Misfortune by Wesley Stace (December 2013)

Although the focus may have lay more with the sweet potato chips than the book for November’s meeting, everyone was anxious to get stuck into something new for December. A man in a dress won the day…

Lord Loveall, heretofore heirless lord of the sprawling Love Hall, is the richest man in England. He arrives home one morning with a most unusual package – a baby that he presents as the inheritor to the family name889633 and fortune. In honor of his beloved sister, who died young, Loveall names the baby Rose. The household, relieved at the continuation of the Loveall line, ignores the fact that this Rose has a thorn…that she is, in fact, a boy.

Rose grows up with the two servant children who are her only friends, blissfully unaware of her own gender, casually hitting boundaries at Love Hall’s yearly cricket game and learning to shave even as she continues to wear more and more elaborate dresses. Until, of course, the fateful day when Rose’s world comes crashing down around her, and she is banished from Love Hall as an impostor by those who would claim her place as heir.

Although some were expecting a more farcical tale from singer-songwriter Wesley Stace, this slightly off-kilter tale of a baby boy raised as a girl to fit in with his adoptive parents’ whims gave rise to some intriguing discussions on gender-identity, sexuality and norms of Victorian society. We were all predictably entertained by this novel, with most running of steam towards the end as some meaningful morals went slightly askew.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman (November 2013)

A tiny little group of book peeps were resplendent with excellent chat on our inspiring October read. We were therefore all the more excited to peruse Trish’s spooky choices for this month, finally plumping for Neil Gaiman’s brand new novel. How exciting!LR_NEIL_jpg_1_1539791e

A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home and is drawn to the farm at the end of the road where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl and her mother and grandmother. As he sits by the pond behind the ramshackle old house, the unremembered past comes flooding back – a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

A groundbreaking work as delicate as a butterfly’s wing and as menacing as a knife in the dark, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a told with the rare understanding of all that makes us human, and shows the power of stories to reveal and shelter us from the darkness inside and out.

This lovely little offering from Neil Gaiman provided a bit of autumnal magic yet, as with many books that the group simply enjoyed without reserve, there was very little debate to be had. Although Trish provided us with a revolutionary view on the darker aspects of the tale, our overriding focus was on the magic of childhood, stranger danger and the luscious taste of honeycomb and thick double cream.

In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez (October 2013)

The disappoint felt by the group over McEwan’s latest novel Sweet Tooth was palpable. Being confronted by an relatively unexplored author and book for October by the lovely Katherine was welcome indeed. How did we find it?!in-the-time-of-the-butterflies

It is November 25, 1960, and three beautiful sisters have been found near their wrecked Jeep at the bottom of a 150-foot cliff on the north coast of the Dominican Republic. The official state newspaper reports their deaths as accidental. It does not mention that a fourth sister lives. Nor does it explain that the sisters were among the leading opponents of Gen. Rafael Leonidas Trujillo’s dictatorship. It doesn’t have to. Everybody knows of Las Mariposas—“The Butterflies.”

In this extraordinary novel, the voices of all four sisters; Minerva, Patria, María Teresa, and the survivor, Dedé, speak across the decades to tell their own stories, from hair ribbons and secret crushes to gunrunning and prison torture, and to describe the everyday horrors of life under Trujillo’s rule. Through the art and magic of Julia Alvarez’s imagination, the martyred Butterflies live again in this novel of courage and love, and the human cost of political oppression…

Although the difficulty getting hold of this wonderful book resulted in a teeny weeny group this month, the general consensus was one of admiration for Alvarez’s stirring portrayal of the Mirabal sisters. Although lacking a wider portrait of life for the Dominican people under Trujillo’s rule, the novelised account of life for Minerva & co during the dictatorship and their rebellion against it opened our minds to a history too often overlooked by those in our region of the world. We left feeling inspired.

Sweet Tooth by Ian McEwan (September 2013)

A change of venue and a few new faces shook things up for the MBC this month in the best way possible and some controversial debate was had over Claire’s choice; The Book Thief.Everyone calmed down a little after a few beers and the production of Mia’s tantalising and oh-so-hard to choose from novels. This particular book has been on many of our reading lists for a while…816qob1xmhl-_sl1500_

The year is 1972. The Cold War is far from over. Britain is being torn apart by industrial unrest and terrorism.Serena Frome, in her final year at Cambridge, is being groomed for MI5.

Serena is sent on a secret mission – Operation Sweet Tooth – which brings her into the world of Tom Haley, a promising young writer. First she loves his stories, then she begins to love the man. Can she maintain the fiction of her undercover life? And who is inventing whom? To answer these questions, Serena must abandon the first rule of espionage – trust no one.

Oh dear. A lesson learnt by all book groupers this month is: just because an author is revered by so many does not necessarily mean that you’re going to enjoy his latest offering. An indignant group found McEwan’s heroine dull and uninspiring, her story trite and predictable and McEwan’s efforts frankly disappointing. Our discussion was repetitive and disjointed as a result. We preferred the ping pong at this book club meet!

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak (August 2013)

Although some may think that a ‘novel narrated by death’ is a rather unexpected choice for summer, we were all looking forward to delving into Claire’s choice; The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. Woul this international bestseller live up to the mark? I hope so!!the-book-thief-markus-zusak

1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier.

Liesel, a nine-year old girl, is living with a foster family on Himmel Street. Her parents have been taken away to a concentration camp. Liesel steals books. This is her story and the story of the inhabitants of her street when the bombs begin to fall…

Some lauded this international bestseller as one of their absolute favourite MBC choices so far. Although a sad tale of Nazi Germany could potentially have clashed with our summer spirit, Liesel’s tale was the opposite – moving, inspirational and incredibly thought-provoking. Although some felt Death’s narrative voice became a little hammed-up at times, this novel was a clear winner and will remaining on our bookshelves no doubt for a re-read in the future.

Number9dream by David Mitchell (July 2013)

After what may go down in history as one of our most enjoyable reads and discussions in Manchester Book Club history, Caroline brought a variety of mouth watering choices for summer. Finally choosing to read David Mitchell’s number9dream, could this possibly pip Pigeon English to the post as book of the year?CCI26092009_00001-197x300

When 19-year-old Eiji Miyake arrives in Tokyo from backwater Japan to locate the father he has never met, he begins a whirlwind journey that zigzags from reality to fantasy in a chain of extraordinary encounters. But until Eiji has fallen in love and exorcised his childhood demons, the belonging he craves will remain, tantalizingly, just beyond his grasp…

A mixed bag this month as few people managed to ultimately finish this deceptively long coming of age tale. Eiji’s epic hunt for his father shifts between reality and the boy’s dream world and, although leaving some a little cold, most found Mitchell’s skilled prose both enigmatic and incredibly natural. Will we all have a go at his most famous novel, Cloud Atlas? Well, yes, we probably will.

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (June 2013)

May brought with it an unseasonably sweltering and suitably lively discussion over Vicki’s choice. Although, as always, we were anxious to see what awaits us next. Veronica’s choice; Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman has had the rave reviews already… I wonder what the group will think:

Lying in front of Harrison Opoku is a body, the body of one of his classmates, a boy known for his crazy basketball stephen-kelman-pigeon-english-lst083245skills, who seems to have been murdered for his dinner.

Armed with a pair of camouflage binoculars and detective techniques absorbed from television shows like CSI, Harri and his best friend, Dean, plot to bring the perpetrator to justice. They gather evidence—fingerprints lifted from windows with tape, a wallet stained with blood—and lay traps to flush out the murderer. But nothing can prepare them for what happens when a criminal feels you closing in on him. Recently emigrated from Ghana with his sister and mother to London’s enormous housing projects, Harri is pure curiosity and ebullience—obsessed with gummy candy, a friend to the pigeon who visits his balcony, quite possibly the fastest runner in his school, and clearly also fast on the trail of a murderer. Told in Harri’s infectious voice and multicultural slang,Pigeon English follows in the tradition of our great novels of friendship and adventure, as Harri finds wonder, mystery, and danger in his new, ever-expanding world…

The Man Booker-shortlisted Pigeon English has been, by far, the most enjoyable and impressive novel the Manchester Book Club have read to date. Find our review and a little more about the group here.

A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters by Julian Barnes (May 2013)

A lively discussion regarding Verity’s book choice along with some brand new lovely faces to the group was followed by some mouth watering choices by Vicki…what to choose!? After much deliberation we plumped for Julian Barnes’ A History of the World in 10 1/2 Vintage_History_250Chapters:

Beginning with an unlikely stowaway’s account of life on board Noah’s Ark, A History of the World in 10 1/2 Chapters presents a surprising, subversive, fictional history of earth told from several kaleidoscopic perspectives. Noah disembarks from his ark but he and his Voyage are not forgotten: they are revisited in on other centuries and other climes – by a Victorian spinster mourning her father, by an American astronaut on an obsessive personal mission. We journey to the Titanic, to the Amazon, to the raft of the Medusa, and to an ecclesiastical court in medieval France where a bizarre case is about to begin…

Scorching weather and even hotter discussion this May! Julian Barnes’ short story collection cum novel cum who-knows-what provided a mixed bag of reactions, with a few not particularly enjoying being thrust into the unknown with a variety of prose pieces and essays that vary wildly from one another, with only Noah and a rather unassuming animal friend for company. Thought to be rather patronising in places by some, others found Barnes’ world view and breadth of knowledge and style refreshing.

The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockeier (April 2013)

Following a highly convivial March meet, Verity provided us with such an excellent selection that choosing a book for April’s meet was particularly tantalising. After much deliberation the group selected The Brief History of the Dead by Kevin Brockmeier.brockmeier_kevin_the_brief_history_of_the_dead_pic_1

The City is inhabited by those who have departed Earth but are still remembered by the living. They will reside in this afterlife until they are completely forgotten. But the City is shrinking, and the residents clearing out. Some of the holdouts, like Luka Sims, who produces the City’s only newspaper, are wondering what exactly is going on. Others, like Coleman Kinzler, believe it is the beginning of the end. Meanwhile, Laura Byrd is trapped in an Antarctic research station, her supplies are running low, her radio finds only static, and the power is failing. With little choice, Laura sets out across the ice to look for help, but time is running out. Kevin Brockmeier alternates these two storylines to create a lyrical and haunting story about love, loss and the power of memory…

Although, to mark Manchester Book Club’s first birthday, our hapless host failed (for the first time) to finish this little nugget by Kevin Brockmeier, the rest of the group came up trumps with a full and thorough reading and plenty of opinions to boot. Although there were mixed responses to Brockmeier’s eventual conclusion to Laura’s survival tale, it was generally agreed that this was an entertaining book with plenty to discuss. A dystopia that captured all our imaginations.

Our Man in Havana by Graham Greene (March 2013)

With a friendly new face in the mix and in the wake of a highly successful February book discussion, Lauren turned up with four gems for us to choose from. Feeling the need for a little something classic, we plumped for Our Man In Havana by Graham Greene:824389

Mr. Wormold, vacuum cleaner salesman in a city of powercuts, is, as always, short of money. His daughter, sixteen, followed everywhere by wolf whistles, is spending his money with a skill that amazes him, so when a mysterious Englishman offers him an extra income he’s tempted. All he has to do is run agents, file reports: spy. But his fake reports have an alarming tendency to come true, and the web of lies he weaves around him starts to get more and more tangled…

As much loved as Graham Greene is and as entertaining as Lauren’s choice inevitably proved to be… the higher the enjoyment factor the less the group often have to say! Although we could have done with a few Cold War experts amongst our number the group nevertheless found Greene’s satire of life in the secret service highly amusing and the plain Mr Wormold a fairly cosy and likeable character. Thumbs up!

Beloved by Toni Morrison (February 2013)

After a rather subdued and smugly sober January meet, Mark provided us with some wildly different and, we were hoping, contentious literature for our perusal. After a lot of nervous deliberation the group plumped for Toni Morrison’s tale of slavery, hope and loss; toni-morrison-belovedBeloved:

It is the mid-1800s. At Sweet Home in Kentucky, an era is ending as slavery comes under attack from the abolitionists. The worlds of Halle and Paul D are to be destroyed in a cataclysm of torment and agony. The world of Sethe, however, is to turn from one of love to one of violence and death – the death of Sethe’s baby daughter, Beloved. Whose name is the single word on the tombstone, who died at her Mother’s hands, and who will return to claim retribution. 

Easily one of our favourites yet. Morrison’s seminal work was both poignant and highly disturbing. Banishing all thoughts of Oprah from our minds we were transfixed by Morrison’s hypnotic prose, tragic characters and the reminder of centuries of repulsive oppression. Strong female characters bound by a terrifying past strive to make their way to freedom and, by golly, do we hope they make it.

The Last of the Savages by Jay McInerney (January 2013)

With 2013 already swiftly descending on us we decided to celebrate a bookish Christmas and New Year with an alternative venue and whip around with some mulled wine. Hannah was kind enough to supply us with some very exciting choices for our first discussion of the new year, with teh group finally voting for The Last of the Savages by Jay McInerney:the-last-of-the-savages

When Patrick Keane arrives at an exclusive New England prep school in the Sixties he meets his roommate, the radical Will Savage. The last in the line of a privileged white family from the Mississippi Delta, Will disavows his father’s expectations and embraces the searing anthems of black soul music. From wildly different backgrounds, Patrick and Will form an unlikely friendship that is to span three decades, from the turbulent Sixties to the Nineties. The Last of the Savages is a dazzling exploration of interracial love, music, family and enduring friendship.  

Tumbleweed ahoy! January’s meeting was a rather quiet affair, feeling rather jaded after Christmas and not really having all that much to discuss about a book that, although well-written (clichés aside), skimmed so much of the protagonist’s lives that we were left feeling something a little lacking.  A sympathetic biographer, intriguing setting and filmic narrative however held our attention, enough to consider a bit of McInerney in the future. Why not!?