Brazilian novelist Paul Coelho rose to prominence in 1988
with The Alchemist, which is a
pop-parable about an Andulusian shepherd travelling to Egypt to find treasure.
Following on from The Alchemist has
sprung a kind of self-help guide that has polarised opinion.
is about Mata Hari who is more of a legend than an historical figure. She was born Margaretha Zelle in 1876 in
Holland. At 18 she was eager for adventure and answered a personal ad listed by
an officer stationed in Indonesia. They married and in Indonesia she studied
local dances. Her husband turned out to be abusive and both of their children
died and they returned to Amsterdam and divorced.
These circumstances enabled Zelle to reinvent herself and
she moved to Paris in 1903 and became Mata Hari the performer of exotic
burlesque style dances. As a dancer she
delighted and shocked audiences and as a courtesan she bewitched the rich and
powerful men of the era. In 1917 she was executed by a firing squad as a German
spy, being held responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of soldiers.
Coelho is interested in the short period prior to
execution and brings to life a deeply flawed woman who manipulates men through
her obvious sexuality. She behaves recklessly and plays officials off each
other. This is not a book about the romantic notions of wartime intrigue; I see
its sadness in how Mata Hari tries to secure her freedom from her past, her
failed marriage, death of her children and her imprisonment.
Despite the fact that there was no evidence that she was
a spy, the men in her life all lined up to destroy her when they could have
chosen to sway the verdict.
Coelho recounts all of this through two letters one from
Mata Hari to her lawyer depicting her life story and assuring the lawyer that
she will soon be free and the second from the lawyer written in the knowledge
that she will soon be executed.
This is a universal story of a woman striving for freedom
only to be brought down by the times that were in it. Coelho is making the
story an indictment of men and mankind, too intolerant of the spirited or
emancipated. She was defiant to the end , blowing kiss to her executioneers.
Submitted by Paula
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Have you ever wondered what it would be like to turn your back on your family, home and career and begin a new life in a strange place? The main character in the novel “Ladder of Years” does just this.
The accomplished author Anne Tyler offers us a glimpse into middle class life in Baltimore where Delia Grinstead feels unnoticed and taken for granted. Indeed the inaccuracies of the personal details given to the police reinforce her fears.
A brief encounter with a stranger in her local supermarket acts as a catalyst for change and highlights what she has been missing. So on a family beach holiday, without any previous planning, forty year old Delia goes for a walk and journeys into the unknown.
Standing on her own two feet for the first time she creates a new identity for herself and settles into the role with growing confidence.
The reader is kept wondering what will happen if, or when these two worlds Collide.
A thought provoking and entertaining novel.
Submitted by Jane from 'Coole Readers
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The Dressmaker is a clever satire about small-town life.
Though it is set in 1950’s rural Australia, it could really be anywhere as
Rosalie Ham is revealing petty squabbles, gossip and unkindness that people
sometimes indulge in when in close quarters.
Myrtle who prefers ‘Tilly’ has returned home to find her
mother Molly with dementia and the house neglected. As Tilly tends to her
mother we sense that she may have returned for other reasons.
Tilly gives the residents a second chance to be kind,
open minded and outward looking. Dungatar residents are cross-dressing,
enjoying same sex relationships and cheating or abusing their spouses but the
folk of Dungatar ignore such things, but cannot and will not condone an unwed
mother and illegitimacy. Therefore Tilly and Molly are town pariahs.
The McSwiney family live in a collection of shacks, and
Tilly meets Teddy as she is struggling to remove a wheelchair from the garbage
dump for her mother to use and get about town. As Tilly receives strange
shipments of fabric in all colours from faraway places she becomes a bit of a
curiosity herself. She appears with Teddy at a local dance wearing a striking
fitted green gown made from fabric she purchased at Pratt’s store and soon the
townsfolk realise that she is an expert dressmaker.
As word and evidence of her skills become evident she
transforms the lives of the Dungatar ladies. They are now well-dressed in
beautiful fabrics, and they feel attractive and fashionable. Yet they do not
appreciate what Tilly has given them and fail to pay her or acknowledge her
Tilly is troubled by childhood flashback and is held
responsible for the early death of Stewart Pettyman the ringleader bully. Her
romance with Teddy and her dressmaking is all going well but she is close by
when a second death occurs and she is implicated. Teddy’s family move away and
a competitor in her field sets up shop in town.
Tilly’s sorrow and her mother’s earlier troubles come to
light as does the identity of Till’s father. Tilly decides to seek revenge upon
Dungatar, and magically the folk of Dungatar are the masters of their own
misfortune- all Tilly does is make costumes.
There is a lot of magic and spirit in this book as life
is played out and what goes around comes around. Tilly the underdog was back in
Dungatar and triumphed by permitting her persecutors a second chance to treat
her decently. But this opportunity was barely noticed so Tilly, through time
sought revenge, through her craft.
Rosalie Ham has given the characters names which reflect
their personal traits. The Dimm sisters hold important positions in town and
unwittingly cause profound repercussions on the townsfolk. The McSwiney’s live near the garbage dump and
drive the town’s sewage collection wagon.
Evan Pettyman is the head of the shire council and married Marigold as
she was left a lot of money by her wealthy father. Beula Harradine is a
harridan who spreads malicious gossip. Tilly’s birth name is Myrtle, and the
myrtle is a rare and beautiful evergreen.
The fabric names of the sections of the novel have
meaning also. Gingham is simple and versatile and conveys the idea of a variety
of ordinary people: Shantung is a rich textured fabric which conveys Tilly’s
creativity and giving of a second chance for things to be different. Felt is a
sturdy fabric which is made by boiling wool fibres and this represents Tilly
coming to boiling point when nothing is different and finally Brocade is
opulent and applicable as Tilly crafts elaborate costumes while seeking
elaborate textured revenge.
I found this book a delight to read as I imagined the
characters, colours and textures.
Submitted by Paula
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This is a shocking, riveting and compelling first novel
by Liz Nugent. The story opens with an act of violence that has you stunned
from the first sentence.
Oliver charming, handsome and charismatic lives with
Alice his demure wife who illustrates his award-winning children’s novels. One
evening after supper he attacks Alice and she remains in a coma.
Little by little, through the other characters, the
unravelling of Oliver’s persona begins. I thoroughly enjoyed this process of
revelation and found it compelling, as the sides of his personality become visible
through other character witnesses. I
must admit I found episodes of his childhood at school very sad and I was
starting to feel sympathy for this little lost boy. The reasons for the attack
build up and are well embedded in the story that I found I could not read it
Liz Nugent has a very distinct well-formed, unemotional
and understated style which makes the action all the more shocking. The other
engaging characters, and seamless changes in location make this a very
satisfying read and I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the summer spent
in France in 1973
Oliver is original and ambitious as Nugent explores
sensitivities like sex and homosexuality in Ireland, treatment of the mentally
ill, violence against women and the French-Jewish experience during World War
Returning to Oliver we can see his path through life born
in difficult circumstances and neglected for most of his childhood and feel
sympathy, but as soon as this emotion creeps in, you are immediately faced with
yet more evidence of sociopathic behaviour and utter selfishness.
Submitted by Paula.
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The Black Widow is Daniel Silva’s 16th book in the Gabriel Allon espionage series. Allon is a legendary fictional spy, along the lines of James Bond, only in this case he is a ruthless killer, with a heart and an appreciation of art, from Israel’s Secret Service, tortured by a history of personal suffering.
The title of the book refers to women who join ISIS as a result of a death and are prepared to make the ultimate sacrifice for revenge. It is the story of an attempt to infiltrate ISIS and bring down one of its ruthless leaders. Allon draws up the plan and, preceded by his reputation, brings together the Secret Services of France, Britain the USA and, surprisingly, Jordan, to put the plan into action. But, despite this international alliance, they seem always to be playing catch-up. The book was written before the terror attacks in France and Belgium and, although complete fiction, its storyline turned out to be frighteningly realistic. The book is well written and, despite the subject matter, the reader develops an affinity with many of the characters. This mix makes it compelling reading.
My only criticism would be that during the course of this book you meet the characters from previous books in the series. Knowledge of the characters adds considerably to the enjoyment and, whilst I would recommend this book, it would be with the proviso that you firstly read the previous books from the series. This will allow you to enjoy it more fully.
Submitted by Margaret
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Fabrizzio Collini, a quiet respectable Mercedes –Benz worker, walks into a Berlin Hotel kills a man in cold blood then phones for the police.
Taking the case is a young attorney Casper Leinen, who knows that a not guilty verdict will make his name. Caught in a professional and personal dilemma, he discovers too late he knows the victim. Encouraged by all sides to give up the case, he then makes a shocking discovery that eclipses his own fears and exposes a truth that will rock modern Germany.
General opinion in group- glad they read this book. It had a good plot based on a point of German law, and would make a good screenplay. But they felt that the characters were a bit wooden and lacked depth, possibly due to the translation in to English.
Submitted by Donaghadee Reading Group
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A shocking tale of kidnapping, abuse and honesty, Mary Kubica’s debut novel The Good Girl flits between the point of view of Colin (the kidnapper), Eve (the mother) and Gabe (the detective), as they each recount their views on missing artist and teacher, Mia Dennett. Mia, the daughter of a well-known judge, goes missing after arranging to meet her on again, off again boyfriend. After being stood up in the bar, she goes home with Colin Thatcher, which is where our story of lies, deceit and abuse begins.
Through the novel the reader begins to unravel a twisting tale, and with every chapter we begin to piece together the puzzle, delving in to the life of a high-profile judge, and the pressures that can bring down upon a gorgeous suburban family. The various points of view allow Kubica to explore the idea of an unreliable narrator, keeping us guessing until the climax of the story, and making us unsure of exactly which narrator to believe.
A hard-hitting thriller, The Good Girl not only keeps the reader enthralled with a kidnapping story, but sucks us in to the high-stakes world of fame, exploring it from the point of view of the wife, her love interest and the enigmatic stranger who grew up with less than enough.
The perfect book for anyone who has trouble maintaining interest, Kubica’s writing is fast-paced, thrilling and grips the reader from shocking beginning to hair-raising end.
Submitted by Leone
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Having never read a dystopian novel before I came to Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours with a lot of preconceptions about the genre. I knew that the dystopian genre dealt with imagined lands where desolation and despair reigned supreme yet I never realised how fitting this would be for a novel that tells the story of girls at school. Despite the conventions of inseparable best friends, in the characters of Freida and Isabel, and the mean girl cliques, this novel takes the themes of teenage lust, insecurity and rebellion to a whole new level. The girls do not attend a typical high school with typical teenage ‘drama’, but an institution with one subject on its curriculum: how to serve and satisfy men.
At first, such a plot doesn’t seem futuristic, rather, a throwback to traditional sexist beliefs about women and their place in society. However the ritualistic and indeed obsessive focus that the teachers and students put on young women’s appearance and sexual behaviour, loaded on diet pills and instructed by the classic contradiction that females must be desirable but not show desire, speaks volumes to the narrow concepts of femininity that still exist in contemporary society. For me the character Freida perfectly summed up the struggle to assert your identity in a culture whose primary concern is your appearance. Her anxiety about not being pretty enough to secure a husband and therefore a ‘successful’ future is frustrating, but most heart breaking is her attempt to figure out the secrets of and help her best friend Isabel who is also flailing under the pressure. The suspenseful atmosphere of the plot combined with the touching friendship between Freida and Isabel makes for an innovative take on both dystopian and feminist fiction.
Submitted by Michelle
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The Tales of Beedle The Bard first appears in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, as a plot device to introduce Harry and his friends to the concept of the Deathly Hallows, through the Tale of The Three Brothers. J.K. Rowling has since admitted she drew inspiration for this story from Geoffrey Chaucer’s ‘The Pardoner’s Tale'. I feel as well that the nature of short stories within also invokes a real sense of the Brothers Grimm.
In total, there are five short stories in all but those who have read the Deathly Hallows will already have read the last fable about the three brothers as it is the only one which appears in full in that book. However, consider that an appetiser, as this version reads uninterrupted from the dialogue of the characters in that book. Most of the stories are suitable for light reading with children, however, ‘The Warlock’s Hairy Heart’ is perhaps worth reading yourself first before judging whether you feel it is yet age appropriate for any children in your care.
The format of the book itself is that it is translated from ancient runes by Hermione Granger with additional commentary from Albus Dumbledore, with J.K. Rowling along to provide information and understanding of the magical terms for us ‘muggle’ readers. This is important as it makes the book more accessible to casual readers who may not be familiar with terminology from the main series.
The book can indeed be taken on its own merit but by including the supplementary text of Dumbledore, the book contains enough references to the main series for long time fans to enjoy and discover. All of which have been written in a manner which we would attribute to Dumbledore and his wise ways and dry wit.
Overall, the book is not only suitable for fans of the original Potter series but there is also enough charm and life within the tales themselves that they can be taken on their own and enjoyed by the neutral. So whether you be muggle or wizard, there is enough magic within the pages of this book to keep you enthralled.
Submitted by Don
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Part of the companion books released in aid of Comic Relief in 2001, along with Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them, Quidditch Through The Ages is a compendium of the known history of the magical world’s favourite sport. Indeed such is the interest in Quidditch in our own muggle world, that it has now been adapted for play in real life with quite a lot of participation.
The book looks at the origins of the sport and traces it back to its earliest incarnation in a place called Queerditch Marsh, as well as the other sports it had to content with in order to be number one in the wizarding world. It also gives us a detailed analysis of many of the sports equipment and rules, such as the evolution of the racing broom. We are also given a brief history on many of the Quidditch teams in Britain and Ireland, including the Chudley Cannons, the favourite team of one Ronald Weasley. On a personal level, the origins of the ‘Golden Snitch’ was a real highlight.
While the book may be a short read it is still an interesting one. Some people may wonder how JKR is able to eject what is meant to be an informative book with humour but I can dispel those fears. For instance, while examining two different rule changes and the mass response to these we are treated to extracts of coverage from The Daily Prophet regarding an overwhelmed Ministry official and the thoughts of an old and young fan. It is two separate exchanges but it is the similarities that give it its humour.
For those fans looking for references to the main novels, there is a nod to them at the start in the list of borrowers of the book from the library. Names like O. Wood and C. Diggory will be very familiar to long time readers.
Looking at the extent of information in the book, you can only admire the depth to which JKR has given to her fictitious sport. Despite the fact this is meant as an educational book there is the same underlying warmth and wit throughout that has made the main novels so popular. A perfect example of this is the inclusion of Rita Skeeter’s review of it in the Daily Prophet, ‘I’ve read worse’. I think it’s fair to say that it is better than that and worth a look for any Potter fan.
Submitted by Don
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