2013

JANUARY

Dickens’s story of solitary miser Ebenezer Scrooge, who is taught the true meaning of Christmas by a series of ghostly visitors, has proved one of his most well-loved works. Ever since it was published in 1843 it has had an enduring influence on the way we think about the traditions of Christmas.

The choice of: Amy

Group rating: 9/10

FEBRUARY

Alaska, the 1920s. Jack and Mabel have staked everything on a fresh start in a remote homestead, but the wilderness is a stark place, and Mabel is haunted by the baby she lost many years before. When a little girl appears mysteriously on their land, each is filled with wonder, but also foreboding: is she what she seems, and can they find room in their hearts for her?

Jack and Mable move to Alaska as they are trying to open a new chapter in their life together. We follow them for the several years of their lives, also observing harsh reality of life in Alaska with a spark of magic…

Opinions about the Snow Child seemed split between abject rapture to still positive but less enthusiastic views due to  a slight collapse at the book’s midway turn from magical fairy story to a perhaps overlong morality tale with lack of flow and also very predictable ending. As the book is based on a fairy tale — it is understood — that these are the rules that have to be obeyed. Some of us liked the idea; others lacked more magic at the end. The relationship between Faina and Garrett seemed rather plain.

All agreed that both the portrait of wild Alaska and Mabel and Jack’s marriage especially were the book’s core and Eowyn’s success. Also, Mabel’s transformation was a strong point of the novel and was highly acclaimed by the readers. Most of us would recommend the book for others and the final score proves it.

The choice of: Anna

Group rating: 9/10

MARCH

under-the-skinIsserley spends most of her time driving. But why is she so interested in picking up hitchhikers? And why are they always male, well-built and alone? An utterly unpredictable and macabre mystery, Michel Faber’s debut novel is an outstanding piece of fiction that will stay with you long after you have turned the last page.

This is one of those books that lingers in the mind long after the final page is read. We all agreed that the story was an unexpected, highly original, one — and that we were never quite sure where Michel Faber was going to take us as we followed Isserley’s journey up and down the A9. We all thought Isserley was a brilliant creation and felt quite sorry for her, despite her rather nefarious (and shocking) role. While we found the subject matter confronting and shocking, we appreciated the way in which it made us think about the world. During our meeting, we had a great discussion about the environment/nature, vegetarianism, farming, feminism, what it is to be human — and lots more.

The choice of: Kim

Score: 9.4/10

MAY

The Twin Gerbrand Bakker

When his twin brother dies in a car accident, Helmer is obliged to return to the small family farm. He resigns himself to taking over his brother’s role and spending the rest of his days ‘with his head under a cow’.

After his old, worn-out father has been transferred upstairs, Helmer sets about furnishing the rest of the house according to his own minimal preferences. ‘A double bed and a duvet’, advises Ada, who lives next door, with a sly look. Then Riet appears, the woman once engaged to marry his twin. Could Riet and her son live with him for a while, on the farm?

The Twin is an ode to the platteland, the flat and bleak Dutch countryside with its ditches and its cows and its endless grey skies.

Ostensibly a novel about the countryside, as seen through the eyes of a farmer, The Twin is, in the end, about the possibility or impossibility of taking life into one’s own hands. It chronicles a way of life which has resisted modernity, is culturally apart, and yet riven with a kind of romantic longing.

The Choice of: Armen

Score: 8/10

JUNE

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My name is August. I won’t describe what I look like. Whatever you’re thinking, it’s probably worse.’

Auggie wants to be an ordinary ten-year-old. He does ordinary things – eating ice cream, playing on his Xbox. He feels ordinary – inside. But ordinary kids don’t make other ordinary kids run away screaming in playgrounds. Ordinary kids aren’t stared at wherever they go.

Born with a terrible facial abnormality, Auggie has been home-schooled by his parents his whole life. Now, for the first time, he’s being sent to a real school – and he’s dreading it. All he wants is to be accepted – but can he convince his new classmates that he’s just like them, underneath it all?

The choice of: Dom

Score 9/10

JULY

Save Me The Waltz‘Nobody has ever measured, not even poets, how much the heart can hold.’

One of the great literary curios of the twentieth century Save Me the Waltz is the first and only novel by the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald. During the years when Fitzgerald was working on Tender is the Night, Zelda Fitzgerald was preparing her own story, which strangely parallels the narrative of her husband, throwing a fascinating light on Scott Fitzgerald’s life and work. In its own right, it is a vivid and moving story: the confessional of a famous glamour girl of the affluent 1920s and an aspiring ballerina which captures the spirit of an era.

The choice of: Claire

Score 5/10

August

Day of the TriffidsWhen Bill Masen wakes up blindfolded in hospital there is a bitter irony in his situation. Carefully removing his bandages, he realizes that he is the only person who can see: everyone else, doctors and patients alike, have been blinded by a meteor shower. Now, with civilization in chaos, the triffids – huge, venomous, large-rooted plants able to ‘walk’, feeding on human flesh – can have their day. The Day of the Triffids, published in 1951, expresses many of the political concerns of its time: the Cold War, the fear of biological experimentation and the man-made apocalypse. However, with its terrifyingly believable insights into the genetic modification of plants, the book is more relevant today than ever before. 

The choice of: Amy

Score: ?

SEPTEMBER

The Last RunawayHonor Bright is a sheltered Quaker who has rarely ventured out of 1850s Dorset when she impulsively emigrates to America. Opposed to the slavery that defines and divides the country, she finds her principles tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family. In this tough, unsentimental place, where whisky bottles sit alongside quilts, Honor befriends two spirited women who will teach her how to turn ideas into actions.

The choice of: Miranda

Score: ?

OCTOBER

Water for ElephantsWhen Jacob Jankowski, recently orphaned and suddenly adrift, jumps onto a passing train, he enters a world of freaks, grifters, and misfits the Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth a second-rate travelling circus struggling to survive during the Great Depression, making one-night stands in town after endless town.

Jacob, a veterinary student who almost earned his degree, is put in charge of caring for the circus menagerie. It is there that he meets Marlena, the beautiful young star of the equestrian act, who is married to August, the charismatic but twisted animal trainer. He also meets Rosie, an elephant who seems untrainable until he discovers a way to reach her.

The choice of: Polly

Score: 7.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

 

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