As the weather gets colder and the nights draw in, what better way to spend an evening than curling up with a book? And once you’ve finished that book, sharing your thoughts with friends/fellow readers via a book group can bring new perspectives, good conversation and help you discover your next book to read.

If you are a member of a Reading Group, and have a Warwickshire Libraries Reading Group Library Card, then you’ll know all this already! You’ll know we have over 290 sets of books that groups can request and borrow for free, featuring a wide range of authors and genres, covering both fiction and non-fiction. You’ll know what conversations books your group has borrowed have sparked and some of you will have sent us your reviews.

Below are a selection of recently received reviews from groups all across Warwickshire and a selection of titles in the Reading Group Collection that you might have missed – just in case your group is wondering what to read next.

Before we get to that, if you aren’t yet a member of a reading group, or if your group doesn’t yet have a Reading Group Library Card, you can find out more on our Books and Reading page. You can browse the titles we have in our Reading Group Collection Library Catalogue page and find out how to sign up for Updates.


Group Reviews – Autumn/Winter 2021

The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende

The Japanese Lover by [Isabel Allende]

The thoughts of a group based in Southam included that this was an “enjoyable read” that generated a good discussion around the issues that the book covered (which were an “unbelievable number” according to one member). The group remarked that they had learnt a lot from the novel, particularly about the treatment of Japanese people following Pearl Harbour. They did, however, feel that some of Allende’s other novels were better and are looking forward to reading more by her.

The book’s blurb: 1939: As the world goes to war, Alma Belasco’s Polish parents send her to live in safety with relatives in San Francisco. There she meets Ichimei Fukuda, the son of the family’s Japanese gardener, and between them a tender love blossoms. But following Pearl Harbor, Ichimei and his family are declared enemies by the US government and relocated to internment camps. Although Alma and Ichimei reunite again and again, theirs is a love they are forever forced to hide…

Decades later, care worker Irina Bazili meets Alma and her grandson, Seth, at Lark House nursing home. As Irina and Seth forge a friendship, they become intrigued by a series of mysterious gifts and letters sent to Alma, and learn about Ichimei and this extraordinary secret passion that has endured for nearly seventy years.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue

A group from Whitnash felt that this was a novel that “improved as it went along” after a slow start. It generated a good discussion for the group, although they felt “dismal” might be a good word to describe it overall. Having said that, they did like the characterisations and felt that the descriptions of living in Ireland made it feel as if you were really there. They end their review by remarking that this is a “damp” book.

From the book’s blurb: An eleven-year-old girl stops eating, but remains miraculously alive and well. A nurse, sent to investigate whether she is a fraud, meets a journalist hungry for a story.

Set in the Irish Midlands in the 1850s, ‘The Wonder’ – inspired by numerous European and North American cases of ‘fasting girls’ between the 16th and the 20th centuries – is a psychological thriller about a child’s murder threatening to happen in slow motion before our eyes. Pitting all the seductions of fundamentalism against sense and love, it is a searing examination of what nourishes us, body and soul.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

A book described as a “marmite” book by a group based in Lighthorne – some enjoyed it, others didn’t. There were some interesting elements to the story – it gave insight into the treatment of Tuberculosis and the early years of the NHS.

The group, however, felt that the style of writing proved a little slow for them. Having said that, they would recommend this from a historical perspective. You can see what other groups thought about this book here.

From the book’s blurb: All over Britain life is beginning again now the war is over but for Lenny and Miriam, East End London teenage twins who have been living on the edge of the law, life is suspended – they’ve contacted tuberculosis. It’s away to the sanatorium – newly opened by the NHS – in deepest Kent for them where they will meet a very different world: among other patients, an aristocrat, a young university grad, a mysterious German woman and an American merchant seaman with big ideas about love and rebellion.

Three Hours by Rosamund Lupton

Three Hours: The Top Ten Sunday Times Bestseller by [Rosamund Lupton]

This has proved a popular choice in recent months – we’ve had reviews from three different groups, though all would recommend this twisty, well written page turner of a novel. From a group in Stratford, we received the review that all group members “were very positive about this book”. They felt that it’s definitely one to recommend as it has “lots of twists and turns to keep you gripped”.

Meanwhile, a group in Kenilworth told us how this book generated a long discussion. The members felt that the book was well written, had well drawn characters and was thoroughly enjoyed by them all. The plotting of the novel was mentioned and this also came up in a review from a group based in Harbury. They felt it was “very well plotted and had good character development even over such a short period of time”.

From the book’s blurb: 3 hours is 180 minutes or 10,800 seconds. It is a morning’s lessons, a dress rehearsal of Macbeth, a snowy trek through the woods. It is 180 minutes to discover who you will die for and what men will kill for.

In rural Somerset in the middle of a blizzard, the unthinkable happens: a school is under siege. Told from the point of view of the people at the heart of it, from the wounded headmaster in the library, unable to help his trapped pupils and staff, to teenage Hannah in love for the first time, to the parents gathering desperate for news, to the 16 year old Syrian refugee trying to rescue his little brother, to the police psychologist who must identify the gunmen, to the students taking refuge in the school theatre, all experience the most intense hours of their lives, where evil and terror are met by courage, love and redemption.

The Mermaid of Black Conch by Monique Roffey

Another that we received multiple reviews for recently. One group, based in Southam, remarked how this novel was both “well written and original”. It generated a good discussion as it had an involving story with a strong Caribbean ambience and rhythm. They would recommend it as a great book to read with a reading group.

Similarly, a group based in Warwick reported that this was an “extremely well written and an unusual story that made mermaids seem very possible”. They also told us that it generated an excellent discussion and members agreed that it was worth persevering as the book grows in its momentum and the characters draw you in. They enjoyed the fact that the story is based on actual myths and felt the descriptions of the characters were very believable (though they do caution, they are also revolting in places too).

From the book’s blurb: March 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman sings to himself, waiting for a catch – but attracts a sea-dweller he doesn’t expect. A beautiful young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid has been swimming the Caribbean Sea for centuries. And she is entranced by the fisherman and and his song. But her fascination is her undoing.

She hears his boat’s engine again, follows it, and finds herself at the mercy of American tourists. After a fearsome battle, she is pulled out of the sea and strung up on the dock as a trophy. The fisherman rescues her, and gently wins her trust – as she starts to transform into a woman.

The novel’s characters are an unlikely mix: a mermaid, a fisherman, a deaf boy, a Caribbean artist and sweetman and a benevolent white landowner.


Titles you might have missed

We know that sometimes it can be hard to pick which title your group will read next. To help you out, we’ve gathered together some of the titles you might have missed – there are short stories if your group is looking for a quick read, some classics, some non-fiction to consider and some themed reads.

We’ve picked some Wintery Reads if your group would like to get into the season and read something set amongst snowy landscapes and cold mornings or if you prefer, we’ve highlighted a few sunnier reads to escape into warmer climes through the pages of a novel.

Short Stories

There are a number of short story collections in the Reading Group Collection so if your group would like something a bit different/shorter, these might be good ones to try. Five Stories is a compilation of stories written by West Midlands authors and inspired by reading groups (including one from Warwickshire). It was the result of a project run by West Midlands Readers’ Network. Authors involved in the project include Carolyn Kirby and Abda Khan.

This time of year, your group might want something a little spookier – if so, why not give Susan Hill’s The Travelling Bag and Other Ghostly Stories a go? Alternatively, there’s a great collection of stories inspired by anonymous/unknown photographs to be found in Alexander McCall-Smith’s Chance Developments or read the final collection of stories by author Helen Dunmore in Girl, Balancing.

Classics

Of course, your group may be looking for something longer and meatier to get lost in over the winter months. If that’s the case, we can certainly recommend Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery. At over 900 pages long, this one will keep you busy reading (you can renew your Reading Group books if you need to – just log on to your Reading Group Library Card account and hit renew!).

If a tome like that isn’t to your liking, but you still would like to explore some of the “classics”, you’ll find Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell in our Collection, along with The Exiles Return by Elizabeth de Waal. As we’re in Warwickshire, birth place of Mary Anne Evans, we also have her novels, written under her pseudonym, George Eliot. You’ll find Adam Bede, The Mill on the Floss and Silas Marner. You’ll also find modern classics too such as Toni Morrison’s Beloved.

Non-Fiction

We also have a variety of non-fiction titles in our Reading Group Collection. There are autobiographies/biographies, historical reads as well as titles that tackle big issues such as the Holocaust and lived experiences of growing up within hostile environments. Human rights lawyer, Phillppe Sands’ East West Street tracks an extraordinary set of historical coincidences that set him on a quest around the world. Part historical detective story, part family history, part legal thriller.

A Delayed Life is the powerful, heart-breaking memoir of Dita Kraus, the real-life Librarian of Auschwitz while The Girl in the Spotty Dress tells the true story behind one of the most iconic images of the twentieth century.

You’ll also find poetry with Roy McFarlane’s powerful collection The Healing Next Time and non-fiction that has captured the public imagination in recent years such as Mudlarking by Lara Maiklem and The Salt Path by Raynor Winn.


Wintery Reads

As an alternative to all of the above, maybe your group would like their choices this Winter to reflect the season. If that’s the case, here are a selection of wintery/winter-set books to dive into:

The Wych Elm by Tana French

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale

Tidelands by Philippa Gregory

The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall

The Western Wind by Samantha Harvey

The Glass Woman by Caroline Lea

The Lamplighter by Jackie Kay

Midwinter Break by Bernard MacLaverty

The Sealwoman’s Gift by Sally Magnusson

The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

Bone Clocks by David Mitchell

Escaping the Winter Reads

Of course, your group may be looking for reads that help you escape the cold and dark winter months by taking you into warmer climates, lighter nights and summery settings. If that’s your group’s preference, may we recommend looking at the following titles:

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

If Only I Could Tell You by Hannah Beckerman

The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan

In The Full Light of the Sun by Claire Clark

The River Capture by Mary Costello

Manhattan Beach by Jennifer Egan

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant by Kayte Nunn

The Lido by Libby Page

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood


We hope that’s given you plenty of suggestions for your reading group. Let us know your thoughts about any of the books you’re borrowing over the coming months – you can leave a review on our Library Catalogue (log in with your Reading Group Library Card and click on ‘Review’) or fill in the paper review sheet that you’ll receive with your set.

We love hearing what you thought of your latest read and you may see your review in a future post.

Happy reading!