Here you will find previous months’ book reviews for your reference:
BOOK CLUB – November 2018 meeting
A Fatal Obsession by Faith Martin
Faith Martin has been writing for nearly thirty years, in four genres and under four different pen names:
firstly, writing as Maxine Barry, came romantic thrillers;
then she turned to classic-style crime as Joyce Cato;
more recently “spooky” crime as Jessie Daniels;
but her most prolific offerings have been as Faith Martin and the Oxford-based detective DI Hillary Greene novels. This book introduces Probationary WPC Trudy Loveday and is also set in Oxford in 1960. Trudy is assigned to help coroner Clement Ryder when he reopens the case of a young woman’s death five years earlier.
With one exception, we found this novel somewhat underwhelming. We were disappointed that there were not more atmospheric and descriptive passages about Oxford, a pity as the author herself had been a secretary at Somerville College for six years. Much of the writing was formulaic (“a crisp white shirt”) and there were some anachronistic phrases (we didn’t think couples would have been referred to as “an item” in 1960) but it was an easy read albeit with few surprises. We expected Morse or Lewis to appear but the general agreement was that it was more like the early Morse series Endeavour. Some of us might read more by the same author.
On average we scored it 6/10 and we would all read more by this author.
Read our reviews on the village website: http://www.greatshefford.org.uk/the-village-of-great-shefford/great-shefford-clubs-and-societies/book-club/book-club-review-archive .
BOOK CLUB – October 2018 meeting
The Dry by Jane Harper
Sunday Times Crime Book of the Year 2017
“In a town without rain, some secrets are never washed away…”
This is the debut novel from Australian crime writer Jane Harper. Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to the small town in the outback where he grew up but from which he had been exiled as a teenager. He is there for the funeral of a childhood friend who is thought to have killed his wife and son before turning the gun on himself.
The stifling oppression of a small community where it hasn’t rained for two years (hence the title) and where people are quick to apportion blame is described in this book.
Although events conspired to prevent us all meeting up, we gathered together our reviews and we were all more or less of one mind about this book. We enjoyed it. It was mysterious with twists and turns as the story unfolded with flashbacks to Falk’s childhood. In places the pace slowed but somehow this served to heighten the frustration of such an environment. The tension mounted as the guilt was shifted from person to person but the denouement was still brilliant.
On average we scored it 7.5/10 and we would all read more by this author.
BOOK CLUB – August 2018 meeting
I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
This is the first of a number of volumes of Maya Angelou’s autobiography and it has become a modern classic.
Some of us were captivated by Maya’s tale of her childhood living with her grandmother in the deep south of America in the 1930s, describing her as a powerful orator who lived an amazing life. For others of us, this book dragged in parts but then Maya hit you with extremely life-changing and traumatic moments in her early life. Some of her prose was funny, some of the narrative poignant, there was sadness and determination and she drew attention to racial prejudice on both sides of the black/white divide.
Some of us will actively seek out the rest of her books, others might pick them up if they come across them but some have no wish to continue with Maya’s works.
On average we scored it 6/10.
BOOK CLUB – July 2018 meeting – The Girl Before by JP Delaney
Could you live somewhere sleek and modern? Quite possibly; but could you live there if there were an exacting set of rules? Maybe; but could you live there if the rules included: no rugs, no pictures, no plants, no ornaments, no books……. NO BOOKS???
Jane has the chance of the rental opportunity of a lifetime and she enters into the agreement having passed the final interview with the architect and owner Edward Monkford. She has already answered an unusual questionnaire cum application form and supplied a photograph of herself.
Jane moves in. There are no door keys just an app on her phone. The whole house is “smart”. There are no curtains to clutter up the sleek lines rather the windows go dark at appropriate times. The shower is smart and detects the user and their preferred water temperature and other settings. And so on. However the house management system may just shut down and won’t reactivate until Jane has answered more lifestyle and ethical questions. She is content with her new environment until she discovers the previous tenant died there in mysterious circumstances. Then she begins to wonder if her own story will be a re-run of The Girl Before.
The story unfolds through the eyes of the two tenants: Then: Emma and Now: Jane. Most of us liked that format and most of us were gripped by the tale and wanted to get to the end to find out what happened. However the ending disappointed and fell a bit flat. Despite this, our July book provoked a lot of discussion.
What sort of person would accept a tenancy with such overbearing and smothering restrictions?
Was it a metaphor for those who tolerate oppressive relationships?
JP Delaney is the pseudonym of Tony Strong a man who lives in Oxfordshire and works in advertising. We thought he wrote very well from the perspective of the two women Emma and Jane. He has also published other psychological fiction and romance novels as Anthony Capella.
This book was a hit with us and on average we scored it 8/10.
BOOK CLUB – June 2018 meeting – The Toymakers by Robert Dinsdale
In the 1900s Papa Jack’s Emporium was a winter wonderland of magical inventions and spectacular toys. Unmarried, pregnant and having run away from home Cathy Wray goes to work there and this is the story of her life.
There was an ethereal or sometimes surreal quality to this book. We compared it to The Miniaturist but it didn’t nearly match up and one of us thought it was like Harry Potter meets Mary Poppins. But this wasn’t a children’s story. In fact, we were at a loss to make out quite what this book was. Was it a just a fantasy? Was it anti-war (the toy soldiers stopped fighting)? Or was it a celebration of childhood? We thought it was a fairy story that went on far too long and didn’t succeed.
Most of the founder members of our little club were present to celebrate our 6th anniversary. It was a pity we didn’t have a more enthralling book to discuss because we gave this one the thumbs down with a score of 4/10.
BOOK CLUB – May 2018 meeting
Ramona by Helen Hunt Jackson
Ramona was originally written to expose the tragic circumstances of the Southern California Mission Indians. Helen Hunt Jackson hoped this novel would become the Uncle Tom’s Cabin of American Indian reform. It was published in 1884.
Ramona is the name of the main character, a half Indian, half Scots orphan girl raised within a well-to-do family by the sister of her dead foster mother. She falls in love and runs away with an Indian sheep shearer Alessandro. Such is their religious upbringing and the mores of the time that they have to find a priest to marry them before they can start to live properly together. The book tells of their struggles for land of their own and her life thereafter.
Only three of us managed to finish the book. For many, it was too much like a school set book. One person enjoyed reading it but she was glad to have read it on an ebook to look up some of the archaic words. Others found the book hard to get into, with a slow and boring start. One person thought it could have been serialised which would explain the drawn out chapters at the beginning.
Political issues and propaganda (as it was billed) seemed to be lost as the romance took over. This book was a very old fashioned tragic love story with a hero and heroine. We felt the characters all had a place, some we liked and they weren’t offensive. No one thought it was like Uncle Tom’s Cabin as the synopsis indicated.
We live in more modern and liberal times now so the mixed race relationships weren’t shocking but perhaps they were then. Some of us found the blind acceptance of religion much harder to take.
In the end, it wasn’t for us with an average score of 3/10.
BOOK CLUB – April 2018 meeting
A Pocketful of Holes and Dreams by Jeff Pearce
Our January choice was a childhood reminiscence of poverty in Lambeth in the 1930s and 1940s. This book for April was of a similar genre being a childhood memory in Liverpool in the 1950s and beyond. It was billed as a heart warming story of a poor little boy with a tough life, a drunken father and a mother struggling to make ends meet. However we were not convinced.
Those of us who were looking forward to descriptions of Liverpool were disappointed, we felt it could have been set in any big city. Many of us found it hard going, somewhat pedestrian and boring although most of us finished it. Some of us hadn’t realised it was actually an autobiography.
Jeff Pearce suffered from terrible dyslexia and it hampered him all his working life until he overcame it sufficiently to write this book. It was a pity he didn’t get it properly proof read because we were all annoyed one way or another by various inconsistencies with apparent facts about schooling, timelines and so on.
Jeff started out in the “rag trade” as a market trader and progressed to owning a string of retail shops in Liverpool and elsewhere. He became a millionaire and spent his money on a large country mansion, private school fees for his children and a string of polo ponies.
Bad times hit and he had to downsize but bizarrely he kept up with the polo set. We couldn’t work that out. He believed his beloved mother watched over him after her death, so perhaps she’d sent him a message that everything would work out in the end. In the end he was reconciled with his father but we all wanted to know how and why.
So all in all we struggled with the tale, we didn’t like him as a person and there was nothing to mark this out as an exemplary tale of success. On average we voted a score of 3/10 and so it won’t be appearing on our recommendations list.
BOOK CLUB – March 2018 meeting – Night School by Lee Child
Lee Child was born in the 1950s in Coventry and spent his formative years in nearby Birmingham. He went to law school in Sheffield and after part-time theatre work he worked for Granada Television in Manchester for eighteen years as a presentation director but he lost his job at the age of 40 as a result of corporate restructuring. He seized the opportunity to launch his writing career and the character Jack Reacher was born. Lee Child (his pen name) now divides his time between homes in Manhattan, England and the south of France.
There are 22 Jack Reacher books now and many of us had read quite a few already, so we selected number 21 for this month’s choice. The first book in the series The Killing Floor, written in 1997, introduces Reacher as an ex-US Army major. The books are not necessarily chronologically sequential and Night School, written nearly 20 years later in 2016, takes us back to when Reacher was still in the US Army Military Police.
Sometimes criticised for being formulaic writing, Lee Child’s Reacher books are nonetheless hugely successful. They are undoubtedly page-turners and almost every chapter has a knife-edge ending, a twist to the plot or some other surprise. The short, often pithy sentences aren’t to everyone’s liking but by and large Reacher has a huge fan base.
One of us hadn’t met Reacher before but she would probably read more. The committed Reacher addicts amongst us enjoyed this book too, although it stalled in places for one member. Even though the action was set 20 years earlier, there were stark and sometimes worrying parallels with current world affairs. We voted this book 7.5/10, so if you haven’t tried Jack Reacher yet, and you like a jolly good crime fiction thriller, why not join the many millions who have?
BOOK CLUB – February 2018 meeting
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
Eleanor Oliphant, the title character, is socially inept, awkward but, in a funny sort of way, she becomes rather likeable as her character unfolds and some of us drew a parallel with Don Tillman from The Rosie Project which we read just over two years ago.
Eleanor is a 30 year old single woman who lives alone, goes to work in a back office function and never socialises. She has set routines from which she never varies. Until one day there is an incident outside work.
We found it amusing rather than laugh out loud funny as many of the reviews might have led one to believe. Most of us found it heart-warming, engaging and uplifting. There was a hidden secret which most of us had guessed but there was also a twist at the end which we hadn’t foreseen.
We liked her IT colleague Raymond and his generous nature also unfolds throughout the book as he comes to the rescue of a member of the public and eventually Eleanor herself.
As always, we were not all of one mind, and the extreme weather deterred a few attendees but there was a good turnout and on average we scored this book 7/10.
BOOK CLUB – January 2018 meeting –
Keeping My Sisters’ Secrets: A True Story of Sisterhood, Hardship, and Survival by Beezy Marsh
Keeping My Sisters’ Secrets by Beezy Marsh is the story of three sisters and their fight against poverty in Lambeth in the 1930s and 1940s.
Those of us who met were all of one accord in our opinions of this book. There was nothing unremarkable about it and despite the title, we couldn’t determine what the sisters’ secrets were. Certainly they were nothing terribly deep or dark. Real life is full of the highs and lows, laughter and sadness but we all agreed this book “flatlined” as one member put it. There was nothing unique about the stories of these girls and their family and the anecdotes were quite common for that time. Maybe we are all of an age not to be impressed by near history; perhaps the author was aiming her work at a younger and less knowledgeable readership?
There was no intellectual challenge in this book and we found the writing style rather simplistically juvenile; given the humdrum story, many of us skipped through the book and one member abandoned it altogether part way through.
One true episode was based upon the bombing of the Hartley’s jam factory in 1941 and we thought a more emotional or heartrending story could have been built around this.
Some members were unable to attend and surprisingly they sent in more favourable reviews, thus bumping up our average score to 4/10.
BOOK CLUB – November 2017 meeting – Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land
Ali Land took a degree in mental health and then spent a decade working as a child and adolescent mental health nurse in hospitals and schools in the UK and Australia. She is now a full-time writer.
Undoubtedly drawing on her earlier work experiences, the author’s debut novel is about a girl called Annie. Annie’s mother is a serial killer and the only way Annie can make it stop is to turn her over to the police. With a new foster family and a new identity as Milly she has a new life ahead of her but she has to endure giving evidence at her mother’s trial first.
The subject matter wasn’t to everyone’s taste, of course. However we all found it most thought-provoking and it certainly generated a lot of discussion. Fortunately the unsavoury parts of Milly’s earlier life were not too graphically drawn but rather left to the reader’s imagination which we all appreciated. Despite the nature of the subject, we all found it an easy and somewhat compelling read. We also had differing opinions about whether the ending was real or not; or was it just in Milly’s head?
Thus our last book of 2017 definitely reinforced our little club’s raison d’etre: the ability to discuss books with other people and to get a different take on the same work.
On average we scored this book 7/10. Inevitably the average scores gravitate towards 5/10 but we all agreed we had a better than average selection this year and our overall average for 2017 was 6.3, our highest yet.
BOOK CLUB – October 2017 meeting – The Affair of the Thirty-Nine Cufflinks
by James Anderson
This is the third of the author’s Inspector Wilkins trilogy set in the 1930s. The action takes place in the 12th Earl of Burford’s stately home Alderley House. His Lordship had some misgivings about hosting another house party, after the previous two disasters when guests were unceremoniously bumped off. Following the death of an elderly relative, family members gather at Alderley to attend the funeral and the ritual reading of the will and to learn of its contents. There are some surprises, some recriminations and then the murder of the unpleasant Clara the same night. Chief Inspector Wilkins, ably assisted by Lord Burford’s daughter Lady Geraldine, solves the murder and assembles the family in the drawing room for the denouement.
This is a light-hearted and humorous look at the Golden Age type of mystery whodunit. The sketch map of the second floor of Alderley reminded us of Cluedo and there were the obvious parallels with Agatha Christie, Midsomer Murders and Death in Paradise. A butler called Merryweather evoked P G Wodehouse’s Jeeves and the nocturnal toings and froings were reminiscent of a Brian Rix farce. It was all there!
We were entertained. Some of us would and others wouldn’t pick up the earlier books in the series (The Affair of the Blood-stained Egg Cosy and The Affair of the Mutilated Mink) and on average we scored this book 5/10.
BOOK CLUB – September 2017 meeting – Holding by Graham Norton
Graham Norton presents The Graham Norton Show on BBC1 and he also presents on BBC Radio 2 as well as being a DJ, comedian and actor. With this book Holding he opened his novel authorship.
Undoubtedly drawing on his Irish background, Graham Norton presents us with the little Irish village of Duneen. It has always kept its scandals contained but when a body is found at a farm the past opens up. Sergeant PJ Collins has to call for Irish Police reinforcement to help with enquiries into the local community.
We thought the book had a good storyline which flowed easily and it was light relief, something you could read with a cup of coffee; the plot and twists developed naturally. We liked the believable characterisations and observations, you could really imagine life in Duneen village and what did or didn’t go on there. We could compare Duneen with Great Shefford and we discussed, of course, how people’s memories are long and sometimes 25 years ago was just like yesterday. We all liked PJ and we were amused. We thought it was written as a script and we could see another Father Ted or a Midsomer Murders episode set in Ireland. We thought Graham Norton was a very good storyteller.
This book was enjoyed by all and we had a good evening so well done to Graham on this achievement!
On average we scored this book 7/10.
BOOK CLUB – August 2017 meeting – Closed Horizon by Peter Lantos
We take it in turns to suggest books for our monthly soirees. We have had a couple of local authors come to join us when we have read their books and we have enjoyed those interactions and the added enjoyment it brings to our discussions.
Being able to connect directly with the author adds another dimension to our evening and with the modern wonders and ways of the internet, we are now able to contact authors via email and we are delighted when we get a response, as we reported last month.
This month’s book was chosen because a member had met the author on a tour. Peter Lantos is a retired clinical neuroscientist who has written numerous medical and scientific texts and now, as well as travelling for enjoyment, he writes a book now and again.
Closed Horizon is set in the year 2040. Mark Chadwick is a brilliant psychiatrist who is on the verge of being able to decode and possibly influence human thought processes. This discovery is of immense interest to Government Home Security and they start to subject Mark to intense surveillance and exert escalating pressure on him to use his work for their cause. What path will Mark choose?
We were all in agreement about the moral dilemma of Mark’s work and we were happy with the path that he did choose. One member didn’t think it would be for her when she started but then all of a sudden was grabbed by the subject. The book was written five years ago but already some aspects are starting to happen such as the prospect of disintegration of the EU. Another member enjoyed it more than she had thought she would. We thought the end was a bit sudden and almost flat and we would have liked to have had more insight into Mark’s decision. The writing flowed well but we perceived that this was not the author’s primary occupation.
On average we scored this book 7/10.
The author was gracious and amusing in his reply to our email and here is an extract:
“Thank you for your letter; it was such a pleasant surprise!
I was pleased to learn that you selected Closed Horizon for your book club and delighted for supporting starving authors. I look forward to reading the review with some trepidation.
Best wishes to you, Peter”
BOOK CLUB – July 2017 meeting – The Escape
by C L Taylor
On her way home from work in Bristol, a stranger asks Jo Blackmore for a lift. Surprisingly, she agrees but then pretty quickly wishes she hadn’t. Paula knows Jo’s name, she knows her husband Max and she’s got a glove belonging to Jo’s two year old daughter Elise. As she leaves Jo’s car she says “Look after your daughter’s things. And your daughter…”. This threat swiftly turns into a nightmare as the police, social services and even Max turn against Jo.
No one believes that Elise is in danger. But Jo knows there’s only one way to keep her child safe – to escape. With the help of her friend Helen, who amazingly lends her passports and a car, she runs away to Ireland. However this is only a temporary reprieve before Max tracks her down.
It was a small gathering of ladies this month but absentees had sent reviews. We weren’t in total agreement, which is often the case. One felt the book was a chore, some felt the beginning was slow, others felt intrigue right from the start. On the whole it was a quick read. It was described as an up and down book: one moment you were gripped and then it lost its way being too far-fetched and boring. In places there was contradiction. Everything was tied up in the end but it felt like a silly ending. None of us could believe Jo was capable of holding down a job!
The scores hovered around 5 -7 and averaged out at 6/10.
PS Truth To Tell by Mavis Cheek (our May book). Debbie received a belated email from the author describing her inspiration for the book. It was a combination of perceived deceit by politicians and the frequent white lies uttered to avoid social awkwardness. Thank you Mavis!
BOOK CLUB – June 2017 meeting – HAPPY BIRTHDAY BOOK CLUB
This month marked our 5th anniversary which we celebrated with a summer cup and some light nibbles!
The Gift by Louise Jensen
The central character is a young woman called Jenna who has been given a second shot at life when she receives a donor heart from a similarly aged girl called Callie. With Callie’s heart beating inside her, Jenna feels she knows Callie and she is motivated to meet Callie’s family. She becomes enmeshed in their problems and secrets.
We were mostly of similar mind on this one. The author propounded a “cellular memory” theory whereby neurons in donated organs transmit donor memories to the recipient and we were fascinated by this concept. However we found the whole basis of contact between the donor’s family and the recipient unbelievable and far-fetched. The story became more and more ridiculous however it was an easy read. Could it really have happened or was it all a delusion going on in Jenna’s mind because of her heavy post-operative medication?
Although we wouldn’t recommend the book to a friend, the average score came out quite favourably at 5.5/10 due to the interest we had in the quasi-scientific aspect.
BOOK CLUB – May 2017 meeting – Truth To Tell
by Mavis Cheek
In April we reviewed Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant; this month we turned to Truth To Tell by Mavis Cheek. Last month’s central character Paul told lies; this month’s central character Nina decides to stop telling lies, even white lies, and to embark on a path of truthfulness.
Nina’s husband goes away on a business trip just after they have had a row about truthfulness. In his absence, she accepts the offer of a few days away in Venice for her own work and she finds herself in a sticky situation.
We were all interested in the concept of truth and there was much discussion about absolute truth versus tactical diplomacy and being economical with the truth versus downright lies. Nina finds it difficult to tell the truth always but she succeeds and even though she tells nothing but the truth, she might not always tell the whole truth.
We all found positive aspects of this book: the literary quotations, the humour and the thought-provoking concept of truth were appreciated in differing degrees. Some of us rattled through, finding it an easy read but some of took a bit longer with the second half. We would read more works by Mavis Cheek.
Our individual scores varied, of course, but as all of us were positive, the average score was 7/10.
BOOK CLUB – April 2017 meeting – Lie With Me
by Sabine Durrant
This is Sabine Durrant’s third psychological thriller; or at least, that is its billing although many of us found it more appropriately described as chicklit. It has also been headlined as “the unputdownable Richard and Judy Book Club 2017 bestseller” but more than one of our members found the first half unable to pickup.
The first half was slow but the pace did accelerate in the second half where the (in)action moved from central and south London on to a fictional Ionian island. Paul is the main character and he tells lies. They are nothing too gross but a bit of embellishment and exaggeration here and there with minor kleptomania thrown in. He charms his way onto a family holiday but finds himself trapped amidst tensions and emotions he doesn’t understand and can’t entirely cope with.
None of us liked any of the characters and although Paul’s integrity was lacking at first, by the end we felt a wee bit sorry for him.
As ever, there was a divide of opinion which meant the average score came out at 5.5/10.
BOOK CLUB – March 2017 meeting – The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs Beeton
by Kathryn Hughes
This book was chosen by a member whilst looking up The Letter by Kathryn Hughes last year. She came across another author with the same name and felt we should read it for a comparison. This member likes research and facts and boy did she have her work cut out with The Short Life and Long Times of Mrs. Beeton as it was well over 500 pages long full of facts nearly 100 pages of notes, letters, dates, diary pages and bibliography! We couldn’t compare the two authors as the books were completely different.
We were in agreement this month, which doesn’t happen very often. Only one person had read the whole book and that’s because it had sat on her book shelf since being published in 2006. We didn’t feel it was a book club book, it’s more of a reference book which you dip into now and again. Several thought it was a punishment and one felt it was like having a detention at school. The book seemed to contain a lot of information that wasn’t relevant, overlong and overwritten!
We did have a fun evening though especially when one of us decided the book should be disqualified. So looking at our criteria we all agreed and the book wasn’t scored. Even though the book wasn’t enjoyable the evening was, we welcomed a new face, brilliant attendance and as usual plenty of laughter.
Book Club Criteria
Not more than 350 pages long
No-one having read the book
You can’t score unless you finish the book/or had a good try
As this book didn’t fit our criteria it was DISQUALIFIED! Another first for the book club.
BOOK CLUB – February 2017 meeting – Where My Heart Used to Beat by Sebastian Faulks
This month’s book was billed as follows:
“On a small island off the south coast of France, Robert Hendricks – an English doctor who has seen the best and the worst the twentieth century had to offer – is forced to confront the events that made up his life. His host is Alexander Pereira, a man who seems to know more about his guest than Hendricks himself does.
The search for the past takes us through the war in Italy in 1944, a passionate love that seems to hold out hope, the great days of idealistic work in the 1960s and finally – unforgettably – back into the trenches of the Western Front.”
We thought we were in for a treat with the raunchy start. You could imagine all the characters and different places. Some didn’t like the main character, but because his name was Hendricks and he liked gin one found that very amusing. There were many sad moments and one of the cover crits described it as “melancholy” but none of us was moved to tears. We didn’t feel it was a page turner but you did want to know the end and the end was clever the way all the different storylines came together.
It was mixed reviews this month with some members not finishing as they really felt the book wasn’t for them, others loved it and thought it was an excellent read and the rest felt it had good points, but some parts you had to speed read, it didn’t grip you and at times was depressing.
If you haven’t read a Sebastian Faulks, then please give him a try was the opinion of most of the book club ladies. Even though many of us didn’t feel this was one of his better reads the writing as always was pure quality and on average we scored this book 7/10.
BOOK CLUB – January 2017 meeting – Between You and Me by Lisa Hall
Thank you to everyone who turned out on such a horrible January evening, but it was well worth it for the great conversation and laughter.
Without giving anything away and spoiling it for anyone who might like to read this novel this is how the majority of us reviewed the book (there were a couple of dissenters, of course!). The book is billed as “a psychological thriller with a twist you won’t see coming”.
They say every marriage has its secrets.
But no one sees what happens behind closed doors.
And sometimes those doors should never be opened…
Sal and Charlie are married. They love each other. But they aren’t happy. Sal cannot leave, no matter what Charlie does – no matter how much it hurts.
We all agreed we were interested from the beginning as the prologue brought nothing but intrigue, we liked the concept and the small chapters were easy to read. We felt for a debut novel the jealousy aspect was well written and most of us were fascinated with the subject matter. OK parts of the book were flat and at times pedestrian, there was a bit of a silly storyline and we felt the family would have had more involvement. Those who read it on kindle didn’t realize there was a twist and others thought the end chapter was a typing error, when the penny dropped we all thought that was clever – very clever. You must remember that no one knows what happens behind closed doors!!
On average we scored this book 6/10.
BOOK CLUB – November 2016 meeting – The Letter by Kathryn Hughes
Tina volunteers in a charity shop to stay away from her unhappy home life. Checking the pockets of a donated suit, she comes across an old letter which she reads. This routine action changes the course of her life for ever.
We all thought the idea of The Letter was an intriguing one and that it would make a basis for a story. Alas, we were disappointed.
The author has always liked writing short stories and we thought her attempt at a full length novel came over as somewhat amateurish with at least one member opining that it would have been better set as a women’s magazine serialisation. We found the characters one-dimensional. Much of the book was pretty miserable but all the ends were tied up and everybody lived happily ever after. We didn’t think this was much like real life!
The majority of our reviews gravitated towards the average score of 5/10 but there were a few variations: as low as 3 because the content was poorly researched and as high as 7 because the reader had been affected by some of the scenarios.
There is an eponymous author with a more robust biography and we shall be reading one of her works in 2017 for comparison.
BOOK CLUB – October 2016 meeting – A Fistful of Marigolds by Joyce Worsfold
This book is about a thirty-year old unmarried female primary school teacher in the early 1970s.
This was a first novel for the author who once was a teacher herself and had previously written poetry (which we felt perhaps she should have stuck to). We thought it was immature and childishly written one referring to Enid Blyton.
Overall we felt the book was an easy, readable, harmless short story with lots of conversation. There was humour and parts did make you chuckle especially the children’s one-liners. The time line was confusing and the love scenes were an over kill and sickly. A lot of the book was unnecessary and everything was over described.
One member summed the book up by saying the expression “saccharine” might fit and gave it a 7. One member thought the author was trying to mix endearing episodes with sadness and tragedy, but that it was very clumsily done. She didn’t feel the author had a good knowledge about how damaged children really behave, even when shown love, finding the episodes idealised and unreal and gave it just 1.
On average we scored this book 5/10.
BOOK CLUB – September 2016 meeting – A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Anne Tyler has written about twenty novels almost all of which are about American family life and this book was no exception.
This was a story of ordinary people over the generations and they were much like any other ordinary family in Baltimore or anywhere else. One member’s opinion was that it was really a story about a house and the title should have been “The Veranda”. With one exception, we thought the book lacked content and it didn’t hold our interest. Some parts amused some of us but on the whole the good descriptive passages and well-written prose weren’t enough to overcome the tedious length and lack of action.
Tyler herself wrote “The Whitshanks weren’t a melodramatic family”. To come across this assertion as early as page 12, with more than 450 pages to go, required determination on our part to continue to the end and not everybody did.
On average we scored this book 5/10
BOOK CLUB – July 2016 meeting –The Disappeared by M R Hall
We welcomed our first virtual long-distance member to the meeting. A lady who used to live in Wantage and now lives in West Sussex has joined us by reading our book of the month and sending in her thoughts electronically to be read out at each meeting.
This is the second in this author’s series about coroner Jenny Cooper and many of us felt maybe we would have preferred to have started with the first book The Coroner to set the background.
This book is about two Bristol University students who vanish without a trace. Whilst pursuing their studies they had been under police surveillance and their parents are led to believe they may have been radicalised by Islamist extremists and left the country. Originally published six years ago, this subject is very topical now. Many of us were gripped from the start and we felt the book had great potential however whilst we were happy to finish it, there were very many twists and turns together with inconsistencies and not all the ends were neatly tied up.
M R Hall is a screenwriter, producer and former criminal barrister. We thought much of the action was implausible and written for the screen rather than as a stand-alone book. None of us liked the main character Jenny Cooper the coroner. Unlike most coroners who choose to operate largely from their desks, Jenny gets out and about to collect evidence. Chuck in MI5, the CIA, a radiation leak, a dodgy lawyer, a lot of characters participating at the inquest, the theft of a body from a morgue and a ridiculous car chase along the M4, oh plus a sometime local boyfriend, a teenage son and some magic medication for a bit of domestic interest and you’ll get the picture!
On average we scored this book 5.5/10.
Read our reviews on the village website:
BOOK CLUB – July 2016 – Summer Special Events
We had a stall at the Country Fayre which thankfully provided some welcome shade. Many friends, old and new, stopped by to browse our selection of second-hand books or just to chat about books in general or village life. Thank you to those of you who generously donated books or money to the cause. As a bit of light relief we ran a game “Bash A Book”, our blindfolded variant of Aunt Sally, which provoked considerable mirth, amusement and only one very minor injury.
Our usual meeting was also a special event. Annabel Bailey came to talk to us about her book Bats In The Belfry. We had a pleasant evening with Annabel at the helm explaining to us how she came to write and publish her book. She told us a fascinating story of how she started to write the book in the 70`s through to getting the finished product self-published electronically last year.
The story is set in a big old house. Harriet, a young widow, looks after an assortment of eccentric paying guests, with the help of her father. Interestingly the book was based on Annabel’s family home which was local to the area and the eccentric characters who drifted through were a relative or two, acquaintances and even herself, with a few “literary licence” tweaks known only to the author.
We all thought this was a splendid first effort and an incredible achievement. One suggestion was a prequel or sequel, which got Annabel`s brain cells working, so watch this space!
A big thank you to Annabel for joining us and making it a most enjoyable evening, we wish her every success in the future with her literary endeavours.
BOOK CLUB – June 2016 Meeting – Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult
This book comes in a number of conventionally published editions as well as electronically. None of us felt the various covers depicted a true feel for the story, much of which is about elephants and their behaviour.
Alice Metcalf has meticulously recorded her scientific research work with elephants. Ten years ago she mysteriously disappeared in tragic circumstances. Jenna, her little daughter she left behind then, is now thirteen and sets out with a teenager’s determination and single-mindedness to find some answers with the help of a private detective and a psychic.
We all felt we had learned possibly far too much about elephant behaviour by the time the twist came towards the end of the book. One member said she was “elephanted out”. However despite the animal sanctuaries and psychics, not necessarily everyone’s choice of novel combination, many of us enjoyed the book and only one person had worked out the twist. Some of us found the characters amusing and they made us smile rather than laugh out loud. We all felt that there were two separate strands to the book: one about elephants and the other about Jenna’s search for the truth about Alice and her disappearance. Some of us had read this author before, some hadn’t but would not seek out any further books based upon this one. Our average score was 6/10.
BOOK CLUB – May 2016 Meeting – I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh
This is the author’s debut novel. Clare Mackintosh spent twelve years in the police force, then left five years ago to work as a freelance journalist and social media consultant.
Little five year old Jacob is walking home from school with his mother, he runs across the road towards their home and in a split second is killed by a hit-and-run driver. With her world in turmoil, Jenna Gray packs a bag and desperately seeks escape, moving to a remote cottage on the Welsh coast. She is haunted by her memories and fears but finds some solitude and respite. When her past catches up with her there are devastating consequences.
This book provoked comments such as “Brilliant” “Loved it” and “Thoroughly enjoyed it” from our members. Although some of us found the start a bit slow, it picked up pace and most of us finished this thriller very quickly thereafter. There were twists and turns which most of us could not foresee but one member picked up sufficient clues after a few chapters to go back to the beginning and work it out. There was just one dissenter who didn’t empathise with the characters, found the plot too far-fetched and some aspects poorly researched. But that is the point of our book club: to discuss our differing opinions.
Our average score was 8/10 this month, the highest so far this year.
BOOK CLUB – April 2016 Meeting – The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier
This author has written a number of novels, most notably Girl with a Pearl Earring and Remarkable Creatures. Some of us had read her other works and so were able to draw comparisons.
This story is about Honor Bright, a Quaker girl with a fine stitching hand for quilts, who impulsively emigrates to America leaving behind her sheltered life in 1850s Dorset. Her principles oppose her to the slavery that divides her new country but they are tested to the limit when a runaway slave appears at the farm of her new family home. Honor makes new women friends, acquires a husband and a baby and carves out her new life.
Many of us wanted Honor to achieve more than she did and this made the story rather unremarkable for us. There were long descriptive but repetitive passages about quilting techniques which the non-quilters found boring but yet did not satisfy the quilters amongst us. The story was interspersed with correspondence between Honor and her family and friends back home and we liked this informative touch. At times the book was thought provoking about slavery and the so-called underground railway by means of which slaves made their escape, but it did lack substance and as far as we were concerned it had a flat ending.
BOOK CLUB – March 2016 Meeting – The Sunrise by Victoria Hislop
Some of us were already familiar with this author’s previous works (The Island was reviewed for this magazine back in 2006) but for others she was untrodden territory.
This story starts in Famagusta, Cyprus in 1972. An earlier Greek military coup has heightened tensions between President Makarios and the Greek regime. Turkey intervenes to protect the Turkish minority and the once idyllic beach resort of Famagusta is devastated and its forty thousand inhabitants flee to escape the conflict. Just two families remain, one Greek, one Turkish and this is the story of their survival inside a hotel called The Sunrise.
There were many points of agreement between us: we all found it very slow to start and we all thought some of the survival tactics were questionable, anachronistic or just plain unbelievable.
Some of us have been lucky enough to visit Cyprus, both the Greek south and the Turkish north and on the whole we found points of interest in terms of the locations for us to rate the book more highly. Those of us who prefer to venture not quite so far afield were generally less well-disposed towards the book and even found difficulty with the foreign names of the characters. All in all, we were disappointed to a greater or lesser degree with this book. Thus our scores ranged from 2 to 7 and on average 4.5/10 so sorry, Mrs Hislop, this didn’t do it for us this time.
BOOK CLUB – February 2016 Meeting – A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale
This book was one member’s choice because of the seasonal title and in that respect it was apposite as it was a very frosty bright and starlit evening when we met to discuss it. However some of us were surprised by the content: it wasn’t what we had expected.
Patrick Gale has written over a dozen books plus some volumes of short stories. Many of them are semi-autobiographical, there are recurring themes of strong-willed women, gay characters and Cornish settings. Patrick himself lives on a farm in west Cornwall with his husband. If you are interested, you can read more about him on his website http://galewarning.org/.
The title of the book refers to a town in the newly colonised Canadian prairies. Harry Cane is the true name of the author’s great-grandfather about whom little was spoken in the family save for the fact that he was a rich young man, urged to marry a girl still secretly in love with another man rejected by her family for being “trade”. Harry left her and their child in order to become one of the hundreds of eager homesteaders lured out to the Canadian prairies in the 1900s by easy railway access and the offer of free land. The author travelled to Canada to research the area and then wrote this fiction centred upon Harry.
We found the book slow to begin with but quite readable. There is a current story framed by flashbacks to other episodes and most of us would have preferred just the main theme because the ancillary settings weren’t entirely necessary or always believable. We liked the descriptive style but we thought it could have gone further and given us more of the feeling of desolation and loneliness of the Canadian prairies at that time. We empathised with Harry and, without giving away the plot, some of us were very pleased with the Happy Ending.
Despite the criticisms, some of us would read more by this author and on average we gave it 6/10.
BOOK CLUB – January 2016 Meeting – The First Casualty by
We had a really good start to Book Club 2016 with ten people braving such a miserably wet night and we had a lengthy and interesting discussion about our first book this year.
Ben Elton has been performing and writing for over thirty years. He is a stand-up comedian and he has hosted television series. He has also written television sitcoms such as The Young Ones and the series Blackadder. He is a playwright and author of fifteen novels. He dedicates this particular book to the memory of his two grandfathers who served on opposite sides in the First World War.
The title of the book we chose for January is based on the aphorism “…in war, the first casualty is truth….”. This is often attributed to US Senator Hiram Johnson but other sources hold that it is 2,500 years old and that it first came from Aeschylus, the Greek playwright.
In Flanders in June 1917, a British officer and celebrated poet is shot dead, killed not by German fire, but while recuperating from shell shock well behind the lines. A young English soldier is arrested and, although he protests his innocence, charged with his murder. Douglas Kingsley is a conscientious objector, previously a detective with the London police, now imprisoned for his beliefs. He is released and sent to France in order to secure a conviction. Forced to conduct his investigations amidst the hell of The Third Battle of Ypres, Kingsley soon discovers that both the evidence and the witnesses he needs are quite literally disappearing into the mud that surrounds him.
We all thought that the beginning was long winded and that it could have been written in far fewer chapters. The story had engaging potential and there were enough twists and turns to maintain the interest. Some felt the storyline had been sacrificed in favour of writing unnecessary paragraphs which were over described. Some liked the real depth of description and could paint a picture. We liked the easy-to-read style and short chapters as well as it being well-written. One described it as thought provoking and another thought the characters were stereotypes “off-the-shelf” but generally they were believable; the batman Cotton was undoubtedly Baldrick from Blackadder! There are funny bits, emotional bits and Elton doesn’t pull his punches when it comes to the horrors of war, the ripe language of the soldiers or how everyday matters of health and hygiene were dealt with then. Most were of the opinion that the ending was a letdown, we felt it was weak and far-fetched.
Our individual scores ranged from 1 to 8 averaging out at 5/10 as a group.
BOOK CLUB – December 2015 Meeting
We didn’t review a book this month but we had a splendid seasonal meal at The Swan and some table amusements. One member started to write a story, leaving just one word visible to the next member who wrote a sentence leaving just one word visible etc, you get the idea. This was the rather slapstick pantomime script result which we hope you enjoy.
“A sleepy village in West Berkshire was preparing for an exceptionally raucous Christmas!
Here we go again – hopefully, the guy on the terrace would put his hands up and give in to the marksmen aiming their weapons from the balcony three stories above him but there was always the chance that he might drop his trousers – instead, he hopped off his bicycle and began to run down the slippery muddy slope to his long lost lover, a book club member who shall remain nameless who was glad that she had had such a great meal with lovely company.
Suddenly a disaster happened; another slightly tipsy book club member went crashing into the Christmas tree!
Then the fireworks started and Santa started shaking and his trousers did fall down and there were lots of HoHoHos.
Rudolph came to the rescue and flew into the midnight sky.
And the stars in bright sky looked down where they lay
The ladies from the book club asleep in the hay.
They just shut their eyes and Santa’s glasses broke.”
BOOK CLUB – November 2015 Meeting –The Rosie Project: Don Tillman 1
by Graeme Simsion
Don Tillman is a professor of genetics at Melbourne. He is single. Don has observed that married men are generally happier and live longer. Therefore he has decided to embark on a project to find a wife: The Wife Project. He designs a questionnaire to identify suitable applicants for the post and to weed out any inefficient social interaction in the search for a mate. However the questionnaire is not perfect, it requires a number of refinements and then Rosie comes into his life, disrupting his routines and even his carefully developed standardized meal system.
We all loved Don, one of us wanted to be his wife. We discussed whether he had Asperger’s as he wasn’t diagnosed – or was he just unique and quirky. We connected with all the characters and felt they all had a place. The ending was perfect. It was an amusing, light, funny, fabulous book. There are several laugh out loud moments and where you are so engrossed in the book you found yourself shouting out to Don. We definitely thought this was a book to leave on your shelf to pick up and read again.
We would highly recommend this gem of a book it will brighten up any dull month and certainly bring a smile to your face. We felt it was cleverly written seeing it through Don’s eyes, and it made you see the funny side of your own odd traits. We liked the way the author had you laughing with Don and not at him. We liked the style of writing and it was very well verbalised. Some of us thought this was the best book club book we have read.
With one exception only, the rest was unanimous and there were very high scores including three nines, is that a book club first? The overall score was 8/10.
BOOK CLUB – October 2015 Meeting – The Time of Their Lives
by Maeve Haran
There has been much publicity recently about fake reviews on various websites. Our choice for October has the following online scores:
Amazon 4.4/5 equating to 9/10
Goodreads 3.15/5 equating to 6/10
But put your trust in your own village book club! To find out what we thought, read on. We had a good discussion and a very pleasant evening.
The book is about four lady friends who meet up each month to celebrate over forty years of friendship. There for each other, there for evermore when they’re sixty-four.
This was an epic tale of ladies who lunch, with too much time, lots of money and plenty of wine. It runs to over 520 pages which we all thought was far too long. After a leisurely pace it sped up and had a rushed ending as if the author wanted it finished and so did quite a few of us. Some enjoyed this easy read and found bits funny. They felt that some time in their lives they had gone through a similar predicament and liked the loyalty of good friends. Others felt it was an easy read too, but the content wasn’t interesting, the plots were not plausible and if they were meant to be such good friends how come dark secrets were not talked about? With each ridiculous situation after situation it was too clichéd and as one member summarized “chick lit without the sex and fun”.
As often, there was a wide range of scores from 1 – 7 and our average score was only 4/10.
BOOK CLUB – September 2015 Meeting – My Cousin Rachel
by Daphne du Maurier
The majority of us had already read the book previously but there were some who had never read any Daphne du Maurier before, their only experiences being a few screen versions of Rebecca, plus those who gave up on Jamaica Inn on BBC last year because of the mumbling.
When Philip Ashley’s wealthy cousin Ambrose dies suddenly in Florence, his suspicions drift to Ambrose’s new wife Rachel who he has never met. But when she comes to Cornwall to meet Philip he warms to her in every possible way.
Everyone felt it was a beautiful cleverly written book with intrigue from the start. Right from the beginning we know something must have happened to Rachel because of Philip’s “burden of blame” and “Was Rachel innocent or guilty?” and this is a clever ploy to make the reader want to know the back story. We liked the way the author manipulated your mind into trying to work out the plot yourself. We liked the way you were tantalised with no age or description of Rachel, all a credit to the author.
Some found it a pleasure to read such a well-written and neatly constructed classic rather than some of the modern stuff. We couldn’t find specifically what year it was supposed to be but one member read it as if it were mid/late 19th century.
Some liked revisiting this classic but others felt they could have done without it. Many felt Philip was just too wet behind the ears and the only character that seemed normal was his childhood friend Louise. Some thought the book was too dated to be reading now.
These diverse opinions reflected on the score ranging from 4 – 9 average score 6.5.
BOOK CLUB – August 2015 Meeting – French Revolutions
by Tim Moore
We were almost a full house for our August attendance with most of us having a shot at this book.
As ever, reviews were mixed. Tim Moore wrote this book in 2001 a good few years before Sir Bradley Wiggins became the first British cyclist to win the Tour de France.
The book describes itself as an heroic depiction of an inadequate man’s attempt to achieve the unachievable… a tale of calorific excess, ludicrous clothing and intimate discomfort.
Three of us liked it, we liked the travelogue of the route through France and it made us laugh. Some of us were bored by it, some of didn’t like it at all (the subject matter left us cold), one had only just started and one wasn’t enthused enough to even start – a bit like a cycle tour itself one might imagine. Maybe the book might have appealed more to cyclists or to a male readership. On average we scored it 5/10.
We then progressed to a rather more lively discussion about some suggestions for next year. We want to explore different genres but some sectors were shot down in flames. Further research is needed and the debate continues so watch this space!
BOOK CLUB – July 2015 Meeting – The Book Club
by Marjolijn Februari
This was the chosen book and half of us had read it. The other half had contrived to read The Book Club by a different author Kate McCabe! A first in over three years that our club has been in existence that our members have picked up the wrong book. This discovery, a good few minutes after our discussion had started, produced much mirth and in fact led on to a comparison of the two books.
The chosen book was by a Dutch author. Set in an apparently sleepy, but powerful, rich village the book centres around the members of a rather esteemed book club, a now-successful novelist who had attended the village school and a dark secret in the village which every member of the book club has a reason to keep quiet. A young member of the book club sets about investigating the dark secret which transpires to be about contaminated medicines and the involvement of the novelist’s father many years ago.
The second book was by an Irish author who some compared to Maeve Binchy and coincidentally also involved pharmaceutical company shares.
The Dutch book didn’t impress us. There were too many characters and they were so shallow that one of our members said she would not have wanted to be a member of the Dutch book club. The ending was very flat and the book lacked any humour at all. On average we voted it a miserable 2/10 whereas those who had read the Irish book gave it a more generous 3.5/10.
Some of you may have been watching the BBC’s Life In Squares, the drama mini-series about the close and often fraught relationship between sisters Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf. Thanks to our own members’ investigative work, you may be interested to learn that Vanessa’s husband Clive Bell was born at East Shefford House in 1881.
BOOK CLUB – June 2015 Meeting – To Kill a Mockingbird
by Harper Lee
This book was chosen before the announcement that the author, now nearly 90, is to publish a second novel Go Set a Watchman that was actually written before To Kill a Mockingbird which won the Pulitzer Prize in 1960.
This book explores the irrational adult attitudes to race and class in the American Deep South of the 1930s through the eyes of a nine-year old girl and it brings out the prejudice, violence and hypocrisy of small town with lively humour.
Most of us had read the book previously and we generally found it worthy of a reprise despite knowing the ending. We liked the contrast between the town and country dwellers, the maturity of the young girl Scout Finch and the ease of the read. We found the attitude of the youngsters, to have respect for everybody whatever their flaws, highly commendable and timeless advice.
One member stopped reading the book early on because she didn’t like it but the majority were in favour and our averaged score was 7/10.
BOOK CLUB – May 2015 Meeting – How To Be a Woman
by Caitlin Moran
As you know, here on Book Club’s regular Book Watch feature we give a monthly score to each selection.
^ UP ^
April saw the scores go way up with many approaching the maximum of 10 for The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton.
But what a contrast this month.
VVV DOWN VVV
went C**TL*N M*R*N with some of us barely scraping above zero – that’s nought, nil, nothing, zip, zilch, nada, nix, sweet FA, 0000 bringing the average down to just 1/10 – our LOWEST EVER !!!. If this is an insult then one member proclaimed this work to be
AN INSULT TO EMILY PANKHURST
Are we too old for this juvenile self-centred unbelievable rubbish? Most of us gave up on it but a brave and stalwart pair did finish the book.
Some of us really enjoy this journalist’s pithy pieces in The Times but she didn’t translate well for us into book form – SHAME !!!
BOOK CLUB – April 2015 Meeting – The Miniaturist
by Jessie Burton
We started the evening with two of our members telling us about their day. They had attended a literary lunch at Inkpen in aid of the Lullaby Trust and spy novelist Jon Stock was the guest speaker. Then we moved on to discussion about this month’s book.
This is 32-year-old Jessie Burton’s debut novel, which landed her a six-figure deal from the publisher and it was named Waterstones book of the year 2014. At the tender age of 18, aristocratic Petronella (“Nella”) Oortman leaves her sequestered rural life for Amsterdam in the late seventeenth-century during the booming years of the Dutch sugar-trade industry. Nella has entered into a marriage with an older wealthy merchant, Johannes Brandt, and she finds herself in a household which is also occupied by his unmarried sister Marin and two servants, the “dark brown” former slave Otto and Cornelia. As a wedding-gift Johannes presents her with a miniature cabinet, an exquisitely crafted doll’s house and he encourages her to fill it. She writes to a craftsman, the self-advertised “Miniaturist”, who now delivers her a series of unrequested items for her cabinet and thus the plot unfolds.
Many of us loved the book, we were totally gripped and we thought it an absorbing and compelling page turner. Overall we liked the descriptive writing: you could visualize the streets and the house and there was superb characterisation. This was a well-written dark story throughout. However the dark energies were too cold and depressing for some and there were just too many disasters in such a short space of a few months. For some, there was not enough about the title’s miniaturist.
We had nine reviews and four of us thought the book so brilliant as to score it 9 – this must be a record! On average the score was 7.5/10.
BOOK CLUB – March 2015 Meeting – Tales of a Tiller Girl
by Irene Holland
Every now and again we like to move away from novels and fiction and try a different genre. Our previous forays into autobiography have not been successful and sadly, our March choice didn’t excite us either.
We usually have one or two dissenters from the body of overall opinion but in this case we were unanimous. For a dancing girl, we thought Irene Holland’s life was rather pedestrian. We found the book boring, flat and poorly written which was a surprise as the subject had engaged a ghost writer. However it was discussed thoroughly and the evening itself was very entertaining. Our average score was 3.4/10.
Here is another one of our own efforts at writing:
THE DEVOTED SECRETS 4
Under an oak tree dappled green
Surrounded by leaves that provided a screen
I found a hideaway place that only I would know
Where nobody else would find or think to go.
There I hid a little box neatly tied with string
And inside my treasured box there was something
So utterly dear to me in my tender years
That would forever stay with me throughout the years
And as I grow older my heart will sing
To know that true love overcomes everything.
BOOK CLUB – February 2015 Meeting – The Things We Never Said
By Susan Elliot- Wright
We were pleased to welcome another new face this month.
This was the author’s debut novel and it tells two parallel stories. The first is about Maggie who, back in 1964, wakes up in a mental asylum with no idea of who she is or how she got there. The second is about Jonathan, who, in the present day, is trying to come to terms with the death of his difficult father when a policeman turns up with some unsettling questions about crimes committed many years before. As the two stories intertwine, secrets are uncovered and the devastating truth revealed.
Nearly everybody thought it had a slow start. One member thought it was a good story, well written and not over-sentimentalised. However the majority did not share her opinion and found it rather bland and just OK, giving it an average score of 5/10.
Here is another one of our own stories which neatly fits in to the above theme of The Things We Never Said.
Devoted Secrets 3
If anybody had asked Hannah what sort of relationship she shared with her mother, she would have been the first to admit that she was lucky to have a mum and best friend all in one. They shared everything, there were no secrets between them.
Hannah knew that many of her friends envied her that extra special closeness they shared, in particular during her teens when some of them saw their own mothers as the enemy. It wasn’t unusual for Hannah to come home and find one of her friends sitting at the kitchen table sharing their woes with Jean, who had became an expert listener and agony aunt able to send the girls home with perhaps a different view of the problem than when they had arrived. Perhaps, their own mothers weren’t so bad after all.
Years later, Hannah was surprised to realise there had been rare occasions when she was left with the feeling with that Jean had a secret, but she always managed to gloss over those moments it in such a way that Hannah quickly forgot the little nagging voice that called from the back of her head from time to time.
It was a shock to get the call to go to the hospital as soon as possible when Jean had suffered a massive heart attack.
During that long night Hannah sat by her bedside as Jean drifted in and out of consciousness, the nurse encouraged Hannah to talk to Jean as she may still be able to hear.
Nothing can ever prepare a child for what will possibly be the last conversation that they will have with a parent, where could she start. The most important thing to Hannah was that Jean knew just how much she had been loved and cherished. Slowly she recounted the many precious moments they shared. The memories just kept coming, with them that little nagging voice that she remembered from all those years ago. No, it was impossible to believe there were any secrets.
Just before dawn Jean opened her eyes, it was clear to Hannah that she wanted to speak.
“I’m sorry, I was wrong” she gasped “I always thought I would find the right time to explain and we would search together”
Hannah held her breath as her mother struggled on, desperate to catch every word.
“Believe me, I’ve always loved you ………..” she coughed…….. “I’m sorry that I wasn’t brave enough to tell you, I didn’t want to lose you, I had to keep you safe. Forgive me, you need to find your family” with a final sigh she closed her eyes for the last time just as the priest arrived.
After the funeral Hannah was given the envelope that held the secret that Jean had kept all her life.
She was born in Austria in 1938 to Esther a Jewish woman whose husband had already been deported by the Nazi’s. After the horrors of Kristallnacht, Esther found out that her friend, the English teacher, was planning to return to England. Believing this was her only chance of a life for her beautiful baby girl she had begged Jean to find a way take Hannah with her.
The only thing that Hannah had from her mother was her first name which she was given when she was born. Jean had promised she would not change it.
Two years later, after months of endless searching archives and the help of various agencies, Hannah was on a flight to Tel Aviv to meet members of a family, her family…… that had against all odds escaped and survived horrors she could never begin to imagine.
BOOK CLUB – January 2015 Meeting – The Little Old Lady Who Broke All The Rules
by Catharina Ingelman-Sundberg
Translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury
It was a cold crisp evening but there was a warm welcome for a new member to our
This book is billed as a quirky, humorous and warm-hearted story about growing old disgracefully and breaking all the rules along the way. The little old lady in question dreams of escaping her care home and robbing a bank. We chose a light-hearted theme to brighten up the long dark January days.
It provoked much lively discussion. Comparisons were drawn with the recent book The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out of the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (and also translated from the Swedish by Rod Bradbury) and the 90s TV series Waiting For God.
One member read a bit of it and gave up and another didn’t like it because she found it far too unbelievable and not funny. There were some middling and equivocal opinions and also a coterie of those who liked it a lot. Our discussions ranged over whether the characters and their actions were believable or likeable; after all, it may be one thing to read about and be amused by older people behaving badly but in reality wouldn’t we all prefer that they set a more gracious example?
On average we voted the book 6/10. We have yet to achieve 10/10 – maybe later this year.
Read our previous reviews on the village website:
We’re not highbrow or literary – just enthusiastic readers!
We continue with selections from some of our own efforts at writing:
Devoted Secrets 2
Oh gosh, I don’t know how to start this, or even if I should.
I live in a small village, you know the sort, where everyone knows your business, your life, your dreams. Try as you might to keep yourself to yourself, eventually you will be winkled out from your shell to reveal it all….like it or not!
Secrets….no one can have a secret here.
We can all pretend we don’t know of Q’s ferocious sexual addiction; but just ask your partners, they aren’t so coy; and what of X’s cross dressing husband; a perfect lady boy on a Saturday night with his frills and bows. How he waltzes through the rooms, his music blaring. But oh dear, every now and again he forgets to close those cracks in the curtains and we can spy his forbidden moments. And just how many of us have dragged Y out of the stream after yet another lunchtime session, how I wish she would move out of that cottage; and with Z now working at the surgery the flow of medical gossip is quite frankly amazing.
But…..I don’t think anyone has guessed my secret.
I am in love.
I am in love with someone who twirls their wineglass between their fingers. To the left to the right it spins. How sensual it is and you’re doing it now as you concentrate to read.
I’m in love with someone who tucks a stray curl behind their ear. Caresses it first then strokes it behind the lobe. I’ve seen you do it a thousand times.
I’m in love with someone who’s sitting here. Sitting at this table they have just realised who I am writing about. You have always been ignorant of me, I sit quietly in the background, happy to keep my devoted secret.
I just hope my blushes don’t give me away.
BOOK CLUB – December 2014 Meeting
Our December meeting was the usual seasonal meal and a review of our Book Club throughout 2014.
We read eleven books, scoring each out of a maximum of 10. Our favourite was Me Before You by Jojo Moyes with 8. Our least favourite was Encounters by Barbara Erskine with 2.5. In fact we thought this was so pathetic it got us thinking we could do better which is why we had our literary challenge.
A nearly independent judge ranked the entries to complete a piece with the title The Devoted Secrets. However, in this instance, the judge’s decision was not necessarily final and we all thought all of the pieces were good in their own way. So we’re not announcing an overall winner this year; instead, we’ll publish one entry at a time, in no particular order, over the next few months and you can judge for yourselves which you like. The first appears this month.
Of course, not all books that are suggested make it to our reading list, here are some of those we didn’t read and maybe why:
Cherished Number Plates by Jeremy Clarkson – dismissed on the grounds of limited appeal to our female members
Guide to Membury and other M4 Services by Nigel Farage – despite the local interest, we felt this might take too long to finish and lacked a bit of spirit
The Power of Prayer by Mark Carney – plenty of spirit but needed a “good news” factor
Guide to Taxi Etiquette by David Mellor – dismissed on the grounds that we have yet to find a taxi rank at Hungerford Station and all our local cab firms know who we are anyway moreover where we’re going, who we’re going with, why we’re going there and where we live just in case we’ve had a drop too much
Falling Numbers by Justin Welby – insufficient interest
Guide to Restaurant Etiquette by Nigel Farage – dismissed on the grounds that it was too short being written on one side only of an albeit large napkin
Guide to Plain English by Russell Brand – just dismissed
Read our previous reviews on the village website:
Devoted Secrets 1
I have secrets which are justified and for the common good,
I have secrets which I savour, though I’m not sure that I should,
There are secrets which are shameful, so I keep from out of view,
There are secrets which aren’t secrets as I’ve shared them with a few,
I have secrets which yield power, I can’t pretend that I don’t care,
I have secrets which make me nervous, others fill me with despair,
I have secrets which quite frankly, I don’t believe are even true,
But my favourite are the Devoted Secrets – the ones I have of you.
BOOK CLUB – November 2014 Meeting – The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova
This is an epic tale published in over 700 pages of small print, so many of us were daunted before we started. The author allegedly worked on the book for ten years and then auctioned off the rights to the publishers for USD 10 million.
Late one night, exploring her father’s extensive and learned library, a young woman finds an ancient book and a stack of yellowing letters addressed ominously to “My dear and unfortunate successor”. The tale unfolds as an update of Bram Stoker’s Dracula filled with considerable detail of archaic vampire folklore, the mysteries and splendours of the Ottoman Empire and the beauty of the Bulgarian and Romanian countryside and their painted monasteries.
Only three of us finished the book, the others finding it too long, too heavy or just not engaging with the subject matter. One person loved it: the time jumping, the stories within stories, the Gothic atmosphere and she couldn’t put it down. Another reader got the end but then wondered why she had expended so much of her time on this book and considered it to be the author’s self-indulgence in her ancestral Slavic roots.
So once again, this wasn’t for everyone but it did please some and so we scored it an average 4.2/10.
Read our previous reviews on the village website:
BOOK CLUB – October 2014 Meeting – Sleep Tight by Rachel Abbott
Rachel Abbott didn’t start her new writing career by going down the traditional publishing route. This is her third self-published novel with the introduction “When obsession takes over – How far would you go to hold on to the people you love?”
The central character Olivia calls the police to report that her husband and children are missing and this psychological thriller develops from there. The author asks her readers to suspend disbelief……..
We had a pleasant evening and discussed the book in depth. Everyone agreed that the first half of the book gripped you from the start, it was intriguing and a proper page turner with enough twists and turns to maintain the interest. We felt it was well written and all the characters were likeable. Some of us drew comparisons with one of our earlier books Before I Go To Sleep by S J Watson.
However for us, the second half of the book went flat, almost as if the author didn’t know which way to go and just rushed the end. We didn’t think the practicalities of the second half had been sufficiently thought through and the resultant island drama was a bit “Death In Paradise”.
On balance, it was an easy read and the first half was enjoyable but it could have done with more research to flesh out the plot in greater detail, so we gave it 6/10.
Debbie has contacted a number of our chosen authors over the life of our Book Club but sadly, not many have responded. Rachel Abbott did send Debbie a most insightful email telling us why she wanted to write the story and how she went about constructing the plot, which Debbie read out to us, so thank you Rachel! www.rachel-abbott.com
Read our previous reviews on the village website:
BOOK CLUB – September 2014 Meeting – The Holiday Home by Fern Britton
Fern Britton’s career began as a television presenter and she became well known for the popular programme Coast to Coast. This book was chosen so that we could see whether her skills as an author matched up to those as a presenter. This was the first book of hers that any of us had read and it created a lot of discussion and there was a split decision.
The story is of the Carew family who for many years have holidayed at Atlantic House, set high up on a picturesque Cornish cliff. From a childish squabble about who should have which room, the passing decades have not made easy sibling relationships between Prudence, the very hard-nosed businesswoman, and Constance, the homemaker.
Everyone thought the book was an easy read, it didn’t require much concentration and the characters were well described and well defined. But maybe that was the downfall of the book because the characters were rather overblown and lacked subtlety. There were very few surprises and many of us felt it all got a bit silly in the end. The sound bite of the evening was “like Midsomer Murders without the murder”.
One person didn’t bother to finish the book but another thoroughly enjoyed it and would definitely read more by Fern Britton. Thus our average score gravitated towards an average 5/10.
Read our previous reviews on the village website:
BOOK CLUB – August 2014 Meeting – Lazy Bones by Mark Billingham
We welcomed back one of our flood victims who had travelled to the village for the evening and she described herself as being happy to see the “gang” again which in this context was a fair enough description of these excellent women of our West Berkshire village.
Unfortunately the member who chose this book was in London and so couldn’t defend it. But that’s where the action is in this series of books by Mark Billingham. Lazy Bones is the third in the Tom Thorne series. Detective Inspector Tom Thorne works on the Metropolitan Police Murder Squad and when he‘s not working he indulges his taste for listening to country music, supporting Tottenham Hotspur FC and existing on take-away curries.
Just as with curries, our opinions were divided. There was a split between those who thought the outcome obvious and the plot lacked twists and turns. They didn’t warm to the characters. The crime thriller readers amongst us felt it was a poor example, one saying LAZY BOOK, LAZY WRITING. The korma lovers thought the the language was unnecessary and they didn’t like the subject matter (serial murders of released convicted rapists), finding it “grizzly and sordid with the ending a damp squid”. The phal member who chose the book can’t get enough of Tom Thorne and his colleagues, his base sense of humour and his single London lifestyle (Mark Billingham also does standup when he’s not writing).
On average we voted this book 3.5/10 and most preferred the writing of Lisa Gardner and Roger Hobbs for this genre.
Read our previous reviews on the village website:
BOOK CLUB – July 2014 Meeting – On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Many of our travellers had returned and so our numbers were well up again for our July meeting. However they had not been entirely idle on their global wanderings and one member had attended an English-speaking book club in a village in France where coincidentally they were discussing the same book as us Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Their members now read our online reviews (see below for link), so a very warm welcome to our new European friends.
On Chesil Beach was chosen by a member who had lived in Weymouth. She knows the allegedly fictional but easily recognised hotel where the book was based. However we did not find much description of the location and for local flavour and history we would preferably recommend Moonfleet the children’s classic by John Meade Falkner or Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier. So the book wasn’t quite what we might have thought it was going to be and one member suggested the title should have been What If? or If Only.
Those of us who were hoping it might develop into a murder or a suicide or well, anything at all really, were disappointed. This book is short, really only a novella, and one member described it as a long-winded short story. Most of us read it in only a couple of hours but that was enough. Although some of the prose was skilful, unanimously we found it shallow, we had no empathy with the characters, it lacked humour and we couldn’t believe it was set in 1962. So as far as we are concerned, Mr McEwan, it’s far too late for you.
On average we voted this book 3.5/10.
Now that the nights are drawing in again (sorry!), maybe you’re inclined to pick up a book rather than attend to the barbeque and if you’ve joined us before and drifted away, do come back, you are always welcome.
If you’re housebound or otherwise unable to attend (at least one member is still in temporary accommodation waiting for flood reparation) do read our reviews online at www.greatshefford.org.uk/the-village-of-great-shefford/great-shefford-clubs-and-societies/book-club/book-club-review-archive or join in virtually by reading the book of the month and send your comments and score to Debbie by email in time for our meeting.
BOOK CLUB – June 2014 Meeting – Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
Our midsummer meeting was a warm evening and there were a few absentees from our regular coterie but such is the informality of this group that members can send in their comments by way of note to be read out or just pop in to apologise that they haven’t read the book but would prefer to sit in the garden and listen to the bellringers!
The title of the book foxed some of us but we think it was meant to describe the young girl Louisa Clark and how she was before she met Will Traynor, an intelligent and successful young businessman cruelly rendered quadriplegic by a motorcycle accident, who wants to travel to Switzerland for an assisted suicide. One member perspicaciously likened Lou to Pygmalion.
The member who chose this book for our listings did so after she had read it herself because of the questions it throws up, not just about euthanasia but how able-bodied people treat others such as those in wheelchairs or with other disabilities and offer them entertainments and so on that they don’t actually want. Also, she said that men who had read it thought it was going to be chick-lit but were surprised at the more serious content.
Some of us would not have chosen to read the book had it not been on our Club list because of the difficult and topical subject matter and the conflicts surrounding the issue, so we approached it with trepidation. However in the end we all enjoyed it to a greater or lesser degree. It wasn’t traditionally romantic or “fluffy” but some of us needed a full box of tissues whereas others were able to stay dry-eyed throughout.
We all liked the characterisations: we loved Will’s antipodean male nurse, we hated his sister, we thought he did the gentlemanly thing as regards Lou who was rather unworldly.
We rated this book 8/10, our highest so far this year.
BOOK CLUB – May 2014 Meeting – Ghostman by Roger Hobbs
Our numbers were severely depleted by the school half-term and other holidays but we had a lively and intimate discussion about this first novel from a very young author.
The cover of the book has an endorsement from Lee Child “Fast, hard and knowing: this is an amazing debut full of intrigue, tradecraft and suspense.”
For once, we all agreed with this summary and we all agreed with each other! We did indeed find it quick, easy to read, gripping and action-packed. It was clever and intriguing. There was a lot of detail and we discussed whether there was too much or not. Our conclusion was that there was just the right amount of detail for us, although one member found the technicalities of guns excessive and another found some scenes too violent and drug-related.
The story has a link between past events and the present and this was well managed. Towards the end there was a scene which one could have thought was going to be very corny but there was an amazingly good twist.
A Ghostman is an untrackable criminal who deploys disguises and false identities to evade detection and repercussion. We variously found shades of the TV series Sherlock and Homeland and the Lee Child character Jack Reacher throughout this book.
We were all so surprised that a 24-year old author could write such an accomplished and mature book and we would like to read more by him, possibly with the same character. Our averagescore was 7.5/10 and we hope Roger Hobbs develops even further with future crime thrillers.
Our December meeting will be the usual seasonal meal plus a light-hearted literary challenge to write a short piece to follow on from a given opening sentence which will be supplied by an (almost) independent English teacher. More details at our June meeting so come along and find out!
BOOK CLUB – April 2014 Meeting
Our book for April was Paths of Glory by Jeffrey Archer.
The member who had chosen this book was unfortunately unable to attend and indeed we were a very small select gathering last month. None of those present had a high opinion of the author and nobody had wanted to line his pockets by buying the book new; fortunately we had all sourced our copies from charity shops so our money went to better causes.
Thus none of us set out in the best frame of mind towards this author and his book. However cheats and liars can often spin a good yarn.
This book is a novel about George Mallory’s attempt to climb Everest. We were all enthralled by the subject matter and one man’s determination to succeed against all the odds. Sadly our reading was coincident with the deaths of a number of Sherpas in an avalanche on Everest which added extra poignancy to our experience.
We severally found different bits of the book interesting then somewhat wearying. We engaged with the characters but only up to a point. Our comments included the phrases “low-brow”, “shallow”, “overly romanticised” and “wishy washy”. We liked the post hoc potted biographies of the major players but we felt the book did a Mallory himself a disservice and was too light on the actual climbing detail. There were some terribly corny caricatures and jokes, some of them rather crude (no doubt picked up in Belmarsh).
One member found it compared very poorly with Beryl Bainbridge’s The Birthday Boys about Scott’s doomed expedition to Antarctica in 1912, twelve years earlier.
None of us was motivated to read any more of this author’s offerings but the subject matter itself meant that we scored it 5.5/10 on average.
BOOK CLUB – March 2014 Meeting
Our book for March was Encounters by Barbara Erskine.
This author is well known for her full length novels such as Lady of Hay and it was on this basis we chose our book for March being an anthology of short stories.
Many of us were disappointed before we even embarked on the stories once we read that they had mostly been written for weekly women’s magazines. Still, Charles Dickens started somewhere like that so, undaunted, the majority of us did at least dip into the book which comprised 44 of these tales. One of our group managed to read a staggering 21 of them and this amazing feat elicited a round of applause.
Short stories can be useful in certain circumstances as many of agreed although we couldn’t see this compendium rising much above the doctor’s waiting room. There were recurring themes of ghost stories, the past and present coming together, struggling painters and of course, romance, much of it of the Mills and Boon variety.
Encounters was a valid title but not of the kind we would wish to repeat, so we scored the book a miserable 2.5/10, our lowest ever. We thought we could all do better than this author’s literary achievement which we ranked alongside a 12-year old’s school essay.
However we have many interesting titles coming up for the rest of 2014 and for our end of year treat we are toying with the idea of a challenge within the group for each of us to write a short story to complete a given first sentence – so watch this space!
BOOK CLUB – February 2014 Meeting
Our book last month was After The Fall by Charity Norman.
The paperback version of this novel headlined the Daily Mail quote “Will appeal to fans of Joanna Trollope and Jodi Picoult”. However not one of us thought it was at all like Joanna Trollope which only goes to prove you should never believe what’s written in the Daily Mail.
But this was our only point of agreement. Oh how we love to differ! Some thought the book was excellent and one member even thought it was the best book she had ever read at Book Club. Others thought it was a good story but one person didn’t like it at all.
The central character and narrator is Martha. She uproots her family and moves from England to New Zealand for the sake of her artist husband’s work. Their little twin boys are very excited about this but her teenage daughter from a previous casual relationship is desperately unhappy about leaving her friends back home. The family’s dream escape becomes a nightmare when one of the boys Finn falls off a balcony in the middle of the night and sustains life-threatening injuries.
We thought Martha as a mother was very annoying and selfish. But then that is the skill of the author to involve the reader with the characters. The plot has various twists and turns which some found predictable but others not.
Most of us felt it was an easy read and an absorbing story although it was no great work of literature being written in a chick lit language style. The book is told in flashback going over the events leading up to poor little Finn’s accident. So much so that we were of the opinion it should have been titled Before The Fall. The book’s New Zealand setting sounds idyllic but there is a hard drugs issue which was well handled.
We rated the book 7/10 on average.
BOOK CLUB – January 2014 Meeting
Most readers will have heard of Kate Moss the underfed model infamous for her drug use.
Kate Mosse however is the rather more wholesome author of, amongst other works, the Languedoc Trilogy: Labyrinth, Sepulchre and Citadel. The third book Citadel was our choice for January.
One of our group has a house in France and so she chose this book for the connection with the location. Indeed, you can visit the author’s website www.katemosse.co.uk and take location tours for the first two books.
Some of us read the complete trilogy, others just read this third book and others started but didn’t manage to finish it. It’s a big doorstop of a book, hard to hold whilst reading in bed, so we felt it may be preferable to read the electronic version. It was a marathon and we felt there were parts in the book that didn’t need to have been there and that it went on for too many chapters.
We thought it was a very well written book with elements of history, suspense and romance, with complex plots. We liked the style of writing, found it very descriptive, and we could picture the characters and taste and smell the countryside. We even thought Kate Mosse could write a great travel brochure. It tells the story of an all-female group of resistance fighters (which we liked) codename Citadel, fighting not only to liberate the Midi from Nazi Occupation but also to protect an ancient secret manuscript that, if it fell into the wrong hands, could change the course of history.
This is a stand-alone book but we all thought we would have preferred to read the complete trilogy because some of the storylines and characters were lost as they had featured in the other books. Those of us who had read all three thought Labyrinth was the best. Those who hadn’t read all three felt that one day they would.
We’re not plot spoilers here at Book Club, so we didn’t discuss the ending in detail because many of us would eventually go on to the end, suffice to say those who had finished it found it good.
It was an interesting evening and with the mark ranging between 5 – 8, it actually scored a 6/10 on average.
Online Book Clubs
If you don’t like the idea of a face-to-face book club then in these short dark winter days and long dark winter nights, you can always try an online bookclub. Here’s a couple of free websites for book lovers that I particularly enjoy:
Goodreads www.goodreads.com – You can keep track of books you want to read and those you have read, you can post reviews and receive recommendations based upon your past titles and join discussion groups and contact authors. You can nominate friends and share and compare reviews with them and also invite others to become your “friend” (just a word of caution here to be careful about online personal safety, of course). For those of you who bask in statistics, you can see how many books and even how many pages you have read each year, your most read authors and your ratings for each book.
abookabroad www.abookabroad.com – Thinking of going on holiday when the weather is better or just wanting a book to select to fit into the context of your destination? This is a growing database of travel fiction that gives you the chance to share a book you’ve read that brings a place to life. This website gives you the opportunity to search reviews and locations to match your favourite novels with your chosen locations. You can register to post reviews and sign up to receive a monthly newsletter.