what Peter Mayle did for Provence, Mayes writes about the tastes and pleasures of a foreign country with gusto and passion. A celebration of the extraordinary quality of life in Tuscany, UNDER THE TUSCAN SUN is a feast for all the senses.

Reviewed by Selborne Book Circle:

Although all our group agreed that it was well written and very evocative of Tuscany sun, scenery, hill top towns and markets, some of us thought the theme of restoring old houses in foreign parts has become hackneyed. The rest of us enjoyed the book and felt it was almost as good as a holiday. We mostly felt that the recipes and wine sampling were excessive.

Star rating: ***

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Love in a time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez

About the book

In their youth, Florentino Ariza and Fermina Daza fall passionately in love. When Fermina eventually chooses to marry a wealthy, well-born doctor, Florentino is devastated, but he is a romantic. As he rises in his business career he whiles away the years in 622 affairs–yet he reserves his heart for Fermina. Her husband dies at last, and Florentino purposefully attends the funeral. Fifty years, nine months, and four days after he first declared his love for Fermina, he will do so again.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI Reading Group:

Excellent. Well researched. Succinct use of language. Some thought too dense. Perceptive description of a long marriage and other relationship.

Star rating: *** to ****

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Family Secrets by Derek Malcolm

About the book

Hidden under some papers in his father’s bureau, the sixteen-year-old Derek Malcolm finds a book by the famous criminologist, Edgar Lustgarten called “The Judges and the Damned”. Browsing through the Contents pages Derek reads, ‘Mr. Justice McCardie tries Lieutenant Malcolm – page 33.’ But there is no page 33. The whole chapter has been ripped out of the book. Derek’s father, it emerges, shot his wife’s lover and was acquitted at a famous trial at the Old Bailey. The trial was unique in British legal history as the first case of a crime passionel, where a guilty man is set free, on the grounds of self-defence. Husband and wife lived together unhappily ever after. After his father’s death, Derek received an open postcard from his Aunt Phyllis, which baldly informed him that his real father was the Italian Ambassador to London…By turns laconic and affectionate, Derek Malcolm has written a richly evocative memoir of a family sinking into hopeless disrepair.

Reviewed by Everton Reading Group:

A varied response from love to hate. Those who enjoyed it appreciated the way it was written and the account of the trial. Discussion focused on the ‘class’ aspects in terms of emotion and control. Was this a feature of the times or society?

Star rating: **+

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The Perfect Sinner by Will Davenport

About the book

Slapton, Devon, 1372. Sir Guy de Bryan, trusted friend of Edward III, consecrates a magnificent Chantry, his personal bulwark against the torments of purgatory. Yet he is known as an honorable man. Why should he fear for his eternal soul? Sir Guy harbours three sins, violations of the chivalric code he holds so dear. The first, he has atoned for; he was more of a witness than perpetrator of the second; the third he cannot confess. Yet when he is called upon to lead a dangerous mission across the Alps, he finds one of his companions strangely interested in his tale. The young squire has an uncanny ability to draw out the truth…and in doing so, elicits a remarkable story of rivalry, murderous deception and deep passion. Over six hundred years later, high-flying policy adviser Beth Battock is forced to return to her home village in Devon when her prized career is rocked by scandal. Prompted by a local stone carver, who is painstakingly restoring the searing inscription once displayed on the Chantry, Beth must recognise her own history and that of her family, the thread that binds them to the de Bryans, and that the consequences of her actions cannot be divorced from what went before, in love and war. Will Davenport has taken a potent collection of historical facts and woven them into an astoundingly haunting and compelling novel. In medieval and modern times, mankind makes the same mistakes; but the words of a wise knight who lived it all, both politically and personally, have a clarity that resonates through the centuries.

Reviewed by Waterside Phoenix Reading Group:

The group had no hesitation in awarding this book three stars. Will Davenport’s handling of the six hundred years of time distance is masterly, but does call for a bit of ‘suspension of disbelief’ in the continuity of the Mass over that period. There was also a feeling that the knight’s message, though profound and very appropriate for today, at 176 words could have been shorter and made more prominent.

Star rating: ***

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