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Glenrowan Gazette
Glenrowan Book Group:
Book Reviews
updated April 2016: e-mail
  Glenrowan Book Group members
have provided reviews of books
they have read and discussed -
to the benefit of all Gazette readers:
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2014:    
Water for Elephants The Grass Harp Major Pettigrew's Last Stand
Farewell, My Lovely The Help Water under the Bridge
People of the Book Lovesong The Elegance of the Hedgehog

2013:    
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Something Fishy Three Cups of Tea
Wicked but Virtuous Sixty Lights The Red Tent
The Kalahari Typing School for Men    

2012:    
The Left Hand of Darkness Resilience The Boy in the Green Suit
The Year of the Flood The Broken Shore Daddy, We Hardly Knew You
The Memory Keeper's Daughter The Robber Bride Snow Falling on Cedars

2011:    
A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian One Good Turn
The No.1 Ladies' Detective Agency Year of Wonders
The Grapes of Wrath The Secret Life of Bees Breath
All That Happened at Number 26 The Poisonwood Bible

2010:    
Reading in Bed We Need to Talk about Kevin The Shark Net
Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage On Chesil Beach
The Woman in White The Time Traveler's Wife Travels with My Aunt

 

One Thousand Chestnut Trees  

2009:    
A Fence around the Cuckoo The Road Joe Cinque's Consolation
A Thousand Splendid Suns Mao's Last Dancer World War II Reading
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec The Namesake Girl with a Pearl Earring
The Curious Incident of the Dog
in the Night-Time
The Book Thief The God of Small Things

2008:    
Journey from Venice Life of Pi My Sister's Keeper
A Foreign Wife Stasiland The Dressmaker

Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

In My Skin The Lovely Bones
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November 2014:

Major Pettigrew's
Last Stand

by Helen Simonson



Elin

Major Ernest Pettigrew (Ret'd) is not interested in the frivolity of the modern world. Since his wife Nancy's death, he has tried to avoid the constant bother of nosy village women, his grasping, ambitious son, and the ever spreading suburbanization of the English countryside, preferring to lead a quiet life upholding the values that people have lived by for generations: respectability, duty, and a properly brewed cup of tea (very much not served in a polystyrene cup with teabag left in).
But when his brother's death sparks an unexpected friendship with Mrs. Ali, the widowed village shopkeeper of Pakistani descent, the Major is drawn out of his regimented world and forced to confront the realities of life in the twenty-first century.
Drawn together by a shared love of Literature and the loss of their respective spouses, the Major and Mrs. Ali soon find their friendship on the cusp of blossoming into something more. Although the Major was actually born in Lahore, and Mrs. Ali was born in Cambridge, village society insists on embracing him as the quintessential local and her as a permanent foreigner.
The Major has always taken special pride in the village, but how will the chaotic recent events affect his relationship with the place he calls home?
Written with sharp perception and a delightfully dry sense of humour, Major Pettigrew's Last Stand is a heart warming love story with a cast of unforgettable characters, and the story raises the question of how much one should sacrifice personal happiness for the obligations of family and tradition. ♣

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The Elegance of the Hedgehog is a novel by French novelist and professor of philosophy, Muriel Barbery, and it won the 2007 French Booksellers Prize. This unusual read became the top selling book in France the same year.
The story is set in an elegant apartment building in central Paris occupied by upper-middle class families. We follow the story through two main characters, the concierge Renee, and Paloma, the precocious daughter of one of the resident families.
Renee conforms to every stereotype of a concierge - short, plump and addicted to television. But beneath this facade lies a person passionate about culture, philosophy, the arts, music and Japanese culture - in some aspects she is more knowledgeable than her employers.
Meanwhile, several floors up, 12 year old Paloma, daughter of a tedious parliamentarian is determined to avoid the pampered life laid out for her and has decided to end her life on her 13th birthday. Until then Paloma decides to behave as everyone expects her to: a pre-teen high on subculture and a just good enough student.
Renee and Paloma hide their true talents and it is not until the sudden death of one of the residents that their lives dramatically change. A wealthy Japanese man named Ozu moves into the vacated apartment. He gains Paloma’s trust and sees through Renee’s disguise. It is at this time that Renee and Paloma become friends.
This novel is a moving, funny and philosophical read; a beautifully written book which should be read in long sittings.
The book generated a lively discussion in our book group - especially over the stereotypical characters of Renee and Paloma, but overall it was one of the highest rating books we have read: top score of 5.

October 2014:

The Elegance of
the Hedgehog

by Murial Barbery

Jane

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September 2014:

People of the Book

by Geraldine Brooks



Noël

People of the Book is a fictionalised account of the hazardous journeys of an ancient Jewish manuscript renowned for its amazing illuminated images. From medieval Spain to Venice during the Inquisition and on to 19th century Vienna, the story moves from caretaker to caretaker as people of all faiths carry with them the Haggedah - prayer book of the Hebrew people.
The actual Sarajevo Haggadah which inspired this novel, was spirited out of the Bosnian library and hidden in a bank vault when the Serbs shelling began to target the libraries and museums of Sarajevo early in the 1990's. However, that was its second Sarajevo rescue: half a century earlier, it had been taken from under the watch of the Nazis and hidden in a village mosque for the duration of WW2. The 1941 rescue was by an Islamic scholar and in 1992 a Muslim librarian was the rescuer.
The framing story concerns a contemporary Australian expert in rare books, Hanna Heath, who examines the Haggadah binding and from clues embedded there, reconstructs the prayer book's history. Geraldine Brook’s novel is largely speculative and offers complex twists and turns over the centuries, all linked by the contemporary storyline which also offers a mystery, a love story, sex, racial oppression and numerous acts of brutality and violence.
Most readers thoroughly enjoyed the novel - the history of Jews in Europe, the religious prejudice, the forensic details of manuscript analysis and its range of characters. Others found the framing story of Hanna less convincing; more contrived, melodramatic and an unnecessary distraction from the central events. Not all at our discussion night had finished it yet - however those who had, rated it 4 of 5.

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Set in Sydney during the Great Depression years and World War II, Elliott writes as much about the place and times as he does about his characters. He writes succinctly and skilfully, weaving several storylines together from many characters’ viewpoints.
The author creates a clear picture of life in Sydney for those who didn’t ‘see action’ over-seas… ‘Even the night when explosions rocked the harbour and they’d got up and put on their wrappers and peered through the dark veranda windows, expecting, almost hoping, to see the golden confetti of ack-ack and searchlights but all was dark Sunday night with the wireless just crackling, gone off the air, and nothing more happened….(they) sat in the hall under an arch as they’d been told to do if there was “enemy action” and Mrs. Watson made cocoa and all that transpired was they became extremely sleepy.’
The main character, Neil Atkins, is orphaned and raised by Shasta, who has to leave her blooming career in theatre and music halls to look after him. We follow his life, loves and acting career. (It's interesting to note that Elliott’s own mother died when he was born and he was raised by relatives.)
Many of our book members found the start of the novel disjointed and slow, and so were not motivated to keep reading. Those who did continue reading, were rewarded by a quicker plot, reminders of our social history, a murder mystery and satisfying ending that brings the different threads of the story together.
A tentative rating is 4 out of 5.

August 2014:

Water under the Bridge

by Sumner Locke Elliott

Fleur

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July 2014:

The Help

by Kathryn Stockett



Rosa

 

This book is about a number of maids of southern white women in Jackson, Mississippi - their working conditions in the time of the civil rights struggle in 1960's USA.
The author grew up in Jackson with a black maid who brought up her and her siblings. The book is written as a belated and unacknowledged thank you.
The main characters in the book are two black maids, Abileen and Minny. We get to know their history and private life as well as their working life and different attitudes to their employers.
The main white character is Skeeter who wants to be a writer for big publishing company. She comes up with an idea to write a book from the black maids' point of view and starts talking with the maids who work for her white friends around town.
Skeeter is also trying to find out what happened to her own belovedly maid who was gone when she returned from college: her mother avoids answering her questions.
The book does also show how some white women treat their maids well, but unfortunately most maids are treated with disrespect and even malice under working conditions not much better than slavery.
The group rated this book 4 out of 5.
Many members have seen the movie and recommended that as well.

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Melancholy, gentle, melodic, warm, easy read are a some of the words used by a number of our book group members to describe our latest book, Lovesong by Alex Miller.
The story is set in Paris and Melbourne and then comes together through the meeting of John Patterner and Ken, an ageing writer. Ken had just arrived back from Venice and on his return, he notices a new pastry shop in his neighbourhood, which is owned by John and his Tunisian wife Sahiba. John and Ken meet regularly and strike up an acquaintance and it is through these meetings that John tells his story to Ken, someone he can trust. From these conversations Ken decides to turn John and Sahiba’s story into his own last novel.
John, an Australian backpacker, and Sahiba met in a cafe, Chez Dom, owned by Houria, Sahiba’s aunt. The attraction between John and Sahiba was immediate and they soon married. After Houria's death, John and Sahiba continued to run Chez Dom, and for both of them the desire to have a child is paramount. John wantse to move back to Australia, but this would not be possible until they have a child. It is here that their love story sets in motion an invariable course of tragic events.
The way the author has interwoven the story of John and Sahiba with Ken’s own need to take their story and re-fashion it, creates this beautiful novel. The story is a lovely glimpse into other people’s lives and their passions, and by raising questions of morality and purpose, marriage, family and death the author gives us a tender, deeply moving novel.
Alex Miller is an Australian novelist who migrated from England to Australia when he was 16. He has written ten novels in all, and his latest novel Coal Creek was published earlier this year.
Although not all members found it as compassionate, this book still rated a high 4 out of 5.

June 2014:

Lovesong

by Alex Miller

Jane

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May 2014:

The Grass Harp

by Truman Capote



Shirley

The title story is set in a small southern American town, and the narrator is an 11 year old boy, Collin Fenwick. He is sent to live with his father's elderly unmarried cousins Verena & Dolly Talbo.
Dolly and Collin become friends whereas Verena is a mean-spirited and selfish person. Dolly is a sweet, old-worldly and gentle woman. She always seems to be under Verena's thumb although she is quite happy and satisfied with herself. She gathers herbs and makes a potion which she sells to customers by post. Verena thinks money can be made from this venture, but Dolly refuses to give her the recipe.
As a result Dolly along with a negro servant Catherine and Collin run away. The town people discover there hide-out in a tall tree, and the sheriff along with a judge orders them out of the tree and down. Before the adventure ends, they meet a number of characters and have to deal with both racism and death.
The tree house is a allegory of the refuge people may find in life. Throughout the story, the surrounding nature is beautifully described and offers a counterbalance to materialism.
We only had a small number at our discussion night for this book. Some people really enjoyed the title story The Grass Harp, finding it quite a magical tale.
The other short stories had a mixed response - not many people had read them either. I read them, finding some of them enjoyable and other rather strange in the way they ended suddenly.
We rated this book 3 out of 5.

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Although published in 1940, Farewell, My Lovely still struck a chord for many members in our bookgroup. In general we found Chandler’s writing style witty, fast paced and entertaining - if a little tame when compared to today’s crime writing.
Wise-cracking private detective, Philip Marlowe, reminded us of many private detectives we meet in present day novels or screen plays; well meaning but flawed individuals who battle the odds, defy the authorities and at times neglect their own safety, to solve the case. ‘This was the time to leave, to go far away. So I pushed the door open and stepped quietly in’.
Marlowe tells the story with clever dialogue: ‘You lied to me’, says a policeman and Marlowe replies, ‘It was a pleasure’. Also throughout the novel there is wonderful use of simile. For example, a villain’s voice is ‘as cool as a cafeteria dinner.’ One of our favourite quotes from the book came as a wrung out, lucky-to-be-alive Marlowe says, ‘I needed a drink, I needed a lot of life insurance, I needed a vacation, I needed a home in the country. What I had was a coat, a hat and a gun. I put them on and went out of the room.’
Overall our group rated this book 3 out of 5, but it did not generate as much discussion as some of our other reads.

April 2014:

Farewell, My Lovely

by Raymond Chandler

Fleur

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March 2014:

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen



Faye

This novel is set in a travelling circus which is touring the backblocks of America during the Great Depression of the early 1930s.The story of the ”Benzini Brothers Most Spectacular Show on Earth” circus is told as a series of flashbacks by Jacob Jankowski who is languishing in a home for the aged, now in his 90s. He is haunted by the memory of an animal stampede and a secret he has kept ever since.
As his story unfolds we learn about America during the prohibition and depression era as well as about the treatment of circus animals and the kinds of people who worked in circuses. The group felt we gained an insight into how circuses functioned in the days when they travelled by train from town to town. This life was described in detail by Sara Gruen so the reader was engrossed and kind of escaped to living a circus lifestyle in another time and place. One experienced the social hierarchy of circus members from the Ringmaster down to the expendable labourers who were so often ”redlighted” - the practice of throwing the old, injured or infirmed workers off the train during the night. Even men who were owed wages could get this treatment.
Some commented it was an enjoyable read following the interaction between the characters, their support for each other and the affection for the animals. Yet it was also a surprising and anxious read of brutality and a cruel life in tough times with the threat of violence ever present. This tale of love, passion, danger, revenge and despair is entwined with historical photos which gave life to the story and its characters.
For some group members it was Jacob’s story in the nursing home that stirred emotions, a mixture of sadness and humour as we reflected on age care. The book generated good discussions on many tangents, including childhood memories versus adult views and the cruelty of using animals in the Big Top. We ended with the thought that circuses probably are much the same today - behind the glamour it is a tough life!
Everyone agreed the book painted a more rounded version of the story than the film, giving Water for Elephants a score of 3 out of 5.

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This is the fourth book in the series of the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, and like previous volumes, it is set in Botswana. Mm Precious Ramotswe is the lively character and principal of her Private Detective Agency, although she is often assisted by her extremely funny and capable secretary.
In this volume there are more tales of secrecy, conniving behaviour and jealousy. Precious goes about trying to solve each ‘crime’ and leaves the culprit with a life learning message once they have been found out or have been forced to admit their deeds.
It’s a great book with simple plots that allow the reader to imagine they are living in the local village and witnessing the events that unravel in these short stories.

Remaining volumes of the series are well worth reading ... not too heavy and enough visual description to make you go back for more. Other volumes include Tears of the Giraffe, Morality for Beautiful Girls and In the Company of Cheerful Ladies.

This was a very popular book and was rated 4 out of 5.

October 2013:

The Kalahari Typing
School for Men

by Alexander McCall Smith

Kristen

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September 2013:

Wicked but Virtuous

by Mirka Mora



E
lin

 

This is an unconventional autobiography where Mirka Mora describes the highs and lows of her bohemian existence, from narrowly avoiding extermination during World War II to post-war Melbourne where the cafes and restaurants she ran with her husband, became a magnet for artists, writers and other intellectuals.
Several book group members were expecting to enjoy this book as they like much of Mora’s free-spirited art work and also were interested in the Melbourne art scene of the 1950s and 1960s, but it was a disappointment. The book seems to be a collection of chaotic ramblings. The author says that her editor was concerned about the deadline, and this could very well explain the muddle: Maybe Mora hoped that those interested in the book would consider her erratic, hurried, seemingly unedited chaos an artistic expression?
There are quite a few photos in the book, also of Mora’s own work, and these were interesting. Most of us enjoyed the chapter about her work, about those that have influenced her art as well as the art books she uses. It was also interesting to discover that Mora thinks she has a form of synaesthesia, – that is, she associates certain musical notes with colours in her palette. Maybe many artists have this? – in one way or other.
Overall this reader found Mora shallow, self-indulgent and ultimately dull.

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This book is a novel based loosely on one of the chapters in the Book of Genesis in the Bible. It tells the story of Dinah, the only daughter of Jacob, who is also half-brother to Joseph (of “The Amazing Technicolour Coat” musical fame).
The tribes of Israel were at that time nomadic, and the author’s focus is mainly on the lives of the women, with Dinah as the central character. As such, a large part of the book deals with subjects relating to women - their coming of age, marriages, pregnancies, birthing, and raising of children. The story progresses through these phases in Dinah’s own life, until her death in Egypt as an older woman.
The lives of men are peripheral in some respects, but it is clear that men are in the positions of power. The often violent conflicts between them have some devastating consequences.
This book came to us highly recommended on several fronts. It was a surprise to most of us that, in large part, we did not enjoy this book. Several people described it as boring, or a waste of time, other members did not finish reading it.
We felt it would be interesting to hear the views of Jewish women about this book as the story provides a different point of view on a central part of the Jewish history – perhaps they may feel more connected to the tale?
We gave this book a score of 1 out of 5.

August 2013:

The Red Tent

by Anita Diamond

Julie

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June 2013:

Sixty Lights

by Gail Jones



Elin

 

 

 

Sixty Lights is the captivating chronicle of Lucy Strange, an independent girl growing up in the 19th century Victorian world - in Australia, England and India.
In a contracted, almost modernist form, this story tracks Lucy's life from childhood in Australia, to her stormy adolescence in England and then to India. From her first years in the colony of Victoria through to her teenage years in London as well as early adulthood in Bombay and finally back to London, Lucy is fascinated by light and by the new photographic technology - a means to capture the light! Her perception of the world is passionate and moving, revealed in a series of frozen images captured in the camera of her mind's eye and showing her feelings about love, life and loss.
In this confident, finely woven and intricate novel Gail Jones has created an unforgettable character in Lucy - a visionary, gifted and exuberant young woman who touches the lives of all who get to know her.
The author is a true storyteller with an intelligence and honesty to her writing that brings the characters powerfully to life. The novel's meanings are prismatic in their possibilities and its human dimensions deeply affecting.
This reader rated it 4 out of 5.

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This book is the true story of how an American mountaineer came to organise and support the construction of schools in the remote valleys of northern Pakistan. Greg Mortenson had been climbing peaks in the area and became lost on coming down. He was welcomed into a village in Baluchistan, was fed and cared for, and spent time in discussion with the local people. He observed children sitting in the dirt, without a teacher, busily doing maths and other tasks unsupervised. The village elder asked if Mortenson could build them a school.
Thus began what became for Mortenson an all-consuming passion, which extended into other valleys and areas of the region.  His particular aim was to provide education for girls, this being  one way to help decrease appalling poverty and hardship in the area.
The book was written by a journalist, David Relin, and as such, the group felt it lacked a personal touch. Some of the accounts of events also seemed far-fetched, or indeed seemed unnecessary inclusions.
Several people in the group were concerned about the provision of aid in a third world country, which was possibly not sustainable once the index person, in this case Greg Mortenson, was not there. It appears on further research that there are questions regarding use of donated funds in Mortenson’s organisation. This nevertheless is a popular book in America, being required reading in some schools.  It also remains a fact, that focussing on the education of girls is an admirable aim, and well worth pursuing in some form, in order for communities to be able to lift themselves out of grinding poverty.
Our book group rated the book 2 out of 5.

May 2013:

Three Cups of Tea

by Greg Mortenson and
David Oliver Relin


Julie

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April 2013:

Something Fishy

by Shane Maloney



Noël

Something Fishy, the fifth in Shane Maloney’s award-winning and much loved Murray Whelan series, is characterised by a larrikin sense of humour and a keen sense of Melbourne’s political and cultural identity. It is the Christmas season and Maloney captures the atmosphere perfectly. The heat, the sun and surf, New Year’s beach concerts, the changing face of the beach/resort town, and the nearby dense bush are all evocatively and realistically portrayed.
Murray Whelan is an unlikely protagonist. A single father and true believer, Murray Whelan is now a member of parliament, in a time where Labour is in opposition. He has custody of his teenage, hormonal son Red who features prominently in this book. The book starts with a crime and a great tragedy in Murray's life and the chase begins as he seeks justice and revenge.
In Something Fishy we find a world with abalone poaching, shady restaurateurs, feral hippies and teenage romance. There are some wonderful scenes in the dense bush, a dramatic chase and Murray’s escape at sea where he is “in imminent danger of being discovered, mutilated, shot, drowned or eaten by killer whales”.
The novel is slapstick-funny, witty and even scary at times; a little darker than the earlier books. It is not a book to skim-read in case you miss the descriptive epithets, the clever passages as well as the irony and dry humour which have readers laughing out loud. The plot is well-controlled, the characters fascinating and the Murray Whelan series is known to be a reliable, enjoyable read.
For our book group it is the added bonus of the familiar Melbourne setting and the humour that makes a Shane Maloney crime novel an eagerly anticipated reading experience which we rated a strong 4 out of 5.

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Animal, Vegetable and Miracle: a year of food life is a non-fiction book by Barbara Kingsolver - with contributions from her husband Steve Hopp and their daughter Camille Kingsolver. The book details the family’s move from the arid country side of Tucson, Arizona to a farm in Southwestern Virginia where they attempt to live one year either growing or raising their food and on food they are able to buy within one hour's drive.
The book is a self-exposing, day-to-day explanation of how the family persevered and achieved their goal. It is a book about getting back to basics, teaching children and adults where their food comes from, how it grows, who grows it and how it ends up on our plates. 
The story is interwoven with short essays by Kingsolver’s husband, Steven Hopp and well-written entries by her eldest daughter Camille showing a teenage perspective.  Their youngest daughter, Lily also contributed by starting her own business selling eggs.
Also included were recipes for each month of the year, utilising food that is in season.  We had the pleasure of sampling one of the recipes at the discussion night, Zucchini and chop chip biscuits, made by one of our members - and they were delicious. 
All recipes from the book can be found on the internet: Animal, Vegetable, Miracle Recipes
The book created quite a lot of discussion, but some members found it a tedious read, also very USA orientated. It is not a novel but a non-fiction book that you can only read in small amounts as there is so much information to absorb.  The lay-out of the book was sometimes awkward due to the intermingled passages written by the various authors.  All in all, not one of our favourite books as indicated by the rating: 2 out of 5.

Mars 2013:

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle

by Barbara Kingsolver

Jane

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October 2012:

Snow Falling on Cedars

by David Guterson



Fleur

 

 

 

Set on a North Pacific island during the 1950's, this novel recounts the death of a fisherman and the resulting murder trial of a Japanese American. It is a descriptive and painterly 'whodunnit', with the courtroom drama unfolding as a snow storm hits the small island community.
This snow storm appears as a reminder to us of how precarious life can be, that events larger than ourselves can shape our lives as much as, or more than, our own actions. The life story of each of the witnesses in the courtcase central to this novel illustrate how external events have shaped their lives.
Our readers found the novel a little disjointed and slow to begin with. However the pace, continuity and interest improved throughout the second half of the book.

Snow Falling on Cedars scored a strong 4 out of 5 from our book group.

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The first chapter of this book sets the stage for the story that follows. Due to a winter storm, Dr David Henry is forced to deliver his wife Norah’s baby at his own clinic. His son Paul is delevered safely, but then an unexpected second child arrives: a daughter Phoebe. Phoebe has Down Syndrome. In a split second decision, David hands Phoebe to his nurse, asking her to take the baby to an institution in a nearby town.
The novel is set the 1960’s, a time when most children with Down Syndrome were put into institutions. David's motives in making this decision were to save Norah from a life of grief. The nurse who is single, cannot leave Phoebe at the institution and keeps Phoebe, raising her as her own daughter.
Norah’s grief at the loss of her daughter drives a wedge between her and David. David’s guilt at the decision he made isolates him from his family both physically and mentally.
The story is gripping with a surprise ending, although some book group members found David’s character frustrating.
Nearly everyone enjoyed this book as the score 4 out of 5 indicates.

September 2012:

The Memory Keeper's Daughter

by Kim Edwards

Shirley

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August 2012:

The Robber Bride

by Margaret Atwood



Elin

This story is focused on three women - Tony, Charis and Roz - who have little in common except that they went to university together in the 1960s. While there, they met a woman named Zenia who proceeded to devastate each of their lives - at the rate of one per decade. Their betrayals by Zenia are what initially bring the three together as friends, binding their lives together irrevocably; their monthly lunches began after her funeral. Then Zenia rises from the dead.
The novel alternates between the present and flashbacks, featuring the points of view of Tony, Charis and Roz respectively. Zenia has given each woman a different version of her biography, tailor-made to insinuate herself into their lives. No one version of Zenia is true, and the reader knows no more than the characters. Some book group members wanted to know more about Zenia than the book tells us. She never becomes more than the darkness in Roz, Charis and Tony's lives.
The Robber Bride is a meditation on the nature of friendship, power and trust between women, and has - like other works by this author - power struggles between men and women as an underlying theme.
Some of us found the book too detailed and slow moving, rating it 1 out of 5. Others enjoyed Margaret Atwood's dry, droll, spiky voice and found the book vividly written as well as acutely observed, rating it 4 out of 5. The story is open ended with one of the four women not surviving their encounter after Zenia’s staged funeral.
In the end, the book group rated it 3 out of 5.

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Unfortunately only a couple of the group managed to finish this book, it was a hard read and very tedious, of a daughter’s search for her father’s identity. Germaine Greer loses her focus, however, goes into long descriptions of the travels that take her to far away places where she has been searching for evidence of her father’s past, wanders along other sidetracks and goes into the most ridiculous detail. In the end she uncovers the secrets behind her father’s facade, but the journey could have been so much shorter and more interesting. She digresses most knowledgeably, often entertaining on subjects of background interest to her story or of apparently no relevance at all.
After two years of investigating Greer families in Britain, Ireland, South Africa and four Australian states – having written over 1,500 letters to Greers everywhere and to many family historians researching Greers, having visited numerous Greer graves, appealed on television talk shows and published her father’s picture in mass-circulation newspapers- the sleuthing daughter strikes gold in Tasmania. At the end of her search, she discovered that her father was not a Greer at all, Eric Reginald Greer – turned out to be a colossal liar and imposter.
We rated this book 2 out of 5.

July 2012:

Daddy,
We Hardly Knew You

by Germaine Greer

Tina

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June 2012:

The Broken Shore

by Peter Temple



Anne

 

 

 

This story is about a detective who is trying to seek the quiet life as he returns to his tumbledown family home with his two energetic dogs for company.
A prominent member of the coastal town somewhere in Victoria is murdered and suspicion falls on three young men form the local Aboriginal community. The case unfolds amid simmering corruption and prejudice.
Peter Temple has created characters that display the darker side of humanity that is all too present in society, whether we choose to admit it or not. The Australian use of colloquialism often adopted by male writers in that ‘hard boiled’ style, fitted the mood of the story well.
The analogy of the Broken Shore with the continual surging towards the delivery of justice in an imperfect world by imperfect people is symbolic of the waves crashing into the shore. This book had many laugh out loud moments as well which contributed to it being a very enjoyable read.

Our book group rated this book 4 out of 5.

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The novel begins in Year 25, the Year of the Flood.  The book refers to a ‘Dry Flood’ or ‘Waterless Flood’, a highly contagious deadly flu with the potential to wipe out the human race, or a mixed race characterised by genetically modified animals and other strange phenomena.
The Year of the Flood is told by two women, Ren and Toby. The book begins some time after the waterless flood, but the story moves between the past, present and future, developing characters, relationships and events. Ren and Toby tell their stories through their memories, giving perspective to the unusual, tough and unforgiving world they live in. The challenge for the reader is that although the story and events are grim, they are also entirely familiar and plausible.
A radical eco-religious group called the Gardeners, are central to the story. Both Ren and Toby, (and other key characters) are part of this collective who strive to protect themselves and the environment from the makings of the manipulated world around them. The Gardeners’ leader is Adam One, who preaches about the importance of respecting the earth - it is this value base that draws the reader into their plight. Through the gardeners teachings, Toby and Ren develop the skills required to survive the waterless flood, but it is their individual strengths that sees them through the panic, trauma and exploitation, that follows. 
One of the most enjoyable parts of the book are the strong bonds between the characters, especially women. Loyal, caring relationships are captured beautifully and become more complex and important as the individual and shared experiences of the waterless flood are felt. 
Those that didn’t enjoy the book, found it too hard to follow, depressing, disjointed, and too challenging for the imagination to grasp. A mixed response as those that completed the book, generally enjoyed it very much.
The overall rating was 4/5.

May 2012:

The Year of the Flood

by Margaret Atwood

Elita

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April 2012:

The Boy in the Green Suit

by Robert Hillman



Noël

Central to this book is an account of one year in the life of the author. Robert Hillman, in 1964 and at the age of fifteen left his home town of Eildon, Victoria and after a brief stint in Myer’s ladies’ shoe department, booked a passage on a ship searching for his Eden.
Readers need to remember that a memoir is not the same as an autobiography and thus has the option to be more of a construction than a factual timeline. Hillman can focus on looking back, with a degree of affection, on his immature and naive younger self, skilfully linking the narrating of the self-centred, teenage follies with a more mature reflective and psychological insight.
Young Robert set out with a dream not a plan, a dream of an idyllic island with bare breasted women - one of his father's storites. He thought he was sailing to Ceylon, but ends up in Greece and begins hitching around Europe equipped only with optimism and his suitcase of 30 books and a typewriter. He visits Turkey, Kuwait and Iran armed only with the supreme and miss-placed confidence that he “was an Australian. We were a nation of people to whom things did not happen”.
Bizarre tales of his travels, dependent on the kindness of strangers for food, shelter and sometimes survival, are recounted as Hillman finally begins to gain some self awareness during his time in prison in Iran. Here he describes in detail his relationship with fellow prisoners, recognising hardship and suffering, and regularly repeats his walk around the prison determined to remember what he has seen, not because he “feared forgetting, but that I feared the return of self-interest”.
These adventures are interspersed with brief, succinct glimpses Hillman gives us of his other life. These show the complexity his relationship with his father and give an understanding of his “restlessness”, adding warmth and poignancy to our view of the writer.
This book polarised our readers with a wide range of responses, however a number rated it highly, loving the humour of teenage optimism and resilience. This enthusiasm saw us rating this memoir a solid 3/5.

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Resilience by Anne Deveson drew a range of responses from our group. The book explores why some people find the resilience to overcome adversity and suffering while others are overwhelmed and succumb to despair. The author wants to understand better why, and how, individuals and communities develop resilience.
Anne Deveson's long career as journalist, documentary-maker and social justice activist offers insights into the stories of the many spirited people and groups across the world. These questions of social values and community resonate as very relevant to modern living, when bringing up adolescents and for personal relationships in our ever changing world.
The majority of group members stated that they gained insight into the question of resilience and why some people 'spring back' or rise above adversity, still finding hope and meaning in their lives. Many however felt the book encompassed so much yet still leaving one with no conclusive definition. The book is both an intellectual discussion and a personal story as the author also becomes a witness to the struggles for resilience of her beloved Robert. The language and descriptions of his death gave a clear visual picture, but some group members found this part of the story self indulgent.
The book was well received with a rating of 3 out of 5. Anne Deveson certainly is an author to be explored further with recommendations in the group for her moving, personal story about her son Jonathon and his battle with schizophrenia, Tell Me I’m Here.

March 2012:

Resilience

by Anne Deveson

Faye

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February 2012:

The Left Hand
of Darkness

by Ursual Le Guin



Elin


This novel is considered a classic in the science fiction genre, although some book group members read it more as fantasy. The story takes place many centuries in the future when an earthling envoy has arrived on a planet called Winter to convince the citizens to join the league of all worlds.
The people on Winter are the only ambi-sexuals in the known universe: they are neither female nor male, having gender identities and sexual urges only once a month. This intriguing idea makes readers think about the many aspects in a earthling’s life which are defined by our gender.
There has never been a war on Winter, but there are arcane rules of politics and diplomacy that the envoy must learn in order to survive. His fortune changes quickly according to what political faction is in power. In the struggle of the envoy as he tries to understand the ways of these people and survive on a hostile planet, the author explores how dualities like male/ female and summer/winter form our thinking, and how life without these dualities would be.
The novel is very well written, but the typical genre setting of another planet in a distant future divided our book group. The story would have had more readers if the author had introduced the strangeness of Winter later rather on the first few pages. Those who persevered, particularly enjoyed the second half of the book and rated it 4 out of 5.

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This novel concerns a family who migrates from America to the former Belgian Congo, in 1959.
The head of the family is the father, who is a fanatical Christian missionary, and the other members consist of his long-suffering wife, and his four daughters, ranging in ages from 5 to 18.
The story is narrated by all the female members in turn, and the writer allows their personalities and characters to be revealed by the clever use of language, turn of phrase, and even spelling. We thus see events through several different eyes, as they all come to terms with their unseeing father’s zealotry, the harsh reality of a life of poverty in the jungle and the daily grind to feed themselves - all set against a backdrop of the fight for independence of the country which eventually becomes Zaire. Towards the end, we see the lasting effects their experiences have on them, as they write as adults.
- We all enjoyed the writer’s ability to create word pictures of life in a village in the Congo, and the ability to transmit a picture of a person’s character through the use of language.
Even though the subject matter of this book could have been rather depressing, it does not leave the reader feeling this way. This was one of our longest novels so far, close to 600 pages, but it is very readable.

As our last book for the year, we gave it a score on average of 4/5.

November 2011:

The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

Julie

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October 2011:

The Secret Life
of Bees

by Sue Monk Kidd



Tina


 


Sue Monk Kidd’s “The Secret Life of Bees” is set in the American South in 1964, the year of the Civil Rights Act which was followed by intensifying racial unrest.

Fourteen year old Lily Owen, a white girl, runs away from her harsh and neglectful father T Ray with her African-American nanny Rosaleen, whom she helps escape from gaol. The two set out across South Carolina in search of a new life. Their destination is Tiburon, South Carolina – a town they know little about except that in a box which contains belongings left by Lily’s dead mother, there is a cryptic picture of a black Virgin Mary with the words “Tiburon, South Carolina” written on the back.
When they get to the little town, they are taken in by three black beekeeping sisters and their circle of colourful friends. Lily starts a journey that not only changes her understanding of life but also brings her closer to the truth about her own mother.

Despite the serious subject matter, this is a heart warming and life-affirming tale.

As a group we all found this an easy and enjoyable read and rated it 4 out of 5.

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Denise Scott is a well known comedian who has won numerous awards for live performances and has also appeared on TV shows like Spick & Specs, Rove and Tonight Live.  This is Scott’s first foray into comedy for publication in a book.
The story tells of Denise and husband John’s life in their home at No. 26: The birth of two children with the day to day happenings of a young struggling couple who has little money and unreliable work. The book is divided into 23 chapters each dealing with a different part of Scotts life.

The book didn’t create a lot of discussion within our group, but most agreed it was an easy read with some funny laugh-out-loud moments. Some felt it was more like a script for a show, but it was generally well received and ended up on a score of 3 out of 5.

September 2011:

All That Happened at Number 26

by Denise Scott

Shirley


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August 2011:

Breath

by Tim Winton



Elin


 

This story is set on the South coast of Western Australia in the 1970s, telling the story of a young man's coming of age. The novel raises questions about addiction and its costs, about risk-taking, particularly the risk of youth and about their long-term consequences.
Pikelet and Loonie - friends and outsiders if for different reasons - discover surfing, drawn to its intoxicating thrill in a way that is new to them. As teenagers they surf wild and often lonely breaks, but gradually they get to know some of the others who visit these surfs, including the enigmatic Sando, a lone wolf, wild-man surfer. Through Sando, Pikelet and Loonie meet Eva, Sando's wife, a former champion freestyle skier crippled by a ruined knee.

The book is very well written, often lyrical in its descriptions of the ocean and the WA South coast, a beauty contrasted with the debth of the darkness of the young men's risk taking. The connections Tim Winton draws between various sorts of risk-taking and addiction are persuasive, within the context of this novel as well as more broadly.

Our book group rated Breath a very strong 3 out of 5.


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First published in 1939, Steinbeck’s Pulitzer Prize winning epic of the Great Depression chronicles the Dust Bowl migration of the 1930's and tells the story of one Oklahoma, USA farm family -the Joads.
The family is driven from their farm and forced to travel west to the promised land of California. Out of their trials and their repeated collisions against the hard realities of a country divided into haves and have-nots, evolves a drama that is intensely human yet majestic in its scale and moral vision. As a portrait of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless, of one man’s fierce reaction to injustice and of one woman’s stoical strength, the novel captures the horrors of the Great Depression of the 1930's, probing the very nature of equality and justice in the United States of America.
It is a very long novel and yet it reads as if it had been composed in a flash, ripped off the typewriter and delivered to the public as an ultimatum. It is a long and thoughtful novel as one thinks about it; it is a short and vivid scene as one feels it.
Sensitive to fascist and communist criticism, Steinbeck insisted that The Battle Hymn of the Republic be printed in its entirety in the first edition of the book - the story takes its title from the first verse: "He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”
As Don DeLillo has claimed, "Steinbeck shaped a geography of conscience with this novel where there is something at stake in every sentence.” The Grapes of Wrath is perhaps the most American of American classics. ♣

~ review in New York Times in 1939 ~

July 2011:

The Grapes of Wrath

by John Steinbeck

Elin


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June 2011:

Year of Wonders

by Geraldine Brooks



 


Jane

This gripping historical novel is based on the true story of Eyam, a small village in England during the Plague in 1666. The story is chronicled through the eyes of eighteen-year-old Anna Frith, as she confronts the loss of her family and aids the Vicar, Michael Mompellion, in his mission to help contain the disease.
Under the persuasion of the Vicar the town is quarantined from the wider world to prevent the disease from spreading any further. Anna forms a very strong friendship with the Vicar’s wife, Elinor, and together they learn about the use of herbs to comfort and alleviate the pain of others.
The story takes us through the disintegration of a community and the suffering that is endured by those as they succumb to the loss of family and friends in the village. It is a tale of suffering, fear, love, religion, superstition, witchcraft, friendship, violence and loss, all these themes brought together to unfold such a moment in history. It is a wonderful read and the writing is beautiful and sensitive. Through the use of authentic language and Brooks’ thorough research she has been able to portray the gritty reality of the plague and its effects on the life of a small village.
After discussion, the most negative aspect of the story was the ending. It just didn’t seem to fit the story line at all. It seemed hastily written and even at times far-fetched. All in all it is a great story of endurance in a truly terrible time in history, and it is a book that is worth a read. Members rated the book 4 out of 5.
Geraldine Brooks is an Australian writer and lives in the United States. Year of Wonders was her first book written in 2001. Further novels include March, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, 2006 and her third novel People of the Book. Her latest novel Caleb’s Crossing was launched this year. All her works are historical fiction.

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Last month's book left some readers yearning for a mystery story with greater complexity and plot. Kate Atkinson certainly delivered in this month’s book, One Good Turn, aptly subtitled, “A jolly murder mystery”.
One Good Turn begins with a minor traffic accident at the International Festival in Edinburgh, Scotland which turns into an act of road rage in front of a long queue of people waiting to enter one of the festival's events. A tossed laptop computer clips the assailant and causes him to leave. This "one good turn" of saving a stranger's life swings the novel's events into play.
The laptop was thrown by Martin Canning, a successful but lonely mystery writer, while also in the queue and witnessing the altercation are other strangers whose lives and secrets connect to create the intriguing and compelling mystery. Here, in a novel dealing with serious issues, we have a wonderful labyrinth of multiple intersecting stories with fascinating, robust characters.
One of the themes that run throughout the novel involves Russian matryoshka dolls, where successively smaller dolls are hidden inside one another. Kate Atkinson uses the metaphor to slowly uncover the stories and secrets of her characters as well as her plot. Each opening of a doll reveals some new insight until the story threads are pulled together and all the characters collide in a farcical but satisfying conclusion.
This book was well received, rating a solid 4 out of 5 and nominated by several readers as one of their favourites in the Book Group selection with Kate Atkinson certainly a writer to explore further.

May 2011:

One Good Turn

by Kate Atkinson

 

Noël

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April 2011:

The No.1 Ladies'
Detective Agency

by Alexander McCall Smith



Kristen


Our book for March was the first book in the series of The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency with several others following. Mma Precious Ramotswe is the central character in all of these books. She is a woman full of determination, common sense and wit, and you can’t help but wonder if her physical appearance matches her exuberant personality.
Mma Romtswe has established a private detective agency in her home town of Gaborone, Botswana. She opens her agency with pride and a sense of professionalism. Within a short time she finds her services in considerable demand with cases ranging from missing husbands, bad business ventures to dealing with jealous wives and girlfiriends. There is also some on-going romance with Precious and the local garage owner, Mr J. L. B. Matekoni.
This book has been written so clearly and simply that I found myself imagining standing in the red sandy villages, sweeping dusty floors and looking at the “Speedy Motors” sign. Precious always leaves a message to the victim and accused when she solves her cases. It seems that everyone leaves satisfied.
Consequently, I purchased the series as I found I was wanting to read more adventures of Mma Ramotswe. Other book club members felt the same with further novels and DVD Series being bought. It was a great book and well worth the read. Members rated this novel 4 (and a 1/2!) out of 5.


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This novel has little to do with tractors! The opening paragraph is worth quoting as it sets the scene well. "Two years after my mother died, my father fell in love with a glamorous blonde Ukrainian divorcee. He was eighty-four and she was thirty-six. She exploded into our lives like a fluffy pink grenade, churning up the murky water, bringing to the surface a sludge of sloughed-off memories, giving the family ghosts a kick up the backside."
Sisters Vera and Nadezhda have not spoken to each other since their mother’s death two years prior. The arrival of the money-grabbing Valentina forces them to put aside their differences so that they can protect their aging father. Their father views their ‘help’ as interference and he stubbornly goes about living his life as he sees fit! He begins writing his tractor book and escapes into this activity whenever the dramas around him become overwhelming. He is determined to live his life as fully as he can, without letting his age limit him.
As we delve further into the story, some of the ‘family ghosts’ emerge, including tales of survival from famine and labour camps. At times this does not sit comfortably with the comical nature of the rest of the book.
This book drew a range of responses from our group. Some found it quirky and very amusing while others thought that it ‘fell flat’. Some readers found it painfully funny or a little ‘too close to home’, especially those who have cared for aging parents or patients. Overall, we rated the book three out of five.

March 2011:

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

by Marina Lewycka



Fleur

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November 2010:

One Thousand
Chestnut Trees

by Mira Stout

 

 

 


This is a book about a young artist, Anna, who lives in New York and feels at a loss with her life - based loosely on the author herself. Some of our readers found the story, initially, a little benign and tedious.
Anna knows little about her Boston Irish father and even less about her Korean mother so she decides to journey back to Korea to try and help make sense of the random jigsaw pieces of her background.
The book evolves to convey the reader on a wonderful journey through the turbulent history of Korea through the eyes of Anna and her family. Stout grapples with the deep conundrum that is mixed-race identity and shares her family’s survival in an immensely authentic way.

Overall our readers rated this book a 3 out of 5, with the majority stating that they have gained a significant insight into twenty century Korean history.

Anne


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The Woman in White was first published in serial form in 1859 - a true classic.
Although long and overwritten in parts, it is a remarkably well paced melodrama. As a thriller of the Victorian era, it tells the story of a young heiress (the heroine) and a young drawing teacher (the hero) who loves her!
The story is told as first-hand reports by a succession of different narrators. Each narrator moves the plot forward uncovering some twist that the prior narrator was not privy to. The language and descriptions give a vivid picture of the class distinction dealing with poor and rich, but not really middle class, reflecting the time in which it was written.
As one of our group remarked “A rollicking good read!”

We rated Woman in White 4/5.

Tina

October 2010:

The Woman in White

by Wilkie Collins


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September 2010:

Travels with My Aunt

by Graham Greene




Noël

This book, about life and second chances, is not a typical Graham Greene novel and gained a mixed reception from our group. Some who remembered it from their school days struggled to complete it, while others termed it “fun”, “zany” and “delightful”. It is a quick and easy read.
When recently retired Bank Teller, Henry Pulling, meets his flamboyant and unconventional Aunt Augusta on the day of his mother’s funeral, his life changes. Augusta persuades Henry to abandon his prize dahlias and staid, suburban, bachelor life and join her travels through Europe and beyond. Here he mixes with hippies, war criminals, CIA operatives and military dictators, smoking pot and smuggling currency. Sharing Aunt Augusta’s view of the world is to ignore security and legality and to embrace adventure and surprises.
This light-hearted novel contains many stories within a story - some comic, some bizarre, some touching - coming thick and fast throughout a changing landscape. They are all told eloquently and with considerable humour to produce a light and entertaining novel full of fascinating characters and memorable “laugh out loud” moments.
Yet in the midst of all this froth there is a clear message for readers. Greene uses Henry and Augusta to remind us of the need to live life to the fullest before it is too late. Life is a journey; we travel towards death and that only by choosing to share Augusta’s lust for life (if not her ethics) can we truly live and not merely exist.
Group members who read the book rated it - 4 out of 5.


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A beautifully written book, The Time Travellers Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, is a love story about waiting, longing and loss. The book incorporates the concept of time travel, explaining it as a genetic disorder, to be discovered into the future. The idea of time travel and its necessity in the novel, was the cause of quite divergent responses to the book, by the book group members.
Some members were frustrated by the author’s decision to integrate time travel into an already lovely storyline. Others adored the book and were unconcerned about the fantasy element, considering that it added another dimension to the main characters’ (Clare and Henry) relationship.
Those that did not enjoy the book clearly expressed that it was the subject and not the writing style that put them off. It was considered by some of these readers that a more realistic integration of the past and future elements of a relationship, could have worked just as well.
Members discussed the purpose of including time travel in the storyline. It was agreed that it added some substance to Clare’s life story of longing and waiting.
The story described the extraordinary compromise Clare had made in her life for the sake of her relationship with Henry. The flip side of this compromise was the excitement and unpredictability that she clearly enjoyed at some level.
Characters were depicted delightfully, showing their connection to one another and their acceptance of their fate. The author tells of Henry and Clare’s absolute love for one another and the inseparability of their lives.
All agreed that although the book covered a challenging topic to write about, the author effectively pulled the story together. For most this was a very enjoyable reading experience, for some the time travelling left them cold - the novel was still rated 4 out of 5.

August 2010:

The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Neffenegger








Elita


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July 2010:

Reading in Bed

by Sue Gee

 

 


This novel brought a mixed reaction from the group, but the majority enjoyed Reading in Bed by Sue Gee.
Readers felt it gave a great insight into life and literature, love and friendship, families and bereavement, working and retirement, children and old age. A touch of humour throughout balanced the bigger questions of loss, illness and grieving.
With realistic character description, Gee invited us to enter a world of relationships between her characters, giving us the understanding that each person was defined by what they read. She captured feelings and emotions succinctly within the family dynamics as the narrative moved from one character to another.
We recommend the book as a good holiday read, particularly for females who may identify with pleasure of turning to a well-loved book or a good friend.

The group rated it 4/5.

Faye


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Robert Drewe moved with his family from Melbourne to Perth when he was six years old. The Shark Net is a semi- autobiographical/semi-fictional account of Drewe's childhood and adolescence - best described as a memoir structured as a novel. In this memoir he describes growing up among the sand dunes and beaches of Western Australia and it delves deep into the relationships that he develops with his family, and then with his friends as adolescence kicks in.
Throughout this period of time a number of murders had been committed around Perth. This true-crime material is perhaps the oddest element of the book. Drewe wrote about the crimes in a very subtle way, but at the same time was able to show the impact it had on the community. When reading the book you were anticipating a bigger reaction to the crimes from Drewe, but in fact, the book is more of an account of his memoirs of a suburban childhood.
Most members found the book to be an easy read with many descriptive passages bringing back childhood memories of that time - the late fifties and the sixties. There were mixed impressions about the book, but overall it was enjoyed by most, giving it a rating of 4 out of 5.

In 2003 The Shark Net was made into a three part TV series by the ABC, starring William McInness as the father.

Jane

June 2010:

The Shark Net

by Robert Drewe

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May 2010:

On Chesil Beach

by Ian McEwan


The Glenrowan Book group recently read this novel by Ian McEwan. It was set in England in the early 1960’s involving two middle-class young adults.
Members felt the relationship between the two main characters, Edward and Florence, was doomed from the start as Florence’s paranoia of sex and Edward’s desire to become a committed husband to her would never allow the marriage to develop. There appeared to be a lack of education as well as communication between the two, which only cemented the doomed marriage. Many members questioned the relationship between Florence and her father.
“..Boring..”, ”.. inability to engage the reader..” and “..lack of desire to finish reading the book ..” were just some opinions passed by the readers. However, the descriptive passages by McEwan and his intense use of language revolving around Florence and Edward’s relationship did allow most members to complete the book.

On Chesil Beach was rated 3 out of 5.
Other novels by Ian McEwan include Atonement, which went on to become a popular movie.

Kristen

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There are nine short stories in this collection, all based on small-town Canadian life. These stories deal with a variety of topics: senile dementia, suicide, funerals, cancer, nursing homes, the past - life’s twists and turns.

Alice Munro as an award winning short story writer, develops her characters, scene and time settings in a descriptive manner and amongst the stories in this collection there are a few pearls! 

Our book group had varying opinions, from "savouring each story as a treat" as one member said, to "predictable, tedious". Some members liked the short story format as each story was easy to complete in one sitting so to speak.
Short stories are governed very much by personal taste!

Our overall rating was 3 out of 5.

Tina

April 2010:

Hateship, Friendship, Courtship, Loveship, Marriage

by Alice Munro

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March 2010:

We Need to Talk
about Kevin

by Lionel Shriver

This novel is not a light read by any stretch of the imagination. It follows the letters of a mother, Eva, to her estranged husband, Franklin. The letters revisit and describe with brutal honesty their lives before and after children.
Within these letters, Eva tries to come to terms with the fact that their son, Kevin, has committed a terrible, deliberate and premeditated act – killing several people at his secondary school. Throughout the novel Eva is trying to understand why her son did it and as she grapples with this she explores many possibilities. The author leaves it up to the reader to come to their own conclusions.
This novel is written entirely through Eva’s letters and at times members of our group found this tedious. However, towards the end, the novel is a real ‘page turner’ and readers are rewarded for their efforts.
There was no shortage of topics covered during our discussion. We discussed, amongst other things, the reasons why Kevin committed the crime, America’s gun culture, the need for parents to present a 'united front' to their children and how our own lives had changed once we had children.
This has been a most successful novel for Lionel Shriver, with it outselling many of her other novels and winning the 2005 Orange Prize. The author explains in an article titled, ‘Why ruin your life?’ in the Guardian in 2005 that she thinks that ‘Kevin’ hit a nerve because the novel expresses views that ‘mothers are not supposed to say’.
Our group gave the novel an average score of 4 out of 5.

Fleur

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The Road is a post-apocalyptic tale of a journey taken by a father and his young son over a period of several months, across a landscape blasted by an un-named cataclysm that destroyed all civilisation as well as, apparently, almost all life on earth. The novel was awarded the 2007 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction and the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Fiction in 2006.
The Road is not science fiction although it is set in the future, but more a horror adventure story. The language is quite lyrical which sounds paradoxical in an horror story: It is like a modern, narrative epic. Reading the book is emotionally taxing and brings up a lot of questions about survival and the choices one might have to make in extreme situations.

A film adaptation of the novel was released in November 2009. The film stars Viggo Mortensen and Australian Kodi Smit-McPhee as the man and the boy. Some book group members would like to see the movie, but will get the dvd so that it will be possible to stop it at times - a good idea to watch it with somebody as well.

Those who finished the book - about half the group - rated The Road 4 out of 5.


Elin

December 2009:

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

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November 2009:

A Fence around
the Cuckoo

by Ruth Park

 

 





A Fence around the Cuckoo is set almost entirely in New Zealand in those areas where Ruth Park lived with her family and cultivated her long life desire and drive to write. It is a moving, passionate and often funny account of the people and places that influenced her life.
Many fellow readers enjoyed her descriptions of her life in the forest, the Depression years in New Zealand and her sympathy for women of the times. However, it is not just the exquisite language and the colourful vernacular that made the book attractive. The book left us all with a glimpse of another era, historical knowledge, thoughts and images at the turn of each page. To quote one member, “People who yearn for an earlier age should take off their rose coloured lenses and their rubber gloves!”

We voted this book a strong 4 out of 5.

Faye

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This book is an account of factual events which took place in Canberra several years ago.  These events concern the circumstances surrounding the death of Joe Cinque, and the subsequent trials of the persons involved in his death. 

Joe Cinque is administered illegal drugs over a period of a weekend, and dies a horrific death. His current girlfriend and her friend are both tried for his manslaughter, one receiving a short prison term, and one being acquitted.  The author interviews many of the parties involved, and becomes closely involved with the various trials. Despite the fact that the author has been a journalist, this is not unbiased reporting. 
The author forms a close relationship with the family of Joe Cinque, and is able to transmit to the reader some of the appalling pain and grief felt by the family.  She considers many of the ethical and legal issues raised by the court cases in a very thought-provoking manner. In the end, this book is a passionate lament for the life of Joe Cinque.

The group had widely varying opinions about this book.  Some were unable to finish the book due to the intensity of the emotions raised, and others became very interested in the legal aspects surrounding duty of care issues. Others were disappointed at the biased view of events.
The range of scores out of 5 was from 1 to 4 ½, with an average of about 4.

Julie

October 2009:

Joe Cinque's Consolation

by Helen Garner

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September 2009:

A Thousand
Splendid Suns

by Khaled Hosseini

 



This book had a marked affect on all who read it; many members of the group spoke of the deep emotions that they felt as they went on the journey with the two dominant women characters.
Set in Afghanistan both pre and during the Taliban rule, Hosseini tells the story of many different relationships against a brutal and violent background, and this theme sparked some spirited discussion amongst the group. At times the book is quite confronting as there is a strong theme of Domestic Violence. However, for those that were able to continue to the end, the theme becomes one of strength, hope and new beginnings.
Hosseini is also the author of The Kite Runner, which most members of the group had also read. It was interesting to note that more than one person said that if they had read The Kite Runner first, then they may not have gone on to read this book, feeling that this was better written and more "Real".

The overall rating for this book was 4 out of a possible 5.

Noeleen


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Our July book proved to be a good read for most people. It is the true story of Li, who was born in rural China in the 1950s. His boyhood is spent in an environment totally foreign to most of us in Australia, with ongoing hunger and poverty for the family of seven boys, and unremitting drudgery for their parents. Despite this, the boys are provided with a loving and nurturing family environment, and a strong sense of community.
Li is selected almost at random from his school at age 11 to attend Madam Mao’s dance school in the large city, where he is to be trained in classical ballet. He has never seen a dancer before, or indeed a city. The rigours of the Chinese method and the teachers are severe, and Li hates his new school for two years, as he struggles with his home-sickness. He comes to realise at quite a young age, though, that dance is his ticket out of the poverty cycle, and a way of making his parents and country proud of him.
The story of his teens continues with hard work to the exclusion of all else in his desire to become the best dancer his country has produced. Winning competitions, and being invited to the USA prove to be a starting point for an international career. He is forced to seek political asylum in America in order to remain in a country which allows him to dance in the way he wishes, and it is many years before he sees his beloved parents again.
A happy marriage to an Australian dancer, the birth of two children, and adjustment to a life outside of dancing in his mid 30s complete his fortunate life.
All of us enjoyed this book, being easy to read, and with a rating of 3-4/5.

Julie

August 2009:

Mao's Last Dancer

by Li Cunxin

 

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  World War II Reading
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Terry Kay has recently read three Australian books on WW2 in Australia which he highly recommends:

An Awkward Truth by Peter Grose

This is a compelling and very human story of the first foreign assault on Australian soil since settlement - the attack on Darwin by the Japanese in February, 1942. Yet the story has remained in the shadows.
Drawing on long-hidden documents and first-person accounts, Peter Grose tells what really happened and takes us into the lives of the people who were there.
Absorbing, spirited and fast-paced, An Awkward Truth is a compelling and revealing story of the day war really came to Australia, and the motley bunch of soldiers and civilians who were left to defend the nation.

bbb A Very Rude Awakening by Peter Grose

In May of 1942, the war seemed very far away to most Sydneysiders - until the night the three Japanese midget submarines crept into the harbour and caused an unforgettable night of mayhem, high farce, chaos and courage.
Written at the pace of a thriller and based on new first person accounts and previously unpublished official documents, A Very Rude Awakening is a ground-breaking and myth-busting look at one of the most extraordinary stories ever told of Australia at war.

The author: Peter Grose is a former publisher at Secker & Warburg, founder of Curtis Brown Australia, and was until recently the chairman of ACP (UK).
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The Katakana Man by A. Jack Brown

This book is about a top secret RAAF wireless unit which worked to intercept radio transmissions sent in the Japanese Katakana code. They were so good the Amerians requested they be assigned to them.
The Katakana Man is a frank account of a remarkable facet of Australia's contribution to the war effort in the Pacific, based from the author's personal knowledge as well as with a perspective of events and activities that were not widely known or recorded at the time - a situation which was to cause Jack Brown considerable personal hardship after the war.

 


The first two books are available at the Wangaratta Library.
The third can be more difficult to obtain, but keep asking for it and the library might get it in for you. July 2009


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Girl with a Pearl Earring is set in the 17th century Delft in the Netherlands. Tracy Chevalier creates an historical novel with a vivid insight into everyday life at that time.
The story tells of the painter Jan Vermeer and of Griet, a 16 year old girl who comes to live in his large household as a maid. One of Griet's jobs is to clean his Studio. She must not move anything whilst still cleaning well and devises a clever way to do this.
Griet is fascinated with colour and the way Vermeer's paintings develop. The painter recognises her eye for detail. Griet becomes involved with assisting Vermeer to mix his paints, a task she was not hired to do but which she really enjoys. She must do this in secret from the rest of the family.
Vermeer uses Griet as a model for one of his paintings, and the story evolves around Griet's place as a maid and her responsibilities to the mistress and children of the house. Griet is attracted to Vermeer, and the reader gains the impression that Vermeer finds her attractive as well. He also knows he has power over her because of her status.

All club members really enjoyed this book as our score of 4/5 indicates.

Shirley

July 2009:

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier


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June 2009:

Henri de
Toulouse-Lautrec

by Matthias Arnold

This was a different book for our bookgroup, somewhat like a text book. Although it is a brief biography, we felt that it gave some good insight to the artist’s life and work.
We also enjoyed the notes and accompanying slide show by the Australian printmaker, Deborah Klein. The slides helped jog a few memories for those of the group who have spent time in Montmartre and Paris.
Born in Albi in South-West France in 1864, Toulouse-Lautrec was the son of first cousins from a wealthy and powerful family from that region. His future illness, pyknodysostosis, was the unfortunate consequence of their intermarriage. Toulouse-Lautrec did not grow past the height of five feet.
While studying art, Toulouse-Lautrec became familiar with the cafes, cabarets and brothels of Paris, particularly those around Montmartre. The poster designs that he made for venues such as Moulin Rouge brought him notoriety as a poster designer. Appreciation for his poster designs continues to this day. Toulouse-Lautrec’s portraits of Cabaret performers and prostitutes he befriended are at times skillful charicatures and at other times incredibly sympathetic portrayals of humanity.

Our overall vote: Three out of five.

Fleur


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The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri is a book about Indian immigrants living in the United States. Their son Gogol, so named after his father’s favorite Russian author Nickolai Gogol, grows up hating his awkward name.
Gogol has to try and deal with the classic case of divided identity which is especially so for those who are culturally displaced as immigrants are. Gogol develops a sense of exile from his parents even though in many ways he is more American than they are.
This raised several questions in the group such as the importance of ‘finding your place in the world’ plus the significance of your name and the impact it has on your lives.
The group varied in their response to reading this book from boring, bland, moments of enlightment and one reader felt it could have been a collection of short stories which is how Jhumpa Lahiri has written in the past.

It was rated from 1 – 4.5 with
an overall rating of 2 out of 5.

Anne

May 2009:

The Namesake

by Jhumpa Lahiri

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April 2009:

The God of
Small Things

by Arundhati Roy


Twenty-three years after leaving her native Kerala (India) in 1969, Rahel goes home to confront the wreckage of her family. Her return brings alive all the events that led to the ruination of her mother, her twin brother and the family fortunes - and to the death of a young cousin as well as a beloved friend.
The story is peopled with a gallery of colourful and eccentric characters and is told in a style that uses language often playfully - as children may do.
Many readers find it difficult to get into this story, most in our Book Group gave up, but those few who finished it, want to read it again!
The world of seven year old Rahel and her twin brother is beautifully described, with their special bond as twins and their happy, secure life as children ignorant and innocent of the bigotted envy and corruption in the adult world around them.

The novel won the Booker Prize in 1998, polarising judges, reviewers and commentators then as well.

The few members in the group who had read the story to the end, gave it top rating (5 out of 5 even!) whereas those who could not get into it - "tedious, all over the place, could not connect"- rated it 1 or 2 out of 5.

Elin

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The Book Group once again fulfilled the role of pushing the boundaries as to what one would usually choose for holiday reading:

The joy of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night–Time written by Mark Haddon was that it appealed to everyone in our group and every member finished reading the book!
The complexity of daily life told through the eyes of a fifteen year old autistic boy, made for compelling reading. Christopher is tracking down the killer of his neighbour’s dog and writing about in the style of a murder mystery. In his detective work he happens to unveil other mysteries - some too close to home for comfort.

We were all impressed that our secondary school students get to read such an enlightening book.

The overall score was 3/5.

Faye

March 2009:

The Curious Incident of
the Dog in
the Night-Time

by Mark Haddon

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February 2009:

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak



Elin


Set in southern Germany during the second world war, this story is told from an unexpected point of view - which I will not reveal ... It is a story about living under the rule of nazism and the hardship of war, having to cope with poverty and shortages while still maintaining one's own dignity and values.
I found it very interesting to read about life in Germany during World War II, particularly getting to know families of the lower middle class - ordinary Germans.
But first of all, this is a story about a girl and her connections to people around her, young and old, and how she gets to know the community in the little village not far from Munich where she is taken to live in a foster family. By chance, she finds a book on a very dark day in her young life, - and so begins a love affair with books and words, a passion which sustains her in these confusing and dangerous times.

The author, Markus Zusak, is an Australian who was born in 1975 and now lives in Sydney. I believe he must come from a family of great story tellers!

I got this book for Christmas one year and read it a couple of days later. My first thought when I finished reading it, was "I want to read this book again". Now it is like a treasure I know about and can choose to enjoy again - anytime.

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Morrison’s Glenrowan Winery was the venue for our last Book Group night for 2008: Surrounded by lovely bushland, wonderful views, a warmish night, delectable nibbles and the tasting of local wine we discussed our last book for the year The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold.

A best selling novel, The Lovely Bones is the story of a 14-year-old-girl, Susie Salmon, from suburban Pennsylvania who is murdered by her neighbour. It is not written as a thriller, as from chapter one you know who the murderer is, but the author tells it from Susie’s perspective: Susie narrates her own story from Heaven.
Susie’s death distorts her family as they each try to cope with the tragedy in their own way. Her mother leaves her father for eight years and her father tries to catch Susie’s murderer. The novel evokes in detail just how much was taken from this young girl and how much she missed out on as she watches her friends and siblings grow up, fall in love and do all the things she never had the chance to do herself.
It is a story about loss, grief, vengeance, forgiveness, memory, forgetting and finding the love that was never gone. The interaction between Heaven and Earth stimulated a lot of good discussion.
The book was rated 4 out 5.

December 2008:

The Lovely Bones

by Alice Sebold

book 12


Jane

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November 2008:

Divine Secrets
of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood

by Rebecca Wells

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This book provoked a mixed response from our book group. A few lost interest and didn’t finish the book, those who perservered found it an emotional journey which was at times ‘theatrical’ and ‘overly dramatic.’ Some were really moved by this book.

The primary focus of the story involved tensions between a mother and a daughter, and then expands to explore relationships of a group of women in the deep south of America between the 1930’s and 1990’s. These relationships were explored both functional and dysfunctional.

Friendships, trials and tribulations experienced by these women and the gradual developing of maturity and insight provoked many avenues for discussion.

Overall score by book group readers: 3 out of 5.

Yvonne

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Initially the blurb of Kate Holden's memoir In my Skin sparked our group's curiosity. A talented, middle class girl from a supportive home falls into a life of heroin addiction and prostitution on the streets of St Kilda in order to feed her habit. Members of our book group had read Kate Holden's writing in the 'Age' newspaper and wanted to know how she pulled herself up out of that life to become an active and published writer.

However we were disappointed that the book did not live up to its potential. We felt that it read like a list, a description of her life without much reflection. Why did she take the decisions she took and how did she manage to overcome her addiction? Holden does little to help her reader understand these decisions. We felt that she sanitized and even glamourized prostitution to an extent.

We did enjoy some of the descriptions of the characters who worked in and visited the brothels, a definite 'fly on the wall' feel to the writing.

rating 3 out of 5 - Fleur

October 2008:

In My Skin

by Kate Holden

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September 2008:

My Sister's Keeper

by Jodi Picoult

book4

My Sister’s Keeper, by acclaimed author Jodie Picoult, is a powerful tearjerker which grabs and holds the reader’s interest and involvement from the first page until the unexpected plot twist at the book’s conclusion.
It looks at the difficult choices a family must face when a child is diagnosed with a serious disease and explores issues raised by the continued advance of medical technology. 
Anna was conceived as a bone marrow match for Kate. This is a role that in adolescence Anna begins to question as she searches for her identity. As medical procedures now become even more invasive, Anna’s decisions and choices may tear her family apart and have tragic consequences for her sister.
Told through alternating perspectives, the novel allows the reader to share the pressures a desperately sick child places on a family and acknowledge how confusing the reality of such a situation must be. Sara, the mother, is a complex, driven character;  one minute we criticise her, the next we empathise, recognising that in motherhood there are few easy answers.
Jodie Picoult forces us to confront complex questions about individual autonomy and moral dilemmas in a controversial and gripping read.

rated 4 out of 5 - Noël

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The scene is set for a most extraordinary adventure, an improbable story of Piscine Molitor Patel, Pi for short. His childhood spent in Pondicherry, India at his parent’s private zoo, where he gained knowledge of animals, their habits and ability to adapt to their surroundings.  Then the sea journey that was to take the family and some of the animals to Toronto, Canada.

After the tragic sinking of the cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains bobbing on the Pacific Ocean. The  survivors from the wreck are sixteen-year-old Pi, a hyena, a zebra (with a broken leg) an orang- utan......and a Bengal Tiger named Richard Parker!

The sea, confinement in a life boat for some 220 days,  wild nature, belief in “God”, himself and reason, these are the elements of the novel.  Purely a “good read” - we rated it 4 out of 5.

Tina

August 2008:

Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

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July 2008:

Journey from Venice

by Ruth Cracknell

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When we think of Venice we might imagine gondolas and watery streets that lap against ancient, beautiful buildings. Certainly Ruth Cracknell and her husband, Eric, viewed Venice as a particularly special holiday destination.

This month our book group read Ruth Cracknell’s memoir of their trip to Venice and all the drama that unfolded there when her husband became seriously ill. Suddenly their well planned rest in Venice became a nightmare, complete with a gondola ambulance experience and a hospital where they could not communicate easily. Much of the memoir involves descriptions of the lengths that they went to in order to return home to Australia.

Our group gave the book an overall rating of three out of five. Those of us who have lost family or friends were able to make their own connections to this book. Others were able to reflect on their own trips to Venice, bringing along the photo album for ‘show and tell.’

Fleur

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This book, by an Australian, Anna Funder, focuses on the stories of people who lived in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

Anna Funder is working as a journalist in Berlin, and a chance encounter stimulates her interest in the lives of ordinary people who lived under an extraordinary system. She interviews both victims of the system, and more alarmingly, those who were in power in that system.

Her material is factual, but is presented almost as a novel. Most of us as readers were surprised at how little we had known about the police state that was East Germany, and found this book increased our knowledge in a very readable form.

Overall enjoyment was rated as 4/5.

Julie

June 2008:

Stasiland

by Anna Funder

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May 2008:

The Dressmaker

by Rosalie Ham

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The Dressmaker is a wonderful tale of a small country town and its inhabitants.

Set in the 1950's, possibly in the Western Districts of Victoria, the story is just as relevant and believable as if it was today, giving us a portrait of a rural community without judgement, but with lots of black humour. It is a tale about mother and daughter: Tilly, the daughter, returns to her old home town to look after her ailing mother. The townsfolk have regarded her mother as mad for a long time. The many members of the community have a story to tell and a reason for their bizarre activities which can be hard to follow in the beginning. But all the loose threads are gathered by the end and each character receives their just dues. Through all this, the excellent descriptions of materials and dress designs are vivid: Tilly is a first class dressmaker. When the locals discover Tilly’s skills, they take advantage of her as they try to outdo each other and eventually the neighbouring town.

This book reminded us of two other books our group has read: Chocolat by Joanne Harris and Idea of Perfection by Kate Grenville, both published in 1999. The Dressmaker (published in 2000) was rated 5 out of 5.

Dawn

As we were giving our rating, one member gave us her criterion for top rating of any book: If she wanted to read it again, it should have 5 out of 5. So many of us want to read The Dressmaker again! E

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The Glenrowan Bookgroup recently read "A Foreign Wife" by Gillian Bouras. It was the story of Gillian and her life in a small Greek village, post marrying a local man.

The book highlighted the ups and downs of her existence in the village. Dealing with her babies being born there, mother-in-law issues and a completely different culture to what she was used to in Melbourne.It was set from the late sixties to late eighties. The plot not only addressed the issues of the time but how Gillian was ever going to blend in with the locals.It was an amusing and compelling book and posed questions such as, how much hospitality do we show towards immigrants to Australia?

"A Foreign wife" was well worth reading and the the Bookclub readers voted it 3 out of 5. Gillian has written other novels, "Aphrodite and the others" and " A Fair Exchange". These books deal with other characters in "A Foreign Wife".

Kristen

April 2008:

A Foreign Wife

by Gillian Bouras

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