OurBookClub


Book Reviews: Literature & Fiction


2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011 | 2010 | 2009 | 2008 | 2007 | 2006


A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina LewyckaBook Cover of A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

Read by Tracy November 2009

Tracy recommends as a funny look at marriage for money

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian is an astute and funny look at families. When a recently widowed and elderly Ukrainian immigrant announces to his family that he is going to remarry, his daughters must put their fued aside and reunite against him. The chosen bride is perfectly described by Lewycka as an old-country gold digger who has gained a zest for the western lifestyle and its consumption of all things good. As the family collides secrets are unveiled but the story continues with wit and warmth in describing the aging process.

Buy Now


The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie BarrowsBook Cover of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Read by Natalie in 2009

Natalie recommends this as a very sweet feel-good book.

This is a truly sweet book. Written entirely in the form of letters, it tells the story of Juliet, an author who travels to Guernsey after receiving a letter from one of the members of The Guernsey Literary & Potato Peel Society (yes, you will learn the reason behind the name!). Here she not only discovers this tiny island's struggle during the Nazi occupation, but also its amazing resilience and ability to go on after they have left. She stays on indefinitely at the island, despite a suitor back in England, and soon comes to call the place home. The characters are all fabulous, each one of them necessary to tell a part of the story and together they form a friendship that sees them through both good and bad times. The main protagonist Juliet changed for the better from meeting them all and young Kit, the girl she forms a family with is a fantastic little character.

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.

Buy Now


The Post Birthday World by Lionel ShriverBook Cover of The Post Birthday World by Lionel Shriver

Read by Tracy 2009 and Natalie 2007

Check out OurBookClub Our Favourites for the full review.

Buy Now


The Night Watch by Sarah WatersBook Cover of The Night Watch by Sarah Waters

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends as a look at friendship over sensuallity

Published in 2006, this is my third Sarah Waters book and I have to say it was another great read. I enjoy her evocative writing style. Moving out of the Victorian era, Waters moves into WWII-era London. The novel peaks into the emotional relationships of a group of women and men during the War. The book starts in 1947, but goes back so you uncover information piece by piece. Waters has the ability to portray women, not as weak emotional characters, but as strong women who are not just titillated by homosexuality, but through the natural intimacy of feelings. So far this is the weakest of Waters novels, lacking the sumptuousness of the previous books. I think this is because it is slightly disproportionate and looks through the eyes of four women not a central character as her previous books.

Click for Sarah Waters website.

Buy Now


The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Stieg LarssonBook Cover of The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest by Stieg Larsson

Read by Natalie & Tracy 2009

Check out Our Favourites for the full review.

Buy Now


We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel ShriverBook Cover of We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Read by Tracy 2009

Check out Our Favourites for the full review.

Buy Now


To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper LeeBook Cover of To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Read by Tracy & Natalie 1994-in 2009

Tracy & Natalie recommend as top of the reading pile and a classic for all ages. It has sold more than 30 million copies since it was first published on July 11, 1960

I reread this novel regularly as I just love how Lee captures your imagination and you feel yourself transported into the story in the book which is as relevant today as it was 50 years ago when it was published. The story is narrated through Scout, a young girl growing up in Alabama, and how she is affected when her father, Atticus Finch, is representing Tom Robinson (a black man) who is accused of raping a white woman. Scout soon learns about racial prejudice in America's south and how it is imbedded into the society. Although Robinson is innocent he is declared guilty just because of his colour. Finch is of course the hero of the story and how he attempts to teach his children that someone's skin colour should not dictate how they are treated by the rest of society, no mean feat considering this book was written before the civil rights movement, This book deservedly won the 1961 Pulitzer Prize and I only wish Lee had continued to write. Lee herself rarely gives interviews and I wonder if she ever imagined that an African American President was possible. The book is rumoured to be autobiographic as Lee grew up in the segregated south; with Scout based on herself, Finch based on her father and Dill on Truman Capote who was a lifelong friend.

For once Hollywood got it right in making a movie that stayed true to the story. Of course the superb casting of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch will be very difficult for anybody wanting to remake the movie. Click here to see a trailer of the movie.

Buy Now


Fingersmith by Sarah WatersBook Cover of Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Read by Tracy in 2009 and Natalie in 2012

Tracy recommends as a sensual tease, Natalie recommends as a drawn out tale of deception

Fingersmith was shortlisted for the 2002 Orange Prize and the Booker Prize for fiction. Winner for the Ellis Peters Dagger Award.

Tracy's review: After enjoying Waters previous novel (Tipping the Velvet) I continued and read Fingersmith (published January 2002) and it was fantastic and had me reading all night. Set in the 1860s the story follows Sue Trinder who at 17 has had a hard life. After her mother was hanged for murder she was brought up by two rather unsavoury characters, not even knowing her birthday, in probably the roughest part of London. Along comes Richard Rivers who has a plan.

Maud Lilly is an heiress who lives with her elderly uncle. Rivers intends to seduce her, marry her and then put her in an asylum to enjoy her fortune. However, to do this he needs the help of someone to gain Maud's trust and encourage her to abscond and this is where Sue fits in, for a share of the funds of course. Of course when Sue arrives and gets to know Maud, they develop a friendship which is not in line with her original plan. The plot does some great twists and you can just imagine the thrill of the love story that unfolds. Again Waters provides some great descriptive literature that is sexy, passionate and sensual.

Natalie's review: While I enjoyed the story as Tracy has described it above, I did find it to be a little too drawn out and convoluted to really pull me in. Perhaps it is my impatient nature, but I am frustrated by long winded descriptions that serve only to slowly advance the plot in a slightly infuriating manner. This is what Fingersmith did to me at times, and while I was intriguied when the first double cross occurred, I wasn't that surprised because the path to get to that point was just so long. Waters is a talented writer, definitely, and the story was very clever and interesting. I enjoyed the final outcome and Susan and Maud finally getting what they both wanted and the development of their relationship was certainly a sensual tense, it was just a little too slow!

Click to see an interview with Sarah Waters.

Click for Sarah Waters website.

Buy Now


Bachelor Kisses by Nick EarlsBook Cover of Bachelor Kisses by Nick Earls

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends as a laugh out loud funny read.

I am beginning to think that Nick Earls is able to really nail some of the funny quirky things in people's dreary lives. This book is a great read for the book although be warned, I read it all in a day as I found I couldn't put it down. Bachelor Kisses is about Jon Marshall and his search for meaning in his life. He is a Doctor with grand plans, but just can't seem to get his life to head in the direction he wants it to go in. Combined with his friends Rick and Jen it leads to some very funny typically single rituals. It seems just as hard to be male and single as it can be to female and single.

Buy Now


Trainspotting by Irvine WelshBook Cover of Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends for a look at the seedy 1980's.

Trainspotting is based in Edinborough in the 1980's and focuses on a group of lost young adults who are surviving hand to mouth as they experiment with hard drugs. One day, Renton decides to break free of his friends by betraying their trust. As he leaves, the only person he feels angst at leaving behind is Spud, but the decision is his only choice if he wants to grow up and escape a circle of friends who have become his life. These friendships have impacted his life that is detrimental to any future hopes or dreams. This was a very gloomy read where you can see how difficult it is to break free of peer pressure and the constant downward spiral that drugs encompasses.

Check out the movie version of Trainspotting which propelled Ewan McGregor to stardom.

Buy Now


The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David WroblewskiBook Cover of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski

Read by Natalie in 2009

Natalie recommends this as a very descriptive book

Edgar Sawtelle is a mammoth first novel by Wroblewski. It is the story of Edgar, a mute boy who communicates only with sign language, but nonetheless has a very happy life with his parents, breeding and training dogs. Edgar's life is shattered one day by the mysterious death of his father and he feels directly responsible having not been able to communicate what was happening over the phone. His life is thrown further into chaos when his mother starts up an affair with his father's brother. Then one night Edgar sees his father's ghost and through this vision learns the truth about his death. Faced with this knowledge, Edgar flees into the countryside with only 4 dogs for companions. A chance run-in with a stranger provides him with a home for a short-time, but eventually he returns to his mother to face the music and try to reveal what he knows about his father's death. The ending is tragic and somehow I felt a little let down having invested so much time with Edgar. The story is very descriptive (a little too much with respect to the dog training if you ask me) and very sad and I was left feeling that poor Edgar never stood a chance.

Buy Now


The Kite Runner by Khaled HosseiniBook Cover of The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends for as a reason to ensure your actions don't lead to future regrets

This was the debut novel for Hosseini and as far as I can tell was the first mainstream Afghani book written in English that was a huge success with western readers. The story starts off with two children, brought up together but from totally different worlds - Amir, from the rich Pashtun tribe and Hassan his servant from the oppressed Hazara tribe. Although they spent their childhood as friends but as Kabul falls under fanaticism in mounting ethnic, religious and political tensions, Amir did not interfere in an event that severed their friendship and any possible future relationship with Hassan. As the Soviets invade, Amir eventually flees to America with his father, leaving Hassan and his father to fend for themselves. Amir, however, is always unable to overcome the act of cowardice that change Hassan's life and that he could have stopped. Eventually Amir returns to Kabul and attempts to right the wrongs he committed, but it is all too late and his life and the country have changed irrevocably. This was a great novel and has since been made into a movie.

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.

Buy Now


The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo CoelhoBook Cover of The Winner Stands Alone by Paulo Coelho

Read by Tracy July in 2009

This book spans 24 hours and highlights the shallowness, greed and celebrity worship that is the Cannes Film Festival. Igor, a Russian entrepreneur, wants to rekindle his relationship with his ex-wife (Ewa) and will sacrifice anything, everything and anyone to achieve it. The characters in Coelho's book are made up of models, actors, producers and all the other hangers-on that are associated with the movie industry. Due to the superficial nature of these people and their desire to only think of themselves, Igor is able to start on a path as a serial-killer. The only person willing to crack the riddle is Stanley Morris, who himself, is only focused on a new career/promotion that solving the crime will bring.

The book interweaves the characters and storylines and I was drawn into their lives. This is Coelho's 12th book and the first one I have read, but I am keen to start reading more.

Buy Now


The Northern Clemency by Philip HensherBook Cover of The Northern Clemency by Philip Hensher

Read by Tracy April in 2009

Tracy recommends this if you want a lighthearted view of a difficult time for Northern England

I bought this book because I too come from a northern English town and wanted to see if Hensher was able to objectively discuss the upheavals faced by these towns during the 1970-90's. Hensher's book starts in Sheffield during 1974 and follows the rise and fall of modern times through the changing modes of food and its impact on two neighbouring families. The Sellers family move from London to Sheffield, which is in the grip of industrial strife, they move next door to the Glover family, who too are suffering personal trauma when Malcolm (the husband/father) leaves the marital home for a few days. The effects of this action and the fissures caused are the foundation of the remainder of the book. The opening scene involves a dinner party where the hostesses (Katherine Glover)' son (Daniel) ogles the female guests who are disconcerted by his ill-concealed erection. The novel finishes in the mid-1990's with Daniel now settled down and working in a restaurant.

I got the distinct impression that the book was really an account of the Thatcherite era from the perspective of England's north, however, there was only one character in the book (Tim) who was outwardly political. The book does finish with all the interlinking stories woven together; the adulthood of children and the visible changes in a once industrialised Sheffield, but I was left hanging, there was no fire about the changes that had been forced on the country during the times.

Buy Now


The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg LarssonBook Cover of The Girl Who Played With Fire by Stieg Larsson

Read by Natalie & Tracy 2009

Check out Our Favourites for the full review.

Buy Now


Brixton Beach by Roma TearneBook Cover of Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne

Read by Tracy in September in 2009

Tracy recommends for a predictable read.

For some reason I was excited about this book, unfortunately it did not live up to the comments on the back of the book (I have no idea why I still believe them). The book is initially set in Sri Lanka with the young girl (Alice Fonseka) of the story moving to London to start a new life so her family can escape the racism of the Tamil/Singhalese (Alice's mother, who is Singhalese, married a Tamil man). Tearne has obviously not researched this book very well and has confused the towns and conflicts to suit her timeline.

When the family arrive in Britain, it is dull, grey and cold and Alice's mother is unable to put behind her the grief of her stillborn child, and her husband turns to other women which combined, cause the marriage to dissolve and any family life to become unsustainable. The book covers three generations of a Sri Lankan family and it is the poignant memories of Alice's childhood that she becomes an artist inspired by the beaches that surrounded her home on the Indian Ocean. There was something about the story that seemed repetitive to other books on this genre.

Buy Now


The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John BoyneBook Cover of The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne

Read by Natalie in 2009

Natalie recommends this as a very sad book

This is a very clever way to write such a sad book. The Holocaust was terrible event in our World's history, but telling it from a child's perspective makes it easier to read but still effective in getting the message across. It is the story of a concentration camp director who moves his entire family from Berlin to just outside the gates of Auschwitz. His two young children, particularly the boy are completely sheltered from both the camp and the Jewish prisoners working in their house. One day, whilst out walking, the boy comes across a young Jewish boy sitting by the fence of the camp. They gradually become friends, although the German boy cannot understand why they can't play together, never understanding the prisoner's hunger, sadness or longing to find his father. The mispronunciation of several key words relating to this time is almost endearing, while the complete shelter a child can live in right in the face of such horror is shocking. The ending I could see coming but that didn't make it any less heartbreaking or disturbing.

John has his own website which provides information on his other books The Absolutists, Noah Barleywater Runs Away, The House of Special Purpose, Mutiny on the Bounty, Next of Kin, Crippen, the Congress of Rough Riders, The Thief of Time, Short Stories, The Dare, and The Second Child. John has had two novels turned into movies: The Boy In The Striped Pyjamas and The Telegram Man. His website also provides a list of readings that he is scheduled to provide.

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.

Buy Now


Tipping the Velvet by Sarah WatersBook Cover of Tipping the Velvet by Sarah Waters

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends - but be aware of some of the more descriptive scenes, very provocative.

I saw the BBC TV series for this book and then decided to read the book, just to see what was missing and boy was it missing a lot. As Nan Astley commences womanhood she realises that she isn't attracted to boys as she should be, but instead is enamoured by women. Nan becomes involved in the 19th century music hall industry where she embarks on her first love affair (Kitty) who is a male impersonator. Kitty chooses to follow the more traditional path and marries and a devastated Nan becomes a male impersonator on the streets, surviving by finding a sexual niche. Nan becomes involved with Diana who introduces her to luxury and debauchery and Nan becomes her sexual slave and after some hiccups, they develop a strong and loving bond. I can honestly say I have never read a book like this and some of the scenes were very very interesting and explicit but managed to not be gratuitous. The fact that women were exploring their homosexuality in an era I had imagined was so straight laced was an interesting concept. Because I watched the TV series first, I had in my mind all the visions of grandeur that Waters explored but the book was even better.

Click for information on the BBC drama of Tipping the Velvet.

Click for Sarah Waters website.

Buy Now


The White Tiger by Aravind AdigaBook Cover of The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

Read by Tracy February in 2009

Tracy recommends you read it to get a glimpse of the underbelly of Indian society

I read this book whilst trekking through Nepal. It was on every booksellers street stall and also won the Man Booker Prize in 2008.

This is a debut novel for Adiga and shows the emerging country that is India. The main character, Balram Halwai, was born in rural India and only escaped poverty by becoming employed as a driver for a rich businessman (Ashok) in Delhi. Although by the time the story is written, Balram has escaped servitude and himself become a rich businessman (in addition to a philospher and murderer) and it is this story that shows the corrupt and criminal heart of Indian society. Balram sees his employer become rich through bribery, bartering and dealing on the black market. The book is based on letters that Balram has written to the Chinese prime minister who is going to be visiting India in the near future. Balram tells the stories of India - poverty, corruption and election rigging. It was interesting to read a book that drew attention to the underbelly of India, as most books tend to highlight the opposite, but I could not become engrossed in the book and felt that it was disconnected from reality and it was very difficult to engage with Balram.

The White Tiger won Aravind Adiga the 2008 Man Booker Prize. Aravind Adiga was born in 1974 in Madras (now called Chennai), and grew up in Mangalore in the south of India. He was educated at Columbia University in New York and Magdalen College, Oxford. His articles have appeared in publications such as the New Yorker, the Sunday Times, the Financial Times, and the Times of India. Read the Ourbookclub review of Aravind Adiga's later novels Last Man In Tower and Between the Assassinations.

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.

Buy Now


The Little Friend by Donna TarttBook Cover of The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends that you stick with Tartts' first novel The Secret History

Tartt's first book The Secret History was published approximately 10 years before this one and seems to have become something of a cult hit. Her second book The Little Friend was heralded as even better. Tartt sticks to a simple plot; the death of a child (Robin) and the challenge to avenge that death by a sibling (Harriet Dufresnes) who attempts to locate the so far never found killer. Although Harriet is only 12 years old, she is an indomitable detective and bases her research on her slightly older sister (Alison) may or may not have seen anything, and considering she was only 4 at the time, her memory may prove inconsistent. The death of Robin is devastating on the family and Harriet becomes obsessed with focussing on one particular person she believes killed her brother and her decision to bring him to justice. Harriet, of course, does not intend to hand over her investigation to the police instead believing in the tried and true process of an eye for an eye. In Harriet's pursuit of justice she herself becomes pursued and an unexpected ending ensues.

The book itself is long and I needed to make myself continue in some sections to the descriptive nature of Tartts writing. I particularly wanted Harriet to enjoy her childhood and stop focusing on the past. The book attempts to be a thriller, but lacks mystery and the final revelation is a bit flat.

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.

Buy Now


A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled HosseiniBook Cover of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends for a heartbreaking read about the removal of religious freedoms.

This was Hosseini's follow up to The Kite Runner. This book certainly highlights the misery, violence and abuse that can be suffered within the home particularly in a society that dictates women are silent. Mariam, born out of wedlock, has always been bullied, initially by her mother and then by her husband, who she is married off to after her mother dies. Mariam is unable to produce a child, so her husband marries another younger woman - Laila. Laila comes from a liberal family so is unprepared for the strictness of living in this household where the burqua must be worn. The women are competitors for any scrap of love or affection except from each other. We see how things dramatically change with the tightening of religious restrictions under the Taliban and increasingly Sharia law until the end of the novel when Mariam takes drastic action to save Laila and her child.

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.

Buy Now


Zigzag Street by Nick EarlsBook Cover of Zigzag Street by Nick Earls

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends as a laugh out loud funny.

Zigzag Street won Earls the 1998 Betty Trask Award in the UK. It is great to read a book from a male perspective about the end of a relationship and just how crap it can be and how it impacts your whole life without you really letting it. Of course in this book, the trashee, Richard, has a great sense of humour which always helps. This book was laugh out loud funny with Richards exploits and his attempts to get over Anna (trasher).

Buy Now


The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg LarssonBook Cover of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson

Read by Natalie & Tracy 2009

Check out Our Favourites for the full review.

Buy Now


Alentejo Blue by Monica AliBook Cover of Alentejo Blue by Monica Ali

Read by Tracy in 2009

Tracy recommends for a fantastic tale of a Portuguese village.

This is the follow up to Monica Ali's Brick Lane which I loved and thought a fantastic tale. In Alentejo Blue Ali leaves the East End of London and heads to rural Portugal. In a series of short stores Ali tracks the comings and goings of the villagers, visitors and other assorted travellers. Ali has the ability to give her books a sense of authenticity and integrity and throws together the seemingly disassocated characters into a fantastic tale of life. I particularly loved the character of Teresa who is struggling to find a life for herself on her own terms.

Monica Ali has a website where you read her history and keep up to date with forthcoming media and appearances. Read the OurBookClub review of Monica Ali's Brick Lane.

Buy Now