Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama

About the book

The son of a black African father and a white American mother, Obama was only two years old when his father walked out on the family. Many years later, Obama receives a phone call from Nairobi: his father is dead. This sudden news inspires an emotional odyssey for Obama, determined to learn the truth of his father’s life and reconcile his divided inheritance. Written at the age of thirty-three, Dreams from my Father is an unforgettable read. it illuminates not only Obama’s journey, but also our universal desire to understand our history, and what makes us the people we are.

Reviewed by  King’s Somborne Reading Group:

Most of the group really enjoyed this book and found it very interesting and beautifully written. An eye opener into the problems of identity of a mixed race child whose father is absent. Some were more sceptical and thought it may be self serving.

Star rating: ****

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Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

About the book

When Elspeth Noblin dies of cancer, she leaves her London apartment to her twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. These two American girls never met their English aunt, only knew that their mother, too, was a twin, and Elspeth her sister. Julia and Valentina are semi-normal American teenagers–with seemingly little interest in college, finding jobs, or anything outside their cozy home in the suburbs of Chicago, and with an abnormally intense attachment to one another.
The girls move to Elspeth’s flat, which borders Highgate Cemetery in London. They come to know the building’s other residents. There is Martin, a brilliant and charming crossword puzzle setter suffering from crippling Obsessive Compulsive Disorder; Marjike, Martin’s devoted but trapped wife; and Robert, Elspeth’s elusive lover, a scholar of the cemetery. As the girls become embroiled in the fraying lives of their aunt’s neighbors, they also discover that much is still alive in Highgate, including–perhaps–their aunt, who can’t seem to leave her old apartment and life behind.
Niffenegger weaves a captivating story in Her Fearful Symmetry about love and identity, about secrets and sisterhood, and about the tenacity of life–even after death.

Review by North Baddesley WI 2 Reading Group:

All members finished the book, one found it depressing. We thought it well written and interesting to observe life from a ghosts point of view. Thee was a great deal of insight into how one of the characters worked through his bereavement. It gave the group plenty to talk about.

Star rating: ***

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The Society of Others by William Nicholson

About the book

Cool, clear-eyed, and bluntly cynical, the young narrator of The Society of Others embarks on a journey without a destination. He hitchhikes through Europe only to find himself in a mystifying country where terrorists are inexplicably after him, and so is a sinister government. In a surreal landscape where people are shot to death without reason and social control runs deep, he must learn who to trust–and what to stand for. Fast paced and provocative, a gripping philosophical thriller, The Society of Others is an ingenious meditation on the nature of contemporary innocence and identity.

Reviewed by The Benches Reading Group:

The author’s first adult novel gave our group much thought for discussion with a range of views concerning the subject person in the story. Quite well written, good description of people, country and urban areas. The inclusion of several painting masterpieces added special interest in the tale. Ending speculative – who was shot!

Star rating: ***

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Astonishing Splashes of Colour by Clare Morrall

About the book

When an innocent trip to see the play Peter Pan gives Kitty’s four brothers an excuse to deny her access to her much-loved nieces, she finds herself in a skewed, vividly colored world where children become emblems of hope, longing, and grief. Still reeling from the loss of her own child that never was, Kitty is suddenly made shockingly aware of the real reason for her pervasive sense of non-existence. Suddenly, her family’s oddness, the secrets of her mother’s life and death, and the disappearance of her sister come into a startling new focus—one that leaves Kitty struggling to find own identity.

Reviewed by Eastleigh Library Wednesday Group:

Most enjoyed the book although it was difficult to get inside the character, in particular with her illness. Easy read and gripping.

Star rating: ***

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The Impressionist by Hari Kunzru

About the book

In India, at the birth of the last century, an infant is brought howling into the world, his remarkable paleness marking him out from his brown-skinned fellows. Revered at first, he is later cast out from his wealthy home when his true parentage is revealed. So begins Pran Nath’s odyssey of self-discovery – a journey that will take him from the streets of Agra, via the red light district of Bombay, to the brick cloisters of Oxford and beyond – as he struggles to understand who he really is.

Reviewed by The Benches Reading Group

We were unanimous with our praise of the first novel by Kunzru. Messages we thought that the author was trying to convey (and quite successfully), were subtly hidden in humour and in incongruous settings so avoiding rigid and confrontational and divisive arguments. Would make an excellent film.
Star rating ****

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The Proof of Love by Catherine Hall

About the book

By the time the summer holidays begin, Spencer Little is keen to put the events of the past term at Cambridge behind him and a remote village in the Lake District seems to offer the perfect escape. But it’s not so easy to remain anonymous in a small community and, after striking up a friendship with ten year old Alice, Spencer also finds himself being drawn into other people’s lives. As the summer heatwave intensifies and a web of complicity tightens around him, Spencer realizes that he will eventually be forced to choose between loyalty and truth, between logic and passion.

Reviewed by The Accidental Reading Group:

This is the best book we’ve read for some time in that it resulted om a good discussion. It was atmospheric and the tension built up chapter by chapter.

Star rating: ***

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The Secret River by Kate Grenville

book cover

About the book

London, 1806 – William Thornhill, happily wedded to his childhood sweetheart Sal, is a waterman on the River Thames. Life is tough but bearable until William makes a mistake, a bad mistake for which he and his family are made to pay dearly. His sentence: to be transported to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. Soon Thornhill, a man no better or worse than most, has to make the most difficult decision of his life . . . The Secret River is a universal and timeless story of love, identity and belonging.

Reviewed by Sandy’s Reading Group:

We felt the book gave us an understanding of how harsh life was for the poor, both in London and Australia. However, we felt that generally the characters lacked depth and were therefore difficult to care about, other than Thornhill to some extent. Informative, but failed to engage.

Star rating: **

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The Clothes on Their Backs by Linda Grant

About the book

In a red brick mansion block off the Marylebone Road, Vivien, a sensitive, bookish girl grows up sealed off from both past and present by her timid refugee parents. Then one morning a glamorous uncle appears, dressed in a mohair suit, with a diamond watch on his wrist and a girl in a leopard-skin hat on his arm. Why is Uncle Sándor so violently unwelcome in her parents’ home? This is a novel about survival – both banal and heroic – and a young woman who discovers the complications, even betrayals, that inevitably accompany the fierce desire to live. Set against the backdrop of a London from the 1950s to the present day, The Clothes on Their Backs is a wise and tender novel about the clothes we choose to wear, the personalities we dress ourselves in, and about how they define us all.

Reviewed by King’s Somborne Reading Group:

An excellent read enjoyed by all. Vibrant, well-drawn characters. Strong themes of identity, survival, loyalty and family relationships. Also well written humorous incidents. Strongly recommended!

Star rating: ****

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