Rotary Club of Rochdale

Rochdale Rotary Book Group

Recent Books read in 2016/17

Micra by Michael Crichton and Richard Preston    

A Time to Kill   by John Grisham

His Bloody Project   by Graeme Macrae Burnet

'The Natural History of Selborne'   by Gilbert White

The Noise of Time by Julian Barnes brilliantly written fictional story of the Composer Shostakovitch with all the stresses of living in Stalinist Russia .Seems well researched and with much musing on his life,its problems and eventually reaching celebrity status.

The Wrong Boy by Willie Russell is a biopic of a misunderstood lad who never seems to be able to avoid trouble.It can be very humorous and at times really sad with some awful experiences brilliantly described.Better to read it quickly -it is an easy book not to finish!

Dictator by   Robert Harris- last of his Cicero  trilogy gives a factional account of his wheeler dealing in Roman Politics leading up to Julius caesar's assassination and Republican Rome.All throughput the mouth of his secretary who was an early user of shorthand.Seems faithful to historical fact judging by list of texts and people consulted.A really gripping read!

Test of Character: The Story of John Holder, Fast Bowler and Test Match Umpire        by Andrew Murtagh and John Holder is the biography of prenent Rochdale Rotary President describes his life so far in the Cricket world from humble beginnings in Barbados to London Transport underground worker fast bowler for Hampshire the Cricket umpire in County and Test cricket .Ball tampering and the growth of the modern cricket game is well described.

Wings on My Sleeve by Eric 'Winkle' Brown is an autobiography of this incredible Scotsman who was technically the best pilot of his age(curiously not RAF but flew Naval planes and was test pilot after the 2nd world war).Closely involved in the aircraft carriers he helped to make safe carrier takeoffs become  a routine method for our Naval squadrons.Interesting insight into postwar flying  of planes acquired from Germany and Japan.

The White Road Edmund de Waal

A ceramicist does a pilgrimage to the origins of Porcelain manufacture in China germany and Britain.Not an easy read with a lot of historical descriptions and a confusing time line.The underlying reason for his trips was not fully explained .One can only admire the author's energy!

Maestra   LS Hilton

An interesting insight into the art market and difficulties in proving the provenance of paintings.The main character has a liberal life described in very graphic detail and there is plenty of action in ALL directions

Staying on track : the autobiography by Nigel Mansell

Nigel Mansell's latest autobiography gives a very good comparison of modern Grand Prix racing with the dangerous times that the author went through.How is he still walking after all those head and back injuries?-A very 'driven' character who has to do all things in life to the best of his ability.

The Mark and The Void by Paul Murray is a take of the the financial markets and the crazy people who gamble with a banks invested money.Alongside this is an inside story of a hopeful but hopeless writer trying to come out of writers block.A funny but confusing and disturbing plot.

 books read in 2015

I AM PILGRIM  by Terry Hayes -A former intelligence agent who wrote a book on forensic crime scene investigation gets involved in a case where someone uses his book to commit untraceable murders.Potential smallpox reinfection is a possibility with terrorism frighteningly portrayed.Not for violence allergic readers

How bad are bananas Measuring your carbon footprint Mike Berners -Lee gives the carbon footprint on a wide variety of products, activities and food, modern house equipment and and plastic bags are not as evil as we thought.If you really are curious about global warming this is your book

Planet Word JP Davidson All things connected to language find their way into this book;huge loss of some local languages the rise of English and Chinese history of libraries  and yet all discussed at the popular level, making it a really pleasurable read.

I think it is a kind of book-form of Stephen Fry's TV series on word and words.good start book to find more detailed info elsewhere

The Rational Optimist Matt Ridley gives pessimists some hope that there is a better future possible for man looks at man’s social development and reasons for man’s success on the planet

Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman is a sad tale from the ghetto of a young African boy learning to live and survive among a gang ridden community in what could be any of our inner cities. There is  pigeon English to learn with words and phrases which is quite funny at times

The farm by Tom Rob Smith  has a good somewhat creepy start but never really gets beyond that .Book forces you to read to the disappointing end however.

Question Everything is an interesting compilation of New Scientist articles with 132 science questions ranging from why  does life requires oxygen to survive?(powerful oxidising agent) to why does ice in whisky produce lovely swirling patterns?(light changes its path in mixed liquids)Keep it on your Kindle for quick reference or to impress people with your nurdishness.

A Slip of the Keyboard by Terry Pratchett is a compilation of his 'serious' articles describing his long writing career .Many great insights into how to become an author and all the many associated activies-Book Signings,attending SciFi events,receiving awards,dealing with correspondence from fans and copycats.Very amusing start becomes more sombre after his Alzheimers disease became dominant .Well worth reading

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel won Man Booker prize for its portrayal of Thomas Cromwell blacksmith's son who became close advisor to Henry the Eighth.Violent times are portrayed in great detail with all levels of society in the mix.So many characters are thankfully listed at the start but who is speaking/thinking is sometimes a puzzle.A bit long but worth persisting.

City of Thieves by David Bonioff is a fictional portrayal of life if you could call it that in Leningrad during the WW2 siege by the Germans.Black humour and lots of violence slightly unbelievable plot but surprisingly easy to read!

The Lunar Men by Jennifer Uglow is a long well written book about men who were the innovators and drivers behind the beginnings of the Industrial revolution.Josiah Wedgewood, Joseph Priestly,the Darwins,Boulton are some of the famous names covered in a very well researched book.The writing style makes it a good read and enjoyed by all the book group

Bill Oddie unplucked : columns, blogs and musings

A good short book about Bill and his life time's interest in bird watching.Some nice illustrations done by the author add a lot of charm.The severity of his mental illness was a surprise disclosure and  some of his eccenticities were very amusing -his garden in North London must be a noisy place with all the numerous wind chimes.

Down Under by Bill Bryson gave a humerous account of his Travels in Australia.The vastness of the continent is well described and history of the outback and the various cities,Canberra's origins and the nature of Australia's politics are particularly curious sagas and the relationship with Britain is an awkward one.There was too much about Bill's numerous drinking sessions with his friends but good otherwise.

History of Book Group and Archive reviews of books read

  The idea to start our very own book group in July 2009 was to give members a chance to get together socially ,do some regular reading ,improve our critical faculties and enjoy a range of books.

We decided not to be too prescriptive on Book type but generally agreed to try and pick readable concise tomes! We have been very impressed by Rochdale library online booking service to get books in time for meetings.The advent of the Kindle with downloads from the web and online cheap second hand books from Amazon has also been a great help.

Just to give you a flavour of what has gone on the list so far A small island (Bill Bryson) - nice to see a Yank likes our homeland tho’ a bit more keen on Scotland than Wales. To continue travel, 7 Years in Tibet (Heinrich Harrer) gave a very uncomfortable history of a declining culture and Dali Lama chronicle (memorable as David Smithard read an extended version including South America - how keen can you get!)

David got his own back by picking the blockbuster Empire Channel 4 series book (Niall Ferguson) with lots of photos and a puzzling idea that the Brits really did the world some good after all - nice reference work really

Slightly surreal Time Travellers wife (Audrey Niffeneger) gave an image of Time travel with a new angle (lurv or something like it). Only 3 diehards managed this one but good buffet for those who made it!

Playing with fire by Nigel Havers gave a sight of the slog of his acting career (stage, film and TV) for someone who didn’t quite make the pinnacle but did and saw a lot and had an interesting family to boot - his barrister father got the Rolling Stones off on a drugs charge (couldn’t have happened to our boys of course) which would have stopped their lucrative career in the US.

Local interest was TransPennine Heritage by Keith Parry – really a local history of Railways, industry, canals and notable people. Rotary wasn’t mentioned. One friend from Todmorden was interested enough to show it to the local history group there.

The Kite Runner by Khaled Hussaini was another travelogue of the breaking up of Afghanistan and class systems.

King of Torts by John Grisham was a good legal thriller. Slightly Americanised but basically ambulance chasing on a grand scale encouraging litigation as only the US does.

Quentin Letts's 50 People who B’D up Britain was a humorous take off of people with sometimes more egoism than common sense or ethics.

The Time Travellers Guide to Medieval England by Ian Mortimer was really a new version of an Historical era I only knew about via the National Trust houses and TV programmes - definitely a dipping in type of book for interesting facts.

MI5s Stella Rimington fiction Illegal Action – hot on action and intrigue; fast paced; not much technology - as an ex spy that would be telling!

Stalker by ex Deputy Chief Constable John Stalker (guess who chose that one) brought back the Stalker Affair in great life like detail. You felt so sorry for all caught up in the morass of the Irish Terrorist campaign and the dilemma of how to deal with it.

The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson was a well written story of old friendships affected by widowerhood,amusing slants on Jewishness and new forms of obsessive compulsion .It won the Man Booker prize last year -it is a great read.

An old favourite To Kill a Mocking Bird by Harper Lee gives an uncomfortable account of racism in the US South and how institutional attitudes are very hard to change.The story comes from a child's innocent perspective giving an added  poignancy.

C by Tom McCarthy was a very imaginative surreal book over a man's lifetime with a rather obscure beginning; interesting for it's WW1 background ;early aviation; limited  medical knowledge.Some ghastly descriptions of drug addiction along the way.An exceptionally well researched book with a disappointing ending

Other recent books have been Cobra by that old thriller writer Frederick Forsyth, Nobbut a lad- a tribute to Alan Titchmarsh's childhood memory of Yorkshire(how did he recall such detail?) and Solar by Ian McEwen about a flawed genius with energy in all directions!Solar enrgy panels are perhaps not as secure as you might think.

 Damon Galgut's In A Strange Room (was a Booker Prize short listed 2010) gave one a slanted view of what one might encounter on country and hill walking with South Africa as the backdrop.After that slightly unnerving, if short ,book about a mysterious person's travelling experiences; we did Martin Bell's Through Gates of Fire with a not unfamiliar look at the trials and tribulations of a war correspondent. Mike Pannett's "Not On My Patch Lad" was a humorous tale of a Yorkshire Bobby with rural tales pehaps more humour than fact. A fascinating book was Affinity by Sarah Waters -a fantastic period piece of Victorian London with grim Millbank prison(who would have been a prison visitor in those days?).Spiritualism and criminality overlap with a most surprising ending!Superb writing from the author of Tipping the Velvet.

James Patterson's Don't Blink is not for the squeamish;short chapters keep one on the edge of your seat-slightly confusing plot didn't encourage one to read more of his books but he has written a vast amount so perhaps earlier one's are better

Timpson's Timepaths by John Timpson was more a 'dipping in' sort of travel book retracing ancient pathways through developed modern GB in the 1990s

 the Fear Index by Robert Harris  gave a new slant on Computors in the service and disservice of man -what happened to Asimov's 3 laws of Robotics? This was followed by Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang  not for he faint hearted -postColonial Australia researched in great detail with Ned Kelly as misunderstood Outlaw and People's favourite (like Robin Hood) hero .Marvelous writing with great use of language with no- holds- barred 'adjectival 'speech             

Suzanne Brockmann's The Defiant Hero was the next detective offering.A bit of a holiday read with an element of 'Chicklit'

The Man Who Forgot His Wife(John O'Farrell) had a good cover and was  a humorous tale at times but also  rather a sad reflection of married life's downs rather than ups.Slightly London in -crowdish with confusing ending but stays in the memory after!

The Secret History of Bletchley Park by Sinclair McKay opened up the politics,Enigma code-breaking  and intrigue of WW2; slightly repetitive writing needed harder editing; but made up for by descriptions of Churchill and his contacts,strange goings on amongst the 'brainy ones' doing maths/cryptology with some 'ordinary' peoples views of this community hidden from public gaze for so long.

 AA Gill's The Angry Island  was bound to be controversial and this Times Journalist ranted and raved over what is good but more often bad about  the English.The old favourites of Class ,privilege ,born losers and poor lovers was joined by amusing views of Public schools, discussion of regional accents and war memorials.A thought- provoking book perhaps better read by anyone but the English-too irritating for them

 The Troubled Man (Henning Mankell) is the last of the Inspector Wallender Swedish detective series.A rather depressing view of an aging unfit Wallender miraculously solving the death and disappearance of his would-be son-in law's parents;good undercover spy plot rescues it a bit but should be 150 pages shorter. There are interesting views of Swedish political brinkmanship,Communist bloc countries post WW2 and after fall of Berlin Wall.

Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch was full of excellent descriptions of Victorian Wapping with its menagerie , travel on a whaler with full blooded description of whaling and shipwrecking- plenty to discuss

 Island of Bones by Imogen Robertson is partly a portrait of an amateur pathologist and his assistant trying unravel an ancient murder,partly a view of the horrors of hanging in late 18th century England,partly a who dunnit following mysterious deaths.
 A lot of characters slightly overpower the reader ; plenty to talk about ;ideal for a book group

Journey without end by David Bolton  a hand illustrated canal barge travelogue good on history and workings of English canal system with  interesting stories of canal people both famous and humorous. Author and wife(one doesn't get to know them ) had a sabbatical year on a canal boat in the '80s.A bit dry and  text-bookish at times
   The SENSE OF AN ENDING by Julian Barnes describes a 60 year old divorced man's reminiscences of his life;meeting his old friends gave him a different view of the events he remembered.Memories can be flawed! Nice short book with lots to think about         Life of Pi (Yann Martel) is a well written fairytale with maritime disaster,zoo  animals,survival against the odds, humour in one enjoyable package Humour continued in Billy Hopkins book 'Our Kid' describing childhood and young adult life in Salford in the 30s through war years in Salford Middleton and Cheetham hill probably an elaborated story-no lad could have had so many experiences but interesting view of a forgotten era

The Woman who went to bed for a year by Sue Townsend -Black humour here of a  midlife crisis woman.She reacts to her empty nest and goes to bed ; amazes family including strange academic unfaithful husband with girlfriend in garden shed.Gets helpers and disciples who think she is a guru; acquires friends and hangers-on from the internet community making for an hilarious scene. The surreal humour with bizarre characters may not be to everyone's taste

HARD LANDING by Stephen Leather.     a thriller about an undercover cop who is after a drugs baron-gripping story if a bit violent and not quite true to life at times but if you want to escape your dull life this book might be for you!                      

'Captain Scott' by Ranulph Fiennes gives a modern day antarctic explorer's view of Scott's short life and his exploration of the South Pole.A view has built up over the years that Scott was a bully and difficult character who didn't listen to others around him but Fiennes gives a new view that the Naval discipline and segregation of different 'classes' that Scott introduced on his expeditions was an understandable  attitude for those times.It is a well researched well written book with exciting description of the changing ice floes and awful dilemmas facing men with few of the modern technological aids in very poor weather.Amundsen is portrayed as a man purely on a quest to get to the pole first while  Scott was keen on scientific discovery as well.

Aug 1st 2013 The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy   A story set in India, one of our members favourite countries, it was a Booker Prize winner. Taking around 30 pages to fully come to life,  the beautifully crafted narrative contains elements of deep sadness contrasting markedly with tremendous humour while giving the reader enlightening cultural insights.Since 1997, when this remarkable novel first went to press, it remains the only fictional publication of a truly gifted author. She has however written a lot about environmental and human rights issues.

Earth the Power of the Planet was a TV series going into great depth(not just the Oceans)and this is a very comprehensive review on the science behind  global warming, and human influence versus the cyclical changes the earth has experienced for millions of years before man came on the scene.One perhaps reassuring conclusion is that the earth is likely to survive albeit in another form despite man's influence

Sweet Tooth by Ian McKewanMI5 action set in London in 1970 Cambridge graduate Serena Frome written in Ist person works for secret services at time of miners dispute, IRA activity and Heath/Thatcher eras.
Interesting reminder of cold war politics and 70s events

Nov 4th -The Meaning of Sport by Simon Barnes gave a great sportswriters view of so many famous sportsmen and includes anecdotes about England football managers his phobia about boxing ,love of horses and the enormity of olympic games with its highs and lows.A great book to discuss-so many topics covered.

Dec 2nd -The Manchester Man by Mrs G Linnaeus Banks an early 19th Century faction set in central Manchester covering times of early Industrial Revolution the  Peterloo riots and foundation of Manchester Grammer school,Bluecoats school and Chetham's.Overly sentimental story re an orphan plucked from a swollen river as a baby swells into a swell in later life.Some interesting plates and maps of Manchester at that time not well reproduced in a modern 'photocopy'

on Jan 7th  at Madison's retaurant was Vulcan 607 by Rowland White-A detailed record of the British response to the Argentinian invasion of the Faulklands.Interesting review of the upgrading of Vulcans about to be mothballed but for the Faulklands conflict.Refuelling of this large bomber over such vast distances was main problem.A great thrilling story of the bombing of Stanley's airfield to prevent it's use by Argentina.The description of the characters of the numerous personnel involved was less convincing.

February's book  was Blackberry wine by Joanne Harris-Jay a one novel writer recaps his life with a lot of magical energy  from  wines made from good fruit grown from a garden in his youth .An old man Joe, an excentric with lots of ideas about how to grow plants made home made wine which has a magic energetic effect on the imbiber!                                     Best part of the book is when Jay goes to France and buys a house in a small village .Lots of interesting characters here;memory of Joe and his wines improve Jay's experience; overall an amusing read .

Latest Rebus novel by Ian Rankin shows the aging detective as a latecomer to Saints of the Shadow Bible a group of detectives who stretched the boundaries of police methods..A modern investigation of this now elderly retired group  is the basis of the book with plenty of incident and intrigue.Slightly drawn out plot at the end and then a sudden finish!

Bill Bryson's AT HOME gives an encyclopedic view of household facts, figures and history ranging from the origins of hygeine through to development of household appliances including the telephone.For after dinner speakers on any topic you are sure to find some background history here -keep it as a reference work.

The Inn at the Top by Neil Hanson gives tales of life at the highest pub in Britain-2 youthful amateurs in the 1970s spend a year running a delapidated pub in the depths of the Yorkshire Dales-hilarious, farcical beginning gets more serious with fascinating history of Cattle drovers,farming and mining There are lots of local characters plenty of walkers ,loads of drinking .Their stay ends after one of the worst winters in the Dales for decades

 A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle- a classic from the 1980s describes the blissful food and weather(when not windy),the struggles to persuade quaint French locals to help upgrade the farm house and the visits of friends from the UK who stay a long time! A well written book but perhaps a lot of other books have taken the same theme and it is now a bit of a well worn theme

Another Yorkshire Dales comedy Up and Down in the Dales by Gervase Phinn is a tale of the old school inspector's life(pre Ofste).Very amusing stories(are there really so many nuns teaching in Yorkshire) but too rediculous to be a reflection of reality.


An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris is a historical novel about Dreyus affair when a Jew with some German origins is sent to Devil's Island for solitary confinement after a farcical military court accuse him of spying.A French officer is  seconded to the French equivalent of MI5 and uncovers many skeletons in cupboards of very senior army and political figures.Excellent detective story but descriptions of prison horrors are depressing.

The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion is a big hit with Bill Gates and high in the best seller is a tale of an autistic scientist's quest to find the perfect wife.Very amusing repartee which couldn't be worse from the woman's point of view . Rosie however seems to take a liking to him helped by his dogged pursuit of her biogical father.Everyone enjoyed it. and  the sequel will be of interest!

Longitude by Dava Sobel is an American Journalist's celebration of the invention of the chronometer in the 19th century by Yorkshire clockmaker John Harrison.Many ships met an early trip to the sea bottom due to poor navigational methods.There were two ways of measuring longitude-Astronomers favoured looking at the stars while Harison persued a mechanical method which didn't rely on a clear sky to see the moons of Jupitor.A fascinating read and the various chrometers can still be seen at the Greenwich musem.



The group has knowledgeable people from different backgrounds giving interesting slants on each  book's contents.Come along if you wish but you need to join the Rotary first!

Past President Elvet Smith

Contact Information

Rotary Club of Rochdale

Masonic Buildings
Richard Street
OL11 1DU

Tel: 01706 767409

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