Despite the isolation of the last year, our Reading Collection has continued to be popular with groups still borrowing their sets even if sometimes their discussions have been limited to emails, text messages and WhatsApp groups. Some have been able to meet virtually and the reviews many groups send us continue to arrive.

We love hearing from groups and reading their thoughts about titles in our Reading Group Collection. Whether the reviews are good or bad, we are fascinated by the comments and different perspectives taken about titles so today, we’re sharing some of them with you.

Before we get to that, if you want to know more about the Reading Group Collection – maybe you’re thinking of starting a group yourself? – you can find out what you need to know on our Reading Group Collection page. If you’re already one of our groups, if you haven’t already signed up for updates, you can find out how to do that here and you catch up with our previous blog posts of recommendations here.

We also use this page to showcase new additions to the Reading Group Collection – we’ve recently been fortunate enough to add a number of new sets to the Collection so to start, we’ll run through a few of the highlights……

New additions to the Reading Collection

Whether your Reading Group favours fiction or non-fiction, contemporary settings or something set back in history, shorter reads or longer, meatier novels, our Reading Group Collection has books for you. We’ve recently added all of these new titles to the Collection and you can request your sets now.

We have the 2020 Costa Book of the Year, The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey, the 2019 Women’s Prize winner, Tayari Jones’ most recently published novel Silver Sparrow and spy fiction from the late John Le Carre with Agent Running in the Field.

If you like to debate what’s better – the TV series/film or the book, we have The Queen’s Gambit (recently made into a Netflix series), while if you’re a fan of The Handmaid’s Tale (either the book or TV series), its sequel The Testaments is also in there (and proving very popular).

There are autobiographies including Lemn Sissay’s My Name Is Why which follows Lemn’s childhood spent in care and People Like Us by Hashi Mohamed, a look at what it takes to make it in modern Britain. Dear Life is written by Dr Rachel Clarke, a palliative care specialist and explores how we as humans face the end of our lives, while Five Stories is a collection of short stories inspired by reading groups throughout the West Midlands including two from Warwickshire (the groups involved were able to take part in this opportunity thanks to our partnership with West Midlands Readers Network – if you’re in a group, sign up to our updates to hear about similar opportunities in the future).

We also have some new crime and thriller novels as they are always popular. Warwickshire-based author Penny Batchelor’s debut novel My Perfect Sister is a real page turner, while big names such as Ian Rankin also feature. There are twists and turns in Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton and moral quandaries in Just My Luck by Adele Parks.

We hope you enjoy these new additions and look forward to hearing what you make of them!

Reviews from our Reading Groups

Snap by Belinda Bauer

The book’s blurb: On a stifling summer’s day, 11-year-old Jack and his two sisters sit in their broken-down car, waiting for their mother to come back and rescue them. Jack’s in charge, she said. I won’t be long. But she doesn’t come back. She never comes back. And life as the children know it is changed for ever.

Three years later, mum-to-be Catherine wakes to find a knife beside her bed, and a note that says: I could have killed you. Meanwhile Jack is still in charge – of his sisters, of supporting them all, of making sure nobody knows they’re alone in the house, and – quite suddenly – of finding out the truth about what happened to his mother. But the truth can be a dangerous thing.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “A really good read, everyone enjoyed it, despite the sad start to the story. The efforts of Jack as a young boy to keep his family together were astonishing. The Police characters were well portrayed and humorous. A good plot, characters well defined. Despite initial horror, very funny.”

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte

The book’s blurb: In this sensational, hard-hitting and passionate tale of marital cruelty, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall sees a mysterious tenant, Helen Graham, unmasked not as a ‘wicked woman’ as the local gossips would have it, but as the estranged wife of a brutal alcoholic bully, desperate to protect her son.

Using her own experiences with her brother Branwell to depict the cruelty and debauchery from which Helen flees, Anne Brontë wrote her masterpiece to reflect the fragile position of women in society and her belief in universal redemption, but scandalized readers of the time.

The thoughts of one of our groups: This novel “generated probably the best ever discussion about the changing position of women in society, marriage, duty etc.” The group recommend this book to other groups, giving it an ‘Excellent’ rating and advises other readers to “Go for it!”.

A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

The book’s blurb: It is 1932, and the losses of the First World War are still keenly felt. Violet Speedwell, mourning for both her fiancé and her brother and regarded by society as a ‘surplus woman’ unlikely to marry, resolves to escape her suffocating mother and strike out alone.

A new life awaits her in Winchester. Yes, it is one of draughty boarding-houses and sidelong glances at her naked ring finger from younger colleagues; but it is also a life gleaming with independence and opportunity. Violet falls in with the broderers, a disparate group of women charged with embroidering kneelers for the Cathedral, and is soon entwined in their lives and their secrets.

As the almost unthinkable threat of a second Great War appears on the horizon Violet collects a few secrets of her own that could just change everything.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “This proved to be a timely choice as lots of people have taken up tapestries and embroidery during lockdown. We managed to view some of the photographs of the kneelers and cushions from the Winchester Cathedral website which was very useful. We did compare the single women from Chevalier’s other books – Greet from The Girl With The Pearl Earring, Mary Anning in Remarkable Creatures – to Violet. All were feisty women hampered by the expectations on women at that time.

We would certainly recommend this book to others. We all love Tracy Chevalier’s books and appreciate the amount of research she does for all her books.”

The Binding by Bridget Collins

The book’s blurb: Emmett Farmer is working in the fields when a letter arrives summoning him to begin an apprenticeship. He will work for a Bookbinder, a vocation that arouses fear, superstition and prejudice – but one neither he nor his parents can afford to refuse.

He will learn to hand-craft beautiful volumes, and within each he will capture something unique and extraordinary: a memory. If there’s something you want to forget, he can help. If there’s something you need to erase, he can assist. Your past will be stored safely in a book and you will never remember your secret, however terrible.

In a vault under his mentor’s workshop, row upon row of books – and memories – are meticulously stored and recorded. Then one day Emmett makes an astonishing discovery: one of them has his name on it.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “As a group, we agreed that to begin with we weren’t sure about this book and a couple of us even read the last bit first to check that things were resolved in a satisfactory way. Once we had all got over our negative thoughts, we really got into this fascinating book. We thought that the author was excellent in thinking up the concept of ‘memories bound in a book’ and she gradually disclosed the answers to the questions raised in the first part. Our eventual verdict – a good read!

We would recommend it – it is worth persevering with – the concept is original and keeps you interested right to the end.”

The thoughts of a second of our groups: “It was a thumbs up to this intriguing novel from most of the group. A couple gave up reading early on, others felt it was a little long but those of us who finished the book thoroughly enjoyed it and intend to read the author’s latest book The Betrayals. Like another of our recent reads Wakenhyrst, we felt the period, names of the characters and marsh and city settings really added to the mysterious atmosphere of the book. The historical period was also crucial for the story to work as modern society is now much more discerning about mediumship and the supernatural.

We all agreed that the story wasn’t what we were expecting. From the back cover description we thought that Emmett would do more binding and that ultimately it was a love story. Misunderstood and full of integrity Seredith was by far our favourite character. Unlike her son she provided binding as a service to help others rather than for profit. We wanted to know more about her life so wondered if a prequel is in the offing! We also wanted to know what happened to Alta and her parents.

The author’s inspiration for the novel came from her experiences volunteering at The Samaritans whilst learning the craft of binding. We all felt it would be wonderful to have the power to capture and absolve the painful memories of those who had experienced trauma. However our experiences – both good and bad – help shape us so we wouldn’t be tempted to undergo binding ourselves. Characters in the book who had been bound seemed to be left feeling empty or became “stuck” as a shell of their former selves so not a quick fix to happiness. We also chatted about how differently binding was accessed by the poor and wealthy in the novel. The rich seemed to use it to facilitate and excuse criminal behaviour and to absolve sins, whilst the poor were forced to undergo binding to keep quiet.

One of us struggled with the switch to Lucian’s narrative in the last part of the novel but it helped us to develop more empathy with his character as we learned more about his childhood and life with his sadistic father. Most of us found him brash and duplicitous at first. We liked how the relationship between Emmett and Lucian developed throughout the story – never the main focus, just beautifully intertwined with the concept of binding. One of us had a “light bulb” moment during the dancing scene, others spotted a few earlier seeds.

When asking everyone about parallels between the popularity of trade bindings in the novel and modern taste for celebrity news there was a resounding absolutely! We decided everyone is nosy and that’s why social media and reality TV are such a part of our lives.

So another great read with so much to talk about”

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The book’s blurb: Homegoing traces the generations of a family as their destinies lead them through two continents and three hundred years of history. Effia and Esi are born into different villages in eighteenth-century Ghana. Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in comfort in the palatial rooms of Cape Coast Castle. Unbeknownst to Effia, her sister, Esi, is imprisoned beneath her in the castle’s dungeons, sold with thousands of others into the Gold Coast’s booming slave trade, and shipped off to America, where her children and grandchildren will be raised in slavery.

One thread of Homegoing follows Effia’s descendants through centuries of warfare in Ghana, as the Fante and Asante nations wrestle with the slave trade and British colonization. The other thread follows Esi and her children into America. From the plantations of the South to the Civil War and the Great Migration, from the coal mines of Pratt City, Alabama, to the jazz clubs and dope houses of twentieth-century Harlem, right up through the present day.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “This book was BIG hit. Hard to read at times, it was an ambitious story, or series of stories, spanning many generations and looking at black people’s oppression in its different forms. The Black Lives Matter campaign puts so many of these issues at the forefront of our minds and we all gained insights into a history of ongoing struggle and heartbreak.

Yes, we’d recommend it to other groups. It is beautifully written and has a satisfying ending. Not just a story of oppression, but a story of beauty, tradition, resilience and fortitude.”

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

The book’s blurb: What would you do if your survival depended on a stranger? On a stormy winter night, two strangers wait for a flight at the Salt Lake City airport. Ashley Knox is an attractive, successful writer, who is flying East for her much anticipated wedding. Dr Ben Payne has just wrapped up a medical conference and is also eager to return home. When the last outgoing flight is cancelled due to a forthcoming storm, Ben finds a charter plane that can take him around the weather front. And when the pilot says the single engine prop plane can fit one more, Ben offers the seat to Ashley.

Then the unthinkable happens and the plane crashes into the High Uintas Wilderness – one of the largest stretches of harsh and remote land in the United States.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “Most really enjoyed this book and found it hard to put down. Others found it rather implausible and couldn’t identify with the characters. On balance, most readers would probably enjoy this book even if some of the scenes seem a bit far-fetched.”

The thoughts of a second of our groups: “A very exciting adventure story – one you could not put down. One member said that the book was better than the film. An excellent book of survival against the odds.”

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The book’s blurb: Pirriwee Public is a beautiful little beachside primary school where children are taught that ‘sharing is caring’. So how has the annual School Trivia Night ended in full-blown riot? Sirens are wailing. People are screaming. The principal is mortified.

And one parent is dead.

Was it a murder, a tragic accident or just good parents gone bad? As the parents at Pirriwee Public are about to discover, sometimes it’s the little lies that turn out to be the most lethal.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “This was a very enjoyable read – a murder mystery but so much more. From the outset, we know there will be a tragic event but only in the very last few pages do we find out who the victim is. The group also enjoyed the underlying themes – issues of domestic abuse, bullying, secrets and lies centering on the lives of parents with children starting kindergarten.

Interesting that the three main characters are all women. We also liked the addition of snippets from police interviews with the parents which ended many of the chapters – an intriguing and very effective technique.

Although we weren’t able to meet as a group to discuss this book, we did think it would likely have generated a lively discussion on lots of issues. There are discussion questions at the end of the book which is always helpful.”

The Giver of Star by Jojo Moyes

The book’s blurb: The greatest love story is the one you least expect . . .

Alice is stifled, bored, and misunderstood. So when she meets wealthy and handsome American, Bennett Van Cleve, she is quickly swept off her feet. Marrying him and moving to America seems like a great adventure – but life as a newlywed in stuffy Baileyville, Kentucky, is not at all what she hoped for.

Until, that is, she responds to a call for volunteers to start a travelling library, surprising herself by saying yes, before her husband can say no .

The thoughts of one of our groups: “We all LOVED this book and it scored our highest mark ever! We loved the author’s straightforward approach: chronological order and one narrator. It was a great story and a real page turner. Set in the 1930s in rural Kentucky, Moyes introduced us to an unknown world with beautiful settings. We loved the characters and their joint venture – delivering books to remote places, all done on horseback with the difficult terrain the least of their problems.

We would definitely recommend this book. The romance element fitted well with the story and essentially it gave everyone a glimpse into part of America’s social history which we’d never known about before.”

The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing by Mary Paulson-Ellis

The book’s blurb: Solomon knew that he had one advantage. A pawn ticket belonging to a dead man tucked into his top pocket – the only clue to the truth. An old soldier dies alone in his Edinburgh nursing home. No known relatives, and no Will to enact. Just a pawn ticket found amongst his belongings, and fifty thousand pounds in used notes sewn into the lining of his burial suit . . .

Heir Hunter, Solomon Farthing – down on his luck, until, perhaps, now – is tipped off on this unexplained fortune. Armed with only the deceased’s name and the crumpled pawn ticket, he must find the dead man’s closest living relative if he is to get a cut of this much-needed cash.

But in trawling through the deceased’s family tree, Solomon uncovers a mystery that goes back to 1918 and a group of eleven soldiers abandoned in a farmhouse billet in France in the weeks leading up to the armistice.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “This book did lend itself to a good discussion as it divided us. Some enjoyed it for the writing and the ingenious story lines and thought Solomon Farthing was an interesting character. Others found it confusing and almost gave up.

All, however, agreed it was well written and a clever book even if not all felt it delivered. Two of our members thought it should have been two books.”

10 Minutes, 38 Seconds In This Strange World by Elif Shafak

The book’s blurb: In the pulsating moments after she has been murdered and left in a dumpster outside Istanbul, Tequila Leila enters a state of heightened awareness. Her heart has stopped beating but her brain is still active-for 10 minutes 38 seconds. While the Turkish sun rises and her friends sleep soundly nearby, she remembers her life-and the lives of others, outcasts like her.

Tequila Leila’s memories bring us back to her childhood in the provinces, a highly oppressive milieu with religion and traditions, shaped by a polygamous family with two mothers and an increasingly authoritarian father. Escaping to Istanbul, Leila makes her way into the sordid industry of sex trafficking, finding a home in the city’s historic Street of Brothels. This is a dark, violent world, but Leila is tough and open to beauty, light, and the essential bonds of friendship.

In Tequila Leila’s death, the secrets and wonders of modern Istanbul come to life, painted vividly by the captivating tales of how Leila came to know and be loved by her friends. As her epic journey to the afterlife comes to an end, it is her chosen family who brings her story to a buoyant and breath-taking conclusion.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “This was a big success in our group and we all agreed it was well written, informative and entertaining. We would like to read other books by this author.”

The thoughts of a second of our groups: “Great discussion. Two members of the group couldn’t get into the book because it was too ‘dark’ for them. One member was fed up with the introduction of so many friends – each representing a minority group without exploring each in enough depth for them. Half the group enjoyed the book with its descriptions of Turkey and Turkish life. Most felt that the second half of the book was lacking.

We would recommend it to other groups. It was a clever device – that of the victim dying and recollecting her life in the remaining minutes of brain consciousness. Not for the faint-hearted though and not a cheerful read.”

To the Lions by Holly Watt

The book’s blurb: A journalist must follow the clues, no matter how far that takes her. Casey Benedict, star reporter at the Post, has infiltrated the lives and exposed the lies of countless politicians and power players. Using her network of contacts, Casey is always on the search for the next big story, no matter how much danger this might place her in, no matter what cost emotionally.

Tipped off by an overheard conversation at an exclusive London nightclub, she begins to investigate the apparent suicide of a wealthy young British man, whose death has left his fiancée and family devastated.

Casey’s determined hunt for the truth will take her from the glitz of St-Tropez to the deserts of Libya and on to the very darkest corners of the human mind.

The thoughts of one of our groups: “Not for the faint-hearted. The colourful language and the rather horrific subject matter meant that this book wasn’t for everyone. It was pacey and offered some interesting views on the media and moral codes. We felt that the subject matter was just too dark for ‘general enjoyment’.”

We hope those reviews have whet your appetite if you’re looking for your next Reading Group read – if you pick any of them, do let us know what your thoughts are after your group discussions. You can fill out the paper form that’s included with your set of books or you can log on and leave your review on our catalogue.

Happy reading!