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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: Perfume

Author: Patrick Suskind

This book is extraordinary, with evocative and beautiful writing, in the magical realism genre. It is the story of the power of scent. It is a chilling story of a murderer, Jean- Baptiste Grenouille, with a hyper sensitive sense of smell, who lives out this passion with chilling results. It has notes of The Hunchback of Norte Dame, with the main character being unlikeable and sinister, and the feel of the book typically French in style and flounce. This was a "Marmite" book, with scores ranging from 2-9. It produced a visceral reaction in many of us: some members of our group hating the book, and wishing to shred it, to others enthusing on the extraordinary storytelling and exquisite use of language and descriptions.

The words the group used to describe the book were: haunting, mesmerising, harrowing, pungent, fascinating, sophisticated, atmospheric and totally unique. One in our group commented on the masterful translation from the original German. 'Perfume' was a catalyst for a wide and varied discussion on the topics of Autism, The power of love, Use of perfume as a disguise, the Age of Enlightenment producing such lack of empathy, the human Tendency to belong to a herd and our base instincts being closer to the surface than we realise. Although many of us relished this absorbing tale, it is not a book that we felt we could safely recommend without some warning of the darkness of the story.

Rated 7.5 out of 10
Camberley Library Monday Morning Group
August 2019

Title: Dead Famous

Author: Carol O'Connell

As the book we had ordered was not available the librarian suggested we read the Book of the Week.

This is a murder mystery set in New York so the group was quite interested. However I think everyone agreed it was very poorly written. Subplots were introduced frequently. The characters were without substance. The best character was a rescued cat called Mugs who attacked everyone. We had no sympathy with anyone else. We had no idea why it should have been chosen as Book of the Week.

Rated 1 out of 10
Oxshott Village W.I
July 2019

Title: Conversations with Friends

Author: Sally Rooney

Our group (average age 50) had nothing good to say about this book, but did wonder whether iGen-ers might view the book differently. We had no empathy with any of the 4 main characters. Each was self-involved, with no sense of values, and none of them developed as the story progressed. The book could have been set anywhere, as there were no descriptions of either Dublin or France, which might have provided a redeeming feature for the book. Described by members as tedious, boring, drivel and a waste of time. We felt it might have worked better as a short story in a Women's magazine.

Rated 2.5 out of 10
Camberley Library Morning Readers
July 2019

Title: Smile

Author: Roddy Doyle

A short book suited to group discussions with a different take on a 'heavy' topic that has been covered many times - abuse within Catholic schools (especially The Christian Brothers ones). Although beautifully written, evoking the environment of Dublin it was very confusing with many of us finding the dialogue difficult to follow. Some of our group thought the characters were unbelievable. It was often uncomfortable reading with frequent bad language. Careful attention had be paid as there were clues littered throughout which helped when trying to decipher the puzzling ending.

Rated 7 out of 10

Camberley Morning Reading Group
June 2019

Title: A Man Called Ove

Author: Frederik Backman

Ove seems to be the classic curmudgeonly old man. Most found him endearing and were reminded of people in their own lives. The book was a little hard to get into initially. The writing seemed "easy" but the book was surprisingly deep and the story was heart-warming. Despite the subject matter of death and loss, it was laugh-out-loud funny at times and was a book full of hope.

"Whimsy" was the word of the day. It was suggested that it read like a modern day fable, perhaps verging on farce. Considered in this light, the characters could be seen as representative of particular types. The question of whether suicide is an appropriate subject for a humorous book was discussed and it was generally agreed that the book would have lacked pathos without it and just become the story of a grumpy old man.

Negative comment was also made on the quality of the translation, though the shortcoming went unnoticed by most. Opinion was polarised with ratings as varied as 5 and 10 but fans of the book were definitely in the majority and it scored an overall 8.

Rated 8 out of 10.
Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group.
May 2019.

Title: A Thousand Paper Birds

Author: Tor Udall

Members of the group either found the book strange and confusing or loved it. It is set in Kew Gardens and tells the story of Jonah following the death of his wife Audrey. The thousand paper birds are a form of origami that is presented on the birth of a child or following a happy event. Chloe an artist who falls for Jonah uses this to make an installation for an art exhibition in Kew. The story involves ghosts and Jonah's gradual recovery. Personally I loved the book and really want to visit Kew. It was a gentle read.

Oxshott Village W. I.
May 2019.

Title: The Dry

Author: Jane Harper

Past and present together in this thriller, settled in a small town in Australia, where the oppressive hot and the drought is capable to determine the personality and the lives of the people in a town where there isn't much to do.

Lies and secrets between families and locals, abuse and violent crime (one of the problems in the contemporary society), and mistakes of the past of the main character, make this story very mysterious, intriguing and sad, and at the same time it makes you think about the relationship between humans. An easy read.

Rated 7.5 out of 10.
Camberley Library Monday Reading Group.
April 2019.

Title: A Gentlemen in Moscow

Author: Amor Towles

Our group found A Gentleman in Moscow a stylistic, fable-like narrative dealing with Count Rostov's experience under house arrest in the Metropole Hotel during the tumultuous times after the Bolshevik Revolution.

Although beautifully, poetically written, many in the group found it verbose and disappointing- an opportunity missed. It is slow moving and the story line felt slim for much of the book. Characters come into and out of the Count's life, often with little depth to their portrayal and seemingly without purpose, or with tenuous links to the life of the Count. It feels like a collection of short stories; merely brief interludes in the Count's life as the years tick by. However, in the last chapters of the book, these vignettes come to life and each hold a specific space in the tale of the Count.

Although not all of us found the book satisfying, we all had a soft spot for the Count and his optimistic view of life. He is unforgettable, he is a true Gentleman and his story remained with us long after the last page was turned. Our scores varied immensely- from 9 to 3.

Rated 6.5 out of 10.
Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group.
March 2019.

Title: The Good People

Author: Hannah Kent

The Good People was a very well researched account of rural life in Ireland in the early part of the 19th century, based on a true historical incident. The tension between the old superstitions and the Catholic Church, and how people survived before modern medicine and education provided a fascinating insight. It was surprising to realise the extent to which beliefs and lives have changed over the intervening 200 years.

The Good People are fairies, who are generally malign spirits that must be appeased by following an arcane range of rituals that impinge upon all aspects of daily life. They never appear directly in the book but the character's belief in them and their dark power is absolute. Do not be fooled into imagining that this is a cutesy fantasy book!

The narrative was well written with some wonderful descriptions of the hard life of these people who subsist in one-room hovels, sometimes shared with an animal, on a diet of cold potatoes and poitin. A few descriptions should make it into everyday speech, for instance "eyes like two burn holes in a blanket" was particularly graphic, and there were many more gems.

Particularly well-observed was how closely connected the people were with nature and how much at the mercy of the climate. However most of the group felt that the story itself seemed to drag. The characters were not considered by some to be sympathetic and the unremitting misery that permeated each page was hard for many readers to bear, with some particularly distressing scenes. Reading the story with modern standards, the attitudes and language of some of the people is shocking, particularly the doctor and the priest who washed their hands of the problem. This is either a close-knit supportive society or a hostile vindictive environment, depending on whether or not a person conforms to its norms.

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

Title: Elmet

Author: Fiona Mozley

The undercurrent of impending doom even when things went well kept us turning the pages. Disturbing throughout, the ending sort of apocalyptic.

We found it unusual in content and style, but could have done with less of the passages where the boy pursues his probably pointless quest (in italics).

We loved the descriptions of nature, which were relevant and moving, though the level of language skill seemed unlikely in this particular narrator, given his age and circumstances.

The idea of the family making a living outside the normal constraints of society appealed and seemed logical bearing in mind they certainly wouldn't fit in anywhere else.

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

Title: The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock

Author: Hermann Gower

A fascinating and intriguing insight in to what a woman needed to do to survive in the 17th century. It was well researched and seemed very accurate (the author is an academic in the field).

The idea of the inequalities of the time and how the different levels of society were clearly defined and the penalties for stepping outside the norms were well illustrated! The characters of the protagonists were also very complex.

The mermaid of the title was also an illusive concept which left everyone guessing. A very interesting read.

Rated 9 out of 10.
The Last Thursday Book Club.
January 2019.

Title: The Buried Giant

Author: Kazuo Ishiguro

It's a historical novel, based in post-Arthurian England. The tale is told in a dream-like state and slowly ambles along without a proper conclusion. We all struggled with the book and found it "unsatisfying" and "confusing". Was it a fable? allegory? fantasy? We understood the main theme about memories (also touching on love, war and loss) but felt there were things we had missed. What were we supposed to learn from it?

Rated 6 out of 10.
Camberley Morning Reading Group.
January 2019.

Title: All Girls' Filling Station Last Reunion

Author: Fannie Flagg

Overall the book was probably less than the sum of its parts which is a pity as there were a lot of interesting ideas. We all finished it, and all had opinions about the separable parts of the book, but it wasn't a strong single story. Many people enjoyed the second half more than the first, when we were learning about the filling station and the women pilots. The book also was about the issue of identity but didn't manage to explore this in any depth.

The chief protagonist, Sookie, was irritating to the reader. Was she just a silly woman, empty nest syndrome, a caricature - not the most sympathetic person to like. Her husband similarly a caricature of a forbearing husband - rather pathetic. The mother - just so very narcissistic and egocentric. All of these characters too exaggerated to feel real. So Sookie's reaction on her discovery of her adoption seemed so excessive it didn't ring true - as was her husband's total non-reaction. Because the characterisation and dialogue were not particularly well written this exploration of identity and who you think you are didn't give any insight into the real impact of such a devastating finding.

We all found the part about the Womens Airforce Service Pilots fascinating - and the first filling stations with personal service, screenwash and tyre pressures checked.

West Byfleet Wednesday Afternoon Book Club.
January 2019.

Title: Midwinter Break

Author: Bernard MacLaverty

As a group we all agreed that this book is beautifully written with emotive descriptions, but the story is slow paced and sad. The whole feel of the book is cold and wintery, and tells the story of a long married couple in the 'winter' of their years. Mundane situations provide the backdrop as this husband and wife struggle with lack of communication, disillusionment, feelings of abandonment and worthlessness, while dealing with the scars of their past in Ireland. Religion and alcoholism provide two threads leading these main characters to relook at their relationship and love. Some of the group did not enjoy the book, finding it passive, too slow and lacking in plot; some did not complete the book, a few felt it a worthwhile, poignant read.

Rated 6.5 out of 10.
Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group.
November 2018.

Title: Insidious Intent

This is one of the Tony Hill and Carol Jordan series of murder mysteries. We mainly enjoyed the book but wondered whether parts of the story referred back to earlier books. The story revolves round a murderer who picks up single women at weddings. An easy read.

Rated 7 out of 10.
Oxshott Monday Reading Group.
November 2018.

Title: An Officer and a Spy

Author: Robert Harris

Chosen as a book in the "thriller" category. Some of the group were initially reluctant to start reading the book but once started were absolutely gripped and couldn't put it down. The writing gave a clear straightforward narrative and we were carried with the narrator through the events. As he uncovered the true story we were with him. It was lovely and easy reading a book through the eyes of a reliable narrator and not having to disentangle a number of viewpoints.

Although describing real events in history the book has resonance for many current events and situations - the extent of anti-Semitic feeling, the French/German antipathy of that era and the slant that could give to the interpretation of events, the creation of "alternative facts", an in-group defending itself and the need for more and more falsehoods. We had a description of the world of the secret service of that era, spying, listening devices, prostitutes, (four fingered Marguerite), illicit homosexuality, gambling, and blackmail.

Thinking about falsifying dossiers we were reminded of the weapons of mass destruction and the David Kelly death. What happens when a secret service is pressurised to come up with something? Clear character descriptions - Mercier, his ambition to be prime minister and build it on a wave of anti-Semitism, Picault - a real honourable man, Henry, a soldier who followed orders.

This book was enjoyed by everyone in the group - a clear commendation.

West Byfleet Wednesday Afternoon Book Club.
November 2018.

Author: Rachel Joyce

Title: The Music Shop

This book is about Frank who runs a music shop and his group of friends who have premises on the same run down street and his relationship with Ilsa, a German lady who comes into his shop. Frank doesn't sell CDs, and he refuses to change even if it means going bust. He helps people through recommending music for them. The group had very different opinions on the book. Some people loved it and others found it too twee. Some people thought the characters well drawn and others thought they were contrived. All agreed that Rachel Joyce writes well, and that it is an easy read. The music references are well researched. The surprise at the end, however, was a bit over the top for most. A delightful, easy book with a happy ending.

Rated 8 out of 10.
Camberley Library Monday Morning Reading Group.
October 2018.

Title: Glorious Heresy

Author: Lisa McInerey

We had various musings on the book itself, plus the possible target readership, and the accuracy, we felt, of the blurbs on the cover. Some of us felt that once you got past the language and entered into the world of the book we felt very empathetic to some of the characters, in particular Ryan and Karine, less so to Maureen and others. The book conveyed a small town atmosphere in which all the characters either knew or were linked to each other, and were treading inexorably to their doom, either because of their character flaws or because their circumstances gave them no realistic options. We kept reading because we hoped for a good ending for Ryan and some of the other characters in spite of this.

A character no-one liked was Tara Duane, thoroughly poisonous, and we didn't mind her being bumped off. It was quite a long book and a lot happened, with a few nice plot twists, such as finding out why the prostitute's boyfriend had been burgling and met his end. And we got a real feel for the relentless decline of the girl prostitute, the attraction of drugs, her loss of a no brain boyfriend and being too stupid to keep her mouth shut. Ryan, a bright lad, was failed by school teachers, who recognised his promise and could give him no real help, so criminality became his success. A book set in Ireland and about the Irish must have something to say about the Catholic Church and it comes out badly. Maureen just missed a Magdalene laundry sentence but was forced to give up her baby and move away.

The book felt aimed at a readership akin to that of Trainspotting when it first came out. A gaudy and jolly cover and an interesting title. And the blurb said it was riotously funny but none of us laughed. Not really 'a hilarious novel' per FT.

West Byfleet Wednesday Afternoon Book Club.
September 2018.

Title: A Possible Life

Author: Sebastian Faulks

The book was a delight to read as it was so well written we could immerse ourselves in the stories. Each era and situation was well researched and the characters felt like real people. We all struggled, however, to easily link the five stories together with any clear or obvious single theme. The five stories did not share characters, location or era and so seemed unconnected apart from the themes of alienation, loss and change, or identity and character flaws, or reactions to events, alterations to circumstances, or the necessary compromises.

Quite a few of the characters had very solitary lives and had chosen that, or had experienced rejection or loss. Many worked very hard to support themselves or to improve their lot in life or make the most of themselves. But as Jeanne says in the book some people change and are not the same all their lives, or sometimes they cannot change.

Could Geoffrey have made more of himself than staying a simple teacher and should he have married? The ending of that story was quite profound, he seemed to find peace with himself at last. And a lovely piece of kindness from someone who knew him made all the difference to his life. Should Billy have stayed faithful to his wife? What should he have done when she came out of the Incurables? Could Jeanne have learnt to read and write? But the scene where she chose the light was beautiful. The story set in the future was less appealing somehow. And the last story was the most perplexing - was it about him or her? Was she manipulated by him or did she use him?

West Byfleet Wednesday Afternoon Book Club.
September 2018.