Reading Group News

The Gift by Cecilia Ahern

This month there was a distinct division again between those who enjoyed the book and those who could make neither head nor tail of the story.

Ahern is a prolific writer of novels, some members who had read others in the past deemed this not one of her better ones. However she was a new author for me. In many respects this tale takes the form of a myth, a fairy story, told in a fanciful way in order to convey a truth..as do all fairy stories.

It is therefore impossible to explain or comprehend with any certainty every facet of it. If you take it at face value there are meaningful explanations for some of the happenings..only you can decide by reading it for yourself.

This is simply written, in a popular style easy to read, however you choose to think about it. Lou is the main character, a selfish ambitious man who seeks to climb the ladder in business, no matter the cost to anyone else, including his family.

Lou’s route to work takes him each day past a down-in-his-luck young man, sitting on the pavement watching all who walk past him and into the office. Gabe appears to be very perceptive and his fortune seems to change one day when Lou speaks to him. Gabe is easy going with a positive philosophical outlook and the story then moves on to the relationship which develops between them. What that is and how you explain it is for you to decide!

Some of the descriptive words used by group members in describing their opinions about the book: Profound,boring, weak, magical, far fetched, lacking in characterisation, enjoyable, clear message.

Everyone agreed that for us one of the most important aspect was that time is precious and as we all grow older that knowledge becomes more pronounced. It is what we do with that time that is of major importance.

SCORE 7

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

A Simple Act of Violence ..by RJ Ellory

In our review session today there was one unanimous comment by all who read this book. That was ..” This book was very difficult to get into ..but very rewarding after perseverance.” Not everyone had the time or the will to tackle it but those who did, for the most part, found it interesting, engaging, thought proving and challenging. It is set in USA and involving the CIA, FBI and with drug money as the driver. It is not your usual standard tale of a serial killer although the first chapter would have you believe otherwise. It is set at the time of President Reagan with some semblance of real life to check out and alarm you maybe. The characters were well set and the story well told. It gave rise to a discussion about what is hidden from us by the secret services and which of their duties involve actions which set them above the law. So..if you are looking for a book gripping and intriguing in content and at the same time needing some hard work to get your teeth into, then this may be the book for you.

Score of 8

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

For the month of Sept we chose books we have read individually and pooled our enthusiasms for our choices. Please find below the titles and the briefest of summaries:

THE WOLF BORDER by SARAH HALL a wonderful story intelligently told about a fictional rewilding of a vast area of the Lake District. The objective is to populate this piece of land with big predators, firstly with a wolf family. The book describes the measures taken to achieve this alongside the complicated life of the project director. Score 8.

RAMBLINGS FROM RHODES by JOHN MANUEL Be transported to the Greek way of life, the land of goats and olive oil. A very funny laugh out loud book for winter reading. It is entertaining and uplifting. Score 8

INTO THE WATER by PAULA HAWKINS A woman is found dead in the river, the section of the water known as the killing pool. The mother of the detective investigating the case was also lost in the pool. This is a novel from the writer of The Girl on the Train. A good read Score 8

WHY BE HAPPY WHEN YOU COULD BE NORMAL by JEANETTE WINTERSON This is the autobiography telling of her unhappy childhood as an adoptive child brought up by a strict evangelical Christian mother in Accrington. A good read. Score 9

HEARTS AND MINDS by JANE ROBINSON N/F A story of the suffragists, a non violent union of women who marched from all over the country to London in 1913 demanding universal suffrage. This is a different group of women who were political but peaceful. Nevertheless they were greeted in many places with hostility. Score 9

THE SHACK by WILLIAM PAUL YOUNG This is described as bringing a healing for your journey through loss trauma and pain. It is an allegory of a father searching for a missing daughter ,being led to a shack where he finds God in the midst of his suffering. Score 8

THE GUERNSEY LITERARY AND POTATO PEEL PIE SOCIETY by ANNIE BARROWS For an idea of what life in the Channel Islands was like in the war, this will be an entertaining view. It is about a group of avid readers who manage to meet together defying the strict ripples of the nazi occupation. Score 8

THE UNLIKELY PILGRIMAGE OF HAROLD FRY by RACHEL JOYCE This tells the story of an older gentleman setting out unexpectedly from his home to walk many miles to visit a dying friend. No one at home knows where he is or why he has disappeared. It is an inner journey as well as a physical one.   Score 8

THE ARTOF RACING IN THE RAIN by GARTH STEIN This book is a testament to a man’s life given by his dog. It is at the same time a testament to the dog himself. Enzo, the dog,understands everything that is happening around him and in so doing guides us to the satisfying conclusion that there are no limits to what we can achieve if we truly know where we want to be. Score 8

NIGHTINGALE POINT by LOU ANN GOLDIE This looks at two disasters, one in Amsterdam and the one at Grenville tower. It immerses the reader in the lives of the diverse communities. Score 8

ELINOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE by GAIL HONEYMAN This is the story of two unlikely characters rescuing one another. There is a sadness behind them yet a humour too. There is the most surprising twist at the end of what is an entertaining but heart rending story. Score 8

GO ON DAD KNOCK by RON CLARK, AN AUTO BIOGRAPHY At 8 yrs old Ron Clark was abandoned by his single mother and consequently brought up in care. He went in to work in the car industry revealing an unbelievable and sad story in this account which is the only book he has written. He tells of his search into the mystery of his mothers life and death. Score 8

DEAR MRS BIRD by AJ PEARCE This is set in the London blitz and is the story of Emmy who by chance became an agony aunt for a magazine. It is a delicate balance of humour and tragedy, of friendship and relationship as she attempts to answer painful questions submitted to the magazine and in her relationship with her flatmate. No score noted but possible 8

FELL MURDER by E C R LORAC This mystery is set in the Ribble valley and details the land scape and WW2 in which it was set. The 82 yr old Robert Garth who rules over his land with a rod of iron is one day found dead in an outhouse. The detective eventually unearths the murderous secrets of the Lune valley folk. Score 8

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

In the Name of the Family by Sarah Dunant

Sarah Dunant is an author whose novels will be familiar to many of you I am sure. The most popular of which is The Birth of Venus.

This story is “In the Name of the Family” is about a family with whom you will be aware ,even if by name only…the Borgia family of Italy! Unless you have studied their lives you will probably be in the same position as all of us in book group…knowing very little apart from the supposed wickedness of Lucretia!

Dunant has researched in detail the information for this book and the bibliography confirms that. The book is well written and interesting, but given this, most of us found it a difficult and weary read which was only to a degree, enjoyable. Not one which most would choose themselves.

However, as always, a minority of us felt completely differently. Yes the main characters were powerful and corrupt using their authority and greed to pillage and kill in order to fill their coffers and increase their land ownership. The one who surprised us was Lucretia, portrayed as a chattel and as having had a tragic life rather than the wicked woman we have maybe believed. However blood thirsty, licentious and revengeful most of the her family were, they nevertheless showed a certain humanity too in familial love, loyalty and grief. There were several instances of cruelty and the similarity with ISIS was remarked upon. Some felt that the few descriptions of torture and killing given, were off putting but others thought that they could have been portrayed more vividly, had the author wished to do this.

In spite of the fact that few enjoyed the book, it nevertheless scored 7 /10.

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Empty Cradle by Rosie Goodwin

You will most probably have come across this author’s name before and may even have read some of her novels. She may even be a favourite of yours. You would be forgiven for thinking that this story was going to be the tale of a childless woman, an abduction or even warfare. However you would be wrong!

Rosie Goodwin was at one time a social worker and a foster carer in Nuneaton where she now lives..you may think that now you can guess the subject matter ..wrong again!

It is in fact a story about one catastrophe after another, in the life of a young teenager through to her death, as an old lady .There are several thousands of empty cradles in fact, but this is about one.

It is a simple story yet full of dreadful situations. It is simply told so you can skip through it quickly. For the most part it held our interest to begin with ..unanimously..but then we found that it was difficult to really engage with the main character. As one group member said,”It goes from sad to worse”.We agreed that it was predictable, the facts were not properly researched and the author tried to tackle too many issues at once.

One or two of us enjoyed some aspects of it, one hated it. It was also felt by some that whilst the films The Magdalene sisters” and “Philomena” were based on real life accounts, this story had gathered snippets from those and other publications and therefore was not authentic. It felt that the author had not earned the right to tell this story .

By way of conclusion, I did not read one bad review of this book online, so read it yourself and see if you agree with us or with others!

Scored 51/2

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Submission by Amy Waldman

WHERE WERE YOU WHEN THE TWIN TOWERS WERE BLOWN UP ? I can guarantee that you remember exactly where you were when you first heard the news!

If you have travelled to New York, the chances are that you have visited Ground Zero and would be able to describe, in part, what you have seen and the feelings invoked. You have maybe made your own interpretation of the memorial site. If like me, you have not had the chance to do that, you will possibly have some idea of the layout, however sketchy. What you maybe don’t know is that an international competition was launched in 2003 to design a fitting memorial garden and that architects from 63 nations entered over 5000 designs anonymously. The winner chosen was an Israeli architect. The garden was called Reflecting Absence at the centre of which is a huge void as it has been described. You will find more information online if you are interested.

I mention the above because the book we have just read bears certain traits in common with reality. The Submission is aptly named as we discovered. Mo, the architect whose design was chosen turned out to be a Muslim, an American non practising Muslim, beating the runner up whose garden was called The Void. From the majority of the selection committee this created anger, prejudice, rejection and worse. Mo declared that he had no faith and that he was as American as the committee members but refused to explain his reasons for designing such a garden, based on the garden of the first Mogul Emperor in Kabul. This led to further recrimination and suspicion from the majority of those whose job it was to choose. They wondered what his motives were. He did have his supporters but refused to comply with their request for clarity too. He had won on merit and felt it unjust that he alone should have to justify his deign because of the suspicions aroused.

The author for whom this was a debut novel, cleverly looked at the various groups involved in the losses and presented their points of view including that of a Muslim widow whose husband, an illegal alien had been killed. Most of us considered that this was a worthwhile read and an enlightening and gripping story. It was thought to reflect present day politics in UK in the disagreements between interested parties and also in the growing scapegoating of “foreigners”

Not everyone completed the book for various reasons and one member patently disagreed with the majority. She felt it was slow and boring, did not like the way it was written or the characterisation. The vocabulary was obscure and verbose in parts. We felt that a lot of research had been done and it is worth noting that in the real life scenario there were disagreements about the amount of money to be spent and the Arabic fraternity objected because the information was translated into various languages apart from Arabic.

As a conclusion it is worth noting that the word Muslim means the one who submits …so maybe a play on words?

The overall score was 8.

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Beauty of Murder by A.K. Benedict

Take one lecturer in philosophy add one long dead beauty queen recently murdered!! Add to the mix a stone mask or two, Schroeder’s cat and flying visits to time past, plus other rather strange ingredients and you have a novel covering many genres.

You will travel through the worlds of the metaphysics, murder and mystery and if that combination is one you would embrace then this book may be for you.

Sadly the book group members were far from enthralled by this novel, having anticipated an exciting and different experience from any of the many books we have read. So were disappointed. We were unanimous in thinking that it was confusing and hard work and not a particularly enjoyable read. The plot was convoluted and therefore not engaging.

However the characters were fairly well drawn and there was some good descriptive writing.

It would be for you to come to your own conclusions about this….there were several 4* reviews online so maybe you would share those remarks too. We gave it a score of 41/2.

Submitted by Corinne Gregory

The Siege by Helen Dunmore

As regular readers of this monthly review will have come to expect ,our book group had polarised opinions of this book. I guess that is also true of most book groups most of the time!

This was a story recounting the lives of Citizens of Leningrad during the first winter of the siege at the start of WW2. I imagine that  we all know something of the horrors of this time, so you would be forgiven for thinking that this novel would be too grim to read. Some of our members would agree with you of course, finding it disturbing, dark and hard to get through. Others felt that the pace was too slow and that nothing happened, and along with that neither informative nor interesting.

We were unanimous in our view that it was not a book to be “enjoyed” in the accepted sense of the word.

It was certainly well researched, well written and the characterisation was excellent .One could “inhabit” the lives of the main personalities involved, such was the excellence of their portrayal.

Most of us admired the stoicism ,the ingenuity and resourcefulness described as being the stuff of life at the time .The hardships and suffering inflicted upon everyone were beyond the experience of us all. The determination to survive against the odds no matter the means to bring about that end changed people in ways which no doubt they could never have imagined in  less difficult times. There were odd moments of sacrifice and untold  kindness extended to others, also in great need, which gave the lie to their humanity having deserted them.

So for others we found the story compelling and absorbing bring a small portion of history alive in an authentic and challenging way. For those group members I believe that the story will never truly “leave” us. Thank you Ms.Dunmore! The score was 8/10

Submitted by Corinne Gregory