Rules of Civility by Amor Towles

About the book

Everything about this novel, set in 1930s New York, is achingly stylish – from the author’s name to the slinky jacket design. Katey Kontent, daughter of Russian immigrants, and Evie Ross, from the sleepy midwest, are an ambitious, wisecracking pair who, despite lack of money and connections, aim to set the city alight. A fortuitous meeting with the apparently wealthy Tinker Grey on New Year’s Eve, 1937, will change the course of both their lives.

 

 Reviewed by Lippy Ladies

This book was well liked by the group. Great Characters and beautifully written. Both descriptive scenes and prose transported the reader to another era. Cant wait for a sequel to tell us what Eve gets up to in L.A”

star rating ****

 

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The Undertaking by Audrey Magee

About the book

A soldier on the Russian Front marries a photograph of a woman he has never met. Hundreds of miles away in Berlin, the woman marries a photograph of the soldier. It is a contract of business rather than love. When the newlywed strangers finally meet, however, passion blossoms and they begin to imagine a life together under the bright promise of Nazi Germany. But as the tide of war turns and Allied enemies come ever closer, the couple find themselves facing the terrible consequences of being ordinary people stained with their small share of an extraordinary guilt…

Reviewed by Wallington Village

Depressing – we knew what was going to happen. A profound and disturbing subject. Although the ending needed to be sad, didn’t like it. A very detached style.

star rating – none provided

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The Trinity Six by Charles Cumming

About the book

Hard-up Russia expert Dr Sam Gaddis finally has a lead for the book that could solve all his career problems. But the story of a lifetime becomes an obsession that could kill him.

When his source is found dead, Gaddis is alone on the trail of the Cold War’s deadliest secret: the undiscovered sixth member of the infamous Cambridge spy ring.

Suddenly threatened at every step and caught between two beautiful women, both with access to crucial evidence, Sam cannot trust anyone.

To get his life back, he must chase shadows through Europe’s corridors of power. But the bigger the lie, the more ruthlessly the truth is kept buried…

 

Reviewed by Wallington Village

An interesting idea. Easy to read, pacey and not too complicated. The first lead was gained far too easily. A bit of plot but lots of holes. The characters lost credibility

star rating – none provided

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Ice road by Gillian Slovo

About the book

Leningrad, 1933. Loyalties, beliefs, love: all are about to be tested to the limit in one of the most crushing moments the world will ever know. Watching everything is Irina, who understands that simple loyalty to an individual may well be more powerful than blind loyalty to an idea.

Reviewed by Denmead Reading Circle

Divided opinion led to a lively discussion. Generally more members liked than disliked. Good for learning about Russian history. Individual stories of the characters relieved the overall depressing theme.

Star rating ***

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Snowdrops by A D Miller

About the book

A stunning novel of moral ambiguity, uncertainty and corruption. Snowdrops. That’s what the Russians call them – the bodies that float up into the light in the thaw. Drunks, most of them, and homeless people who just give up and lie down into the whiteness, and murder victims hidden in the drifts by their killers. Nick has a confession. When he worked as a high-flying British lawyer in Moscow, he was seduced by Masha, an enigmatic woman who led him through her city: the electric nightclubs and intimate dachas, the human kindnesses and state-wide corruption. Yet as Nick fell for Masha, he found that he fell away from himself; he knew that she was dangerous, but life in Russia was addictive, and it was too easy to bury secrets – and corpses – in the winter snows…

Reviewed by Aldershot Reading Group:

Generally enjoyed by all. Deceptively simple book which proved more interesting through our discussion. Well crafted page turner.

Star rating: ***

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The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon

About the book

In 1855 Rosa Barr, a headstrong young woman, travels to the Crimea, against the wishes of her family, determined to work as a nurse. She does not return.Three people have been intimately connected with her. One, her brother, a soldier and adventurer; the second a doctor, traumatized by the war, and harbouring a secret passion, and the third, Mariella, her cousin and childhood friend, who must now uncover the truth about what has happened to the missing nurse.Mariella’s epic journey takes her from the domestic quiet of London to the foothills of Italy, and on to the ravaged Russian landscape of the Crimea, where she must discover what has happened to her captivating and mysterious cousin and uncover the secrets of those who loved her..

Reviewed by New Forest/Waterside U3A Reading Group:

This was a very romantic Victorian tale related with all the false modesty of the period: the constricted lives of women, oblique hints at lesbianism, paedophilia and class distinction. The main characters are all dispatched on pointless quests which succeed only in revealing that war is brutal and bloody, that the British army succeeds by default and that Florence Nightingale was not quite the angelic force history portrays her. The descriptive writing is at times powerful but the novel’s structure is such that for many, only the group allegiance got them thought the first third of the book and left them undecided about who qualified as the heroine. The need constantly to explain character motivation by flashback to earlier times suggests a lack of confidence in telling a straightforward story.

Star rating: ***

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Dancer by Colum McCann

About the book

This novel opens on a battlefield: trudging back from the front through a ravaged and icy wasteland, their horses dying around them, their own hunger rendering them almost savage, the Russian soldiers are exhausted as they reach the city of Ufa, desperate for food and shelter. They find both, and then music and dance. And there, spinning unafraid among them, dancing for the soldiers and anyone else who’ll watch him, is one small pale boy, Rudolf. This is Colum McCann’s dancer: Rudolf, a prodigy at six years old, who became the greatest dancer of the century, who redefined dance, rewrote his own life, and died of AIDS before anyone knew he had it. This is an extraordinary life transformed into extraordinary fiction by one of the most acclaimed writers of his generation. One kind of masculine grace is perfectly matched to another in Colum McCann’s beautiful and daring new novel.

Reviewed by Boaters Book Club:

Many felt they would rather have read Nureyev’s biography than this docudrama/faction, although some found it an interesting way of learning about him. Most did not like the odd style and the implied debauchery. It was found bitty and the characters and story line confusing. Most did like the info about Margot Fonteyn and the information about Russia especially his childhood.

Star rating: *

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The People's Train by Thomas Keneally

About the book

After a long, dangerous escape from Tsarist Russia, Artem Samsurov might have reached sanctuary in Brisbane, Australia, but that doesn’t stop him trying to create a socialist paradise with his fellow emigres and workmates. And despite getting entangled with an attractive female lawyer, then charged with the murder of an informer, he never loses hope that one day the revolution will come. But when he returns to Russia in 1917 to fight alongside his comrades, he cannot know whether it will succeed, or at what cost.

Reviewed by The Benches Reading Group

The novel was quite hard work according to some of us. However, the pace increased in the second half – perhaps due to the fact that we could relate more to the events in Russia during the revolutionary era compared to activities in Queensland, Australia pre-1917. We were divided as to whether the novel was well written – in need of a sequel! Historically interesting, written as events unfolded, therefore only passing mention of figures such as Lenin, Trotsky and Stalin (who were, unbeknown to the narrator, to play a large part during the political upheaval).

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The Last Englishman by Roland Chambers

About the book

Arthur Ransome was, from 1930 to the early 1960s, what J.K. Rowling is today: author of a series of children’s books which shaped the imagination of a generation. Rooted in the heyday of the British Empire, Swallows and Amazons and its sequels described a nostalgic Utopia. Yet before that, Arthur Ransome was famous for different reasons. Between 1917 and 1924, as Russian correspondent for the Daily News and Manchester Guardian, he was an uncritical apologist for the Bolshevik regime, with unique access to the revolutionary leaders. As the Red Army engaged with an Allied invasion of Russia, Ransome was conducting a love affair with Evgenia Shelepina, private secretary to Leon Trotsky, then Soviet Commissar for War. As the intimate friend of Karl Radek, the Bolshevik Chief of Propaganda, he denied the Red Terror and compared Lenin to Oliver Cromwell. No English journalist was considered more controversial, or more damaging to British security. At Whitehall, he was accused of being the paid agent of a hostile power and only narrowly escaped prosecution for treason. This is a fascinating, often chilling revision of an English icon through the most formative decade of the twentieth century.

Reviewed by Museum Book Group:

Arthur Ransome is known as a toned Childrens Author. Roland Chambers biography covers his earlier life as a journalist working in revolutionary Russia. He meets many of the leaders of the various parties struggling to govern Russia. An enlightening read.

Star rating: ***

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