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Book Reviews: Literature & Fiction


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The Hungry Tide by Amitav GhoshBook Cover of The Hungry Tide by Amitav Ghosh

Read by Tracy 2006

Tracy recommends

The Hungry Tide is an adventure story that encompasses love and history. Set in the islands of the Sundarbans located in the Bay of Bengal off the coast of India we are captured in the hardships faced by the settlers. They face incredible hardships and threats by unpredictable tides, tigers and the constant threat of eviction and unrest. The lives of three people collide in this beautiful setting. Piya Roy, a marine biologist who is searching for an endangered river dolphin and who attempts to ignore her Indian descent. Fokir, an illiterate fisherman who rescues Piya from certain death and eventually helps her with her research and they become unlikely lovers and finally Kanai Dutt, a businessman from Delhi who's family are settlers in the Sundarbans. Ghosh makes the characters believable but in the end I was more captivated with the descriptions of the setting.

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Rhubarb by Craig SilveyBook Cover of Rhubarb by Craig Silvey

Read by Natalie 2006

Natalie recommends it as ok, but found the writing style weird.

I wanted to read this book because it is set in Fremantle WA, a place that I love. There are glimpses of well known spots, particularly on the cafe strip and fishing boat harbour, but unfortunately that wasn't enough to make me like it. I am not entirely sure why I didn't like this book, but think it was a combination of the writing style, the characters and the actual plot. It is about Eleanor, a young blind girl who wanders the places she knows with her guide dog. She has no real friends and family and spends her time just walking around. Eventually she meets Ewan a weird neighbour who makes cellos. In each other they recognise two lost and damaged souls and together they try to heal. I just didn't feel any connections to either of these two characters and like Eleanor's wandering, I just found the plot a little aimless with even the ending leaving me wondering what had actually happened in the book.

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The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman RushdieBook Cover of The Moor's Last Sigh by Salman Rushdie

Read by Tracy 2006

Tracy recommends it as a perceptive and heady book.

The Moor's Last Sigh is a challenging read that expands your vocabulary. Narrated by Moraes Zogoiby (called Moor for short) and who ages twice as fast as everyone else. So he has a childlike perception of the world which outwardly sees a man. The book is full of magical reality where mythology mingles with the imaginary of childhood. The book is set in colonial India where the country is on the edge of independence, in itself bringing tragic and moving tales of family and the consequences that independence had on relationships. The characters provide fascinating and interesting reading, mingling in Moor’s life that you eagerly read apace. Rushdie uses an interesting mix of language in that book that works perfectly. Check out the Salman Rushdie website for more information and reading group discussion questions.

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Oscar and Lucinda by Peter CareyBook Cover of Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

Read by Tracy in 2006

Tracy recommends as a great novel that makes you realise that being a woman in Victorian times is very restricting Oscar -pious, corrupt and a compulsive gambler, meets Lucinda - feminist and a compulsive gambler - not a very inspiring couple so far. Lucinda is shunned by her peers because of her independent views and even though she is rich and owns a glass factory her actions are constantly dictated by a very restrictive Victorian society and its expectations of her. Oscar meanwhile has become addicted to gambling and to repent makes the decision to sail to Sydney to dedicate his life to missionary work in the wild outstation of Australia. Lucinda is onboard the same vessel, returning to Sydney from a sojourn in London after an unsatisfactory visit to secure a husband. Lucinda and Oscar soon fall into a routine of late night card games which results in Oscar being removed from the Church and in her guilt, Lucinda takes her into his home. This causes an even bigger scandal pushing them closer together. Unable to acknowledge their growing love, they both gamble everything on an adventure which doesn't end well, but has a great twist.

This book became a movie with Cate Blanchett and Ralph Fiennes.

Keep up to date with Peter Carey through his website.

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The Birth of Venus by Sarah DunantBook Cover of The Birth of Venus by Sarah Dunant

Read by Natalie 2006

Natalie recommends you stick it out through the beginning, the book gets really good.

Set in Florence during the Renaissance, this is the story of a young 15 year old girl Alessandra who becomes fascinated by a young painter brought to her house to cover the walls of the family chapel. She is intrigued by him and his amazing talent for creating art, but just as their friendship looks to be turning into something more, she is quickly married off to a much older and not entirely nice man. While she is forced into this marriage and the ultimate consummation she has to endure, she is also free, finally having time for herself due to the fact that her husband is actually not that interested in her at all. Re-enter the painter and suddenly Alessandra finds herself rekindling their relationship and enjoying her life again. Soon after the plague sets in and they are once again separated. Devastated at the thought she has lost her beloved painter, she enters a nunnery to live out the rest of her life. Again the painter comes into her life and the time they then enjoy is both beautiful and sad. I found the book quite hard to get into at first, but eventually I became so engrossed that I could barely put it down. I actually enjoyed a cross-country flight because of all the reading time it allowed! The book is very beautiful and very sad at the end, and I especially loved the identity of the painter.

To keep up to date with Sarah Dunant, check out her website.

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Cloud Atlas by David MitchellBook Cover of Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Read by Tracy in 2006

Tracy recommends as a great read that gets you thinking and contemplating

Cloud Atlas is David Mitchell's third book and was shortlisted for the 2004 Man Booker Prize and in 2003 Mitchell was named by Granta magazine as one of the twenty 'Best of Young British Novelists'.

David Mitchell seems to have the ability to keep you on a rollercoaster as you plough through his novels. Moving between characters and places but still able to intertwine them together so you are left surprised yet complete. Cloud Atlas starts with one ship and finishes with another ship. Adam Ewing who is an American Lawyer crossing the Pacific in 1850 on the Prophetess. An amazing adventure in itself, then there are the characters he meets - what a mixed bunch. The second story is about Robert Frobisher, a composer in 1931 who is taken under the wing of a dying genius and then ends up sleeping with his wife and daughter (some things never change). This part of the story is told through letters written to Frobisher's lover, Rufus Sixsmith who appears in a future story in 1970 as a nuclear scientist where he is embroiled in a thrilling tale about Luisa Rey, a journalist who uncovers a nuclear scandal. The fourth story involves Timothy Cavendish who is a 1980s London publisher, trapped in an old people's home. The next story is set in the future and involves the pre-execution testimony of Sonmi-451, a cloned slave who has acquired intelligence. The final story involved Zachry, a tribesman after the fall of the civilised world and the survivors on board the Prescients.

I did wonder if all the characters were reincarnations of each other, but I don't think that was Mitchell's meaning. They are more likely linked by personal possessions. I am a huge fan of Mitchell's writing style. He is able to capture the moment and you feel transported into the times of the characters. I feel I can even hear their voices. All the characters had intensively different voices and ideas, which made them interesting.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

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The Book of Joe by Jonathan TropperBook Cover of The Book of Joe by Jonathan Tropper

Read by Natalie 2006

Natalie recommends this as a great read.

This is the story of Joe Goffman, who is returning home to the small town he grew up in after his father slips into a coma. It's been 17 years since Joe graduated and left the town and returning home in his shiny new Mercedes isn't all it's cracked up to be. Problem is, Joe is a hot young writer, whose first novel pretty much savaged the town he grew up in, including of course, all the people. As expected, the town is not too happy to have him back and all sorts of trouble heads his way. A senior citizen throws a milk shake at his car, the local book club hurl copies of his book at his house and he even gets beaten up by a former classmate. Throw in an angry ex-girlfriend who just happens to have a child roughly the age equivalent of the years Joe has been missing and he starts to wonder why he bothered coming back at all. Eventually Joe manages to make amends and during this, he learns he might just need some of the people and the town itself in order to survive. This is a very funny book and great reading.

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How To Be Good by Nick HornbyBook Cover of How To Be Good by Nick Hornby

Read by Natalie 2006

Natalie recommends this as fun and lighthearted.

How to be Good tells the story of Katie, a GP and David, her angry husband. Katie has puts up with her husband because she tries to be a better person, it's why she became a doctor, but after sleeping with another man, she tries to work out where it all went wrong and whether she should leave her cranky husband and stale marriage. David on the other hand has decided to stop being angry all the time and instead be good. And by good, he means completely and religiously good - to the point of redistributing the family's wealth, forcing their kids to give up their computers to an orphanage and inviting Katie's patients over for a Sunday roast. In the midst of all this Katie struggles with her own guilt at not being a better person and also her anger at David giving away all their possessions. The book is funny and infuriating, especially with regards to David. Nick Hornby has a very entertaining and easy writing style that keeps you hooked.

This is a fantastic choice for your book club. If you want some further information and book club discussion questions - check out the OurBookClub Book Club page.

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The Hours by Michael CunninghamBook Cover of The Hours by Michael Cunningham

Read by Natalie 2006

Natalie recommends this as an intriguing read.

The Hours is part tribute to the author Virginia Woolf and parts its own interesting story. Told from three women's perspective, the first being Virginia Woolf as she writes Mrs Dalloway in 1923, the second being Clarissa Vaughan who in the present day is planning a party for her friend who is dying of AIDs and the third is by Laura Brown who in 1949 is pregnant and unhappy and trying to plan her husband's birthday. The three lives are intertwined by the book Virginia is writing, which is also the book Laura is reading and describes the life Clarissa is leading. It is clever and well done and Laura and Clarissa are more linked than you initially think as the book describes not only the story of Mrs Dalloway but also the lives of three ladies involved. The book has since been made into a movie with an all star cast and bizarrely managed to win Nicole Kidman an Oscar for Lead Actress despite her being in less than a third of the movie and not actually being that good an actress.

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