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June 19
Crimea - The Last Crusade by Orlando Figes

Crimea -The Last Crusade.
 

This book deals with a war that few people understand though it remains strong in British memory not least here in Northern Ireland with many streets in Belfast named after significant battles in the war, Inkerman Street and Balaklava Street being familiar ones.The war itself was initiated when religious squabbles over holy places Jerusalem and Bethlehem,then part of the Ottoman Turkish Empire, prompted Russia to march troops into what is now Romania. In response the Turks declared war on Russia and Britain and other allies supported her.The 3 year combat took place around the Black sea and after losing the port of Sevastopol,Russia accepted a humiliating defeat.The author deals comprehensively with the reasons for the war though as he says himself if you are eager for the fighting to start best to skip the first few chapters,which though excellent make you think how seemingly senseless the whole thing was.There is a wider local dimension with some one third of the male population of three parishes in Cork killed in the war.The Irish, both North and South feature large in the formations that served in the Crimea both as infantry and cavalry.The author has an interesting slant on the Charge of the Light Brigade stating that in some regards it was a success.It is a good read and deals in depth with the mythology and actual legacy of this war.

Submitted by James

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June 19
Mansfield Park by Jane Austen

Mansfield Park
 

The third novel by Jane Austen, published in 1814. The story revolves around the character of Fanny who is sent to live with her Aunt, Uncle and cousins at Mansfield Park, a large country house. The family treat her kindly and she is especially close to her cousin Edmund. However as the novel progresses we read of another aunt who arrives at Mansfield Park and is not so kind to Fanny and keeps reminding her of her ‘place’. The lives of all at the household are further livened up by the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford who stir up relationships within the household.

It is definitely a novel of its time, and when reading it now we have to be aware that 1800’s English society was very different to what it is today.  Class plays a very big part in the novel, which also touches on the slave trade, a very controversial subject in its day.

Things become interesting when the character Mary Crawford becomes interested in Edmund, but mocks his choice of becoming a minister of the church. Fanny is also very fond of Edmund, and friends with Mary so there are some interesting conflicts of emotions here between the three characters.

The novel has been made into a film many times, which I personally found very pleasant and easy to watch -a point also made by the reading group.

The novel is romantic in an age of Romanticism, while at the same time containing social satire. It was a sell out in its day which in a time of limited entertainment can only prove its relevance in its time.  Much criticised since it does however give us a small if limited glimpse into the class system of its time and how this could influence relationships.

Submitted by Larne Reading Group

Available as a book and downloadable audiobook

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June 15
Run by Mandasue Heller

Run
 

This was my first encounter with Mandasue Heller and certainly won't be the last. Run opens with a woman on the edge of fear and the unknown - leaving you wanting more.

Leanne Riley is a young woman who is hurting, living in a shabby run down home having split from her boyfriend Dean who just couldn't respect her enough to keep his hands off other women.

She is on a much needed night out with her best friend, Christie and is approached by a gorgeous guy with a face from the past - Jake. Turns out she taunted him when they were kids.

Leanne has set a guard around her heart but as time goes on Jake breaks down the walls she has built around her. He seems so perfect - but what secrets lie behind the pretty exterior?

As the story continues a web of lies unfolds. You learn quite quickly that life for Leanne is not going to be an easy one. Jake's dark secrets come to light as time goes on. He will stop at nothing to cover his tracks!

But who will survive?

Mandasue does an amazing job of making the characters in her book come to life. Once you begin reading you will just not want to put it down.

Submitted by Alex

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June 15
I See You by Clare Mackintosh
I See You by Clare Mackintosh.jpg
 

Imagine commuting by train to work every day, imagine the ritual, the tedium, the stress. Anything you can do to alleviate the grind, like reading a newspaper from cover to cover, is a welcome respite. Or it is until the day you see yourself staring back from the classifieds.

When Zoe Walker sees her face looking back, she is unsettled and puzzled. The website address findtheone.com gives her no further enlightenment and despite the assurances of friends and family that it is just someone who looks like her and means nothing, she can’t shake the feeling that she is being watched. When she sees similar ads of other women appearing in the newspaper, and discovers that one of them has had her keys stolen, she seeks help from Kelly Swift, a demoted detective now working with traffic police. But it is only when one of the women is found dead that the investigation really begins.

It reveals that the website refreshes with a new woman every week and premium subscribers receive detailed information about that woman, specifically the minute details of her commute. Initially, it is surmised that it is some kind of bizarre match-making site, but the reader already knows that a much darker purpose exists.

While not quite up to the cracking storytelling of Mackintosh’s debut novel, this is a great read. It fully utilizes the power of taking normal routines, situations most of us experience daily, and imbuing them with doubt, anxiety and menace. Are the strangers around you while you transit minding their own business or taking note of everything you do? And after that…!

Submitted by Lorna

Available as hardback

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June 15
The Girl Before by J P Delaney
The Girl Before by J P Delaney.jpg
 
Edward Monkford built and owns a house in North London. The house is high-tech and sterile and must be lived in under Edward’s numerous and extremely stringent instructions.
We learn about the house, Edward and his tenants through alternating chapters describing their interactions. Emma is ‘then’ and Jane is ‘now’. It quickly becomes clear that both women are recovering from traumatic personal events and it is somewhat unsettling that this commonality is one of the criteria Edward uses to handpick the women, and it is always women, who become his tenants. Menace creeps through the book stealthily, flicking knives made of words from Edward’s mouth, curling tight fingers invisibly around throats constricted through grief and loss, and casting dark shadows of the peripheral characters who seem to be incapable of providing any support for either Emma or Jane.
As Jane’s relationship with Edward develops, she discovers that Emma ‘the girl before’ died in suspicious circumstances and she feels compelled to pursue the truth. Seeking answers in such a highly controlled environment seems foolhardy at best, but then accepting a tenancy that demands compliance and surrendered individuality is not the action of a person who is thinking clearly.  Will the parallels that we the reader see between the two women carry on to a fatal conclusion, or is something else happening?
As with all psychological thrillers, the truth is rarely obvious and the characters seldom what they seem, even to themselves. And this is why we like them, challenging ourselves to see through the tapestry of lies, hopeful that we will work it out, and disappointed when we do. With this book it’s unlikely you’ll be disappointed.
Movie release 2018.
Submitted by Lorna
Available as hardback
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June 14
The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin
 The Vanishing by Sophia Tobin.jpg
 

Annaleigh, a young girl with a troubled past, arrives to take up a new position as a housekeeper for Marcus Twentyman and his widowed sister Hester. Their home, White Windows, is set deep in the Yorkshire Moors, an isolated spot in today’s world, but then at the beginning of the 19th century it must have seemed like the ends of the earth. 

Initially, Annaleigh feels secure in this world, safe from her past, cocooned in isolation, however it isn’t long before cracks begin to appear in her new haven. Kate the previous housekeeper vanished without a trace and no-one will speak openly about what happened to her. The other servants talk around Annaleigh in whispers, further stoking her intrigue and paranoia. 

What first appears to be a gentle gothic novel reminiscent of the Brontes is anything but. As the novel progresses the moral turpitude of many of the characters is revealed, leaving the reader wondering whether there is any hope for poor Annaleigh.

The atmosphere in this novel is all pervasive, the natural but harsh beauty of the Moors lifting the gloom only a little, and puts forth the notion that anyone who spends any length of time there will surely lose whatever mental stability they possess.

This is historical fiction well steeped in the brutality of contemporary fiction, while retaining a great deal of the beauty, aura and depth of characterisation traditionally found in this genre.

Submitted by Lorna

Available as hardback

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June 13
Look Behind You by Sibel Hodge

Look Behind You
 

Look Behind You is the captivating thriller in which Chloe Benson wakes up in an underground tomb buried alive. She then wakes up in hospital where no one believes that she was kidnapped and think it’s all connected to previous mental health problems. Then forced to retrace her steps to find out who her kidnapper is, she makes some shocking discoveries along the way. If you like a good thriller that you can get your teeth into this book will have you hooked.

Submitted by Noeleen

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June 13
House of Shadows by Pamela Hartshorne

House of Shadows
 

A woman wakes up in hospital from a coma; she doesn’t recognise the family who sit by bed or of her life before. Doctors diagnose post-traumatic amnesia and say her memory should start returning. When her memories do return, they are not her own, Kate Vavasour, but those of Isabel Vavasour from four hundred years ago. The story continues with the main character trying to make sense of why she has memories belonging to someone else. This detailed historical story slips between the modern day and the 16th Century.

This is an exceptionally enjoyable time slip novel, with the story flowing beautifully between the present and the past. I have read similar novels before and found some to be a bit confusing and tedious, however with ‘House of Shadows’ I couldn’t get through each chapter fast enough. 

Our group as a whole described it as “eerie”, “ghostly” and “very thought provoking” and everyone agreed that the story kept you guessing right up to the last few chapters. One member of the group found Isabel’s story to be “scary and shocking as she began to lose control of her life”, whilst others have been encouraged to try other titles by the same author which I think shows how much they enjoyed “House of Shadows”

Submitted by Jennifer - Belfast Central Library VIP Group

Available as a book, eBook and spoken word CD

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June 12
The Beginning Woods by Malcolm McNeill

the beginning woods
 

The Beginning Woods is an abstract, otherworldly story about a chaotic series of disappearances that have spread across the world. Appropriately dubbed "the Vanishings”, this peculiar plague causes people to disappear, seemingly at random, leaving only a pile of clothes behind. 

A symposium of scientists team up and lock themselves away from the world to investigate the cause. Years pass with no success on curbing the Vanishings until Chief Researcher, Professor Courtz, makes a sudden public appearance to bizarrely instate a ban on all books and anything that would encourage dreaming.

In this dark time of prohibition, Max, a strange boy who was found seemingly abandoned in a bookshop as a baby, must travel to a mystical place known as the Beginning Woods to find the answers to the burning questions he has about his identity and his birth parents, and to hopefully stop the Vanishings. The Woods exist as a parallel world to our own, being similar in many ways, but teeming with witches, dragons and Wild Ones, making Max's search for the truth no easy feat.

The narrative meanders slowly along at its own pace, lingering unashamedly on the poetic details and sparing no expense when it comes to imaginative similes and descriptions. It's a book you have to allow some patience with, as it does take quite a while for the plot to become more focused and defined.

Blurring the line between make-believe and reality, The Beginning Woods makes a great novel to lose yourself in and lap up every lavish aspect of the artistic prose. The few small watercolour illustrations amongst its pages have a dreamy quality that suits the book well. Although the plot can be quite convoluted and leaves quite a few unanswered questions, it makes for a pleasant book to keep at your bedside for some late night reading.

Submitted by Natasha

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June 12
The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop
 

This book was translated from the original German which might explain some of the idiosyncrasies of the novel, but not all.  The blurb on the back of the book attracted me – a bookshop on a barge on the Seine, run by a man with the ability to use books to heal people; a literary apothecary in fact.  However, this idea is ditched fairly rapidly and the story-line meanders into a male version of ‘chick lit’ concerning not one but three men’s failure to deal with relationships.  Disappointing if you are expecting the content to be a reflection of the tempting blurb, but an unusual read for those who want something a bit left field. 

Submitted by Ruth

Available as a book or spoken word CD

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