Looking for your next reading group read? Look no further than today’s blog as we bring you a selection of recently received reviews and recommendations from our groups throughout Warwickshire.

If you want to know more about our free Reading Group Collection, you can find out about it here or browse our collection here.

If you’d like to join or have further questions, pop in to your nearest Warwickshire County Council managed library and speak to a member of staff.

Anxious People by Frederik Backman

A group in Rugby told us that, although some didn’t finish this one, those that had enjoyed it. It prompted a good discussion amongst the group as it was full of humour, had interesting characters and there’s a twist!

The book’s blurb says: In a small town in Sweden, it appears to be an ordinary day. But look more closely, and you’ll see a mysterious masked figure approaching a bank. Two hours later, chaos has descended. A bungled attempted robbery has developed into a hostage situation – and the offender is refusing to communicate their demands to the police.

Inside the building, fear quickly turns to irritation for the seven strangers trapped inside. If this is to be their last day on earth, shouldn’t it be a bit more dramatic? But as the minutes tick by, they begin to suspect that the criminal mastermind holding them hostage might be more in need of rescuing than they are.

The Paris Library by Janet Skeslien Charles

We received a couple of reviews of this historical fiction novel recently, with differing views shared. One group told us this was their favourite genre and they felt this was a good story that captured the lives of two women in different parts of the Twentieth Century. They learned more about the Nazi occupation of Paris from the book, felt it had some wonderful characters and was a book they describe as having “sadness and joy but nothing gruesome!”

However, for a second group, this book was met with a mixed reaction. Some of the readers couldn’t get into it and not all liked the dual timeline format. There was some appreciation of the historical aspects of the novel but overall, the group rated this one as an ‘average’ read.

Everyone Brave Is Forgiven by Chris Cleave

A group in Coleshill fed back that this title prompted a very good discussion and has some handy Reader’s Questions towards the back of the book which proved useful and gave them plenty to talk about.

They would recommend Everyone Brave Is Forgiven as its characters are very well written and the plot is cleverly layered.

From the book’s blurb: When war is declared, Mary North leaves finishing school unfinished, goes straight to the War Office, and signs up. Tom Shaw decides to give it a miss – until his flatmate Alistair unexpectedly enlists, and the conflict can no longer be avoided.

Young, bright and brave, Mary is certain she’d be a marvellous spy. When she is – bewilderingly – made a teacher, she instead finds herself defying prejudice to protect the children her country would rather forget. Tom, meanwhile, finds that he will do anything for Mary. And when Mary and Alistair meet, it is love, as well as war, that will test them in ways they could not have imagined, entangling three lives in violence and passion, friendship and deception, and inexorably shaping their hopes and dreams.

Olive, Mabel and Me by Andrew Cotter

This would be a good title to read for any dog lovers! A group in Southam told us how, alongside the book, they had also watched YouTube clips of Andrew Cotter with his dogs. Many of the group were already aware of Andrew Cotter from his sporting commentary so enjoyed this gentle, humorous read written by a genuinely nice man.

The book gave them some good discussion points from looking at the impact of lockdowns during the Covid 19 pandemic, to thinking about the pros and cons of social media (in particular Twitter). They also enjoyed talking about dogs and mountain walks.

Let Me Tell You About A Man I Know by Susan Fletcher

This one is a slow burn, according to one of our groups based in Rugby. It explores the relationships in the life of Vincent Van Gogh, featuring effective characterisations, vivid descriptions and lyrical writing. The group had great discussions about Van Gogh’s art also.

Its historical setting makes this quite a layered book and not one for groups looking for a ‘quick read’ as you do need to persevere with it.

Swimming Lessons by Claire Fuller

This divided one of our other Rugby-based groups with some enjoying it and others not being able to finish it. It generated a good discussion regardless and for those who liked it, it was seen as a well written, multi-layered novel with contrasting characters.

Recommended to groups who like to try books written in an unusual format.

The Appeal by Janice Hallett

Another book that received double reviews this quarter. A group in Dunchurch told us that this was “a surprisingly good book to discuss. Very different format, a lot of characters and subplots”. It’s one that you can read in a straightforward way or try to solve the puzzle as you go along.

Our other group felt there were too many characters and this made it tough to differentiate them clearly. It was a page turner, though some felt it was far too long and overwritten, Unfortunately, this was not one they would recommend!

What will your group make of it?

First Impressions by Charles C Lovett

From a group based in Leamington: “Very good discussion. We all thought Sophie’s story ended very abruptly. All loved the Jane Austen link and all were disappointed that the book wasn’t true!”

The book’s blurb: Book lover and Jane Austen enthusiast Sophie Collingwood has barely started her new job at an antiquarian bookshop in London when two different customers request a copy of the same obscure publication: the second edition of ‘Little Book of Allegories’ by Richard Mansfield. Their enquiry draws Sophie into a web of mystery surrounding the true authorship of ‘Pride and Prejudice’, with ultimately dangerous consequences.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

This one is slow to start, according to group in Stratford upon Avon, although once it gets going, they couldn’t put it down! Characters and plot were clearly described and there are some great storylines and characters. The tension is built up although the group do caution that the book should be read before you watch the TV series as they felt the ending was clearer in the book.

Another group, this time in Southam, felt this had some very topical, if difficult topics such as domestic violence and bullying. It bought up questions about what we do to stop bullying and how social media can have a hugely negative impact on people’s lives.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Another title that received mixed reviews from one of our groups who felt this was a difficult book to get in to. There was confusion over the characters – with some readers feeling there were just too many and the plot which was described as nonlinear.

It was evocative of the 1960s and provoked discussion about family relationships, including those of blended families so ultimately, the group would recommend it to those who don’t mind a book whose plot jumps around.

Away With The Penguins by Hazel Prior

From a group in Warwick: “The book was generally enjoyed as an escapist, lightweight and easy read. One or two readers found it a little unconvincing and over contrived. It did generate a lively discussion.

We’d recommend it as an easy read – it’s enjoyable so long as the reader is prepared to accept it as an improbable but feel good story.

Shuggie Bain by Douglas Stuart

This novel won the 2020 Booker Prize and has been a popular addition to our Collection. One group in Harbury told us that it’s not exactly an “enjoyable” read but it is enlightening, particularly for readers who don’t share the experiences the characters have in the novel.

It portrays a son’s devotion to his mother warmly and provoked a lively discussion for the group when they picked it.

The Cut Out Girl by Bart Van Es

Two reviews of this one to share with you. The first, from a group in Whitnash, felt this was “fascinating and informative”. It provoked a good discussion, even if it was a little confusing as it jumped around. The group found it an interesting read that generated empathy for the children who survived.

A second group similarly enjoyed this book. They also found the historical detail fascinating and felt that the writing really bought the history to life. The juxtaposition of the author researching the story alongside the writing of it worked well and they would recommend this book to other groups.

The Woman On The Pier by B P Walter

From a group in Coleshill: “A discussion of sorts, but rather negative. I know we have to talk about issues, but this was over the top. The characters were not likeable, so we could not engage with most of them, except the poor chap who was murdered”

Needless to say, this group wouldn’t recommend this book – but what will your group think?

Titles in the Reading Group Collection You Might Have Missed

The Good Guy by Susan Beale

Ted, a car-tyre salesman in 1960s suburban New England, is a dreamer who craves admiration. His wife, Abigail, longs for a life of the mind. Single-girl Penny just wants to be loved. When a chance encounter brings Ted and Penny together, he becomes enamoured and begins inventing a whole new life with her at its centre.

But when this fantasy collides with reality, the fallout threatens everything, and everyone, he holds dear.

Furious Hours by Casey Cep

This is the true story of an Alabama serial killer, and the trial that obsessed the author of ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ in the years after the publication of her classic novel – a complicated and difficult time in her life that, until now, has been very little examined.

Willie Maxwell was a Baptist reverend in Alabama; he also happened to be a serial killer. Between 1970 and 1977, his two wives and brother all died under suspicious circumstances – each with hefty life insurance policies taken out by none other than the Reverend himself. With the help of a savvy lawyer, Maxwell escaped justice for years. Then, the teenage daughter of his third wife perished.

At the funeral, the victim’s uncle shot the Reverend dead in a church full of witnesses – and was subsequently acquitted of the murder, thanks to the same savvy lawyer who had represented the Reverend for all those years.

Middle England by Jonathan Coe

Set in the Midlands and London over mid 2000s, Jonathan Coe follows a brilliantly vivid cast of characters through a time of immense change and disruption in Britain.

There are the early married years of Sophie and Ian who disagree about the future of Britain and, possibly, the future of their relationship; Sophie’s grandfather whose final act is to send a postal vote for the European referendum; Doug, the political commentator, whose young daughter despairs of his lack of political nous and Doug’s Remaining Tory politician partner who is savaged by the crazed trolls of Twitter.

And within all these lives is the story of England itself: a story of nostalgia and irony; of friendship and rage, humour and intense bewilderment.

Noon in Paris, Eight in Chicago by Douglas Cowie

A novelisation of the dramatic love affair between Simone de Beauvoir and American writer Nelson Algren, spanning the 1940s to the 1960s – moving effortlessly between de Beauvoir’s intellectual circle in Paris and the gritty characters and streets of Algren’s Chicago.

The Stories by Jane Gardam

For 50 years prize-winning novelist Jane Gardam has been writing glorious short stories, each one hallmarked with all the originality, poignancy, wry comedy and narrative brilliance of her longer fiction.

Passion and longing, metamorphosis and enchantment are Gardam’s themes, and like a magician she plucks them from the quietest of corners: from Wimbledon gardens and cold churches, from London buses and industrial backstreets.

This book is a collection of stories which will captivate, sadden, and delight in equal measure.

Sightlines by Kathleen Jamie

Prize-winning poet and renowned nature writer Kathleen Jamie takes a fresh look at her native Scottish landscape before sailing north into the iceberg-strewn Arctic seas.

The Road Trip by Beth O’Leary

Addie and her sister are about to embark on an epic road trip to a friend’s wedding in rural Scotland. The playlist is all planned and the snacks are packed. But, not long after setting off, a car slams into the back of theirs. The driver is none other than Addie’s ex, Dylan, who she’s avoided since their traumatic break-up two years earlier.

Dylan and his best mate are heading to the wedding too, and they’ve totalled their car, so Addie has no choice but to offer them a ride. The car is soon jam-packed full of luggage and secrets, and with 400-miles ahead of them, Dylan and Addie can’t avoid confronting the very messy history of their relationship.

Will they make it to the wedding on time? And, more importantly – is this really the end of the road for Addie and Dylan?

Blood and Sugar by Laura Shepherd-Robinson

June, 1781. An unidentified body hangs upon a hook at Deptford Dock – horribly tortured and branded with a slaver’s mark. Some days later, Captain Harry Corsham – a war hero embarking upon a promising parliamentary career – is visited by the sister of an old friend. Her brother, passionate abolitionist Tad Archer, had been about to expose a secret that he believed could cause irreparable damage to the British slaving industry. He’d said people were trying to kill him, and now he is missing.

To discover what happened to Tad, Harry is forced to pick up the threads of his friend’s investigation, delving into the heart of the conspiracy Tad had unearthed. His investigation will threaten his political prospects, his family’s happiness, and force a reckoning with his past, risking the revelation of secrets that have the power to destroy him.

The Ecliptic by Benjamin Wood

On a forested island, off the coast of Istanbul, stands Portmantle, a gated refuge for beleaguered artists. There, a curious assembly of painters, architects, writers and musicians strive to restore their faded talents. One, Elspeth ‘Knell’ Conroy, is a celebrated painter who has lost faith in her ability and fled the dizzying art scene of 1960s London.

On the island, she spends her nights locked in her blacked-out studio, testing a strange new pigment for her elusive masterpiece. But when a disaffected teenager named Fullerton arrives at the refuge, he disrupts its established routines. He is plagued by a recurring nightmare that steers him into danger, and Knell is left to pick apart the chilling mystery.