The nights have drawn in, it’s starting to get chillier, the festive period is looming and there’s no better time to get lost in the pages of a good book. If you belong to a reading group who use our Collection and need some inspiration for your winter selection or want to know about the new titles we’ve recently added that your group just might love, then read on!

As with previous posts, below are some of the reviews we’ve received from Reading Groups based throughout Warwickshire – if you’d like to submit a review, the box containing your group’s book should include a form to fill in and we will add as many as we can to the catalogue, or when logged into your account online, you can add your own review and let other groups know your thoughts. Also included in this blog are a few suitably wintery titles and a whistle-stop tour through the new titles we’ve added to the Collection – we hope you’ll let us know what you think over the coming months for future blog posts!

Find out more about the Reading Group Collection and how it all works here.

Recent reviews

PRH_01573889_M_PRH_01573889_COVER_LARGEThe Salt Path by Raynor Winn

We recently heard from a group who reported that this book sparked “a rucksack of opinions” for their first foray into non-fiction. Some enjoyed it, while others found the descriptive detail of the book’s journey “tedious” and were “irritated” by the actions of its subjects. The concept of the book was met with praise and admiration for the scale of the undertaking, with the group pondering what they would do in the author’s shoes. Issues explored in the book include illness, homelessness and upheaval in family life so it’s not a light-hearted read, although for readers who are familiar with the South West coast, the descriptions and locations were rich and many enjoyed them, visualising the places mentioned.

The conclusion of their review reads “Overall for most it was an enjoyable read but perhaps the beautiful cover didn’t quite live up to expectations. It’s one we wanted to like more” – to read the full review, search for ‘The Salt Path’ in the Reading Group Collection on the catalogue.

9781784160852 Snap by Belinda Bauer

One from our ‘Crime and Thrillers’ mini-Collection and a page-turner according to one review we received from a group based in Warwick. A book with “several diversions throughout” and “Unexpected occurrences”  that ensured the group kept reading until the very end. Discussions were varied with different thoughts and reactions from group members. This was another book that had readers wondering what they’d do in the situations characters in the book found themselves in and with a cast of characters who provoked a wide variety of feelings in the readers, from sympathy to anger, puzzlement to disbelief. Overall, this was rated ‘excellent’ by the group.

A Commonplace Killing by Sian Busby 9781780722061

This book generated a lot of discussion for one of our WI groups based in Warwickshire. Looking at various aspects of life in London in the immediate post-war period, topics included the changing role of women and ex-servicemen, food shortages, poor living conditions and the feeling that things would never improve. The group “thought the plot developed skilfully and the pace of it mirrored the slowness of police investigations at the time compared with today”. There were mixed feelings about some of the characters which impacted negatively on some readers perception of the novel but overall, this got a ‘good’ rating.

The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks9780349139357

If you’re looking for a book with language that is “almost poetic in places” and one that really draws you into the period in which it is set, then according to a group based in Bishops Tachbrook, this is the one for you. Full of rich detail about the life of King David and those around him, it focuses on the lives of women at the time, shedding light on a period of history not often written about. With a lot of research having gone into this novel, it’s one which is graphic in places and has been given an overall rating of ‘excellent/very good’ according to the group.

(If rich historical fiction appeals, you could try Brooks’ other novels (not unfortunately available within the Reading Group Collections but we do have individual copies in our libraries) – for example, ‘Year of Wonders‘, and ‘March‘.)

Wintery Reads

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We have a few novels within the Reading Group Collection set during the winter so perfect to choose at this time of year .

One that certainly shows its winter credentials is Rose Tremain’s ‘The Gustav Sonata‘ and this novel divided a group based in Alcester. 50% of the group enjoyed it, finding characters sympathetic and the story told in an unsentimental way, while the other 50% did not warm to the characters, finding them selfish and with an ending that seemed trite. A good novel to choose for your group if you’re looking for plenty to talk about and if you’ve read others by Tremain as there are many diverse avenues to explore in your meeting and a wonderfully wintery cover too!

A Time for Peace‘ by Marg Roberts is set in the deep winter in Serbia during WW1. Exploring what the war meant to both soldiers and civilians in that country, this tackles several difficult topics – what someone will do to survive, how that survival can be put into jeopardy and how war can have wide-reaching and devastating consequences. Written by a local author, this is one you may not have come across but might be worth a try.

If you’re looking for a non-fiction title this winter, give ‘A Winter in Arabia‘ a look. This charts the explorations of Freya Stark who in 1934 visited the Hadhramaut region in what is now Yemen – the first woman to do so alone. Travel at that time was not easy, nor was it socially acceptable for a woman to make such a journey so this explores both topics, with much to ponder and discuss.

Our final winter selection is Patrick Gale’s ‘A Place Called Winter‘. Rated as a “thought-provoking, well written and enjoyable read” by a group based in Wellesbourne, this novel covers many topics. Following the life of Harry Cane (not that Harry Kane!) and his travels from the streets of Edwardian England into the isolated Canadian prairies, it looks at life and relationships and the consequences of illicit affairs on both individuals and families.

New titles

As promised, here’s a quick look at some of the new titles recently added to the Collection. Obviously as they have just arrived, we haven’t had any reviews yet so we are looking forward to hearing what you make of them.

Keeping with the wintery theme, we have ‘A Woman in the Polar Night‘ by Christiane Ritter – a non-fiction book that follows the travels in the 1930s of Ritter who left her comfortable life in Austria for the wilds of the Spitsbergen, an Arctic island where her husband was posted for a year. An adventure filled classic recently released with a lovely looking cover!

As 2019 ends and 2020 begins, for your January meetings, you could give ‘The January Man‘ by Christopher Somerville a shot. Another non-fiction travel writing book, this follows Somerville as month by month, he walks the British Isles. Covering history, the natural world, exploring the animals and landscapes he comes across, this may very well inspire you to get your walking boots on and explore the countryside.

One final non-fiction selection for you – Christie Watson’s ‘The Language of Kindness – A Nurse’s Story‘. Having been a nurse for 20 years, Watson has seen it all – from births to deaths and all that can befall a human being in the years between. A “tender and truthful” read, according to Jacqueline Wilson who is quoted on the back cover.

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Turning to fiction, we’ve added a number of novels for your enjoyment – both contemporary and set in the past – which we hope will spark conversations and get your groups talking about wide-ranging topics. Jodi Picoult’s ‘A Spark of Light‘ certainly seems like a conversation starter, looking at what happens when a lone gunman takes the women and doctors at an abortion clinic hostage. ‘When All is Said‘ by Anne Griffin looks at family relationships and is one that I can recommend as I read it earlier this year. Told as a series of toasts to the family members of 84 year old Maurice Hannigan, it is a moving story with both comedy and tragedy.

For those who enjoy a mystical read, we’ve added ‘Once Upon a River‘ by Diane Setterfield – a tale set in an inn on the banks of the Thames on a midwinter’s night. A seemingly drowned young girl is bought in by injured stranger as the regulars sit around sharing stories. Hours later, she breathes again.  Is it a miracle or is magic afoot?

If your group enjoys historical fiction then why not try Frances Liardet’s ‘We Must Be Brave‘. This best-selling novel follows Ellen Parr, a woman who never wanted children but who finds a young girl asleep and alone at the back of a bus fleeing the Southampton Blitz. Reviewed in The Guardian as “Dazzling … fierce, physical and almost inexpressingly tender”, we hope you will enjoy this one too.

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Let us know your thoughts about the titles you choose for your group meetings and happy reading!