Q & A / Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

About the book

Former tiffinboy Ram Mohammad Thomas has just got twelve questions correct on a TV quiz-show to win a cool one billion rupees. But he is brutally slung in prison on suspicion of cheating. Because how can a kid from the slums know who Shakespeare was, unless he is pulling a fast one. In the order of the questions on the show, Ram tells us which incredible adventures in his life on the streets gave him the answers. From orphanages to brothels, gangsters to beggar-masters, and into the homes of Bollywood’s rich and famous, Ram’s story is brimming with the chaotic comedy, heart-stopping tragedy and tear-inducing joyousness of modern India.

Reviewed by Copythorne WI

 A brilliant, fascinating and informative book which made a superb read. Several of our members have lived or travelled in India and found the descriptions of the life, corruption and contrasts of India chimed with their memories. NB the book should not have been renamed ‘Slumdog Millionaire’ Although the film is good, the plot hardly follows the story. Q & A has a far superior plot and is an excellent read!”

star rating ****

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Perfume by Patrick Suskind

About the book

‘In eighteenth-century France there lived a man who was one of the most gifted and abominable personages in an era that knew no lack of gifted and abominable personages. His name was Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, and if his name has been forgotten today, it is certainly not because Grenouille fell short of those more famous blackguards when it came to arrogance, misanthropy, immorality, or, more succinctly, wickedness, but because his gifts and his sole ambition were restricted to a domain that leaves no traces in history: to the fleeting realm of scent . . .’

Reviewed by Museum

“We were not sure ‘enjoy’ was the correct word to use in gauging our reactions to this book. One member abandoned it (she was not well last month and ‘Perfume’ made her feel worse! )The other four completed it but found it ‘strange’ ‘weird’ and often ‘unpleasant’ We all, however acknowledged the strength of the writing and it gave rise to a great deal of discussion on the metaphysical significance of the perfume – and the nature of a writer who could create such a work. We were not surprised to find he was a recluse!”

star rating ** ½

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Mrs Robinson’s Disgrace by Kate Summerscale

About the book

When the married Isabella Robinson was introduced to the dashing Edward Lane at a party in 1850, she was utterly enchanted. He was ‘fascinating’, she told her diary, before chastising herself for being so susceptible to a man’s charms. But a wish had taken hold of her, and she was to find it hard to shake…

In one of the most notorious divorce cases of the nineteenth century, Isabella Robinson’s scandalous secrets were exposed to the world. Kate Summerscale brings vividly to life a frustrated Victorian wife’s longing for passion and learning, companionship and love, in a society clinging to rigid ideas about marriage and female sexuality.

Reviewed by Everton

“An interesting revelation of the social moves of the Victorian era. The sexual aspect was covered well in it’s explorations of treatment of ‘deviations in behaviour’ A woman craving affection and seeking what she could get, Isabella was probably typical of a woman of her generation – but in some ways before her time”

star rating ** ½

 

 

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The Suspicions of Mr Whicher by Kate Summerscale

About the book

It is a summer’s night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing – arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery – a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets. In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI

Extremely well researched although somewhat over researched in places. Fascinating insight into Victorian moves. Some discussion as to the veracity of the outcome

star rating ***

 

 

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Balthasar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo by Julia Stuart

About the book

Meet Balthazar Jones, Beefeater at the Tower of London. Married to Hebe, he lives and works in the Tower, as he struggles to cope with the tragic death of his son Milo, three years ago.

The Tower of London is its own magical world; a maze of ancient buildings, it is home to a weird and wonderful cast of characters – the Jones’s of course, as well as Reverend Septimus Drew, the Ravenmaster, and Ruby Dore, landlady of the Tower’s very own tavern, the Rack & Ruin. And, after an announcement from Buckingham Palace that the Queen’s exotic animals are to be moved from London Zoo to the Tower’s grounds, things are about to become a whole lot more interesting…

Komodo dragons, marmosets, and even zorillas (‘a highly revered yet uniquely odorous skunk-like animal from Africa’) fill the Tower’s menagerie – and it is Balthazar Jones’s job to take care of them. Things run far from smoothly, though – missing penguins and stolen giraffes are just two of his worries!

A touching, magical and entirely original debut.

 

Reviewed by Romsey School Staff

“An original story with humour and poignancy in equal measure. Lots of quirky characters and wonderful scenes. The lost property office is a joy. Several members said they would like to work there! One went to visit the Tower of London after reading this book. Delightful!

star rating ****

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The Earth Hums in B Flat by Mari Strachan

About the book

Gwenni Morgan is not like any other girl in this small Welsh town. Inquisitive, bookish and full of spirit, she can fly in her sleep and loves playing detective. So when a neighbour mysteriously vanishes, and no one seems to be asking the right questions, Gwenni  decides to conduct her own investigation. She records everything she sees and hears: but are her deductions correct? What is the real truth? And what will be the consequences of finding out, for Gwenni, her family and her community?

 

Reviewed by Alton U3A Book Club

Thought provoking and touching. Illustrates difficulties of living with people with mental problems. There were loose ends – what happened next? – but enough was revealed to be satisfying

star rating ***

 

 

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The Help by Kathryn Stockett

About the book

Enter a vanished and unjust world: Jackson, Mississippi, 1962. Where black maids raise white children, but aren’t trusted not to steal the silver . . .

There’s Aibileen, raising her seventeenth white child and nursing the hurt caused by her own son’s tragic death; Minny, whose cooking is nearly as sassy as her tongue; and white Miss Skeeter, home from College, who wants to know why her beloved maid has disappeared.

Skeeter, Aibileen and Minny. No one would believe they’d be friends; fewer still would tolerate it. But as each woman finds the courage to cross boundaries, they come to depend and rely upon one another. Each is in a search of a truth. And together they have an extraordinary story to tell…

Reviewed by Women Who Read

“We liked this book very much. The characterisation and voices brought it to life. It generated a lot of discussion about how recent these events were and how they may not have changed very much in some places

star rating ****

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The Almond Blossom Appreciation Society by Chris Stewart

About the book

The Good Life goes on at El Valero. Find yourself laughing out loud as Chris is instructed by his daughter on local teenage moves; bluffs his way in art history to millionaire Bostonians; is rescued off a snowy peak by the Guardia Civil; and joins an Almond Blossom Appreciation Society.

You’ll cringe with Chris as he tries his hand at office work in an immigrants’ advice centre in Granada, spurred into action by the arrival of four destitute young Moroccans at El Valero. And you’ll never see olive oil in quite the same way again…

In this sequel to ‘Lemons’ and ‘Parrot’, Chris Stewart’s optimism and zest for life is as infectious as ever.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI

All the group thoroughly enjoyed reading this, particularly as many of us had read his previous books. The descriptions are vivid and the characters real life. We look forward to reading his next book. A ray of sunshine in dull weather!

star rating ****

 

 

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Reamde by Neal Stephenson

About the book

Across the globe, millions of computer screens flicker with the artfully coded world of T’Rain – an addictive internet role-playing game of fantasy and adventure. But backstreet hackers in China have just unleashed a contagious virus called Reamde, and as it rampages through the gaming world spreading from player to player – holding hard drives hostage in the process – the computer of one powerful and dangerous man is infected, causing the carefully mediated violence of the on-line world to spill over into reality. A fast-talking, internet-addicted mafia accountant is brutally silenced by his Russian employers, and Zula – a talented young T’Rain computer programmer – is abducted and bundled on to a private jet. As she is flown across the skies in the company of the terrified boyfriend she broke up with hours before, and a brilliant Hungarian hacker who may be her only hope, she finds herself sucked into a whirl of Chinese Secret Service agents and gun-toting American Survivalists; the Russian criminal underground and an al-Qaeda cell led by a charismatic Welshman; each a strand of a connected world that devastatingly converges in T’Rain. An inimitable and compelling thriller that careers from British Columbia to South-West China via Russia and the fantasy world of T’Rain, Reamde is an irresistible epic from the unique imagination of one of today’s most individual writers.

Reviewed by Bookwombs

Too long to read in one month! Lots of excess detail, but once it gets going, really gripping. Would have made a great film

star rating **

 

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Under a Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein

About the book

Rick Stein’s childhood in 1950s rural Oxfordshire and North Cornwall was idyllic. His parents were charming and gregarious, their five children much-loved and given freedom typical of the time. As he grew older, the holidays were filled with loud and lively parties in his parents’ Cornish barn. But ever-present was the unpredicatible mood of his bipolar father, with Rick frequently the focus of his anger and sadness. When Rick was 18 his father killed himself. Emotionally adrift, Rick left for Australia, carrying a suitcase stamped with his father’s initials. Manual labour in the outback followed by adventures in America and Mexico toughened up the naive public schoolboy, but at heart he was still lost and unsure what to do with his life. Eventually, Cornwall called him home. From the entrepreneurial days of his mobile disco, the Purple Tiger, to his first, unlikely unlikely nightclub where much of the time was spent breaking up drink-fuelled fights, Rick charts his personal journey in a way that is both wry and perceptive; engaging and witty.

 

Reviewed by Totton 1

“Very bitty. Material not very well presented. Lots of facts but not very interesting”

star rating **

 

 

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