What better way to spend a warm summer evening (when we get them!) than in a comfy spot, losing yourself in the pages of a book. If you’re a member of a reading group, that book might be your latest group read and if your reading group uses our Reading Group Collection, it might just be one of the titles mentioned here.

In today’s blog, we showcase some the reviews we’ve recently received from groups around Warwickshire and spotlight some titles that you might have missed in the Reading Group Collection.

At the end, we’ve also included some hints and tips to exploring the Reading Group Collection and, as ever, if you’re a reading group co-ordinator, if you’d like to sign up for our Updates email or need any help, you can email us at libraryevents@warwickshire.gov.uk.

If you’re not a Reading Group Collection member but would like to know more, you can visit our Books and Reading page here, explore the Reading Group Collection here or pop into your nearest Warwickshire County Council managed library and speak to staff to find out more.

The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Although Margaret Atwood continues to be a very popular author, this sequel to The Handmaid’s Tale did not go down well with a group in Warwick. They reported back that it was “difficult to follow as to who was who, when and where it was set.” They felt there was little storyline and disappointing from such a prolific author. They did, however, feel that there were parts that mirrored what was happening in the world today and overall, felt it was a “disturbing book with disturbing ideas”.

If your group has read this book too, why not let us know your thoughts? You can leave a review on the library catalogue or write us a review on the form that accompanies your reading group set.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

A group in Rugby sent us this review: “This book was well received by the group as a whole and it did generate considerable discussion on many themes; race and identity being the main one. We also discussed the morality and consequences of keeping significant secrets, the special bond of twins and the benefits and downfalls of memory loss.

The story was gripping throughout. It was told through the different voices of each twin and spanned nearly two decades of their contrasting lives. It was very well written, entertaining, thought provoking and largely unpredictable, which left a welcome element of surprise throughout. Although some of us thought the ending was a little abrupt, we agreed that it was perhaps justified by being realistic rather than idealistic.

As a group we highly recommend reading this and are keen to read other books by the same author. 

Love Is Blind by William Boyd

This historical novel is set as the nineteenth century turns into the twentieth and follows the life and love of Brodie Moncur as he moves from Edinburgh to Paris and St Petersburg, falls in love with the beautiful Russian soprano, Lika Blum and tries to escape his tyrannical clergyman father. It was rated as ‘very good’ by a group in Warwick:

“We found the book an interesting read with some fascinating musical descriptions and enjoyed the different locations of the story. The love complications were a little too implausible, although we had fun discussing them.

We would recommend this book – lively characters and we generally all enjoyed the storyline of a doomed love affair. The tuberculosis progression, although grim, was interesting to read about”.

The Heart’s Invisible Furies by John Boyne

A Lighthorne-based group sent this review: “Almost all the group enjoyed this book. You easily get caught up in the main character’s life journey.

There was a good discussion and it was an easy style to read and quick, despite its length. We all liked the amount of drama mixed in with the normal.

We’d recommend it as it is entertaining, with twists and does get you emotionally attached”.

The Museum of Broken Promises by Elizabeth Buchan

“Well written, interesting concept, interesting delving into recent history and debating virtues of communism versus capitalism, especially in light of recent world events” according to a group from Newbold near Rugby.

This novel generated many possible strands of discussion for the group, including a consideration of whether such a museum would be a good thing or something too sad to visit.

A Month in the Country by J L Carr

A “short but thought-provoking and very enjoyable novel” was the review we received from a Bulkington-based reading group about A Month in the Country by J L Carr.

The group added that “This was an enjoyable, easy read. The characters were described well – they had depth and developed throughout the story. The novel generated a wide ranging discussion about relationships, the First World War and the role of the Church within society“.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

This classic novel comes highly recommended by a group also in Bulkington who felt that the storyline, characters and wider issues raised will help generate a lot of discussion within a book group.

The portrayal of women by the author was a conversation topic, as was the portrayal of Rebecca specifically.

The group caution that this is a dark tale, with the insecurities of the wife often in her own head rather than based in reality.

The Fine Art of Invisible Detection by Robert Goddard

The thoughts from a group in Rugby: “Generally liked very much by our group even though some don’t usually read thrillers. We liked the central character Wada and her tough but modest, unassuming though keenly intelligent and resourceful character.

It was fast paced, a page turner. We felt we had to persevere with the unfamiliar Japanese (and Icelandic) names but they eventually made an impact and we knew who was who.

Clever ending and one we thought could lead to a sequel. It was an enjoyable and gripping story with an intriguing central character. Though written in 2020, it was eerily topical too” .

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Mixed opinions on this one from a group in Kineton – some liked it, others found the action lacking.

“It gave an interesting insight to the effects of prison on an innocent man and the ramifications on his loved ones. It also detailed the impact of race and had a sad ending, although realistic.

It did split opinions in our group which makes for a good discussion and was different from what we have read recently also”.

My Mother, Munchausen’s and Me by Helen Naylor

A wellbeing reading group based in Nuneaton sent us this wonderful review and account of their group meeting at which they were lucky enough to welcome the author:

We’re such a lucky bunch here at the wellbeing reading group! Last week we welcomed our third author to our virtual reading group meeting. This time the fantastic Helen Naylor author of My Mother, Munchausen’s and me came along to talk to our receptive group of readers and answer our questions.

This wasn’t a difficult book to read, but the subject matter sometimes made it a tough read. Helen grew up with a mother who had Munchausen’s Syndrome. These memoirs weave Helen’s recollections of her life as a neglected child with her mother’s diary entries from the time and paints a vivid picture of life as a child of a parent with this little-known condition. Many of our readers had heard of Munchausen’s by proxy but hadn’t realised that Munchausen’s was significant in its own right.

What came across from the start was that Helen doesn’t feel angry with Elinor, her mother, she explained that she finds it easier to feel angry with the people around her mother who let her off the hook and didn’t pick up on what was happening to Helen. She described how her very clever mother kept her friends isolated, and managed things so that no one ever saw the full picture. Helen gave us a real sense of the Munchausen’s as a kind of addiction that eventually took over and controlled her mother completely. We gained a sense of the intelligence and emotional detachment of Elinor, who Helen felt knew what she was doing, and did it anyway.

Helen was asked if anyone from the past has contacted her since the publication of the book. It’s perhaps not surprising that some people had been in touch to say they knew something was wrong but didn’t know what. Mostly it was people she wouldn’t have expected to intervene anyway who contacted her to apologise. Another mother who was buddied up with Elinor at an NCT group for new parents told of the warning from Helen’s mother that having a baby was horrific and would ruin her life. Helen has also had lots of contact from others impacted by people with Munchausen’s Syndrome and talked about how hard it was to offer anything other than sympathy- she’s still working through all of this herself and isn’t in a position to give out lots of advice.

Helen answered questions about her father, saying she thought he knew that all wasn’t what it appeared to be. He was probably an alcoholic and knew about the neglect. Interestingly she feels pity for him, and thought he was a victim of what would now be called coercive control. She makes allowances for the 1980s being different times and accepts that her father’s minimal role in childcare was in line with the times. We got a real sense of how complicated this situation was, and still is, and the range of emotions and feelings Helen still deals with- she feels her father let her down massively.

The group were keen to know how reliable Helen felt Elinor’s diary had been. Helen told us that the dates were accurate, and that she felt the diary wasn’t manipulative, but accepted that her mother had wanted the diaries to be read- she had included instructions for the reader. This prompted a wider discussion about who in the group wrote a diary, and the meaning of dreams! For the record, Helen is currently keeping a diary, because she forgets things, but it’s for her eyes only.

We also discussed with the author how the NHS might have responded better- we talked about the issue of confidentiality and how that may impact on the diagnosis of Munchausen’s syndrome. This is a complicated topic and Helen emphasised that it was difficult to know what the NHS should do to tackle it.

Helen told us that she wrote the book for her children, so that they would understand her childhood and their grandmother. She didn’t realise it would be published at first, and since its launch life has been a whirlwind, including a trip to see Phil and Holly on This Morning. Writing the book gave her affirmation for her life choices, and the difficult decision she made to distance her life from her mother.

This session raised issues with some in the group of their relationships with difficult parents, and we were privileged to have some of our group share their thoughts on relationships with difficult parents. It really is a wonderful group of people to talk to each month.

The final word goes to one of our readers who was unable to attend, but asked us to pass on the following message to Helen. “I would have liked to say to the author how brave she had been to turn the spotlight on not only her mum but on herself and I hope writing this book helped in some way with the healing process.”

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Soon to be released a film, Where the Crawdads Sing has been a hugely popular choice for many reading groups since it was first published, though has generated mixed opinions. Some readers have loved it, while others, including some of the readers from a group in Churchover in Rugby, found some of the storylines implausible.

The descriptions of the natural environment are often commented on as being detailed and immersive and themes of living an a small town and everyone knowing everyone else’s business also provoked some interesting discussion. One member commented that “Having read all the rave reviews and enjoyed (loved!) it myself, I was quite surprised that others weren’t all that keen on it” – what will your group make of this title?

The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing by Mary Paulson-Ellis

We received this review from an unknown group about Mary Paulson-Ellis’ The Inheritance of Solomon Farthing: “We really enjoyed this book. Not what we were expecting. The book moves backwards and forwards in time but keeps momentum. There are a lot of characters but it isn’t confusing because of the time shifts.

It made us think about inherited object and how people thrown together in wartime have to adjust to the people they find themselves with. We’d recommend as it is an interesting book – it’s not one we would have necessarily picked but it was a thought-provoking read and well worth it”

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

We’ve had a couple of reviews this quarter for Pip Williams’ tale of stolen words. The first is a review from a group in Warwick: “Unusually for our group, we all agreed that we enjoyed it. The concept that there might be lost words, and that they may be Women’s Words was fascinating.

It is easy to imagine the Scriptorium in full swing with the young Esme sitting under the table studying the men’s shoes. As she emphasises, sorting words to put in a dictionary was definitely men’s work in those days.

She fared well as an unmarried mum and was much better cared for than many others would have been. It was good to think that her daughter may have found out about and worked as a lexicographer. The story of her and Gareth is unfortunately all too possible – a reflection of the time.

It is lovely to think that someone went about with scraps of paper in her pocket collecting women’s words for inclusion in the book.

And a group in Southam fed back that the book generated a good discussion and went into lots of details about how the dictionary writers worked in Oxford. They would recommend this to any groups who love words and thinking about how and why words are included in formal dictionaries, although they also felt that some of the ideas and topics such as the First World War and the Suffragettes got a little lost in the story.

Tin Man by Sarah Winman

A group based in Whitnash told us that this book was “very evocative” and that some members read it through twice, gaining more from the pages during the second reading. While it does lack speech marks, which for some readers was disconcerting, it was sensitively written yet easy to read.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

From a group in Southam: “Most of us enjoyed it and were amazed by their courage. Good descriptions of the country, well written with many funny encounters. Would have like a more detailed map“.

Three Women and a Boat by Anne Youngson

From a group based in Warwick: “We all enjoyed this relatively easy read. Those of us who have travelled on canal boats recognised the rhythm of life and the rules of the waterways; for instance, the rules of the locks were very well portrayed. As the Hatton Flight is very close to us, we were all intrigued by the description of how long it took to go from top to bottom.

We had much discussion about the likelihood of the story – that two women should arrive at Anastasia’s boat just when she needed them to take her boat to Chester. The characters were well described and easy to imagine. We were intrigued that Sally could just up and leave in the way she did. Noah was all too believable – dogs can bark a lot!

We would definitely recommend this book to other groups to read“.

Reading Group Collection Titles You Might Have Missed

Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir

In ‘Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter’, Simone de Beauvoir offers an intimate picture of growing up in a bourgeois French family, rebelling as an adolescent against the conventional expectations of her class, and striking out on her own with an intellectual and existential ambition exceedingly rare in a young woman in the 1920s. Simone de Beavoir describes her early life, from her birth in Paris in 1908 to her student days at the Sorbonne, where she met Jean-Paul sartre

If your group is looking to read works that have been translated into English, this is one to consider.

Silas Marner by George Eliot

Did you know this was George Eliot’s favourite of the novels she wrote? It was her third novel and published in 1861.

It concerns a bitter weaver who takes on a young orphan girl and gradually transforms his own life and that of the girl. The novel combines humour, rich symbolism and pointed social criticism to create an unsentimental portrait of rural English life.

If your group is looking to read a Warwickshire author, why not give this one a go?

Man At The Helm by Nina Stibbe

Lizzie is concerned about her newly divorcee mother – thirty-one years old, with three young children and a Labrador in a hostile village in the English countryside. It isn’t that having a husband is good, but in 1970s rural Leicestershire, not having one is bad. The women in the village think Lizzie’s mother is after their husbands while no one will let the children into the Brownies. And so Lizzie and her sister embark on a misguided campaign to find a new ‘Man at the Helm’.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

Kazuo Ishiguro’s seventh novel follows a mysterious voyage through mythical, post-Arthurian England plagued by war, dragons and strange, perpetual mist.

The Romans have long since departed, and Britain is steadily declining into ruin. But at least the wars that once ravaged the country have ceased. The Buried Giant begins as a couple, Axl and Beatrice, set off across a troubled land of mist and rain in the hope of finding a son they have not seen for years.

They expect to face many hazards – some strange and other-worldly – but they cannot yet foresee how their journey will reveal to them dark and forgotten corners of their love for one another.

The Automobile Club of Egypt by Alaa Al Aswany

Inside the walls of the Automobile Club of Egypt two very different worlds collide – Cairo’s European elite and the Egyptian staff who wait on them.

The servants, a squabbling, humorous and deeply human group, live in a perpetual state of fear under the tyrannical rule of Alku. When Abd el-Aziz Gaafar becomes the target of Alku’s cruelty and his pride gets the better of him, a devastating act sends ripples through his family.

Soon, they too are drawn into the turbulent politics of the club, as servants and masters are subsumed by Egypt’s social upheaval. Egyptians both inside and outside the club are about to face a stark choice: to live safely without dignity, or fight for their rights and risk everything.

Exploring the Warwickshire Libraries Reading Group Collection

With nearly 300 sets to choose from, it can be hard to pick your next reading group book. Here are a few tips and hints for navigating the Reading Group Collection page and its lists.

Browse All – if you want to see the full list of titles in the Reading Collection, this option is where to start. Did you know though that you can re-order this list?

If you look on the right hand side of the page, in the ‘Options’ section, you’ll see a drop down menu. Click on this and you’ll see a number of options to re-order this list including arranging the list A-Z by author and rearranging by Year – both Recent first or Oldest first.

Show only available items tick box – when you are looking through the Reading Group Collection lists, you may have seen a little box on the page called ‘Show only available items’. By ticking this box, you can remove from the display any Reading Group Collection items already on loan, enabling you to see quickly if there are enough copies available for your group.

In this example, you can see that there are just 10 copies not currently on loan so if you had 12 members in your group, you’d have to pick another title. If however you have 5 members, you can log in and place your five requests.

Previous blog posts – we try to collate as many reviews as possible every quarter to give you lots of reading ideas and share what our groups have been reading, enjoying (or not) and discussing. We try to include different books each quarter and share both positive and negative reviews as even if one group dislikes a particular title, it might become another group’s favourite.

Click on the links to find the most recent posts: Spring 2022 and Winter 2021.

Leave your review on the library catalogue – as well as filling in the paper feedback form included with your Reading Group set, did you know that you can also post your review on our library catalogue?

When you have logged in with your Library Card and PIN, find the book you wish to review, click on the ‘Review this book’ button and type your thoughts

If you have any queries about the Reading Group Collection, you can get in touch by email at libraryenquiryteam@warwickshire.gov.uk.

If you’d like to sign up for updates about the Reading Group Collection, including opportunities for groups to work with authors and poets in partnership with organisations such as West Midlands Readers’ Network and Poetry on Loan, please email your name, your group name and which Warwickshire Library you usually collect your reading group sets from to libraryevents@warwickshire.gov.uk.

Happy reading!