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

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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


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.

Gone girl by Gillian Flynn

Reviewed by a member of Finchampstead Book Group

4/5 stars

Psychological thriller about a marriage turned sour. Nick returns home (near Mississippi River) to find front door open, signs of a struggle in living room and Amy, his wife, missing.

Story alternates between viewpoints of Nick and Amy.  Reader invited to explore many questions.
Is Amy dead?
If so, who has killed her?
What has happened?

Excellent feeling of suspense created. Seems to me reader feels unease as we are invited to question our own relationships – do we really know our nearest and dearest? I found portrayal of Amy’s parents fascinating – the perfect couple with their perfect business and yet?

I was interested to read that Gillian Flynn’s father had passion for horror and as a child she watched horror films including “Psycho” and “Bonnie and Clyde”.


The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw

Review by the Bookworms of Farley Hill. Book discussed in July 2019.

3/3.5 out of 5 stars

This book traces the story of textile merchant Johnny Lim, a Chinese peasant living in British Malaya in the first half of the twentieth century.

Our opinions on The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw varied widely, from three who tried to read it and gave up to some who considered it very intriguing.

No one considered it a book she would particularly recommend. The book falls into three sections with three different styles of writing, to represent three people’s standpoints. This showed versatility in the author though few of us enjoyed the middle section (posthumously read diary entries written by the main protagonist Johnny’s wife, Snow).  This part was felt to be rather incoherent and unbelievable with little empathy or fondness for Snow emerging from our group.

The first section of the book (Johnny’s son Jasper’s account of his father’s exploits) engaged most of us though it was never made clear how he pieced together the evidence of events he did not witness. Indeed he often said that everyone locally had believed a different version.

The third part (Englishman Peter’s account)  was the most preferred section of the book, partly because of the more sympathetic portrayal of Johnny and partly because some of the many loose ends were finally explained and the overall picture became clearer.

For example, we realised we had jumped to conclusions over the death of Honey (a mine owner murdered during WW2). This and other ambiguities gave rise to a quite lengthy discussion.

Could we be sure whose son Jasper really was?

Did the red herrings and unexplained incidents add to the mystery or detract from the overall satisfaction of the book?

It’s a book which really needs to be read twice to pick up on the real significance of some of the incidents, for example, Jasper wants to go the Seven Maiden Islands and doesn’t realise why his father shuts down the idea. Another example is where Peter’s all-important final gift is consigned unopened to a pile of discarded presents and we only realise at the very end that this mattered. I am sure there are other incidents we missed altogether.

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 Painted Veil by Somerset Maugham99664

Reviewed by a member of The Bookworms of Farley Hill

We discussed “The Painted Veil” by Somerset Maugham at some length. The majority found the book written in 1925 about the colonial life of Hong Kong had aged very well. It gave a brilliant description of upbringings and attitudes of the time. Characters were rounded and satisfying male and female. He paints his pictures of people and settings with economy and clarity. The story reflects its time but is still gripping. The general conclusion was that it was a good read, very satisfying and extended our understanding of the deep prejudices of the time. The central character, Kitty, goes through a lifetime of experience in a very short period and we are with her, watching in horror, disbelief and relief as the tale moves on. The supporting cast is of very diverse but strongly drawn characters. We did not rate it numerically at the time but it would certainly come out as a book we were mostly glad to have read and would recommend. Somerset Maugham’s short stories were also mentioned by several people as very satisfying reading.


10374638The Little Coffee Shop of Kabul by Deborah Rodriguez
Reviewed by a member of Generation X
3 / 5 stars

This book centres on a coffee shop in Kabul owned by Sunny. The story is about Sunny and four other women, who visit this coffee shop and about their lives in a dangerous city. The story covers certain topics of life in a war-zone, female friendship, religions, traditions, women’s rights, Afghan society and much more. I learnt a lot from this book and would like to read more books in a similar setting from other view points.
Our book group members found it an easy and informative read, but we believe the bias was from a strong American point of view. It’s very much a light-hearted read, tackling serious topics.
The story does originate from personal experience as the author herself has lived and worked in Kabul. If you enjoyed this and want to know more do read her other books, she has a non-fiction title called Kabul Beauty School, which describes how she set up a beauty school to teach Afghan women how to run a beauty parlour to give them financial independence.



Our Book Group Recommendations

The Martian by Andy WeirThe_Martian_2014

Reviewed by a member of Generation X Book Group

5 Stars

When I finished The Martian, I moved it straight up my favourite books list. It tells the tale of an astronaut called Mark Watney who has landed on Mars with his crew. Soon everything starts to go wrong and Mark ends up stranded on Mars. His crew, believing that he’s dead, leave Mars and start travelling back to Earth. Mark has to survive on Mars with the items his crew have left behind, disco music and potatoes! He records daily entries of his life on Mars. Eventually the dialogue moves between Mark, the reactions on Earth and his old crew.

“He’s stuck out there. He thinks he’s totally alone and that we all gave up on him. What kind of effect does that have on a man’s psychology?” He turned back to Venkat. “I wonder what he’s thinking right now.” 

LOG ENTRY: SOL 61 How come Aquaman can control whales? They’re mammals! Makes no sense.” 

It’s funny, human, thrilling and emotional. The reader is left guessing right to the end at what his fate might be.

Our book group had a really good discussion about the book and human resilience, everyone really enjoyed it, including some members who hadn’t read science fiction before. The film is also excellent and very true to the book.

Circe by Madeline MillerCirce

By a member of a Wokingham Library Book Group

5 stars

Circe is a figure from Greek Mythology, daughter of Helios the God of the Sun. In this beautifully written story Circe is rejected by her family as she does not have the appearance of a divine being and from the outset she craves mortal company. When she discovers that she is able to use witchcraft to gain her own ends she is exiled in perpetuity by Zeus, the king of the gods to the remote island of Aiaia.

The story traces her encounters with other immortals such as Hermes, Athena and Apollo and also her part in the tale of the Minotaur when her sister gives birth to the monster on the island of Crete. She also encounters Odysseus on his way back from the Trojan wars. Eventually she must decide if she belongs with the immortals or whether she will sacrifice her divinity for the sake of a mortal she has come to love.

This is a wonderfully lyrical story and ultimately a great feminist fable of a woman who gets what she wants, triumphing over great adversity. This story brought back to life all the old tale and legends I remember hearing about years ago in a very magical way.

This is a new title for our book groups collection, I can thoroughly recommend it as an enthralling tale I would give it 5 stars.

We have asked our book groups to recommend or review titles they have discussed in their book groups. If you would like to review one of our book group titles please contact us at bookgroups@wokingham.gov.uk. This blog will appear every month.