Reading groups' reviews

What views and criticisms does your reading group have about the books you have chosen to read? Did you like and sympathise with the characters or did they irritate you? Were your group in accord or did your differences make for heated discussion? Would you recommend the book to other reading groups?

Let us and other groups know what your reading group thinks. Your review, together with the name of your reading group, will be displayed on our website.

You can write your book review online.

Some recent reviews

Title: Hamnet

Author: Maggie O'Farrell

This book is beautifully descriptive, written in gorgeously lyrical prose, if overly ornate and over-worked. It is essentially a book about grief, which is vividly described, and evokes the 1580s, when herbalism and witchery were common practices. Apart from the 2 mini stories of the Plague's journey from Italy to London, and that of a letter from London to Stratford, there was very little story. Many ideas were never developed or resolved. The characters were not well developed, and Agnes, the main character was particularly annoying and silly. Our group was divided in its opinion of the book, with scores ranging from 4 to 9. The average amongst 8 of us was 6.5.

Rated 7 out of 10
Camberley Library Morning Reading Group
May 2021

Title: Bleak House

Author: Charles Dickens

Bleak House is a sweeping saga of truly epic proportions. At almost 1000 pages it required real commitment to read and is therefore not necessarily for everyone. The beginning, in particular, is very confusing with a huge cast of characters many of whom make only brief appearances and yet are important later in the story so must be remembered.

The story centres initially around the court of Chancery and takes a satirical look at the practice of law during the 19th century in England. Being Dickens, the novel addresses a number of other social issues including the plight of the poor, orphans, social class, illegitimacy. However, it is difficult to categorise this novel. It is a romance novel, a detective story, a political novel, the story of a fallen woman as well as a social commentary. Throughout there is humour, misery and beauty with some terrific descriptions. Despite the unpromising title there is much to be hopeful or positive about.

Originally written in parts for a journal, the narrative was at times over long and meandering and many of the group felt it would have been even better if it were a few hundred pages shorter. Despite this, everyone who managed to finish it scored it a 9 and resolved to read another Dickens in the future!

Rated 9 out of 10
Camberley Library Monday Morning Readers
April 2021

Title: Something to Live For

Author: Richard Roper

Originally released under the title "How Not to Die", this book introduces us to the little-known world of council workers whose job it is to search through belongings of those who have died alone to check for people to contact and also for sources of funding for the funeral that the council has a duty to arrange. Many of us have lost loved ones this past year, some of whom have died alone and whose funerals we could not attend, so if you have been affected in this way, you might find the book uncomfortable to read.

Andrew, the endearing central character, is as lonely as many of his "clients". He struggles under the weight of a casual pretence that grows over time and overwhelms him. As the story unfolds, we learn of the deep tragedy behind this fictional front. Despite dealing with themes of bereavement, loneliness and alienation, the overarching tone of the book is upbeat with plenty of humour that was enjoyed more by some of us than by others. We were all fascinated by this insight into an area of council responsibility of which most of us had been previously unaware. Some aspects of the plot are contrived, yet the two main characters were sufficiently appealing to keep us reading and we were left with a sense of hope at the end.

Comparisons have been made with 'Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine' and 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' but our group did not consider this writer to be in the same league. It passed the time but is already fading from our memories.

Rated 6 out of 10
Camberley Library Monday Morning Readers
April 2021

Title: Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe

Author: Fannie Flagg

This book is as light as a souffle, yet it doesn't lack substance. The writing is apparently effortless, yet it must take real skill to create a gripping narrative out of apparently inconsequential prattle. The characters are endearing, well drawn & interesting. Racism is dealt with cleverly. There is no preachiness: it's just woven into the fabric of the story, as is the Depression.

A thoroughly enjoyable, easy read. Perfect for lockdown.

Rated 9 out of 10
Camberley Library Morning Reading Group
February 2021

Title: The Nowhere Child

Author: Christian White

The basic premise of this novel was a fascinating concept. What would you do if you find out the life you've been leading is a lie? What would you do if your entire existence as you know it is false? So when a stranger turns up at Melbourne photographer Kim Leamey's class I was not surprised that after initially brushing it off, she needed to delve deeper into it. Yet another novel with a split narrative, divided between two different times and places, it moved seamlessly between them and was nonetheless easy to read and compelling. We were quickly drawn into the mystery of Sammy and as the story slowly unfolded it seemed everyone was hiding something, not only in Manson but her stepfather Dean definitely knew something he was not telling her. We enjoyed the unpredictable twists and turns of the storyline and a realistic ending where some people were held to account. Some felt the characters were well drawn; others felt they leaned towards caricature.

All in all, it was a well-paced, enjoyable thriller and considering it was a debut novel, even more impressive.

Rated 7 out of 10
Camberley Library Monday Morning Readers
January 2021

Title: The Muse

Author: Jessie Burton

This book has two storylines, one set in Spain in 1936 and the other set in London in the 1960s, which are perfectly intertwined. It is well-constructed and is written in an attractive, descriptive, and satisfyingly readable style. There is a lot more to this book than simply "art and paintings", as it includes Caribbean immigration, new love, infidelity, buried secrets, the Spanish Civil War, buried secrets - and the list goes on. Some members of the group felt that the book was perhaps over-stuffed.

A good holiday read, enjoyable also in the audio version by 2 members of the group. But not a memorable read. Generally rated on a par, or a bit above "The Miniaturist", also by Jessie Burton.

Rated 7 out of 10
Camberley Library Morning Readers
November 2020

Title: Bridge of Clay

Author: Markus Zusak

Set in the author's home country of Australia, this book is a striking contrast to his earlier much-acclaimed work The Book Thief. The central story is of five boys, encompassing grief, loss and love in all its complex forms. To write a summary of the plot here would be to a disservice to the book. You need to puzzle it out for yourselves. One of our members came up with the perfect analogy: it's a patchwork quilt of a book. Don't think of a quilt made from those Laura Ashley squares that blend and colour-coordinate to perfection. No, this is a proper, traditional quilt with scraps taken from here and there, some a bit raggedy, colours
clashing, yet somehow they come together to make something glorious.

The first 100 pages or so will frustrate you enormously as you struggle in vain to work out what is going on and why you should possibly care about these five chaotic, violent young people. It could be argued that it was supremely arrogant of the author to make such demands of his readers. You could certainly be forgiven for giving up, as two of our members did. If you can manage to stick with it and not struggle to understand all the initial detail and odd references, you will be hugely rewarded. Zusak's use of language is a joy and his skill in bringing the disparate threads of the book together so perfectly is a source of wonder.

Be prepared to cry but be prepared to be uplifted by this celebration of human resilience and love. Then be prepared to sit down and read it all over again to observe just how all those seemingly unimportant details fit so perfectly into the final picture.

Those who completed the book scored it from 9 to 10 but one who abandoned it scored it 3 (understandably).

Rated 8 out of 10
Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group
October 2020

Title: The Keeper of Lost Things

Author: Ruth Hogan

We read this book whilst in the grip of post-Christmas gloom, many of us with seasonal snuffles, and found it to be the literary equivalent of chicken soup. We all read it to the end, we all felt it brought a little sunshine into our lives (and not just because of the character named Sunshine), yet we all recognised its many flaws. The italicised vignettes concerning some of the lost items hinted at a literary skill that was not present in the main story. We were irritated by the main female character's inability to function without the help of a man, disappointed by the lack of depth of the other characters (we would have liked to know more about Bomber and Eunice), bored by the clich├ęs and appalled at the sheer number of unlikely coincidences yet we also enjoyed it to some degree, finding it both heart-warming and uplifting. We thought it would make a good summer holiday read, yet we recognised the value of reading it during arguably the most depressing month of the year. Our low scoring, lower than for other works that we've been unable to finish prompted a discussion on what does actually constitute a "good" book.

Rated 5 out of 10.

Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group.
February 2020.

Title: Our House

Author: Louise Candlish

The Camberley library morning reading group enjoyed Our House, although some found it laboured in the mid-section. The plot revolves around a wife who arrives home after a trip away, to find her house has been sold from under her, without her consent, and a new family is moving in. The tale of how this occurred unfolds from two voices simultaneously- the estranged husband, and the wife. This intriguing story is well told as it winds through parallel time spans and story lines, giving the different perspectives and weaving a web of deceit and trust. The story concept is clever with numerous plot twists, the best being the ending. Some in our group found it a page turner, and an easy read; all agreed it is frighteningly plausible. However, many felt the characters lacked depth and consequently readers did not empathise with them. It is a good, light holiday read.

Rated 7.5 out of 10

Camberley Library Monday morning reading group

Title: Between Darkness and Light

Author: Roy Peachy

Roy Peachey is a recently first published local author. Our book group decided to read his book as he is known to one of our members. He then gave a talk at our local library. Roy Peachy is a history teacher, his first degree was history but he subsequently studied oriental studies. The book is a novel but it is based on true events involving the Chinese in the First World War.

So much has been written about WW1 but this was a story unknown to most of us. A deal between the Chinese government and the Allies resulted in the enlistment of thousands of Chinese, who formed the Chinese Labour Corps, mainly poor Chinese men from the North, who were told they would be in non-combatant roles. They volunteered and signed contracts to serve for the duration, thinking that they would come home with more money than they could earn in China and better their standard of living. The contract specified that they would not be near the fighting.

This novel follows the story of one educated Chinese man employed as a translator and follows him from China, where he is blinded in one eye in a childhood accident, to France during the War. Then after the War when the Chinese Labour Corps were still at work at mine clearance, or recovering bodies and building the War cemeteries. It is estimated that more than10,000 Chinese died during and just after the War. Few records were kept by the British and French, and some claim that the number of deaths was considerably higher.

Our group found this novel to be a good read, it led to a lively discussion mainly because the role of the Chinese was completely unknown to most of us. Obviously, some details are harrowing, but the story flows along and takes the reader with it.

This book is not on the Library List of books with 20 or more books available to book groups but is in Surrey libraries for individual borrowers.

Rated 8 out of 10
Book Worms, Caterham
December 2019

Title: The Last Pearl

Author: Leah Fleming

This was an easy read and I suppose the ending was predictable. However the book provoked quite a lot of discussion even though we all agreed it was thoroughly enjoyable. Most of us were not aware of pearl fishing in the Tay (apologies to our Scottish members).

The characters were very well developed and very believable. We could smell the shells left rotting but the river when the action moved to the banks of the Mississippi and shiver with cold. The character of Kitty reminded us of our own teenagers.

Rated 8 out of 10
Oxshott Village WI
December 2019

Title: His Bloody Project

Author: Graeme Macrae Burnet

This book is a depressing account of a terrible crime and the stories of the people behind it. The characters are well described, and even though there is a sense of foreboding throughout the book, there was still some grim humour to counterbalance all the misery. The harsh life of the villagers in the Scottish Highlands in the 1860s is vividly portrayed.

The impressive writing style made us question whether the whole story was real, although we felt a different voice was needed for Roddy's written account of events. The conflict between sanity and insanity appears throughout the story. This book was enjoyed more than expected, but is not a book for the faint-hearted.

Rated 8.5 out of 10
Camberley Library Morning Readers
November 2019

Title: Dear Mrs Bird

Author: A J Pearce

Poorly written or cleverly written? The style of writing was intended to be true to the genre of women's weeklies of the time, and that did feel very childish to the modern reader.

It was quite simplistic and even slapstick in part, which did irritate some readers. But, if you kept reading, it did convey the stiff upper lip approach of the time, masking fear and tragedies with forced gaiety, and promoting the approach that "we are all in it together."

We would possibly have preferred a little more about the letters to the agony aunt as they were very revealing about the issues women were facing during WWII. It was an optimistic book with hope for the future.

The characterisation was very limited, with Mrs Bird in particular appearing very one dimensional, and (sadly) the ambitions of women were so limited by the opportunities available to them.

Rated 6 out of 10
West Byfleet Wednesday reading group
November 2019

Title: Hag-seed

Author: Margaret Atwood

Atwood retells The Tempest in a modern setting. It's an excellent book. The story is believable and made us all wish that Atwood had been our English teacher. The tale revolves round Felix who was sacked as the director of a theatre festival and his desire to get revenge on his assistant who took his place. He takes a role presenting Shakespeare in a prison. He is Prospero and he sets out to direct The Tempest.

Rated 10 out of 10
The Garth reading group
November 2019

Title: The Essex Serpent

Author: Sarah Perry

Opinion was split on this book but one thing we could all agree on: it takes considerable perseverance to get into it! The first 150 pages or so seemed to everyone like a hard slog but half of us felt that we were then richly rewarded for our efforts. Criticism focused very much on the slow pace and lack of tension, also the (nowadays) seemingly obligatory inclusion of an autistic child. Those who most enjoyed the book were those who had the time to read it in lengthy sittings rather than dipping in and out of it. If you love to savour richly descriptive language, this is the book for you. If you like a fast-paced plot-driven novel, we suggest you move further on down the shelf.

The story is set at the end of the 19th century and Perry succeeds in capturing the tone and pace of the Victorian novel without slavishly adhering to the linguistic patterns of Victorian English. It is Dickensian in its highlighting of the housing issues of the day and its richly drawn characters, although these are not typical Dickensian characters. It touches on a variety of themes: feminism; coercive control; science v superstition; medical advances; social inequality... yet the author is not at pains to impose her point of view. She allows her characters to have differing opinions yet to remain friends. Indeed, friendship in all its forms is the overarching theme of this book. We are shown that love can take many forms. Scoring reflected the polarised responses to the book but averaged out at 7 out of 10.

Rated 7 out of 10
Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group
October 2019