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November 24
David Bowie - The Life by Dylan Jones

David Bowie - The Life
 

There is only one word to describe this biography of David Bowie and that is ‘Epic.’

The book was extra special for me because of the format. It is made up of reflections on the life of David Bowie drawn from over 180 interviews with people who knew David directly at different phases in his career. 

It charts his rise to fame and eclectic style evolution from ‘David Jones’ to iconic superstar ‘David Bowie.’  It has  never heard before details  from a wide range of  artists, musicians, photographers and film-makers including  Mick Jagger, Kate Moss, Moby, David Bailey and Baz Luhrmann.

The format is easy to dip in and out of and features quotes from friends, lovers, rivals and contemporaries in the music industry. It is a treasure trove of information with lots of exclusive details known only by those close to him.

It gives great insight into his childhood. I found particularly interesting his relationship with his brother Terry who was also an artist who inspired him a lot, but un-fortunately had Schizophrenia. His madness had a profound effect on Bowie as an individual and on his artistic output.

I think this book would appeal to David Bowie fans. It is epic in proportion and scale so I think you have to be a die- hard fan to embrace it. (Which Luckily I am!)

The book documents his troubled relationship with Angie Bowie. She was a muse and inspiration to Bowe in his early phase but their life together was chaotic in the extreme. His life became charmed in later years when he literally lived a happy ever after life of domestic bliss with Supermodel Iman.

My only real criticism of this book was that it had no photographs!

I found that truly disappointing in an otherwise amazing book.  I mean no photographs in a biography of David Bowie!!  Un-forgivable! The visuals were really needed.

However, I painted the pictures in my mind as best I could and overall I loved the book and highly recommend it as a great read!

Submitted by Aine

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November 24
The Big Fight by Sugar Ray Leonard

The Big Fight
 

Sugar Ray Leonard’s autobiography details the personal life, the ups and downs and his battles inside and outside the ring. The boxing legend describes how he escaped his poverty stricken childhood in Washington, USA, to become one of the greatest boxers of all time. He highlights the racial tensions and the prejudices that a black man would face and the determination needed to succeed. Leonard details how he first got into boxing and how it kept him away from other distractions such as crime and drugs. He details the challenges of succeeding as a boxer from being a gold medal winner in the 1976 Montreal Olympics to become a five weight World professional Boxing champion. Leonard discusses in detail fights that he had, how he watched video tapes of his opponents to develop a strategy before a fight. In addition, he discusses the need to have the right trainers and management team to ensure success in the ring and that his financial interests were looked after. In detail, Leonard recalls the legendary fights in the ring in the 1970s and 1980s with Roberto Duran, Tommy Hearns and Marvin Hagler. While this is a book for boxing fans highlighting the pain and dedication needed to succeed in the sport, it also focuses on Leonard’s personal life, the challenges and temptations he faced outside the ring.This account of Leonard’s exploits inside and outside the ring with the former boxer admitting that he did not always make the right choices and displays a brutal honesty when detailing his weaknesses as a husband and a father, his battles with drink and drugs.

Submitted by Anthony

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November 24
The Dress by Kate Kerrigan

The Dress
 

This novel is a tale told throughout two generations of women linked by the most beautiful dress ever made. It will tell you the story of how a garment can make or break you.

Lily Fitzpatrick loves vintage clothes, made all the more precious because they were worn and cherished by another woman. Thousands follow her fashion blog and her daily Instagram feed. One day Lily stumbles upon an extraordinary story.

Joy Fitzpatrick not only shares Lily’s surname she is a fashion legend, famed for her beauty and style in 1950’s New York. For her 30th birthday she is said to have commissioned a dress so beautiful that nothing in couture would ever be able to match it. She turned to a young Irish seamstress called Honor Conlon to create her sublime vision.

The Dress interweaves the passionate and surprising stories of three women Joy and Honor, whose destinies are linked not only by a piece of timeless fashion, but by the ruthless love of a man, and Lily, determined to find out if the legendary dress still exists and if it does , to bring it back to glorious life.

The author shared her love of fashion through beautiful story telling. I felt I was not only on a journey through time but also travelling to all those places that made each piece of the dress.

The point in time is also the dawn of the Feminist movement and Honor and Joy’s tale is a real testament to that period.

However what I felt really came through is the notion of a woman's happiness and freedom, what it was back then and what it is now. The truth is, its essence has remained the same, freedom to be, freedom to choose and remaining true to oneself.

This is a fabulous and moving story. Glamorous, gripping and  moving. I just loved it and now that I have finished reading it I actually miss it!!!

Submitted by Lisa

Available as a book or spoken word CD

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November 24
Fingers In The Sparkle Jar by Chris Packham

Fingers In The Sparkle Jar
 

Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is an autobiography with a difference, both in terms of content and for quality writing which matches most literary fiction. While most people are familiar with Chris Packham as a presenter of nature programmes, it is less well known that in 2005 he was diagnosed with Asperger syndrome following a period in therapy after he considered taking his own life. Consequently, Chris shares how the world is experienced by someone with a milder autism spectrum disorder. 

The book flits backwards and forwards in time, even when covering the same event, but focusses primarily on poignant recollections of a withdrawn and isolated boy who suffered physical bullying and exclusion - the latter continuing at University. As a result, Chris immersed himself in his love for nature and, in accounts of his therapy sessions, explains why his preferred companions are animals. 

Probably uniquely for an autobiography, some sections are written as third-party narratives. Perhaps tellingly, Chris uses this technique to recount his time in therapy and to describe his first experience of ‘depersonalisation’ following the death of his beloved pet kestrel. Interestingly, given one of the symptoms of Asperger syndrome, Chris includes sections where he imagines the feelings of other people when observing his actions. 

The book’s title refers to physical containers used when the young Chris adds to his nature collection and acts as a metaphor for the older Chris who considers his life to be fulfilled because ‘I’ve had […] these fingers in the sparkle jar’. This powerful autobiography will appeal to those interested in nature or in Chris as a TV personality but the primary reason to read Fingers in the Sparkle Jar is to better understand how the world looks to someone on the autistic spectrum.

Submitted by David

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November 24
The Ice by Laline Paull

The Ice
 

An intriguing mix of mystery with a strong political and environmental message, this novel is a great read with a depth often missing from modern novels. Set in the near future as global warming is advancing at an alarming rate, a cruise boat on the hunt for sight of a polar bear chances on the unexpected appearance of a body from underwater depths. The reappearance of Tom Harding, the victim of accidental death several years before, reopens the investigation into what happened. His business partner Sean Cawson is strongly suspected of his murder with evidence of power struggles and conflict coming to light.

Strong characterisation, betrayal and broken relationships keep us hooked and as the back story is revealed, the ambitious reach of the story extends beyond mere personalities.

A great read and i would highly recommend this novel.

Submitted by Jillian

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November 24
Cinder by Marissa Meyer

Cinder
 

If you like Cinderella adaptations or Science fiction then this is the book for you!

Upon reading the first line I was hooked.  The image of a rusted screw in an ankle was intriguing and from that point on Meyer never stops with the colourful images and descriptions that grab attention. Meyer’s descriptions of the settings, characters and events was, forgive the cliché, life forming. I could see the world as I read the pages.  The world building in the novel had good pace, most was revealed as was needed but the foundations were laid within the first couple of chapters.

The Cinderella aspects were beautifully woven into the story and world Meyer was creating. They were not too heavily enforced. Meyer brings depth to a character often displayed as shallow. The social standing within the Cinderella story is highlighted within Meyer’s re-telling. One thing about Meyer’s story is she gives depth to the evil stepmother character. The fairy god mother also receives a new outlook. The one aspect of the Cinderella story that I particular loved about this story is the losing of her shoe.

The science fiction elements were treated like the Cinderella aspects - they were a part of the story and didn’t overrun it. This novel was a story set in a science fiction world and Meyer was focussed on telling the Cinder tale not on the world itself. 

The threat within this world has high stakes and throughout we can feel the danger Cinder is in.

One point against the novel is that the plot twist was predictable. I figured it out quite some time before the reveal. Only the mechanics for it were unknown. However it does not take away from the enjoyment I found in reading about Cinder.

Submitted by Megan

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November 24
The Blizzard Challenge by Bear Grylls

The Blizzard Challenge.
 

Bear Grylls, the ultimate survival expert has written a series of children’s books where kids go on an adventure with a man named Bear.  

In The Blizzard Challenge, Olly is away at camp but not happy about being there and doesn’t want to do any of the activities especially the team building events.  During one activity he walks away and goes back to his tent, but on his way there he comes across a mysterious compass in the grass and picks it up to have a look at it. He takes it back to the tent and in the middle of the night when he wakes up he looks at the compass and on touching it he ends up being in the mountains in the middle of a blizzard and meets a man named Bear. 

Together Bear and Olly go on an adventure where through the hard way Olly finds out what it means to be in a team and to work together.  And when he ends up back in the real world, back at camp, everything has changed.

This is a good little book for children, not only is it enjoyable but it is also informative.

Submitted by Jo Anne

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November 15
To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee

To Kill A Mockingbird
 

Book or film?  Which is best?  That was the question put to our reading group when the local community cinema put on the film version of To Kill a Mockingbird and asked us to read the book then come and watch the film and compare.

The book is told through the eyes of six year old Scout, the daughter of Atticus, a lawyer in a small town in the American South in the 1930’s.   Scout’s mother died when she was two, and since then she and her older brother Jem have looked up to Atticus as the fount of all knowledge.  His straightforward answers to their questions about the world around them have a firm basis in morality. The mockingbird of the title is innocent, a bird that sings and only gives pleasure. ‘Shoot all the bluejays you want if you can hit ‘em, but remember it’s a sin to kill a mockingbird.’  We see the people who live in the town, and like any town, some are nice and some not so nice but their father teaches them to try and understand them by telling them to walk in their shoes, something that Scout finds hard to understand at first.  

The children are fascinated by the mysterious neighbours, the Radleys, and the son Boo, who none of them has ever seen and spend the summer inventing ways of trying to get a glimpse of him.

In the middle of this comes a trial which shows the children a different side to the town and its inhabitants.  A black man Tom Robinson is accused of raping a young white girl and Atticus is his defending lawyer. 

Our reading group thoroughly enjoyed the picture of the small town with all the different characters, and we see the segregation of black and white.   Although the trial, despite the false allegations, results in the inevitable guilty verdict, Atticus remains true to his beliefs.  

AS for which was better, film or book, it was a split decision.  The film version does not have all the characters that we get to know in the town, but it does bring out the gentle morality that is Atticus, played by Gregory Peck, and the emotional finale of the trial and it’s outcome and the twist in the tale.

Submitted by Newcastle Reading Group

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November 15
A Manual For Heartache by Cathy Rentzenbrink

a manual for heartache
 

This book gives us an insight into the author Cathy Retzenbrink’s immense heartache and pain surrounding the untimely death of her dear brother Matty. Matty was only sixteen when he was knocked down by a car and survived although he was left in a persistent vegetative state for eight years. Their family then endured a lengthy court battle to have his life support switched off.

Cathy explains how her life went into freefall while trying to deal with the pain. The book is a story of recovery and it gives the message that life can be lived again.  

“Heartache is human” is a quote from the book and it applies to each and every one of us. Cathy tried to blot out her pain and hide her feelings for fear of upsetting others but we learn it is good to be honest and talk to someone about how you are feeling.

I particularly liked the chapter 'An Etiquette for Bad News' which tells us what to say and what not to say to a person grieving or suffering from emotional pain. People sometimes say inappropriate things to each other at times like this and it was good to read Cathys thoughts on this topic.This is not your typical self help guide as it is very raw and honest and shows us how your life can be changed forever in a split second.This may all sound rather gloomy to you but I think this little book offers hope and comfort in a down to earth way. It is easy to read and you can dip in and out of the different chapters for some wise words. Straight from the heart, I thoroughly enjoyed its easy to read format and feel that I would return to it again. I imagine this book would provide comfort for anyone in distress.

Submitted by Eileen

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November 15
The Rule Book by Rob Kitchen

The Rule Book
 

This was a very ambitious first novel. So much action occurs in just 12 days, so much blood is shed, and from a writer's point of view, so many threads to be tracked, so many characters to be fleshed out. And for me, this is the best novel I've read so far this year.

McEvoy the lead detective is grieving the death of his wife Maggie, trying to cope, not very successfully, with being a single parent, when the serial killer, whom the media will label The Raven, hits. The first scene of crime is a gruesome one - the victim appears to have willingly swallowed a sword - and they really don't get any better. As McEvoy pits his brain against that of The Raven the murders pile up, tempers fray. The media, hot on the heels of McEvoy's superiors, bays for blood. There is even a member of McEvoy's team who does his best to gain glory for himself at the expense of the team effort. The personal cost as McEvoy struggles on working 16-18 hour days is huge. 

I enjoyed this novel so much that I had to buy the follow up, The White Gallows​.

Submitted by Siobhan

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