Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

East of Hounslow by Khurrum RahmanEast of Hounslow

Javid, or Jay as he likes to be called, is a dealer living in London. He drives around in his recently bought BMW and lives with his Mum.  He prays every Friday at the local mosque, which is the extent of his religious practice.  However, Jay’s life is about to dramatically change because MI5 are watching him, he fits the profile for a mission and they are about to make contact.

Suddenly his world gets turned upside-down and he is plunged into a world of guns, violence, religion and terror.  You get thrown into this world as Jay is, trying to understand who the good guys are, understanding where hate comes from and you get to walking someone else’s shoes for a bit and experience his life.

This book received a mixture of opinions from my group, many did not like the main character.  His choices might not have seemed the best, but you could hear the clear narrative going through his head as he weighed up his options and made sense of his new world.  It is fast-paced and gripping all building up to a planned terror attack in London and there is no way to predict the outcome.

 

Innocent Traitor by Alison WeirInnocent traitor

5 stars

Alison Weir’s enthralling novel, breathes new life into one of the most significant and tumultuous periods of the English monarchy. It is the story of Lady Jane Grey–“the Nine Days’ Queen”–a fifteen-year-old girl who unwittingly finds herself at the centre of the religious and civil unrest that nearly toppled the fabled House of Tudor during the sixteenth century.

The child of a scheming father and a ruthless mother, for whom she is merely a pawn in a dynastic game with the highest stakes, Jane Grey was born during the turbulent period between Anne Boleyn’s beheading and the demise of Jane’s infamous great-uncle, King Henry VIII. With the premature passing of Jane’s adolescent cousin, and Henry’s successor, King Edward VI, comes a struggle for supremacy fuelled by political machinations and lethal religious fervour.

Unabashedly honest and exceptionally intelligent, Jane possesses a sound strength of character beyond her years that equips her to weather the vicious storm. And though she has no ambitions to rule, preferring to immerse herself in books and religious studies, she is forced to accept the crown, and by so doing sets off a firestorm of intrigue, betrayal, and tragedy.
This is an extremely readable and harrowing account of the life and death of Lady Jane Grey which readers will find very informative and exceptionally moving.

Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North15lives

4/5 stars

Harry August is born, he lives his life and then he dies of old age.  Then he is born in the same place and the same time and remembers his first life.  This is the story of Harry August and his first fifteen of his lives.  Just before the end of his eleventh life a young girl comes to him and relays a message from the future, something is happening in his lifetime that is changing events in the future and can he help? Harry then learns about the Cronus Club, a secret organisation who helps people who experience their lives over and over again.  But not everyone likes the Cronus Club.

This book was very unique and bought forwards questions of what would you do if you remembered your lives? How would you save the world?  It covered many twentieth century events and technology and shows how far humanity did progress. The world-building is intricately detailed and it is a well plotted and thorough story. It covers many genres of fiction, contemporary, sci-fi, historical and thriller, providing a gripping read for your group.  This book was a bit of a ‘marmite’ book for our group, but that did provided some interesting discussions.

 

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burtonminiaturist

This has been reviewed by Jean Warwick from the Finchampstead Library Book Group

5 Stars

“The Miniaturist” is an intriguing tale which recreates life in seventeenth century Amsterdam. It gives the reader a vivid portrayal of the social class system and oppressive religion.

I found the insight of the character the miniaturist intriguing and mysterious. The novel creates suspense, mystery and horror.

The metaphor in the conclusion of a ” hopeful tapestry”  woven by the characters. The loose threads creating their own destinies. Thus, despite the horror of Johannes Brandt’s punishing death, we feel Nella will pick up the threads of her life.
A wonderfully descriptive and unusual love story and a page turner. Well worth reading.

 

Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

The Familiars by Stacey HallsThe Familiars: Amazon.co.uk: Stacey Halls: 9780778309017: Books

3.5 stars

The Familiars, a debut novel by Stacey halls, tell the story of Fleetwood Shuttleworth, a young married woman of the gentry class who lived in Lancashire during the early seventeenth century. Although it’s a work of fiction, the story is based upon the lives of real people who were living at that time, interwoven with an account of the infamous Pendle witch trials.

Fleetwood, who is mistress of a very large house, is expecting again after having lost babies in previous pregnancies. Feeling isolated and vulnerable she strikes up a friendship with a local girl, Alice Grey, who she employs to be her midwife. Unwittingly this leads her into contact with other women in the area who are accused of witchcraft and are being hunted down by the sinister Roger Nowell, a friend of her husband’s.

The story tells of Fleetwood’s attempts to rescue her friend from a death sentence at the Pendle trials. It also focuses on the persecution of women who were merely using  their healing skills and herbal remedies  to help others  during that period. Fleetwood is a courageous heroine who flouts the social conventions of the time.

This is an interesting historical novel and some of the themes will resonate with today’s readers, particularly the maltreatment of women. Some of Fleetwood’s activities do seem rather incredible for a woman in her era and are a little unbelievable although generally things seem to be well researched and described. I did find my interest waning somewhat about two thirds of the way through as I found the story was running out of steam and it could have been shorter.

 

The Good Immigrant edited by Nikesh ShuklaThe Good Immigrant: Amazon.co.uk: Shukla, Nikesh, Shukla, Nikesh ...

5 out of 5 stars

“How does it feel to be constantly regarded as a potential threat, strip-searched at every airport? Or be told that, as an actress, the part you’re most fitted to play is ‘wife of a terrorist’? How does it feel to have words from your native language misused, misappropriated and used aggressively towards you? How does it feel to hear a child of colour say in a classroom that stories can only be about white people? How does it feel to go ‘home’ to India when your home is really London? What is it like to feel you always have to be an ambassador for your race? How does it feel to always tick ‘Other’?”

Our book group doesn’t tend to read much non-fiction and we wanted to diversify our reading, therefore we ordered this book.  The book is made up of different essays written by British black, Asian and minority ethnic people about their lives.  The essays are really good for empathy-building, walking in other people’s footsteps and living their experiences.  The essays were a mixture of factual and biographical, which meant there was something that appealed to all our members and kept them interested.

We felt this was a really important read and everyone should pick it up.  We spent a long time discussing the book and what each member learnt from it.  We could all relate to the essays on a personal level and it answered questions for us that we might have been hesitant to ask.

The Good Immigrant is informative, honest, deeply personal, eye-opening and enlightening.  It will provide many discussion points for your book group.

Our Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

 

Suite Francaise-Irene NemirovskyImage result for suite francaise

5/5 Stars

By the early 1940s, when Ukrainian-born Irène Némirovsky began working on what would become Suite Française—the first two parts of a planned five-part novel—she was already a highly successful writer living in Paris. But she was also a Jew, and in 1942 she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz: a month later she was dead at the age of thirty-nine. Two years earlier, living in a small village in central France—where she, her husband, and their two small daughters had fled in a vain attempt to elude the Nazis—she’d begun her novel, an incredible portrayal of a human drama in which she herself would become a victim. When she was arrested, she had completed two parts of the epic, the handwritten manuscripts of which were hidden in a suitcase that her daughters would take with them into hiding and eventually into freedom. Many years later, we can read Némirovsky’s literary masterpiece.

The first part, “Storm in June,” opens in the chaos of the massive 1940 exodus from Paris on the eve of the Nazi invasion, during which several families and individuals are thrown together under circumstances beyond their control. They share nothing but the will to survival—some trying to maintain lives of privilege, others struggling simply to preserve their lives—but soon, all together, they will be forced to face the awful problems of physical and emotional displacement, and the destruction of the world they know. In the second part, “Dolce,” we enter the increasingly complex life of a German-occupied provincial village. Coexisting uneasily with the soldiers billeted among them, the villagers—from aristocrats to shopkeepers to peasants—cope as best they can. Some choose resistance, others collaboration, and as the book unfolds we see a fascinating picture of a community under occupation and the complexities of the relationships between Germans and their unwilling French hosts.

Suite Francoise is a deeply poetic and moving story, made even more poignant when one knows of the eventual fate of its author.  A highly recommended and affecting story.

 

The Help by Kathryn StockettImage result for the help kathryn stockett

5/5 stars

The Help is a wonderful book about three women, two African-American women who are households maids and one white young woman who is an aspiring writer.  Eugenia, or “Skeeter”, is the writer.  Her maid who brought her up has gone missing and Skeeter is determined to find out what happened to her, which leads her to realise that black employees are treated very differently to white employees.  With the help of a publisher, Skeeter intends to write a book depicting these truths, but first she needs the trust and source of a maid.

Aibileen has worked for years as a maid to various white families raising and caring for their children.  When Skeeter comes to her looking for help for her book she eventually agrees along with another maid, Minny.  Secret meetings between the women begin to take place.  Life continues for these women and when another maid is arrested for a crime she didn’t commit, it inspires lots of women to come and tell their stories to Skeeter.

This book is fascinating, we were gripped reading these stories that the women told, their lives and the situations they ended up in either had us in stitches or in tears.  They were all very brave, their lives full of uncertainty; not having stable jobs, the threat of being fired, surviving on very little.  Our group was also very mindful that the story was written from a white woman but we felt she wrote with empathy and experience.

Our group highly recommend this book, and if you get the chance listen to it on audio book as that version really brings to life the characters.

Our Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn38085814. sy475
4 stars

Raynor Winn writes the inspirational true story about her long distance walk around the 630 miles of the sea-swept South West Coast Path, from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall. with her husband Moth. Their story starts in desperate circumstances, the couple have become bankrupt in middle age, have lost their home and Moth has just been diagnosed with a terminal disease.
Carrying only the essentials for survival on their backs, they live wild in the ancient, weathered landscape of cliffs, sea and sky. They meet many test on the journey and suffer many set-backs but ultimately this is a life affirming and positive experience for them both. It’s also about the healing power of the landscape and the natural world.
As someone who has always been interested in the idea of walking the South West Cost path I found the descriptions of the journey fascinating. I had not realised how tough a walk it is and how difficult it must have been for the couple who were so little prepared for the hardships they encountered.
There are also some bleak assessments of how tourism has ruined and compromised some of the villages and towns along the route. It gave me a striking sense of what it means to live outside accepted social norms, the couple are sometimes branded as tramps and undesirables by people they meet along the way due to their scruffy appearance and lack of cash.
Ultimately their experience is positive and the book may give comfort to people who find themselves living through difficult times. An unusual read which will provide many talking points for book groups.

 

Alone in Berlin by Han Fallada6801335

3/5 stars

Inspired by a true story, Alone in Berlin tells the story of a couple who live in an apartment building during the second world war.  It’s about their fight against the Nazi regime by writing anti-Nazi postcards and leaving them around the city.  Even though their crime could be considered small, Otto tells his wife, “whether it’s big or small, Anna, if they get wind of it, it’ll cost us our lives.”

 

The book also centres on other characters who live in the building living under the Nazis.  It’s a really intriguing tale of how the everyday person survived under such a strict regime in the time of war.  Through the writing you really feel how terrified these people were.

Even though there are a variety of characters we found it fairly easy to keep track of everyone.  The plot was very well written, the reader really feels as if they’re in it along with the characters in the midst of the decision making and the tense atmosphere.  Who knows what could happen next?

We’d recommend it to other groups as it was an interesting read, potentially a longer read than was really necessary.  Very insightful to see what life was like for the everyday German during the Second World War.

Our Book Groups Recommend…

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

Image result for the dark circleThe Dark Circle by Linda Grant

5 stars

The Dark Circle tells the story of Jewish twins, Lenny and Miriam Lynskey, who are diagnosed with tuberculosis and are shuttled to a sanatorium in Kent where they live in enforced idleness while the staff endeavour to effect a cure for a disease that’s traditionally fatal. The year is 1949 and the NHS has just been set up and beginning to have an effect on the lives of ordinary people. While they are there antibiotics are being trialled that will eventually cure the condition, but many of the inmates are still dying.

The story weaves around this inner circle of patients, people who would have never met normally, due to various issues of race, class and circumstances, but in the book they form relationships that seem to cross all borders.

This is at times an uncomfortable and even shocking read, particularly the graphic descriptions of the treatments that were used and the powerlessness of the Sanatorium inmates. However it does paint an illuminating picture of life and the class structure in post war Britain and the attempts by the working class East End twins to buck the system.

Despite the difficult subject matter the language is vibrant, the story is compelling and it’s definitely a page turner.

Image result for the trouble with goats and sheep

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

3 stars

This novel is set in a sleepy avenue during the heatwave of 1976, two girls are investigating the disappearance of one of their neighbours. Their investigation takes them all around the avenue, in and out their neighbour’s houses, uncovering all their secrets. You never know what happens behind closed doors.

The heatwave in the novel is reflected in the slow-pace of the plot, the reader can actually feel the stifling, suffocating heat through the words. There were many characters and the plot has a few surprising and sinister twists and turns. It’s a descriptive, atmospheric book full of mystery, which was fun to read and discuss.

Our Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul KalanithiImage result for when breath becomes air

5/5 stars

A gifted young neuro surgeon in his thirties, Paul Kalanithi had spent 11 years training for one of the most skilled jobs in medicine when he was diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer.

He was also a brilliant writer and this memoir looks back at his early life and how he made the decision to enter medicine. He writes movingly about how his skills enabled him to change people’s lives through surgery. His own cancer journey is shown as something he deals with rather than being ruled by. He continues to work and plans to start a family with his wife, Lucy. He charts the difficult transition he needs to make from being the doctor to being the patient and how he is not always successful in doing this.

The book flows well, it is reasonably short and despite the medical terminology it is easy to read. People in our group found it very moving, particularly those who had had some experience of cancer, either themselves or in their families. Despite its grim undertone it is also a very inspiring, if at times painful read.

 

Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad: The True Story of an Unlikely Friendship by Bee Rowlatt and May Witwit

4/5 starTalking About Jane Austen in Baghdad

My book group read Talking About Jane Austen in Baghdad recently, I was a little bit apprehensive as I am not the biggest Jane Austen fan.  However, if you’re looking for a book on Jane Austen this is not it as Austen is only mentioned a couple of times.  This story is a tale of friendship between two women who live thousands of miles apart.  Both women have many hurdles to overcome in life which drives the plot.

I was more emotionally involved with May’s story and her life in Baghdad than Bee’s story in London, so much so I was racing through Bee’s chapter to get to May’s chapter.  When May’s life in Baghdad becomes more dangerous her and Bee plot to get May and her partner over to the UK.  It’s hard to think that this is a true story and it happened just over ten years ago!

Our group enjoyed the story.  It provoked much discussion about the political climate today and refugees coming to Europe.  It was also very human and relatable.  I did want it to continue, I really enjoyed reading the parts about May and Ali being in the UK and how they perceive UK culture.

Our Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

Wild by Cheryl StrayedImage result for wild cheryl strayed

5/5 stars

At 26, Cheryl Strayed thought she had lost everything. In the wake of her mother’s death, her family disbanded and her marriage crumbled. With nothing to lose, she made the most impulsive decision of her life: to walk 1,100 miles of the west coast of America – from the Mojave Desert, through California and Oregon, and into Washington State – and to do it alone. She had no experience of long-distance hiking and the journey was nothing more than a line on a map.

The book follows her trials and tribulations throughout her time on the trail and she nearly comes to grief on many occasions. The difficult physical terrain is described in vivid detail as well as her encounters with many different people on the route. Impressively, the books describes the author’s spiritual and mental growth and how eventually she gains some peace of mind and some insight into her own situation.

This is a very readable and enjoyable memoir and would provoked some interesting discussions in a book group.  Some readers have objected to her selfishness and self absorption, but love or loathe Cheryl, you can’t ignore her!

 

Image result for the seven deaths of evelyn hardcastleThe Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton

3/5 stars

This story is an Agatha Christie style story with a fantasy twist.  Imagine an old manor house, falling into dis-repair, the lady of the house has decided to throw a ballroom party and invites a variety of characters.  However, during the party her daughter dies under suspicious circumstances.

The next day the reader wakes up in the body of one of the party guests and has to relive the day trying to solve the murder.  This continues for seven days, the reader awakes in different bodies experiencing the day from different points of view.  Can you solve the mystery before Evelyn Hardcastle dies seven times?

The reaction from our book group was interesting, it varied from members really enjoying the book enough to want to re-read it again to hunt out the clues.  A couple of members were glad they read it but didn’t enjoy the story as much.  I was one of the latter members but I would definitely recommend it to a book group, it’s full of twists and turns and lots of plot to unpick and discuss.

Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin TalleyImage result for lies we tell ourselves

5/5 stars

This book is set in 1959 in America when school integration of black students into white schools started to happen.  The story follows Sarah, who is one of the first black students to attend a white school.  It’s her last year of school she finds love and tries to succeed in a school against her.  She’s clever, received top marks at her old school and is expected to go to college, however in the white school she is put in the lower classes and is tormented and humiliated on a daily basis.  She is under a large amount of pressure to fit into her new school to prove to everyone that integration is the way forward.  Parents, teachers and people of authority are all against them and there are mass protests.  The reader is left feeling unsure whether Sarah, her sister and the eight other students will get through the year.

The story is heart-breaking and has horrific moments where it is hard to read.  Our group thought it was very informative and educational, it made us research more about that time period and what happened in the end.  Even though it was difficult we thoroughly enjoyed the book.

 

The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard    Image result for the seven imperfect rules of elvira carr

4/5 stars

At twenty seven years old, Elvira Carr finds herself living alone after her overbearing Mother has a stroke and is taken into a care home. It’s evident that Elvira is somewhere on the autistic spectrum and she finds life difficult and puzzling.

To help herself to survive in a baffling world she devises seven rules to cope with life and try to fit in with the rest of the world. She encounters a variety of different characters in her new life. Some like her next door neighbour, Sylvia are kind and helpful while there are also some more dubious characters of whom she must beware.

There is a mystery surrounding her Father, who has been dead for some time and later in the book she discovers a relative that she had been unaware of.

The book has been compared to The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion and The  Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon where the central characters are on the autistic spectrum. There is plenty to discuss here, there are plenty of twists and turns and there are no easy answers for the central character. The book is ultimately uplifting but there are some darker moments. It is very readable and offers a great insight into what it means to live with and manage autism.

Our Book Group Recommendations

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups for a monthly post. If you would like to review one of

 our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk

Educated by Tara Westover

Image result for educated book

Reviewed by a member of Wokingham’s Second Monday Book Group

5/5 stars

This is the fascinating and often harrowing memoir of a girl who is bought up in a Mormon Fundamentalist family in Idaho. Born the youngest of seven, Tara is not allowed to go to school. Her father Gene believes that the world will end on the stroke of the millennium, he will not allow any members of his family to receive conventional medical treatment and he also believes that eating dairy products is sinful. Tara’s birth is never registered.

Life for the family is grim and they continually struggle to earn enough money from working with scrap metal to survive. Instead of receiving an education Tara is forced to work with her father and brothers in the scrapyard. One of her brothers subjects her to horrendous physical abuse which is described in horrific detail.

Eventually Tara finds the will to get herself to college where she finds huge gaps in her knowledge of the world-she has no idea what the Holocaust is and knows nothing of the two World Wars. After many trials and tribulations she graduates from Brigham Young University and is then awarded a Gates Cambridge Scholarship. However she finds that gaining an education comes with a cost as she loses her family and ultimately writing this book forms part of the healing process.

Although this book sounds like it fits into the “misery memoir” category it is very moving and would provoke much discussion at a book group meeting.

 

Ethan Frome by Edith Wharton.5246

Reviewed by a member of Finchampstead Book Group

Star rating 4/5

First person narration. Narrator finds himself in small New England town – Starkfield ( an appropriate name) for the winter. He learns about life of the mysterious Ethan Frome – a man left lame after an accident 24 years previously. Narrator hires Frome to be his driver for a week. There is a severe snow storm and the two find themselves in Frome’s home for shelter. We learn about the hard life earning a living from the land and the harsh winters.

There is some wonderfully apt description in this novel- man and landscape are interwoven:
” He (Frome) seemed a part of the mute melancholy landscape, an incarnation of its frozen woe”
Frome is very poor ” bout as bare’s a milkpan when the cat’s been round”

Wharton has a remarkable ability to involve readers’ senses and feel,the cold harshness of Frome’s pitiful life