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Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative
More a travelogue than a novel

Unlike our usual reading material, this book is not a novel; there was no “story” as such - we felt it to be more of a travelogue -which made it difficult to review from our book club’s point of view.
Varanasi is a colourful city on the banks of the Ganges river. The author had stayed there briefly previously and fallen in love with it but then had the opportunity to live there for a year.
The book was well written and easy to read in the main. However, there was heavy use of Indian words and terms throughout which some liked as there was a glossary to explain them but others found they interrupted the flow of the writing and would have preferred the English translation to be used in the text.
The stories and personalities he encountered were fascinating; however, the book was generally considered to be interesting rather than engaging due to his lack of personal involvement or interaction with his subjects. It was also notable that, although the book covered an entire year, there were no obvious markers to indicate the passage of time. We found it difficult to locate the area within India and felt that a map of the area and its surrounds would have been helpful.

Overall we felt that it was a competent travel book but lacked sufficient personal information about the author’s time there although one of the group felt it was one of the best books our book club had read!
We gave the book a mark of 5 out of 10.

Book Club Recommended
Addictive, Interesting, Dramatic
Burry Port Bookworms review

The group as a whole enjoyed the book. It was easy to get into, well written and an interesting and different storyline although some found the middle section a little slow. Some of us disliked all the characters although the plot was interesting, but others had a liking for Lily. Some admitted to having had interesting conversations with total strangers on long haul flights (though none about murder!) and could quite see that someone in a drunken ramble might admit to wanting to kill his wife, without really believing that anything was going to be done about it. The storyline did degenerate though, as all the main characters turned out to be quite laid back about murder, indeed serial murder. Some did feel that there was a strong undercurrent of misogyny in the book. The female characters are either evil temptresses (Lily and Miranda), sluts (Polly) or doolally (Lily’s mum) whereas the men are decent people who are basically victims who can’t themselves. One very small point – we were intrigued that the Inspector’s cat was called Pyewacket, named after a witch’s familiar spirit and would have thought that would have fitted Lily better! On the whole it was an interesting page turner although the detrimental effect on the Inspector’s career was lamented as it was felt that he was basically a good guy! Perhaps it would have been interesting to see what would have happened if one of the many murderers had gone against the tide and not carried out the deed? Altogether a very enjoyable, easy read and we gave it an overall mark of 7/10

The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Optimistic, Informative
The Prison Book Club

The Prison Book club - Ann Walmsley

It was agreed that this book was fairly easy to read and enjoyable. In parts it did cover the same ground over again and this became rather tedious.
Several members commented on the relationship between Ann and Carol -It seems that Ann rather hero worshipped Carol. We would have been interested in their families and home life but we heard little of this.
Another lady commented that Ann and Carol worked long and hard for these book clubs, however, it was thought that there were more worthy charities to which time could be given. Many others agreed with this. Ann’s work was mainly an attempt to get over the trauma of getting mugged, and this seemed to work. It was agreed that many of the prisoners had been abused themselves and the book club could possibly help them to stop their offending. We were surprised at the lack of security Ann found when walking through the prison.
It was thought that if it had been a novel we would have found it rather unbelievable, as the prisoners were so articulate. We did not have a favourite prisoner as they all seemed so similar. We were aware that their names had been changed, but wondered if anything else had been changed about them. We also questioned the popularity of a book club in a halfway house.
Our members enjoyed the book reviews and found the book lists useful – some members have already purchased or re-read books from this list.
In all, most of us enjoyed the book and it scored 5.5 out of 10

From Mandi D:
I have just finished reading The Prison Book Club by Ann Walmsley and wanted to share my first impressions of it. I am pleased that it is a true story and that people like Carol exist. She sets a precendent when her team’s efforts establish a successful and popular reading group in a maximum security prison. Carol nutures her project and new groups in many other prisons build on the lessons learnt and skills implemented on the original project. I was impressed at the speed with which some of the Prison Group members read and yet absorbed the smallest details. The different and sometimes damning perspectives stem perhaps from the privileged backgrounds of Ann and Carol’s home-owning group of lady readers compared to the grim realities of the childhood of men. Amongst them were those who might remain locked behind bars until they died. It was an absorbing read that was designed to share a love of the written or typed word with all walks of life.

From Carolyn W:

I enjoyed this book. I
was intrigued by the idea of a book club in a prison. It felt like something
I wasn't particularly drawn to any of the prisoners. I would have
liked to have found out more about them as for me it was the descriptions and
reviews which dominated the book. I liked this part of it a great deal. It made
me want to read some of them and it was good to have the book list at the
I was impressed by the prisoners reviews. I thought it showed how
thoroughly they had read the books and how committed they were to the book club.
It was interesting that the book club seemed to help the author as much or maybe
more than the prisoners themselves.
It fulfilled my expectations in that it was
an interesting read and it gave an insight into how the prisoners thought. I'd
recommend it to anyone who likes to read about real people living in different
situations from most of us.

Sonia B:
I enjoyed the book for the most part but it would have been more interesting for me if the characters had been fleshed out a bit more - I was having some trouble distinguishing them from each other. (I think that probably reflected Ann's actual lack of interest in them as people rather than aids to her "recovery" and the raw material for a book). I was surprised at the type of book they read but that may be me being a literary snob! They must have selected their participants quite carefully for them to be able to read and critically review most of the titles that they read and they did seem to be more insightful than I would have thought most prisoners would be - presumably if they had had more insight they wouldn't have ended up in prison!. I would also have found it more interesting if I had actually read more of the books myself. I think I expected more of a difference between the prison book club and other book clubs which would have been interesting. I have to say that I found both Carol and Ann's attitudes (particularly Ann's) to be patronising and condescending and they seemed to have the feeling that they personally were lifting the prisoners out of their lowly lives and improving their lot by running the clubs. Not sure about their motives - Ann wanted to write a book and Carol was intent on building a book club empire - but perhaps that doesn't matter. Strangely, although the books reviewed were different in each chapter I began to find it repetitive too. Not as good as I had hoped but I have definitely read worse! I would have given it a 5 out of 10.

Rooms: A Novel by Lauren Oliver
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Confusing, Interesting

Our group agreed that this book was easy to read, although not very memorable. The characters were quite complex but not likeable. There were many things unexplained. The ghosts were not at all frightening and were written in a very ‘matter of fact way.’
The book was not plot driven but relied on the characters, which were well described. There were light-hearted parts to the book.
During the book Trenton changed and matured, Mina changed a little, but the other characters stayed very much the same.
The ‘plot’ was unpredictable, with time going back and forward quite easily. The author tried to make the house a character in the story, but did not really pull this off.
All the characters, including the ghosts were looking for closure of some type and the ending (i.e. the fire) was predictable.
Trenton knew about the ghosts from quite early on in the book this could be because he was going through puberty, or possible because he was slightly brain damaged as a result of the accident he had earlier in his life. This would have made him receptive of the supernatural.
We understand that the author had previously written for teenagers and this came through in this book. If we could ask the author a question, we would like to know if this book was based on her own experience in any way.
A likeable, easy to read book, our group gave it an average mark of slightly above 6.

Alice and the Fly by James Rice
Book Club Recommended
Unconvincing, Gloomy, Difficult
Alice and The Fly

Our book club had quite a wide diversity of views on this book with some really enjoying it and others finding it unmemorable. The explicit and violent parts were unexpected on the whole and felt to be unnecessary.
The inconsistent style of writing made it confusing and although the story was intense the main characters Greg and Alice were stereotypical and unbelievable. Their families are dysfunctional and every one of them has their own demons to fight.
Greg’s father is a plastic surgeon who escapes from everyday reality into the arms of his secretary. By studying x-rays of breast tissue at the kitchen table he can drown out the voice of his wife fully outlining her next majorly expensive decorating project, or pretend not to notice the meal has been exactly same and inedible for a week while she perfects her next dinner party menu.
Alice’s father is a butcher and Greg works in his shop. It is left to the imagination what awful things Alice has to endure at home, but it seemed clear that the relationship between her and her father was abusive. When Greg starts to spy on her at home it does not take him long to form his own damning conclusions.
Greg’s mental health instability seems to resemble epilepsy more than the diagnosed schizophrenia. We found it surprising that he was allowed so much freedom in spite of it. He is basically labelled a ‘Psycho’ by his schoolmates and his family who either ignore him or plead with him to be ‘normal’. He is allowed to travel to school and is left to get on with school life since he is academically sound, except a well-meaning teacher tries unsuccessfully to provide some help. This takes the form of after school talking sessions – “psychotherapy” for which she is not qualified.
There is a police transcript that explains a major incident through the responses of the different characters in the story. Without this most of the group’s readers said they would have struggled to finish the book. We wondered if its target audience who we thought might be young adults might have enjoyed it more than most of us did.
Average score 5/10

A Parcel for Anna Browne by Miranda Dickinson
Unconvincing, Romantic, Slow
A Parcel for Anna Browne

A benefactor with seemingly psychic empathy starts sending Anna Browne, a conscientious and introverted receptionist, luxurious gifts. Predictably, receiving anonymous parcels has mixed blessings and despite initially feeling good about being in the limelight, there are skeletons that Anna would rather leave in the closet.

Early on, and still with about 350 pages to go, some of our reading group had guessed the identity of the mystery philanthropist. We discussed the height of the reception desks in London tower blocks and whether the staff behind them were really visible enough that you could spot a new brooch at twenty paces. Anna’s friendly colleagues seem uncharacteristically enthralled by and attracted to each new addition to her appearance. It was disappointing at the end when the mystery gift giver is revealed but there is no explanation as to why she chose the gifts that so resonated with aspects of Anna’s past life – we felt that perhaps Anna read some special meaning into what were in fact very random presents

This was an easy-to-read, unmemorable adult fairy story. A good holiday read perhaps but on the whole not for our group

Average score 4/10

Boring, Slow, Unconvincing
Among the Ten Thousand Things

About 50% of our members managed to finish this book, although it was quite a struggle for most of them. In particular the extreme bad language at the beginning of the book most of us found offputting and unnecessary. It added nothing and seemed out of step with the rest of the book.
It was thought that this book was difficult to retain; the problem was mostly the changing of times, although some of our members do like this style of writing it was felt that it did not go smoothly in this case.
It was felt that the characters were not particularly likeable, leaving our members not really caring as to the outcome of the story. They had not been very well developed and were not easy to visualise.
The grandmother was a stereotypical Jewish mother and the mother seemed to be determined to stay married, whatever her husband did. As a couple they did not connect and the whole family were isolated from one another. Did the husband regret the affair? no we felt that he did not, he only regretted getting caught.
It was commented that the happenings in their lives were not really interesting and it seemed that the mother did not look after her children after the arrival of the emails. We felt that she would have been more caring towards them.
We did read reviews indicating that the novel was about loneliness, we did not agree with this; we felt it was more about isolation.
Although this book mirrored real life more than some books, we felt that the characters were not compelling. The time movement did not add to the story and we felt, was not particularly well done. The ending, which was in the middle of the book, fizzled out, we felt.
We also thought that health and Safety would have something to say about the art installation!
Our score out of 10 was 3½

Cold Cold Heart by Tami Hoag
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Dramatic, Optimistic
Cold Cold Heart

Most of our book club members finished and enjoyed this book and we felt it was well written. The plot was strong and we were impressed with the personalities of the main characters. The book was easy to read from the start and was quite a page turner. Although it was not a quick read, we mostly felt that we needed to see what had happened.
No one liked Dana as a person, either before or after her experience. Her rudeness and disability was discussed and we did know of instances where some of this had happened.
There was one comment that the book was predictable and that Tim Carver was the obvious culprit. Others did not spot him as a suspect until later on, although there were questions about why he left West Point, and he was rather a ‘golden boy’
Mum was a believable character, who calmed down as the book continued. She was understandably over- protective of her daughter.
Roger again was not a likeable character and most of us felt that he may have been the father of Casey’s baby and her murderer.
John and his alcoholic father were red herrings, although John had a bad time as a child and he did not trust anyone. I think we all realised that the body in the barrel was John’s mum rather than Casey.
We felt on the whole that the ending was realistic and liked the fact that the author resisted any temptation to tie up all loose ends Out of 10 we scored the book 7.5

The Girls by Emma Cline
Graphic, Dark, Insightful
The Girls - not our cup of tea

Many of our group found the writing too flowery for their taste and there was general consensus that the writing style was not popular.

As we were all aware of the Manson story, we found ourselves waiting for something in a similar vein to happen and after waiting until almost the end of the book we found the events to be rather anti-climactic

This book focussed more on the personalities involved. Evie was not happy with her life, her best friend Connie had a new best friend and she felt excluded Evie wanted to be the centre of attention and did most things for the effect that they would have on others so it was not suprising that as a 14 year old she was flattered by the attention given to her by the older girls. This was to have a profound and mostly negative impact on her life.

We felt that the mother was odd as she was not in the least concerned about the whereabouts of her daughter and did not check on her. Evie’s father was too involved with his new life to be much help, he was more concerned with his new young wife.

Russell, who seemed to be the centre of the cult that Evie was introduced into, had the girls running around after him, but did not seem concerned with them as individuals.

When the events at the end of the book finally happened we were unsure of Suzanne’s motives in excluding Evie at the last moment. We could not make up our minds whether she was helping Evie by not allowing her to be there, or perhaps she was fed up with the younger girl and just wanted rid of her. Whatever the reason, as it turned out Evie was lucky not to be involved.

Altogether most of us found it an unsatisfactory book on many levels and most of our book club members would not want to read another book by this author. This was very disappointing as it was hyped up to quite a degree so expectations were high.

Out of 10 we gave the book a score of 4.5.

Dead Secret by Ava McCarthy
Book Club Recommended
Fun, Interesting, Dramatic
Dead Secret by Eva McCarthy

Most of our group finished this book and found it a quick enjoyable read. A well written ‘who-dun-it’
We were engaged immediately with the story, but felt it went downhill a little in the middle, mainly because of the amazing recuperative abilities of Jodie {the main character}. This made it a little cartoonish – as in Tom and Jerry. Her physical abilities after her hospital stay were rather unbelievable. Jodie was a powerful woman, perhaps too powerful to get our sympathies and none of us felt an empathy with her. We felt that we would like to have had more information on the controlling behaviour included in the book and felt that many things were glossed over with none of the characters really being “fleshed out” sufficiently. Perhaps Ms McCarthy was trying to include too many strands into the book. The ending was a surprise to most although many had already guessed that the daughter was still alive.
Whilst verging on the fantastic in some places the general consensus was that it was a well written, easy to read, page turner and we did enjoy the book. We gave it a mark of 7 out of 10.

Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Informative, Dramatic
The Improbability of Love

Most enjoyed this book thoroughly and liked the painting having it's own voice. Perhaps too many characters introduced who were not developed so could be a little confusing at times. On the whole a good read Score 7 out of 10

Book Club Recommended
Dramatic, Confusing, Interesting
Blue Light Yokohama

Blue Light Yokohama by Nicholas Obregon

The main comment about this book was the difficulty with the Japanese names. It was felt that a list of characters and possibly a map of the area would have been a welcome addition .
We did learn quite a lot about the Japanese way of life, particularly the pecking order in the police service but were surprised that the seemingly ultra-respectful language and behaviour masked an underlying cynicism and misogynism.
Most of us found the detective’s childhood interesting, but the fact that we did not link the child to the adult until it was clearly spelled out was confusing. The time frame went back and forth without warning and it was disjointed and made for difficult reading at times.
Most of our group were engaged immediately but less so as the book continued. Some found that the book lacked substance and therefore interest but others though that the plot was interesting for the most part.
The main character was complicated and quite difficult to understand and we felt that there were deliberate and unnecessary complications included in the story with characters and storylines that went nowhere.
The main theme, the cult of the black sun, was again confusing but the plot twists were unexpected and interesting for most.
We found the novel was atmospheric and we learned a little about life in Japan.
Our score out of ten was 6 out of 10

The African Equation by Yasmina Khadra
Book Club Recommended
Interesting, Boring, Dramatic
The African Equation

The African Equation - Yasmina Khadra

Everyone agreed that this book was beautifully written and easy to read however the majority of readers did not find it particularly interesting.
Some of our members were gripped from the beginning and enjoyed the book to the end. They felt they had been transported immediately into the heart of the story and were kept enthralled up to the rather disappointing ending. Others were switched off at the moment of the kidnapping so opinion was very split on this one.
Many of the group did not like the main characters and therefore were not engaged in their stories
It was slightly disappointing for some that the obvious clichés of magical happenings and romantic interest had not been avoided and it was felt that they detracted from what was an extremely good story.
Out of 10 our average score was 6

The Beauty of the End by Debbie Howells
Boring, Unconvincing, Confusing
The Beauty of the End

Those of our group who started the book, read on to the end. They found the plot weak and forgettable. It took a while to get into the book and was disappointing even when it got going.
We felt that April seemed to be an unlikely goddess and that Noah must have been in his own little world and rather drippy not to have noticed what she was like.
The characters did not change during the book. We felt that we would have liked to know more of the murder of April’s stepfather and also we thought that Ella could have been developed more than she was, as she was the real victim in the story. Will was the baddy from the start, so no surprises there.
It was felt that the storyline went to and from the past rather too often, and with no warning.
We were puzzled by the relevance of the title, but thought it was possibly something to do with the letter from April at the end of the book.
We felt that the book was disappointing and would not recommend it to others, although we understand from one of our number that the author’s first book is better.
Out of ten, we scored this book as a 6

Book Club Recommended
Informative, Confusing, Interesting
The Crime Writer

Most of our number, who started this book, did finish it, as it was quite an easy read. Some thought it became a little tedious at times, but it picked up again. We wondered how Jill Dawson managed to imply that Ms Highsmith committed a murder – or did she. It was not clear if the events were real or written as a dream sequence.
We all thought it was clever to have written the book in the style of Patricia Highsmith and we understand that many of the small details in the book were correct, for example, her fascination with snails and the fact that she went to a function with a rotting head of lettuce and snails in her handbag. She was a complex character and this came through in the writing. It appeared that she had a troubled childhood and did not get on with her mother. On the one hand Patricia was reported to be mean, cruel, unloved and unloving but on the other more positive side she was considered plain spoken, dryly funny, difficult, but a brilliant writer.
Most of the characters were really quite unlikeable but we did like the character Ronnie, as he came across as sympathetic to her, perhaps the only person in the book who liked her, not just for what she could give them. We were confused however as to how he became such a close confidante so quickly as she appears to have only met after recently moving to the village
To sum up, we quite enjoyed the book and did feel inclined to find out more about Patricia Highsmith. Writing in the style of the main character, we thought was clever. Out of 10, we scored it a 6.

The Cutaway: A Thriller by Christina Kovac
Book Club Recommended
Confusing, Interesting, Informative
The Cutaway

We had a mixture of opinions on this book. Many enjoyed it very much, as they liked hearing about the politics of the newsroom whereas others found that less interesting
The in fighting in the newsroom made some of the characters look perfect, but underneath they were interesting but flawed. We felt that the murder was just a hook for the story of the newsroom politics, although some of us felt that we would have liked to hear more about it.
We found the start of the book rather confusing, but that was probably because we were thinking too much about the missing person.
Although the main characters did not change we began to see them develop and realise their true colours towards the end of the book
The title was interesting but the relevance of it was not clear to everyone although some found it clever and the cover was eye catching but perhaps not as relevant to the story.
We liked the ending and for some of us it was a pleasant change to avoid the usual predictable sentimentality .
We found the book well written and fairly interesting, particularly the introduction of "dark money" and some of us would have liked to heard more of the story of Evelyn Carney.
Out of 10, we scored this book 6

The Marble Collector by Cecelia Ahern
Book Club Recommended
Optimistic, Insightful, Interesting

We found the characters in this book interesting and well drawn. It was easy to read, although perhaps a little slow to start. Most of us read the book to the end.
Fergus Bloggs has had a severe stroke and, going through his belongings, his daughter Sabrina finds boxes of marbles. This coincides with a rare day off from work for her and she sets about finding out more about her father and the marbles both of which were a mystery to her.
Fergus was a secretive man. He was ashamed of his family, even of his wife later in life so he invents a different life for himself, using the name of his idolised dead brother. He was a champion at marbles, but his family knew nothing of this side of his life. Sabrina’s character developed during the book as she was struggling to find out what had happened in her father’s life and what had happened to the two valuable marbles she had discovered were missing from his collection that she had found. It seems for a long time that these missing marbles had been sold – and indeed it seems that Fergus believed this to be the case as he had given them to his last love - Cat - to sell to make the money that he was desperately in need of but it transpires that Cat had not sold them and had given him the money herself. She knew how much the marbles meant to Fergus so kept them for him.
There were several passages that we felt were well written and that we enjoyed. We found the passage at the start of the book, where Fergus’ mother loses her longed for baby girl at birth, very sad and well written and we liked the fact that she got on with life after this tragedy. Fergus’ stroke and subsequent loss of memory was also sad but we found his brothers coming to the care home to see him in the end very pleasing and again well written.
Sabrina’s husband was interesting as he seemed t be making up for his extra marital affair by being kind and supportive during Sabrina’s search for her family history. Sabrina was able to let go of this and finally answer some questions about herself too. We felt that Sabrina would have been keen to search her family history, as she did have a rather boring job, although we did like the elderly man who kept trying to drown himself.
We found the story character driven and interesting, delving in to the subject of family secrets and lies. We learned about the games and making of marbles and felt that the loose ends were well tied up at the end if the book. Some of our readers were interested enough in the subject to Google’ Marbles as a game for adults,’ which we had not come across before, it being a game for children as far as we were concerned. One striking and perhaps slightly odd note was that although the cover makes much of the fact that the story takes place in one day we none of us felt that this came across at all in the reading.
Our score for this book was 6.5 out of 10

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