Bound to Interest

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This feature was introduced in the Newsletter in 2003, inviting members to recommend books that they have read and enjoyed and that they felt other members may also enjoy. They were asked to write a short synopsis of the book they were recommending and below are the recommendations so far.



Reviewed by 

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Schott's Original Miscellany

Looking on Darkness

The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency

Where There's a Will

To the Edge of the Sky

Eats, Shoots, and Leaves

Follow the Rabbit-proof Fence

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Sputnik Sweetheart

The Sucker's Kiss

Diary of an Ordinary Woman 

An Unfinished Life

The Time Traveller's Wife

Chinese Cinderella

The Kite Runner

Mr Golightly's Holiday

Brian Leith

Geoffrey Spratt

Tony Holmes

Geoffrey Spratt

Evina Montgomery

Brian Leith

Myra Bruce

Paul Byford

Geoffrey Spratt

Geoffrey Spratt

Mary Patterson

Brian Leith

Jane Dixon

Jackie Towler

Gillian Gibbs

Sylvia Kent


















Blood and Roses

Short History of Tractors in Ukranian

Remember Me

The Life of Pi

The House by the Thames

Narrow Dog to Carcassonne

Two Caravans

The Memory Keeper's  Daughter

The Tenderness of Wolves

The Wall

The Book Thief

The Mammoth Book

The Bookseller of Kabul

The Baby in the Mirror


The Fly in the Cathedral

Paul Byford

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Hilda Bennett

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Joan Hobbs

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Jennifer Thurlow

Jean Grist

Alma Grendale

Christine Pearce

Brian Leith

Valerie Webb

Geoffrey Spratt

Geoffrey Towler


















Three Cups of Tea

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

The Book Thief (2nd review - aee No. 27)

The Mesmerist

Remember Me

The Boy with the Topknot


Pied Piper

Notes from a Small Island

Kisses on a Postcard

Three Seconds

The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Mistress of the Art of Death

Dead Heart

The Big Picture

Me Before You

Kathy Coldwell

Jennifer Thurlow

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Peggy Conley

Doris Kearns

Anita Butt

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Ralph Saunders

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

Jennifer Thurlow

Brian Leith

Brian Leith

Brian Leith

Brian Leith

Brian Leith

Monica Donegan




Empress Dowager Cixi

Ordinary Heroes

Maria Buckley

Brian Leith

Now scroll down to read the reviews  .  .  .
Book title Author Synopsis Recommended by

50. Ordinary Heroes

Scott Turow

Warning! This is story that is based around the Second World War in Europe and as such contains quite graphic details of some of the horrors of that conflict. It is the story of man who after his father's death, is given an account of his exploits. His father, who is an army lawyer, had been ordered to find and arrest an OSS agent, suspected of being a spy, and the book follows his father's and the suspect's trail across war-torn Europe. This is not a book for the faint hearted.

Brian Leith

(Recommended November 2014)

49. Empress Dowager Cixi

Jung Chang (author of Wild Swans)

For over 100 years the Empress Dowager Cixi had been accused of being either tyrannical and vicious or hopelessly incompetent – or both. Few of her achievements have been recognised and, when they are, the credit is invariably given to the men serving her. This is due to a basic handicap: that she was a woman and could only rule in the name of her sons – so her precise role has been little known. In 1852, during the Qing dynasty, a sixteen year old girl caught the eye of Emperor Xianfeng and became one of his many concubines. She was given the name Cixi – concubines were not allowed to use their family names. Although semi-literate she was intuitive, clever, and also interested in the affairs of China, but could not show these traits as she was only a woman. At the same time as Cixi’s entry into the Forbidden City, China was in financial dire straits due to the costs incurred by rebellions, which had been raging over many years, as well as poor management.
Although the Emperor had a wife, it was Cixi who produced a son and a short while later his wife bore a girl. Due to Cixi giving birth to a son, she was elevated in rank and treated as almost equal to his wife.

In 1861 the Emperor died and Cixi’s son was put on the throne. Due to his age, Cixi reigned behind her son’s throne and also later her adopted son. The heir and future adopted heir weren’t interested in the affairs of their country, so for nearly thirty years China was being ruled and governed by Cixi sitting behind the throne. At this time it was noted that China had entered a long period of peace with the West. Cixi had been able to quell any insurgents including threats to her life. Cixi could see the importance of modernising her country if it was to keep up with the British, American and Japanese. For years men had been sent abroad to learn the western ways and report back. Now women were allowed and encouraged to travel abroad.
Empress Dowager Cixi was the most important woman in Chinese history having brought a medieval empire into the modern age. She abolished gruesome punishments like “death by a thousand cuts”, she put an end to foot-binding, allowed a free press, insisted that all girls should be educated and opened schools for girls. Later she opened universities for women. She brought in modernity to replace decrepitude, poverty, savagery and absolute power, and she introduced humaneness, open-mindedness and freedom. As the author says, “one cannot but admire this amazing stateswoman, flawed though she was."

Cixi died in 1908 and was buried in the Eastern Mausoleum of the Qing monarchs outside Beijing with the Emperor and her son.

Maria Buckley (Recommended November 2014)

48. Me Before You

Jo Jo Moyes

This is a book that will make you think and a book that raises questions about life and death. At the same time it is a compelling love story with a difference and a romantic and riveting read. Will Traynor is a young, handsome and successful businessman who has high expectations and a bright future. However all these are snatched away from him in a single moment when he is struck by a motor cycle on the way to work. His life changed dramatically. Lou Clark is a young girl who is about to lose her job although she is unaware of this impending change in her circumstances. She lives with her parents who rely upon her small contribution to the family income. She knows a lot of things. She knows how many footsteps there are between the bus stop and home.She knows she likes working in the Buttered Bun tea shop and she knows she might not love her boyfriend Patrick. Will knows that his accident took away his desire to live. He knows that everything feels small and rather joyless now, and he knows exactly how he is going to put a stop to that.  What Will doesn't know is that Lou is about to burst into his world in a riot of colour and change all that. This novel is easy to read but difficult to put aside. The characters are vivid and the story moves at a fast pace. It evokes many emotions. I hope that members will enjoy it as much as I did.

Monica Donegan

(Recommended June 2013)


47. The Big Picture

Douglas Kennedy

Following my enjoyment of Dead Heart (review below), I decided to try my luck with another by the same author. Amazingly I was not disappointed. Another page turner that, like Dead Heart, was an easy read and full of twists and turns. Also like Dead Heart, it is difficult to say too much about the plot for fear of giving anything away. This story involves a Wall Street lawyer whose generally run-of-the-mill life undergoes a surprising change. I realise this is very little to go on, but I think you should read this book which has reviews by the Mail on Sunday, Esquire and the Idependent on Sunday who use such terms as "Kennedy's skill is to send you racing down the slope of sheer story" and "A compulsive page-turner and a dark moral fable."

Brian Leith

(Recommended June 2013)


46. Dead Heart

Douglas Kennedy

An American journalist finds an old map in a second hand bookshop - a map of Australia. This spurs him to give up his dead-end hack job in Ohio, travel to Australia and take to the road in a VW Micro Bus. It is difficult to write too much more about the story that unfolds without giving away the plot which has many surprising turns. What I can say is that the suspense is terrific and the ease of reading this book makes it a great page-turner. This was the first book that was written by this author and it received great reviews from the likes of the Sunday Telegraph, the Independent and Time Out.

Brian Leith

(Recommended June 2013)


45. Mistress of the Art of Death

Ariana Franklin

Set in Cambridge in the 12th Century, this is murder mystery. A child is brutally murdered and the Jewish population, of whom some are money lenders and who provide King Henry II with a large part of his revenue, are made scapegoats by the powerful Christian clergy. This displeases the king and he sends an investigator Simon of Naples, from the Continent accompanied by an Arab and a young woman Adelia Aguilar. There are few female doctors in twelfth-century Europe, but Adelia is one of them, having qualified at the great School of Medicine in Salerno. Her speciality is the study of corpses and she is in fact the "mistress of art of death" of the book’s title. Further deaths of children occur adding to the mystery. The author has obviously done extensive research of the period and it was necessary for me to refer to the dictionary quite frequently. I found her detailed description of life during those times completely absorbing. A good read with an insight to life in ancient times. Sadly, Ariana Franklin is a pseudonym for Diana Norman, who sadly died in 2011. She was the wife of television presenter Barry Norman.

Brian Leith

(Recommended May 2012)

44. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo


Steig Larsson

I held off reviewing the first book (The Girl with the Dragon Tatoo), until I had read all three. The sequels are The Girl who Played with Fire and The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest. Translated from Swedish to English, I found the books to be completely gripping. The stories revolve around a young woman who has an extremely high IQ, and who gets involved in criminal activities against her will. She is extremely resourceful which proves to be absolutely necessary when faced with the situations she finds herself in. This is not a book for the faint hearted, there is violence, bad language and matters of a sexual nature that may offend the more sensitive reader. Having read the first book I had to continue with the next, and when I had finished that, the third was a must for me. I would describe the books as raw, but very compelling. The only drawback I found was that the names of the Swedish characters were confusing, but as the story unfolded they became more identifiable. This book has now been made into a film, and my understanding is that the other two books are also scheduled to made into films.

Brian Leith

(Recommended February 2012)


43. Three Seconds

Roslund & Hellstrom 

The book is translated from Swedish and is written by journalist Anders Roslund and ex-criminal Borge Hellstrom. Simply put, it is a story about a man who infiltrates prison in an attempt to break a drug ring. The writing is gritty and the characters realistic, but the intrigue and planning that is contained within the pages is a reader's delight. At times it is complicated mainly because of the unfamiliar names of both the characters and the places mentioned, but I would thoroughly recommend this to anyone who enjoys a book that has the blue sticker with the black handcuffs on it.

Brian Leith

(Recommended May 2011)

42. Kisses on a Postcard (a tale of wartime childhood)

Terence Frisby

It is June 13th, 1940. Terry, aged seven, and his elder brother Jack, 11, stand in a crowd of children at Welling station. Wearing labels, carrying gas masks and small brown suitcases, they are evacuees, or 'vackies', awaiting the steam engine which will pull them across the country towards their unknown destination - and new lives. What awaits them is the richest of childhoods, full of colour, humour and the unselfish love of their substitute parents. Nostalgic for those of a certain age and, perhaps, informative for the modern generation.

Jennifer Thurlow (Recommended July 2010)
41. Notes from a Small Island

Bill Bryson

Another leave-behind. I had heard of the author and television personality but never got round to reading him. I am now looking forward to catching the rest of his work. This published in 1995 and tells the delightfully quixotic and humorous tale of the American's journey around Britain before he returns to the States. He lived and worked in the UK but decided to return to his home to bring up his new family there. This is his fond farewell to our island written in such a delightfully sensitive and above all funny way. Please read it.

Bob Dwyer-Joyce    (Recommended June 2010)
40. Pied Piper Neville Shute

This is a war story that I would recommend to anyone. It is a war story with a difference - a poignant tale of love and loss and the loneliness of old age. Shirley, my wife, and friends of ours who read it all agreed that they did not want to put it down. This was Shute's eighth book and many regard it as his best. Reviewing it in the Sunday Times, they wrote: "Mr Shute not only writes vividly and excitingly of occupied France, but with a delightful understanding of children." I can heartily echo this.

Ralph Saunders   (Recommended June 2010)
39. Nation Terry Pratchett

On the day the world ends . . . Man is on his way home from the Boy's Island. Soon he will be a man. And then the wave comes - a huge wave dragging black night behind it and bringing a schooner, the Sweet Judy, which sails over and through the island rain forest. As the ship comes to a crashing halt, only one soul is left alive (or two, if you count parrots). The village has gone. The Nation as it was has gone. Now there's just Mau, who wears barely anything, a trouserman girl who wears far too much, and an awful lot of big misunderstandings. And a lot of not-knowing-what-to-do. Or how to even say that. Together they must forge a new Nation out of the broken pieces. Create a new history. But one must ask . . . WHO IS GUARDING OUR NATION? WHERE IS OUR BEER? Wise, witty and filled with Terry Pratchett's comic satire, this is a terrific adventure that (quite literally) turns the world upside down. Read and enjoy this excellent book and then go to see it performed at The National.

Bob Dwyer-Joyce    (Recommended June 2010)

38. The Boy with the Topknot (a Memoir of Love, Secrets and Lies in Wolverhampton)

Sathnam Sanghera

A fascinating, sometimes painful story, of a Punjabi family. With great humour and touching insight Sathnam recalls how he eventually came to understand the reasons behind the rather unpredictable behaviour of his parents and sister; his affection for his mother who, with no understanding of English, worked all hours at the sewing machine, cooked, and somehow managed to hold their family together against tremendous odds. Every morning since childhood she had combed and plaited his "topknot", her pride and joy, until the day when as a teenager he finally took the bus deep into town after school and had it cut off by a barber who asked "Does your mother know you’re doing this?" How to return home and face his family and especially Mum? Sathnam Sanghera, graduated from Christ’s College, Cambridge, with a first class degree in English Literature. He joined the Financial Times and worked as its chief feature writer and weekly columnist before moving to The Times in 2007. He now lives in London. For a real treat borrow the audio CD version from the library and hear the story read and brought to pungent life by Pal Aron.

Anita Butt     (Recommended October 2009)

37. Remember Me

Melvyn Bragg

"Remember Me" is the third book in a trilogy and though fictional it is difficult to differentiate between actual and invented. His descriptions of the various places he mentions: Provence, the North West of England, Oxford and Hampstead, etc, really evokes the atmosphere and you feel you are there with him. It is a love story, but ultimately a tragic love affair between two people, one French from a very aristocratic background and the other English with working class roots in the Lake District. It is a powerful novel in that Bragg explores what it really means to love and be loved. It evokes that period of the 60s when the lovers first met at university. I found it an utterly absorbing read.

Doris Kearns

(Recommended September 2009)


36. The Mesmerist

Barbara Ewing

London in 1838, when the controversial practice of mesmerism was being practised, sometimes by fraudsters and sometimes by genuine individuals. It was a forerunner of hypnotism and was a help to many people. The main character in this book is a genuine practitioner, but life for one who not only had been an actress but was also a woman was not easy in those times, particularly if one also had a secret to conceal! It is an altogether enthralling story and made me determined to read the other four novels so far written by this clever author.

Peggy Conley

(Recommended July 2009)


35. The Book Thief

(2nd review - see 27 below)

Markus Jusak

This is an intriguing novel written by an author who is unknown to me, he lives in Australia with his wife and daughter. It is set in Nazi Germany and tells the story of a small girl and her tough experiences in a small town close to Dachau concentration camp. It is related by Death who opens up a strange view of himself and his thoughts as the narrative unfolds. For those of us who recall the rise of Adolf Hitler it offers an oblique angle into the events of that time. An uneasy yet enthralling read, when I came to the end I found that I had been through a wide range of emotions and that this story will stay with me for some considerable time. I encourage you to give it a go because if you do, you will make a firm friend in Liesel - the Book Thief, and surprisingly also with Death who after all turns out to be something of a hero.

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

(Recommended July 2009)

34. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

It's 1946 and Juliet Ashton can't think what to write next. Out of the blue, she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey ~ by chance, he's acquired a book that once belonged to her ~ and, spurred on by their mutual love of reading, they begin a correspondence. When Dawsey reveals that he is a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, her curiosity is piqued and it's not long before she begins to hear from other members. As letters fly back and forth with stories of life in Guernsey under the German Occupation Juliet soon realises that the society is every bit as extraordinary as it's name.

Jennifer Thurlow (Recommended March 2009)

33. Three Cups of Tea (one man's mission to promote peace)

Greg Mortenson

This is the true story of a climber who failed in his attempt to reach the summit of K.2, but who went on to build a school in the mountains to educate the poor. The dangers and difficulties (logistical and political) which he encountered, together with the friendship and humour along the way, make for a really good read. His eventual accomplishments are truly inspirational. I’ll say no more but this is only the beginning . . .

Cathy Coldwell

(Recommended February 2009)

32. The Fly in the Cathedral

Brian Cathcart

Anyone who enjoyed reading Dava Sobel’s book, "Longitude" will probably enjoy reading this book. It is essentially the story of two young researchers John Cockcroft and Ernest Walton, who first split the atom in 1932. The author, Brian Cathcart, originally a Dubliner, writes about Ernest Walton from Trinity College Dublin with great enthusiasm, but with complete impartiality to the other players in the book. The rather unusual title stems from the earlier work done at the Cavendish Laboratory, Cambridge, by their mentor, Ernest Rutherford, when he discovered the structure of the atom. He had discovered that almost all of the material in an atom is contained within a nucleus so small that it can be likened to a fly in a cathedral, which represents the atom. The book is not all science; there is the love story of the Walton’s, and the tragedy that befell the Cockcroft family when they lost a young child. There is also the exploits of a young Russian student, George Gamow, When he first came to the Cavendish he spoke no English, and had to get his fellow students to translate his papers. In spite of having a reputation as a playboy he came up with some original theoretical work that enabled Cockcroft and Walton to be able to use less energy to split the atom. The guidance from Ernest Rutherford was quite profound. He was a man who had a voice that boomed and roared like a lion, and he used to tell his young physicists that if their research could not be explained in terms comprehensible to a barmaid it was probably not worth doing. Quite unfair to barmaids. However, the number of Nobel prizes awarded to people in Rutherford’s care at that time was quite unprecedented. A very good read, and I hope that the book will be made into a film in the same way as "Longitude".

Geoffrey Towler

(Recommended January 2009)

31. Musicophilia

Dr Oliver Sacks

The first book by Oliver Sacks that I read was The Man who mistook his wife for a hat, which was lent to me by Charmaine Cox. It consists of a fascinating collection of case histories illustrating the incredible vagaries of the disordered human mind. It is an excellent read. Musicophilia is very much in the same vein and deals with unfortunate individuals who are cursed (or blessed) by hearing music in their heads. Most think, at first, that it comes from external sources but eventually come to realise that it is generated in their own brains and is frequently music experienced in their youth. They are not mad! It is a rare phenomenon that may have been caused by a physical trauma or a malfunction of that part the brain that handles sound. Serious deafness can apparently initiate it. (Nature abhors a vacuum). It cannot be turned off at will and the volume can be distressingly loud, but in many cases concentration on another mental activity can inhibit it temporarily. Some people learn to exercise some control over it and can change the record so to speak. Many have their sleep seriously affected and drugs are only occasionally able to control this awful affliction.

Certain composers have suffered from Musicophilia and in a few cases the melodies they heard were original and assisted in their work.

If you like something to get your teeth into I can recommend the book, though it is not always an easy read, being scattered with medical terms and too many copious footnotes in rather small print. Oliver Sacks is never tedious though. He experienced this strange phenomenon briefly himself and he covers all the aspects of musical delusions with great thoroughness.

Geoffrey Spratt     (Recommended December 2008)

30. The Baby in the Mirror

Charles Fernyhough

A new book has just been published which gives a fascinating insight into how a baby’s mind develops. Called "The Baby in the Mirror," it is published by Granta and available through Amazon as well as from bookshops. The author has used his daughter's development as a hook on which to hang a considered, up-to-date summary of what we know about how babies develop. But it is much more than a high-concept popular science book with some family snaps thrown in. The book was described in The Guardian recently as "a cross between a biography of a baby growing into a child, a scientist’s case-study notes and a beautifully written novel" while The Daily Telegraph wrote: ". . . his book is both a triumph of informed imagination and a startling testament of love." Paul Bloom, Professor of Psychology at Yale University says: "He introduces the reader to the state-of-the-art in development science and provides an intimate and loving perspective on the emergence of language, consciousness and autonomy." I was enthralled by the book and particularly because Charles Fernyhough is my son and he was writing about my granddaughter, Athena. He showed me a totally different perspective on the inner life of the baby and toddler I thought I knew so well. It is a fascinating, informative read for new (and old) parents and grandparents!

Valerie Webb (Recommended July 2008) 

29. The Bookseller of Kabul

Åsne Seierstad

In the spring of 2002 award-winning journalist Åsne Seierstad spent four months living with the bookseller (of the title) and his family. Her account of their daily lives is an unsettling insight into the struggles of these incredibly poor people and focuses in particular on the plight of women, where their role is one of total subservience. The author tells of the intolerable control inflicted by Sultan Khan (the bookseller), over all the members of his family. Almost on a whim he takes a second wife (and even considers a third) when he regards his first wife, the mother of many of his children, as being no longer attractive. Åsne tells of young boys aged 14 or less who have to work for 13 hours a day, seven days a week, in order to acquire money to buy food, most of which is likely to be rancid and often stale. All families suffer acute deprivation in this war-torn country, a country where warlords constantly clash over rights of supremacy, and where soldiers patrol the streets and mete out immediate and terrible punishment on anybody found out after curfew. It tells of the plight of daughters, who from the age of 13 are considered eligible for marriage, traded like cattle, and without having any say in the matter, "pledged" to the highest bidder ~ often a much older man seeking a younger second wife. I would like to have been able to end this brief write-up with a note of hope, but there seems to be no way the tribal leaders, the mullahs, the warlords, the soldiers and the people themselves will ever find a way to live together peacefully and because of this will ever be blighted with poverty as the struggle for survival goes on. 

Brian Leith

(Recommended May2008) 

28. The Mammoth Book of How to Do Everything

Edited by John E. Lewis

I was originally introduced to this by Tony Holmes at the History Group. It contains eye witness accounts of major historical events by people in the past, and people still alive. The book costs £7.99, and is updated regularly. I found it fascinating. The accounts include:

The palace at Babylon rebuilt in splendour c600 BC -- Nebuchadnezzar. Julius Caesar invades Britain, 55BC -- by Julius. Michelangelo paints the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, Rome 1508-1514 – A. Condivi.

The Industrial Revolution, Child Labour in England,1833 -- Ellen Hootton.

Evidence given to the parliamentary commission inquiry into child labour in mines and manufactories.

Christmas in the Trenches on the Western Front in 1914 -- Private Frank Richards. Man lands on the Moon, 20th July 1969 -- Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin. Dead Waters, a boat trip down Cleveland Street New Orleans" 9th September, 2005 -- Alec Russell. "Not every day we see a body and keep going," Police officer Wilfred Eddington told his Commander, as they chugged past a corpse gently bobbing on one of New Orleans' main streets. "Not every day we need an outboard and paddles to get to work,"' Lt Ruben Stephens replied.

The John F Kennedy assassination -- statement by a witness.

Christine Pearce

(Recommended April 2008) 

27. The Book Thief

Markus Juzak

Anyone who was privileged to have access to innumerable books throughout childhood and remembers the pleasure of being immersed in stories, will empathise with Liesel, a nine-year-old girl living in Nazi Germany, who, deprived of books resorts to stealing them. This is a moving and memorable story by Markus Zusak, a young and now acclaimed Australian author using a highly original style with deceptively simple prose and some unsophisticated drawings. A central voice observing and narrating the story is the ever-present Death who collects souls. The back cover records: "It’s a small story about a girl, an accordionist, some fanatical Germans, a Jewish fist fighter and quite a lot of thievery." It is by no means a small story but lots of stories that take the reader on a long and emotional journey. Liesel, a footballing gang member with her devoted friend Rudy, enduring the ravages of war, and is seen thieving, climbing through the mayor’s window and forming a relationship with his sorrowful wife, and as a compulsive reader reading to those sheltering underground during air raids. At great risk to themselves the family shelter Max the Jewish fist fighter, and Liesel’s foster father, the accordionist, who taught her to read and write, has personal attitudes to the war which brings him into conflict and danger. There are fanatical Germans and marches to the death camps, much thievery to relieve the starvation of minds and bodies, and many pictures to conjure up in the reader’s mind. With so many absorbing books available making it difficult to re-read any, I feel sure that this one will stay on the shelf and be re-visited. 

Alma Grendale

(Recommended February 2008)

26. The Wall

John Cannell

Although I do very little reading I recently obtained a book written by a local Brentwood man. The book is entitled "The Wall" and was written by John Cannell who is one of the many volunteers who strive to maintain the grounds at Warley Place. It is very interesting how he combines the present day voluntary work that goes on at Warley Place with flash backs to the past in Miss Wilmott's time and for those readers who have visited these lovely gardens it is interesting to be able to visualise the scenes so beautifully described in the story. There is also the intriguing secret of what was discovered in the wall at Warley Place, but it would be unfair of me to reveal this secret. The book, at the very reasonable price of £5, has been published privately which reduces costs and can be obtained at Thorndon Park Centre or at Warley Place.

Jean Grist

(Recommended January 2008)

25. The Tenderness of Wolves

Steff Penney

Published by Quereus. The year is 1867, the place an isolated settlement in Canada and winter is tightening it's grip. A man is found brutally murdered in his cabin and a 17-year-old boy goes missing. His mother decides to follow his tracks into the wilderness. Missing, as well, is a bone tablet which may hold the key to a lost Indian language. Also trying to find the boy are men from the Hudson Bay Company who have a vested interest in the rumour that there may be a cache of valuable furs. These are just a few strands of a story which is woven with skill and keeps one reading until the last page to discover the outcome. The story is especially remarkable considering that the author has never visited Canada.

Jennifer Thurlow (Recommended November 2007)


24. The Memory Keeper's Daughter

Kim Edwards

This has been one of the most emotional stories I have read in a long time. When I finished it late at night and placed it gently on the bedside table I felt that it was really something quite special. First published two years ago in the USA and now over here this year it has gone to the best-seller list in both countries and it is not difficult to see why. It tells the story of a young doctor who delivers his wife's twins during a snow storm. His son is a healthy boy, however the twin (a girl), has Down's syndrome. Forced by past family trauma he tells his wife that the baby girl died at birth and gives her into the care of the nurse. As grief quietly tears the family apart, a little girl must make her own way in the world as best as she can. The novel begins in 1964 when attitudes towards disabilities were less enlightened and it is interesting to follow the story through to 1989 when the tale closes. Kim Edwards is an assistant professor of English at the University of Kentucky and in the notes it says that she is currently working on her second novel "The Dream Master", one for which to look out.

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

(Recommended September 2007)

23. Two Caravans

Marina Lewycka

Having read her first, excellent, novel "A short history of tractors in Ukrainian," I was drawn to this, her second, a very different and descriptive journey through the eyes of an immigrant young Ukrainian girl Irina just off the coach and eager to improve her excellent English and find true romance with an Englishman. Gangmasters, exploitative employees, fellow migrant workers and . . . oh yes . . . look out for the dog. If you read this book you may never buy battery chicken meat again! It combines high drama with slapstick comedy and romance. The dedication inside the cover is to the Cockle-pickers of Morecambe Bay which tells you something of what to expect. I found it an enjoyable and distinctive read with some moments of high drama, and can only encourage you to give it a try

Bob Dwyer-Joyce

(Recommended August 2007)

22. Narrow dog to Carcassonne

Terry Darlington

Terry and Monica Darlington are intrepid pensioners who made the surprising decision to sail their canal narrow boat 1600 miles across France and down to the Mediterranean, accompanied only by their whippet Jim. They took advice from nautical experts, who told them they would lose their boat, their lives, and indeed their whippet Jim. Narrow Dog to Carcassonne is a true story of high adventure in France, England, Belgium and out at sea, as experienced by two innocents and a reluctant dog. Breakdowns, floods, accidents, hangovers, vandals, dicks, trolls, aliens, gongoozlers, killer fish and the walking dead stand between our intrepid crew and their goal ~ the many-towered Carcassonne.  I was given this book while staying at my daughter's home for Christmas and though promising not to start it until I returned home, I opened the book and that was it. My daughter and her family had a very quiet Christmas as I became engrossed in this very entertaining book. My pleasure was made more so because I have had many happy holidays on a narrow boat and had travelled on all the canals mentioned. The book is an excellently written, humorous story and I laughed out loud many times. His description of events were so well depicted that I could almost imagine I was there! If you want a well written, good read, do try this one and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. 

Joan Hobbs

(Recommended July 2007)

21. The House by the Thames

Gillian Tindall

Just across the River Thames from St Paul's Cathedral stands an old and elegant house. Over the course of almost 450 years the dwelling on this site has witnessed many changes. From it's windows, people have watched the ferrymen carry Londoners to and from Shakespeare's Globe; they have gazed on the Great Fire; they have seen the countrified lanes of London's marshy south bank give way to a network of wharves, workshops and tenements ~ then seen these, too, become dust and empty air. This fascinating book uses contemporary observations to bring the centuries and the people to life. It is a welcome instance of a history book that has the ability to raise the hairs on the back of your neck. Gillian Tindall has researched in great depth the history of Number 49 Bankside and the surrounding area. A highly scholastic work and, importantly, so very readable. Having been quite closely aware of the district, and enjoyed many pints in "The Anchor" tavern in Mrs. Thrale's bar, I was gripped by this very interesting work. 

Bob Dwyer-Joyce (Recommended April 2007)

20. The Life of Pi

Yan Martell


After the tragic sinking of a cargo ship, one solitary lifeboat remains floating in the wild blue Pacific. The crew consists of a hyena, a zebra, a female orang-utan, a 450 pound Royal Bengal tiger and Pi a 16 -year-old Indian boy. The scene is set for one of the most extraordinary pieces of literary fiction of recent years. I came across this fascinating story while on holiday, it was a leave-behind in the hotel where we were staying. I found it a tremendous read and one that I encourage you to try if you have not already done so. Sadly I was so engrossed that I read it far too quickly and now wished I had savoured it, like a good wine, on the palate.

Bob Dwyer-Joyce (Recommended November 2006)

19. Remember me

Lesley Pearse

If you’ve ever been curious about what it must have been like for the convicts who were shipped off to Australia then you should read "Remember me" by Lesley Pearce, a book based on a true story. Recently a television programme, "The Incredible Journey of Mary Bryant", was aired, but as so often happens the programme did not do justice to the book ~ so much was glossed over. However, if you enjoyed the programme I urge you to read the book. Whilst doing so you can almost smell the stench of the hold on board ship and suffer the starvation and depravity along with Mary, a young girl from Cornwall who stole food because she was hungry. She was sentenced to death but was reprieved and sent to Australia. This is an enlightening story and a cracking good read.

Hilda Bennett

(Recommended July 2006)

18. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian

Marina Lewycka

Two years after the author's mother died her 84-year-old father falls in love with a glamorous blonde 36-year-old Ukrainian divorcee. A voluptuous fluffy pink gold-digger with a proclivity for green satin underwear and boil-in-the-bag cuisine. Sisters Vera and Nadezhda must put aside a lifetime of feuding to save their émigré engineer father from Valentina who will stop at nothing in her pursuit of Western wealth. As the story unfolds family secrets are uncovered and 50 years of Europe's darkest history is revealed which sends them back to roots that they would rather forget. This is the sort of book that, once started, one feels the need to read through to the end without putting it down. One of the most interesting and funny reads that I have had for some time, in fact I experienced the rare pleasure of laughing out loud on several occasions. Throughout the humour a darker shadow gradually gathers. A most satisfying and stimulating read.


Bob Dwyer-Joyce

(Recommended May 2006) 

17. Blood and Roses

Helen Castor

Blood and Roses is an old tale told anew. Helen Castor has taken the thousand or so Paston letters and extracted from them a saga of that 15th Century Norfolk family, covering four generations. They slowly and painfully climb up the social ladder by land purchase, legal service to their superiors and judicious marriages. In an age when a claim to property could mean years of litigation and often physical intimidation, Margaret Paston, as wife, mother and widow, held the fort (almost literally at times), in Norfolk while her husband and sons were immersed in the Courts of London or engaged in the Wars of the Roses. Hence the voluminous correspondence, covering anything and everything, from attacks on disputed property to requests for lengths of cloth and ounces of spices from London. 

Paul Byford

(Recommended December 2005) 

16. Mr Golightly’s Holiday

Salley Vickers

Having read Salley Vickers’ first book, the superb Miss Garnett’s Angel, I knew her second book would be as fascinating. Chosen as holiday reading, it was purely coincidental that I started it as I was travelling on a boat down the River Dart in Devon ~ the chosen background for the story. From the moment Mr Golightly ~ an international best-selling author ~ arrives in his old Morris Traveller in a tiny Dartmoor village intent on finding a little peace and quiet in which to bring his magnum opus up-to-date, the fun begins. I was enthralled as the village characters are introduced into Mr Golightly’s life, each one so cleverly drawn. However, a mystery lingers over our hero’s past although we know of Mr Golightly’s sadness over his only son’s death. The pace is quite fast and we quickly flip from laughter to pathos. I own up to not guessing the surprising twist at the novel’s end. So, like many readers, I immediately began re-reading the book ~ something I rarely do. This is a clever, thought-provoking novel.

 Sylvia Kent

(Recommended November 2005)

15. The Kite Runner

Khaled Hosseini


This is an enthralling book which starts in Afghanistan prior to the arrival of the Russians and gives an insight into the way of life of an affluent Afghan family and the problems experienced with the changes in that country. Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to gain the approval of his father and resolves to win the local kite-flying tournament, to prove that he has the makings of a man. His loyal friend Hassan promises to help him ~ for he always helps Amir ~ but this is 1970s Afghanistan and Hassan is merely a low-caste servant who is jeered at in the street, although Amir feels jealous of his natural courage and the place he holds in his father's heart. Reading it one feels it is the story of the writer himself, with the difficulties he has as he grows to manhood in the shadow of his beloved but strong-minded father. It is a powerful story that will not be easy to forget. 

Gillian Gibbs

(Recommended October 2005)

14. Chinese Cinderella

Adeline Yen Mah

Anyone who read Falling Leaves by Adeline Yen Mah will enjoy her book Chinese Cinderella, the secret story of an unwanted daughter ~ "After school was let out in the early afternoon, I waited with all the other first-graders by the school gate. One by one they were greeted and led away by their anxiously hovering mothers. Eventually, I was the only one left. Nobody had come for me." Her family considered her to be bad luck because her mother died giving birth to her, and her stepmother was cruel to her. Chinese Cinderella captures the pain and longing of a young girl as she tried to find the love and affection she craves. It is both heartbreaking yet inspirational, simple but profoundly moving. The book follows her life up to the age of 14 and although it is published in a "Puffin" edition, it is suitable for, and interesting to, adults and children. 

Jackie Towler

(Recommended July 2005)

13. The Time Traveller’s Wife

Audrey Niffeneger

This is the story of Clare and Henry who met when Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six and married when Clare was twenty-two and Henry was thirty! Henry suffers from a rare condition where his genetic clock resets and he finds himself suddenly in his past or future. Henry and Clare struggle to live normal lives as Henry continues to time travel. His experiences of his varying ages are not always happy meanwhile Clare accepts his comings and goings as part of her life.

I have re-read this book after many years and still found it to be a compelling read. It is the tale of a young girl and boy who are childhood friends and how their lives revolve around each other. This is a fairly uncomplicated tale with each of them leading separate lives, yet coming together from time to time for occasional family and social events. Whenever they meet they relive their young days then go their separate ways with promises to "keep in touch" - a pledge that each time fails. A fairly ordinary story so far, but an event is to have a huge influence on them both. Having not seen her childhood friend for a few years, she invites him to her wedding and it is here that their lives take a turn that is shrouded in mystery. The girl, now a bride-to-be, just before going into the church to get married whispers to her chief bridesmaid "I think I am making a mistake." These few words lead to changes to the lives of both of the friends which it would be wrong of me to reveal. It is as if some hidden force is operating their strings, and though they rarely see each other following her marriage their lives are destined to become entwined again and again. This is a beautiful love story the end of which I cannot reveal.

Jane Dixon                (Recommended June 2005)

12. An Unfinished Life

Mark Sprague

The author lives in Cody, Wyoming, where he draws on that area for his novel. On the cover notes An Unfinished Life is described as "a tremendously accomplished, elegantly written and paced tale of love and loss, the bonds of grief and blood and the complex turnings of the human heart" and "The writing is of considerable grace and beauty plus there’s a compelling tale." Mark Sprague’s writing conjures up pictures of the American mid-west where the tale of a 10-year-old girl and her widowed mother who is unlucky in the various men she has attempted to live with since her husband’s death, unfolds. This is a page-turner which illustrates with beautifully crafted words the lives of those living in a small town in the cattle country of America. Places with names like Sioux Falls and the Bighorn Mountains feature in this, the latest novel by this most eloquent of writers.

Brian Leith

(Recommended April 2005)

11. Diary of an Ordinary Woman 

Margaret Foster

This is a very absorbing life story. Any would-be writers amongst us will find it an ideal model. Millicent King, born in 1901, begins her diaries just before the First World War. She records the events she lives through as the middle member of a large family. They all become well-known to us as we hear about their lives. "Milly" is no ordinary character however. She trains as a teacher, then gives it up to become a private tutor in Rome. Later she turns to social work during the 1930s. In the Second World War she drives an ambulance through the streets of London. Without meaning to she falls in love a couple of times and is completely honest about this time of her life. You will travel through the twentieth century with her and notice the big changes that have taken place. I thought this a very gripping read ~ a book that is difficult to put down.

Mary Patterson      (Recommended March 2005)

10. The Sucker's Kiss

Alan Parker


During the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, seven-year-old Thomas Moran becomes separated from his mother and sisters and eventually embarks on a career of pick-pocketing. He grows to manhood, travelling across America through Prohibition and the Depression, meeting Italian and Chinese gangsters, con-artists, corrupt clergy and speak-easy bootleggers, who all play a part in his destiny. In the course of his immoral life he meets and falls in love with Effie, whose father owns a vineyard, and it is this that gives him the chance to change his life. I found it a compelling story of low life America and well worth reading.

Geoffrey Spratt (Recommended January 2005)

9. Sputnik Sweetheart

Haruki Murakami

This book, which was translated from the original Japanese by Philip Gabriel, is an undoubted future classic. It is written in the first person by K, an admirer of Sumire, a young, rather hippie type girl, who falls in love; with, to her own astonishment, an older very sophisticated business woman called Miu. Sumire yearns to be, and believes she is, a future great writer but somehow she cannot realize her talent. She is given a job by Miu and travels with her and eventually in the course of this their relationship deepens. On holiday with her on a small island retreat, Sumire disappears completely, leaving all her possessions, and Miu calls in K to help her search for her. This is not a story about lesbians but is a beautifully written tale of human emotions; love and loss, happiness and unhappiness. In his search for her, K reads some of her recent writings, containing accounts of strange dreams she has had and an extraordinary adventure Miu suffered on a deserted Ferris wheel, amongst other things. It was a book I did not want to put down.

Geoffrey Spratt(Recommended October 2004)


8. A Short History of Nearly Everything 

Bill Bryson

A great book in more ways than one, but don't be put off by its size or its title ~ Bill still writes in the easy, friendly and witty way he uses in his travel books. He begins with the creation of the Universe and goes through to the tendency of we humans to destroy it and in between meets with many a strange anomaly, an interesting fact or statistic, and a quirky human being. He took three years to research and write it. Do take a few hours to read it, you won't regret it.

Paul Byford      (Recommended August 2004)

7. Follow the Rabbit Proof Fence

Dora Pilkington:

Nugi Garimara

This is the true story of three half-caste Aboriginal girls, Mollie and her sisters Daisy and Grace, who undertook a trek of about 1,000 miles, walking across remote Western Australia. They were then aged 8, 11 and 14 years respectively and had escaped from a government institutional confinement for Aboriginal children, supposedly held there for "their Greater good". The children had been taken from their families in order to "westernise" them into the new white pioneer's society. They walked barefoot, without maps or provisions, hunted by native Police trackers and search planes. Doggedly they followed the rabbit proof fence, knowing that it would lead them to their home. The journey tells of the hardships and prejudices they had to encounter, and gives an insight into this dark period of Australian history.

Myra Bruce      (Recommended July 2004)

6. Eats, shoots, and Leaves

Lynne Truss


How often, as we have gone about our daily lives, have we squirmed at the misuse of punctuation in advertising notices ~ in particular the misuse of the humble apostrophe which has a life of its own and pops up in the most unlikely places, though at other times seems to be on holiday when it should be in there doing its job. This book is a study of the intricate subject of punctuation in our language. It is a book that stimulates the old grey matter, as well as providing much amusement. The title refers to the feeding habits of the panda which eats shoots and leaves.

Brian Leith     (Recommended June 2004)

5. To the Edge of the Sky

Anhua Gao

If you "enjoyed" Wild Swan then I am sure you will feel the same about this book. Growing up in the harsh ideology of communist China, Anhua suffered appallingly and witnessed innumerable horrors and shocking inhumanity with her life torn apart by the whims of the state. Moving, sometimes shocking, but always compelling this is the tale of someone who, against unbelievable odds, survived and finally found happiness, here in Britain ~ the land on the edge of the sky.

Evina Montgomery (Recommended May 2004)

4. Where there's a Will


John Mortimer



Published in 2003, this book is a delightful read, ideal for the bedside or to pick up and peruse in and idle moment. Written almost as a series of short essays, it deals with a wide variety of subjects, from Shakespeare to Sex, staring with the legacy he received from his father (the house, and the advice "advice is perfectly useless"). He is scathing about much of the Government's new legislation, such as making outdoor sex a crime and foxhunting, and he has something acute and witty to say on many aspects of life today, also reflecting on such things as art, getting drunk, children and the companionship of women. Beryl Bainbridge described his work as "Warm, shrewd, and comforting musings," and Fay Weldon remarked that it was "Charming, intelligent, cheerful, mellifluous, gossipy and wise." I have no argument with any of that.

Geoffrey Spratt (Recommended April 2004)


3. The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency 


Alexander McCall Smith


The author won the first Saga award for wit at the 2003 Folkestone Literary Festival (admittedly the author has to be over 50!), and two Booker judges special recommendations. Reading the book I felt a great sense of relief at the imperturbable good humour of the author ~ most modern humorous books use such unpleasant situations and nasty people that I can't feel any amusement. The stories are set in Botswana, a country and its people that the author knows thoroughly and loves. They are focused on Mme Ramotswe, who has decided to set up as a lady detective in her own locality. She is not really another Miss Marple ~ she does not intend to become involved in crime. Each book in the series contains several stories told with benign amusement and admiration. The "traditionally built" heroine (who has no difficulty finding dresses of adequate dimensions) is well-informed, intelligent, courageous, good at judging character and full of common good sense and good humour. The books Morality for Beautiful Girls and Tears of the Giraffe continue the account and there are others to come. Really nice to read and nails can remain unbitten.

Tony Holmes    (Recommended March 2004)


2. Looking on Darkness



Andre Brink



The back cover describes it as: A novel of stature that explores our cancerous condition more persistently than any other novel has done before and without the benefit of an anaesthetic." The words controversial, strikingly effective, banned and critical acclaim also appear but not the word "enjoyable". Yet it is so well written and gives so graphic a picture of South Africa in the times of apartheid that it must surely rank amongst the classics in the future. It tells the story of Jacob Malan, a black boy born on a farm in the middle of the last century, who is sent t school by his "Baas", after being discovered reading a "borrowed" book and becomes imbued by a burning desire to become an actor. the difficulties of pursuing such an ambition are brilliantly illustrated, as are Jacob's feelings as he tries to make his way against the oppositions and encouragements he encounters. The whole atmosphere of a clack man, living in the South Africa of those days is perfectly reflected in the boy's progress to manhood, growing up in what was originally a slave environment. It presents a very clear and surprisingly fair picture of the treatment of blacks by their white masters, though no punches are held and the struggle of the blacks for justice and the recognition of their humanity becomes increasingly bitter as the book progresses.

Geoffrey Spratt   (Recommended January 2004)

1. Schott's Original Miscellany 

Ben Schott

This book is precisely what it says it is ~ a collection of the most bizarre facts that include such detail as a history of the hat tax, the first class dinner menu for the Titanic the night she sank, famous last words, and many, many more. It is a book that contains something about which each of us could say "I didn't know that" ~ whether we would have wanted to or not is another matter! 

Brian Leith     (Recommended December 2003)

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