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35 responses

  1. Love, Nina by Nina Stibbe

    What a lovely book! If you’re looking for a funny and fascinating read for the summer, I can’t recommend this one highly enough.

    Nina came to London in the 1980s and was employed as a nanny in a literary North London family. She can’t cook and her employer doesn’t object to her interesting approach to looking after the two boys, which means that Nina’s letters home to her sister make for very amusing, and sometimes laugh-out-loud reading.

    Nothing exciting or outrageous happens, but the everyday events of family life are reported in these chatty letters to Vic which include recipe tips and reports of conversations over the dinner table with famous neighbours who call round for meals.

    In the second part of the book, the literary influences begin to have an effect on Nina and she struggles through an A level in English Literature, in order to get into higher education. I loved the light touch that she gives to the unfolding story, and am delighted that she’s gone on to have her first novel published – once the waiting list for it dwindles, I’ll definitely be borrowing it!


  2. “Wonder” by R J Palacio
    I had read a few reviews about this book and seen the front cover in many shops and on websites so I felt quite drawn to it. I still like to share a book with my 12 year old son and he too had seen this book around at school, but had not read it, so it was the perfect choice for us.
    Auggie has a severe facial deformity, the book tells the story of his first year at high school. I liked the way that each chapter told the story of Auggie’s year from the view of each of the central characters. It raised issues around bullying,acceptance and true friendship. The plot is down to earth which gives the book a huge sense of credibility. It tackles the fears that parents have around their child feeling accepted and the bravery needed to send them out into what can be a very cruel world.
    Whilst the book is a great awareness raiser around the subject of facial deformity it is also a genuinely good read for teens and adults.


  3. The Marlowe Papers by Ros Barber

    How to describe this book? Poetic novel, adventure story, the author’s version of the Marlowe/Shakespeare legend? Whatever it is, it’s probably not a book I would have immediately chosen, but being a good book group member, I dived in.

    I had to tell myself to persevere, as it’s quite a culture shock to read a novel that’s written in verses, not chapters, especially when the verses are more like a Tudor tragedy than a collection of poems. But it didn’t take long to almost forget about the form of the text, as the voice of the ‘author’ comes through clearly, presenting his version of his life story. And Marlowe’s story is full of action, events, people and places.

    As I read on I felt I was learning more about the Marlowe story than I knew before, and finding out about the man himself – not necessarily the most sympathetic character, but clever and complex. And little details about life in Tudor England and on the continent gave an insight into reality and an indication of the writer’s depth of knowledge of her subject.

    I don’t usually mind notes in a book, but somehow I found the extensive notes in an extremely small font at the end of this book very annoying. The fact that they weren’t numbered is a minor niggle, but it niggled all through the book. I can’t stop myself from reading the notes supplied, but in this book I found them a bit too scholarly and distracting, and decided that I should have stopped referring to them so conscientiously. That being said, it’s not a reason not to read this book – the story is gripping, the writing is brilliant and the delight of a novel in verse makes me think that perhaps I’ll return to this book and read it without referring to the notes next time.



  4. Laura Bates: Shakespeare saved my life
    This title popped up as one to read on my kindle as part of Norfolk’s Great Big Read. I rarely read non fiction, but thought I ought to have a go, and it is magnificent! Easy to read and really thought provoking. Laura ran a literacy programme, specifically using Shakespeare, with prisoners, but not just in open prisons, her main ‘pupils’ we’re in solitary confinement mainly for murder. The book details the amazing story of one prisoner in particular-Larry- in for life and in solitary confinement for the past 10 years. He really took to the programme and together with Laura wrote workbooks for other prisoners.
    The prisoners used the plays of Shakespeare to provide themselves with insights into their own feelings, motives and behaviour. From this, they also provided Laura with insights into Shakespeare that she and other scholars had not previously considered.
    But the power of the book is not just in the story, through it the prisoners become real people, people who are just like you or me, but who, often due to circumstances have found themselves making a wrong turn in life and not known how to change until they found Shakespeare.


  5. Kissim Savvy – By Rita Lowther
    This book is filled with charismatic people of the most amazing variety. I felt so many emotions reading this book and often found myself laughing hysterically out aloud gaining the attention of those in the cafe around me! You may find yourself becoming very unproductive once you begin reading this, you won’t want to put it down!
    If you enjoy reading about the following topics then you can anticipate loving this book:
    – Bygone era
    – History
    – Love
    – Family
    – Travel/Culture
    – Humour
    I have never come across a book where I have felt so intriguant whilst being able to relate at the same time. Being one of first people to read this book, the only disappointing fact is that I now have to wait for Rita to write her next one!


  6. The House of Sleep by Jonathan Coe

    Intrigued by the title, and looking for a holiday read, I picked this book up not knowing what to expect. What I got was a lot of story, written in chapters that alternate between 2 time periods not very far apart, but far enough to make a cleverly interlinking story. The location and characters are well drawn, making it easy to like some and not be so keen on others, and the underlying theme of the book (sleep – naturally) is dealt with in various interesting ways.

    Half of the book is about a group of students living their chaotic lives in a large shared house. One is a narcoleptic who also has vivid dreams that she mistakes for reality, resulting by turns in funny, bizarre and tragic events. Another changes from being a sleep addict into an insomniac, driven by his passion for film.

    The chapters set a dozen years after the earlier period find the same characters having moved on in their lives, but returning by coincidence or design to their student house which is now a clinic devoted to the study and treatment of sleep disorders. The conclusion of each character’s story is superbly appropriate, and again, suitably funny, tragic and poignant.

    I particularly liked the way the book is presented in sections relating to the different stages of sleep and the connection from the end of some chapters to the beginning of the following ones with a broken sentence bridging the gap. One of the strongest impressions I gained from reading The House of Sleep was that of forgotten and remembered dreams and reality. A very satisfying book, and an author that I shall explore further.


  7. Losing you by Nicci French

    I picked this book up because I needed something to read, and it’s set on an island off the east coast so the local connection attracted me. I really didn’t read it at the right time of year (July) – the action takes place on one day in December, but the descriptions of the bleak island location and the ever-present and ever-changing sea transported me very successfully.

    The narrator is the mother of a teenage girl who goes missing on the morning of the day the family is due to go on holiday. The first-person narrative, uninterrupted by chapter breaks, shoots the story along at a great pace – almost too fast for me to establish who all the other characters are, and their relationships with each other. But it is a cleverly written story, taking us up various blind alleys in the hunt for the missing girl, and cranking up the tension as the mysteries are unravelled.

    Perhaps not the natural choice for a summer holiday read, but a good book for a windswept East Anglian beach at any time of year.



  8. Fiona Henderson | Reply

    Mr Loverman by Bernadine Evaristo – what a fantastic book, all about Barry – 74 years old, dapper and has a way with words: “While sleep is the Great Vanquisher of an Embattled Mind, Guinness is the Great Tranquillizer of a Damaged Soul …” with the obvious consequences … and his relationship with his childhood friend, Morris, who’s better with the feelings side. And of course Carmel, Barry’s wife.
    A completely seductive book with lots of jokes as well as moments of great feeling.


  9. Perfect by Rachel Joyce
    For me, the title sums up the book. I found it a perfect read – wonderful prose, great descriptions of the natural world, and a good storyline. Rachel Joyce has created some memorable characters, and shows an empathetic awareness of human behaviour and emotions.

    The novel focuses on two schoolboys during the hot summer of 1972, and the subsequent adult life of one of the boys. A series of incidents leads to a tragedy, and we experience them through the perspective of the boys, Byron and James. Byron refers to the first incident as ‘the mistake’, and blames the subsequent events on the two seconds that were added to time in 1972. Time is a dominant theme in this book, and we witness the profound changes that several of the characters experience as the story, and time, progress.

    This is Rachel Joyce’s second novel, following The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which was a Richard and Judy book club book last year. I think she’s a writer to watch.


  10. A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewycka

    Have you ever been aware of books that came out, created a lot of interest, got lots of good reviews but then never got round to reading it? A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian definitely falls into this category for me and that is probably what promted me to buy a copy whilst sitting in an airport without a book recently.

    The first thing to say that it did live up to expectations once you could get over the slightly implausible central plot line (84 year old Ukrainian now living in rural England marrying a recently arrived Ukrainian “lady” of 36). It was funny; it was charming but it was also somewhat darker than I had been expecting at times and revealed glimpses into the brutal history of Ukraine and the effect this had had on the family at the centre of the book.

    The family consists of two sisters who have never got on but are united in their desire to keep the gold digging Valentina away from their father (and his money). The story is narrated by the younger sister, Vera, and it is her fabulously confiding and chatty writing style that is one of the book’s great strengths. Incidentally, there are regular (short) chapters in the book about the history of tractors but they are not in Ukrainian and quite interesting in their own right!

    So, to sum up, this was definitely a book worth catching up with and certainly a lot more interesting than the England football team’s recent expoits in Kiev!


  11. Bookworms Reading Group | Reply

    Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

    Suite Francaise give an interesting and different view of life in an occupied country.


  12. Bookworms Reading Group | Reply

    Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

    Lots of characters were introduced, and I expect quite a few real people would behave much the same in similar situations, but the story did not progress very well, so a bit of a drag.


  13. Bookworms Reading Group | Reply

    Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky

    Well written with lots of characters telling the story of the exodus from Paris in World War 2 and then life in occupied France in the months after. A fascinating insight.

    Information about the author at the end of the book really shed more light on the French wartime experience


  14. Janet Cunningham | Reply

    Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky
    Plumstead Road Library’s Bookworms Reading Group

    A very well written book, and although a novel, is very much based on reality. We knew that France was occupied, but, as a schoolgirl I don’t think I gave much thought as to what that meant. We heard a lot about the free French, but not about the occupation, or about how French Jews were affected.

    I think this should be compulsory reading fo all students who are studying the Second World War.

    It seems terrible to think that there was so much collaboration, but then what were the women to do? I expect the ordinary German soldiers were just as pleasant as British soldiers would have been.

    The most heart breaking bits were reading appendices 1 and 2. To think that the parents died thinking that at least their children were safe as French citizens, but all the while they were not because they were Jewish, and even then French police were hunting them down.


  15. broadlandwanderer | Reply

    Falling in Honey,

    by Jennifer Barclay

    The title of the book caught my eye – according to the author ‘Falling in Honey’ is a Greek saying for falling in love. It was on display in the library. A very quick thumb through suggested the book was about one woman’s experience of relocating to one of the Greek islands. What wasn’t quite so apparent from that first thumb-through was that a significant part of the book is about a couple of failed love affairs. Add to that a dawning realisation that a particular life-style choice on the part of the author meant that her chances of having a family were ticking inexorably away, and you get an impression of what the book is about.

    JB treats herself to a month-long healing holiday on the island of Tilos when one long term relationship ends. No stranger to Greece, there’s no doubt she is completely captivated by the island, which is small and relatively undeveloped in terms of mass tourism. She makes many friends during her month there, but reluctantly has to return to the UK for her work.

    There follows another relationship that seems to offer her everything, even a life-style relocation to Tilos with her new partner. That relationship falters when preparations are well advanced for the move to Tilos, and she continues to the island on her own, eventually living in a tiny cottage close to the local honey factory on the island.

    Her account of how she settled down on Tilos and embraced the life style of the locals is enchanting, especially if you happen to be a Grecophile like me. I won’t make further reference as it would detract from the pleasure of reading about her experiences there.

    Every coin has two sides unfortunately, and I found myself unmoved by her various romantic failures. I am at a loss to say why, I was just left with a feeling that she was to some extent the architect of her own misfortunes.

    If you are looking for a book primarily about the experiences of moving to and living in Greece, you may be somewhat disappointed. If it’s a read about a particular time in the life of the author, some of her problems and how she came to find healing in Greece, then this book will appeal.


  16. Steven Griffiths | Reply

    Hempnall Reading Group

    The Ice Cream Girls by Dorothy Koomson January 2013

    After a few previous choices about which we have been somewhat half-hearted, this book was a recommendation by one of our members. She was apologetic in advance about the rather uninspiring title, insisting that it is not chick-lit and that we would all be quickly hooked. And this was true – for some of us. The Ice Cream Girls was most definitely a ‘marmite’ book – really enjoyed by half of the group (predominantly the women), but strongly disliked by the other half (mostly the men) – which made for an interesting discussion.
    The two girls in the story are involved in a murder. One girl, Poppy, is punished by imprisonment and the other, Serena, is not. When Poppy is released after twenty years she is determined to prove herself innocent by making Serena confess that she was the actual murderer.
    By a series of flashbacks and real-time scenes we come to know the girls’ story. The author writes openly about the naïve emotions of post-pubescent teenage girls and their willingness to exchange under-age sex for the feeling of the appreciation and attention of an older man. At the same time, the duplicity of the man in taking advantage of the teenagers is clear. These clashing physical and emotional intentions are described with sufficient subtlety that, despite the obvious presence of illegal sex in the story, there is no need for any explicit language.
    The question of how both girls could each consider themselves to be wholly innocent and yet be the only ones present at the murder of their exploiter, remains hanging in the air until the end. Eventually the crime itself is described and the parts played by the girls becomes clear. To discuss the actual dénouement would be to give too much away but it is clever and, to some of the group unexpected, although to others obvious and unimaginative.
    Many of the group, even those who enjoyed reading the book, found several aspects of the story difficult to believe. One of the things that was most incredible was the attitude of Poppy’s parents (and her father especially) who had been so loving to her before her conviction, yet decided to have no contact with her during her years in prison, and completely ignored her after her release and return to the family home. Equally difficult to believe by many of us, was the fact that Serena had managed to keep her past a total secret from her husband, Evan, for so many years, and then later that this kind man would react so badly and seemingly out of character when eventually he did find out. Other storylines which were hard to accept were that Poppy would be able trust her boyfriend Alain again after finding out his initial motive for befriending her; and that the teenage girls’ loving families had not become aware of or concerned about the physical injuries that Marcus inflicted on them over a sustained period.
    Dorothy Koomson is certainly an author some of us would choose again. Additionally, those that enjoyed the book are anticipating the story being televised later in the year. Although the book depicts as one girl is white and one black, there is no racial reference in the story, and contrary to stereotype the convicted girl Poppy, is white, whereas Serena who was found not guilty is black.
    To most, Marcus the abuser, although totally horrendous with no redeeming aspects to his personality, was the more interesting and complex character. The subject matter of exploitation and physical and mental abuse left most of us feeling uncomfortable, but it was not written in a gratuitous manner. Although some found the switching from present to past a little tedious at first, those who enjoyed the story soon dealt with this, and also chose not to question some of the more incredible parts, accepting it as an easy to read book. However, others in the group found it so annoying that they were barely able to finish the book.


  17. Eve, or Evie as she prefers to be called, is a quiet, unassuming girl in her late 20s, given to daydreaming about what might have been. Life has had its ups and downs for her, but she seems to be sinking slowly into anonymity, living with her older sister and brother-in-law, helping out with the kids when she’s not at work in the stockroom of a rather run down department store that has definitely known better times.

    Evie remains almost invisible to the rest of the staff, several of whom tend to unload their problems onto her, without even knowing her name. Hidden away in her own little empire in Hardy’s stockroom, she happens to overhear some very unwelcome news about the future of Hardy’s in the lead up to Christmas, coupled with the appearance of a charming and very handsome American.

    There follows a catalogue of mistaken identities and misunderstandings, all of which conspire to cause Evie to try to turn the store’s fortunes around, her efforts largely unknown to the rest of the staff, using treasures she’s found in her stockroom, and helped by just a few close friends.

    The author, Alli Harris, has woven an absolutely charming and delightful tale. It evoked for me memories of long-vanished stores in my own home town, of elegance, of the closeness of working communities, of a time when the customer mattered far more than profit. As I read the book, it struck me time and again, the story would be ideally suited for the screen!

    Yes, it has a happy ending, but you’ll have to read the book to find out just how Evie manages it!


    1. What I should have included – the title of the Book is ‘Miracle on Regent Street’.


  18. The Help by Kathryn Stockett
    I found the book very enlightening, thought provoking, funny yet heart wrenching,certainly opened my eyes to the racial issues that many black women faced working in the homes in Mississippi.


  19. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin
    The cover, the title and the lead character’s name promised a story of intrigue and sauciness in Berlin between the two World Wars. It turned out to be a tale of poverty and survival in the aftermath of the First World War and the build-up to the second.
    The author clearly knew Berlin, and its circumstances at the time, very well. There were lots of German names and descriptive passages which required close knowledge to be accurate. The poverty and atmosphere of despair which pervaded Berlin was largely unknown to us and to hear of the story from the German side made many of us keen to know more of the history of Europe around this time.
    The two girls at the heart of the story, Lilly and Hanne, were abandoned, unloved and obliged to survive a life of authoritarian austerity in a children’s home. Their mentor, Sister August was similarly alone, unloved and taking what pleasure she could from looking after the children. Lack of self-esteem seemed accepted and normal.
    Unsurprisingly, the girls started to get out of the home and discover the seedy world of life on the streets. Both learned to survive by selling their femininity in night clubs, Lilly being more discrete than Hanne and eventually using her beauty to get small roles in films. The atmosphere reminded us of “Cabaret” and the parallel story of Sally Bowles.
    The lives of the girls progress rather slowly, Lilly eventually having a deeper relationship with a famous Russian film director, Ilya. In keeping with the loveless lives of all the characters, Ilya cannot commit to Lilly because of a promise to another woman back in Russia but she still makes a name for herself in films.
    The involvement of National Socialism in Germany starts to become more important and we could feel a sympathy with the development of this movement in the same way that we see current European monetary issues creating a determined backlash in the reaction of badly affected countries now.
    Eventually Hanne comes to a grim end and Lilly tries unsuccessfully to break into American films but subsequently comes back to Ilya in Germany. In a scene not unlike the von Trapp family in “The Sound of Music” Lilly and Ilya try to make an escape but it all ends badly and the despair continues.
    Having finished the book, we were happy to have the gloom lifted and to return to our more comfortable lives. We had little idea of the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and the rise of National Socialism before this book and would all like to know more of Germany’s story around this time. Whether Lilly was “luminous” was hard to know. There was nothing light about the story. The only other luminous reference (apart from alliteration) must be the film connection.
    After reading the acknowledgements we find out that the film names are mostly made up and the description of Germany at that time comes from the author’s great-aunt. Maybe she was the real Lilly Aphrodite.


  20. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    The Luminous Life of Lilly Aphrodite by Beatrice Colin

    What an interesting book this is! We really enjoyed most of the story, and there is so much to say about this book that these are just some thoughts and ideas amongst many. Although we enjoyed the story, both of us found some of the passages relating just to the development of film over the years, particularly in the second half of the story, tedious and over engineered.
    The essence of the story seemed to be about Lilly’s search for love, having not had the experience of being loved. Set in Germany at the beginning of the 20th Century, documenting the rise of the Nazis, the author had clearly researched well. At times there seemed to be too much detail – although interesting, we both found those sections a bit tedious. The first part of the book about her upbringing was grim, but fascinating. We got the sense that, through no fault of their own, both Lilly and her friend Hannah were emotionally stunted through their lack of having no proper family. Also Hannah had too much responsibility thrust on her at early age, and this she couldn’t sustain. Even Sister August, who was Lilly’s first experience of love, had a complex emotional motivation related to her childhood. Sister August seemed to function mainly from a sense of duty, with occasional glimpses of what love could do. Hannah and Sister August were the two that Lilly had her first loving relationships with, but there was a sterility & coldness about them, which chimed with the rise of Nazism in the 20’s and 30’s. All the characters, to an extent, seemed to have low expectations of life and accept their lack of fulfilment with an almost stoic indifference. All Lilly’s possible loving relationships throughout the story were restricted in some way.
    Lilly evidently grew into a beautiful and captivating woman, but she didn’t seem to see much value in herself, because she’s never been unconditionally loved. Even the producer, Ilya, who loved her didn’t love her unconditionally because of his sense of duty to the other woman in his life.
    The characters are very convincing. It was grim, with little optimism. As one reads the story, you are hoping that ‘something will happen’ & there will be a satisfactory outcome, with all the suffering will be a precursor to a satisfactory life. However, this is not to be. As the story unfolds, Hannah seems to accept the cruelty of her Nazi boyfriend. Both the main characters accept their fate, as they have little sense of self-worth. Hannah’s death is awful, but understated in the story, reflecting this sense of lack of self-worth.
    The part of the story we both found rather unconvincing was the huge importance that Lilly/Lidi had for Goebbels and her final tricking of him. Again, the ending was dark and grim.

    Colin has an interesting way of adding depth to the story, in that she will take certain characters, and leap forward in their lives, telling us what happens to them in the future and giving a real sense of the continuation of life and existence beyond the immediate story. She does this well and it does enhance the quality of the story.

    In conclusion the story reflected a very dark period of European history. It felt realistic but bleak. It was largely well written and researched. We both felt we cared about the characters and wanted to know how the story resolved.

    Whilst we wouldn’t rush to find other books by this author, if the occasion arose, we would read more of her work.


  21. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    The Luminous life of Lilly Aphrodite by Colin, Beatrice
    I liked this book – I felt that the writing was very vital and imaginative and aptly described the horrors of war and those that had to live in cities and cope with the outcomes. I was particularly interested in the rise of Nazism and felt that the author had captured well the contradictions that this provoked. It was a dark book and the ending was horrid – all the way through I wanted something good to happen and it never did, but then the historical context didn’t really lend itself to positivism and optimism – it was a grim period in history for Germany and well researched.
    This is a story of survival at times bleak and filled with desperation. The main character, Lily was complex and one felt very much a victim of circumstances, unable to be in control of anything very much but fighting her way through indescribable horrors and misery. I liked the early part of the book and the development of her relationship with Hanne, how this grew with time – Lily was quite a stalwart in the face of fate really but it was chance that seemed to play a large part in her personal story. I did not find the men, on the whole particularly interesting, (except perhaps for Otto who added some interest as he drifted in and out of the plot), more a foil for the two girls. Eve contributed to the story involving herself with both characters and driving the plot forward especially laying the foundation, I think, for the final awful ending. Her brother was rather plastic, but served the purpose of bringing out the characters of the three women and contributing to the ironic finale, emphasising the chances that fate contributed in those dreadful times.
    Hanne was very interesting, a well drawn character – a child of her time – living in the world of decadent Berlin, a Christopher Isherwood character straight out of Sally Bowles, her life depicted a valid picture of the Berlin’s sexual underworld of between the wars. She was a woman who gravitated to whoever was able to give her any affection and her death was a tragedy but not unexpected. But it is Berlin, the city moving through pre and post-war economic crisis, social and political shifts and artistic movements that stands out, almost as a main character in itself and for me provided a fascinating backdrop which I felt to be very authentic and absolutely riveting..
    I lost the thread and interest somewhere halfway through – it tended to go on a bit and lost pace – especially during the “film star” years which I didn’t find terribly convincing. However, I persevered and was rewarded, if that is the right word, by the increasing pace of the last chapters which culminated in the final irony which I found quite devastating – I am not very good with unhappy endings, but I felt this one worked.
    The interplay with Goebbels was a bit lost on me and didn’t add much to the storyline – I felt it was a bit gratuitous and thrown in without serving much purpose although I suppose it added to the background of the story. And it is this background in which all the characters led their lives which I found the most interesting – a good read – mostly well paced and certainly well researched. I would be interested to know what else she has written.
    The cover didn’t particularly inspire me but the synopsis on the back did and I think I might have picked this up on that basis.


  22. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    A Tale of Love and Food in Italy, by Victoria Cosford

    This was an unusual book in my opinion and difficult to critique.
    It was more like a diary made into a book than an autobiography.
    I found the fact that it was written in the present tense, although it was relating events in her past a little annoying at first, but I got used to it.
    There were a lot of different names and certainly by the 4th book I had trouble remembering who was who, and what they had done or how they had been involved in the previous books.
    She clearly adores Italian food, and her enthusiasm really comes across and was quite contagious. I can imagine her newspaper column is popular.
    It’s difficult to say there was really much of a point to the story, or a development of the characters, as it was a just a record of actual events and people who she knew.
    Saying all this, I don’t know why exactly, but i quite liked it as an easy read. The recipes were a good idea and if i owned the book and wasn’t handing it back, I’d probably try some myself – she really made them sound mouth watering!
    A light hearted read, better than I thought it would be from the cover, not much depth to it but I don’t think that’s what she had been trying to do – it was as if she needed to write it down for own benefit.
    I think it would be good to read if actually on holiday in Tuscany – which i almost feel inspired to do!


  23. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    AMORE AND AMARETTI by Victoria Cosford

    This is a lightly written and easy to read account of a young woman’s fascination with her young adult life living and working in small Italian restaurants. She describes events rather more in the style of a journal than a story. In fact there isn’t really a story apart from the progress of her life. The insertion of recipes – which are pretty simple (in my understanding of cooking) although characteristically Italian, – seems a bit obvious, making this book into a scrapbook as well as a journal.
    Why would someone write such a book? Clearly she looks back on this part of her life with affection much as some of us look back on our student days. Her emotional attachments to the other restaurant workers are largely superficial and seem to me to equate with most of our experiences in sampling relationships in a teenage sort of way. The fact that she ends up in bed with several of the people she works with is a reflection of how narrow our personal lives often are.
    Apart from Victoria herself, the only character with any substance is Gianfranco. He seems to be a mixture of hero and villain but, to me, rather dislikeable. He seems to be more likely to be angry than kind. In fact the sort of man to whom women are typically drawn, then end up being surprised when they are badly treated.
    Without enthusiasm, I eventually finished the book and find that at fifty years old she is still re-living her young adult memories in the hope that it will all feel the same. Fortunately we didn’t have to read about her going to bed with the original cast again when all in their fifties.

    Having made a subsequent career in Australia as a food writer specialising in Italian cookery, I suppose this book might be a justification of her credentials to her fans but otherwise it felt rather like telling your children how crazy you were when you were young, only for them to turn around and say that you should hear what they did. Probably best not to.


  24. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    A Tale of Love and Food in Italy, by Victoria Cosford

    We all found this book rather difficult to critique, but none-the-less managed to have a lively discussion about it!

    Judging the book from its cover, we felt it promised a light-hearted, interesting and credible story. It was not to be. A few people couldn’t bring themselves to finish it, and those who did, in the hope of finding some late developments and a satisfying conclusion, were disappointed.

    We all felt the book was more of a loosely constructed journal, blog or scrapbook than a well-crafted account of significant events in the author’s life. At times, she glossed over whole decades and the descriptions of many of her experiences were brief and superficial. Consequently, we gained little sense of place or character. Several of us had no secure image of the main characters. There was very little ‘fleshing out’ of their physical characteristics or personality traits.

    Some felt it was more of a cookery book, and opinion was divided on the merits of this. Some felt the recipes were intrusive whilst others were moved try some out.

    By the end of the story we knew what the author had done at particular times in her life, but we were left with a very limited understanding of how she felt until, perhaps, towards the end of the book. We learnt that she had fallen in love with someone back home in Australia but even this supposedly pivotal experience was recorded rather unemotionally.

    Some of us felt that the author cut a rather sad figure and certainly many of her relationships were transitory and appeared inconsequential. Some also questioned why she had written the book at all, and felt it was an over-indulgent exercise or that it might simply have grown out of the success of her newspaper column.

    Most of us wouldn’t say that we actively disliked the book. Rather, we were largely indifferent and felt that there was no genuine narrative to ‘grip’ our interest and imagination.


  25. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    A GATHERING LIGHT by Jennifer Donnelly

    This is a book which divided opinion sharply. Most did not enjoy the book, finding the pace of the story slow, the plot limited and the author’s strategies contrived. Whilst recognising some of these weaknesses, a few of us thought the book to be a good, light read with some well written passages.

    Would you have picked up this book as a possible read?

    Generally, we felt the cover illustration did little to suggest what the story is about. The quotations taken from reviews and printed on the front of the book would have dissuaded many of us from choosing it, making rather flamboyant claims. The front cover also told us that book had been nominated for a Carnegie Medal, an award for children’s fiction, but only a few of us were aware that it was written for the ‘young adult’ audience. This surprised some of us who felt that the story was slow-moving and would not appeal to this age group.

    Letters written by Grace Brown to her lover were the inspiration for the novel and the author intended them to form the backdrop to the story of the main character, Mattie. What do you think of this as a device?

    We felt this was largely unsuccessful. The author’s attempt to weave together Grace’s letters with Mattie’s story was rather contrived. The letters were, for the main part, irrelevant and played little part in enhancing our understanding of the book’s main theme: the coming of age of a young woman in a small rural community at the beginning of the twentieth century. In fact, the first letter does not appear until a third of the book has passed and subsequent letters have little bearing on the development of the story. The author tells us that she found Grace’s letters very moving but some of us felt they had an unattractive, whining quality which did little to engage our sympathy.

    Did you find the plot and the setting realistic and engaging?

    The novel was well-researched and gave us a clear picture of life in early twentieth century rural North America. In particular, the endemic poverty of this farming community was portrayed well. Some of the events were vividly described, for example, the illness of Mattie’s family and the birth of Minnie’s twins. The book touches on many fundamental issues, for example, family relationships and responsibilities, attitudes to women, adultery and racism. In general, we felt the author tried to include too many themes and, consequently, was unable to explore them in sufficient depth. Most of us found the story slow-moving and did not sustain our interest. Some of us skipped passages and some were unable to finish the story. Whilst not necessarily finding it a page-turner, a few of us read the book quickly and enjoyed Mattie’s journey to deciding what she wanted out of life. Of those who finished the book, most felt that the story fizzled out. However, others believed that Mattie was moving on to another phase of her life and would like to know what became of her and some of the other characters.

    What did you think of the way the author portrays Mattie and the other significant characters?

    Most of us felt sympathy and affection for Mattie. The author portrayed the dilemmas and confusion of her situation successfully, and captured the conflicting loyalties and emotions of a young woman growing into adulthood. We also found aspects of some of the other characters interesting and credible, for example, the complexity of Mattie’s father’s experiences and Weaver’s angry reaction to small-town racism. However, other characters, Royal, for example, were stereotyped and rather two-dimensional.

    How did you respond to the ‘word of the day’ idea?

    Opinion was sharply divided: some thought this tedious, while others felt they would like to use this as a strategy for themselves.

    Did you enjoy the book and would you read another by this author?

    Again, there was a difference of opinion: a few enjoyed the book, describing it as a good “Sunday afternoon or holiday read’ and would be interested in a sequel, while others felt it was unbalanced with too heavy an emphasis on relationships and too little plot.


  26. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    Trespass by Rose Tremain

    Judge a book by it’s cover

    This cover confused us. The picture of a little girl running into a wood seemed like the beginning of a children’s story (like Alice in Wonderland) but it was actually a representation of the end of the first chapter. It had no connection with the theme of the rest of the book, i.e. damaged people and their relationships. The name of the author in red seemed to be the important bit for the publisher.

    Rose Tremain was known to some of us because of her local connections but most had not read any of her work.

    Plot and setting

    The setting in the Cevennes was realistic and believable and we thought that it was well described and atmospheric. The nature of an old London antiques shop was recognisable but we were slightly concerned about the degree of description of the items in it. Nevertheless, those descriptions portrayed the owners character.

    Despite the dramatic opening chapter, the book became about the relationships between three couples whose lives we were drawn into. Audrun and Aramon Lunel lived in France. Veronica and Kitty did as well (as ex-pats) and Anthony and Veronica were brother and sister.

    The story line was relatively simple but the essence of the book lay in the relationship issues. Everyone was somehow damaged and trying to recover in their own way.

    We were particularly impressed with the title, Trespass, as the book contained both trepass as related to property and also people trespassing into other peoples lives.


    None of the characters was particularly endearing apart from a couple of minor ones. In fact they were pretty depressing.

    All the main characters had historical issues which had damaged them. Each of them was trying to get away from their past in a manner which was probably too late to work.

    Audrun wanted to regain her place of solace from her reclusive untidy drunken brother Aramon who lived in the big house and she in a bungalow in the grounds.

    Veronica lived with her partner Kitty. Both of them were failing to achieve their ambitions in writing and painting and then Veronica’s brother Anthony turned up and effectively ended their relationship.

    The fact of Anthony’s death had only a passing impact on the relationship issues and eventually the central location, Mas Lunel, was destroyed.

    At the end, everybody’s life had changed from fantasy ambitions to reality. Audrun could live in peace in the woods, Aramon could live in peace in prison, Kitty was somewhere else and Veronica was back in London. Anthony was dead.


    There was possibly some scope for a bit of happiness at the end. If Audrun had ended up with Raoul then it was not all doom and gloom but otherwise we were happy that Audrun had got away with her crime.


    The author is a well-known graduate of the UEA creative writing school and therefore known to some. She seems to know the setting of the book well. Some of us had read other books of hers and enjoyed them. We would choose her again especially if we were looking for relationship-based stories rather than action-based ones.


  27. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    The House at Sea’s End by Elly Griffiths

    Judge a book by it’s cover

    Apart from one of us who knew this writer and had read previous books, no-one would have picked this book by its cover. The cover emphasises the author and the title with a fairly insignificant picture so presumably aimed at people who know her work. Reading the word-bites on the back might have sparked interest but an uninspiring cover made that less likely.

    Plot and setting

    The description of the Norfolk coast, the coastal erosion and the lighthouse made us all think of Happisburgh which made the setting easy for us Norfolk folk to visualise. The anxiety about potential invasion in the Second World War was believable and therefore the plot understandable.

    The first half of the book was slow and took a while to become interesting but the second half was more pacey.

    The central theme of a film hidden years ago under some steps and the clues in the form of book titles was worrying since we thought that film with associated audio would probably have only been available to professionals as home “Super 8” movies were picture only into the seventies when video tape appeared. We might need other advice about this as the author must have thought of that.


    The characters we found tricky as they were not that well defined. This may be because there are two previous books in this series and that we had probably missed a lot of character establishment in those.

    The main character, Ruth, was apparently torn between effective single motherhood and an interesting job. She was apparently over-weight and unattractive but nevertheless worthy of being made pregnant by another lead character, Nelson, and subsequently slept with again when the chance arose despite his happy marriage to an attractive wife. Maybe there was some build-up to this in the previous stories.

    Cathbad was a rather stereotypical Druid with an associated Druid-type name. His involvement seemed rather peripheral to the actual story. His sleeping with Judy once didn’t seem necessary. Tatjana and the Bosnia connection didn’t seem to be needed either but maybe this was a throw-back to previous stories. Several other characters drifted in and out. The only one who seemed reasonably interesting was Judy.

    The eventual murderer, Craig, had an odd background as archaeologist and gardener to various properties and a rather unlikely connection to his victims so we were a bit surprised by the ending.

    The end of the book contains a fairly obvious hook to further developments for the existing characters so we presume that this author has had success with these characters and is planning for more.


    Only one of us had heard of Elly Griffiths. The Norfolk connection is nice and the scenic description is recognisable. The archaeological detail is fairly slight but interesting. Whether an archaeologist is actually appropriate to an incident 70 years ago when police forensic people are available was debatable.

    On the whole we thought the writing was fairly simple and easy to read rather than stylish. Most people would not pick this author again although we didn’t have the advantage of reading the previous books. A few were enthusiastic and would read other books.


    A light easy read with nothing very complicated to it.


  28. Hempnall Reading Group | Reply

    Pompeii by Robert Harris

    Judge a book by it’s cover

    We were reasonably impressed that we might pick this up. The publishers obviously wanted the name of the author and the title to be the most prominent and the fiery red background colour reinforced the theme of volcanoes and disaster. Everyone knows the story of Pompeii and could be induced into a novel about it.

    Plot and setting

    Some of us have been to the Bay of Naples and to Pompeii and were genuinely moved by its story. The book seemed to depict very well the life-style of the Romans at that time and the relationships between them, most particularly between the nobility and the slaves. The rather brutal killing of a slave at the beginning of the story was perhaps too strong to be needed but the brutality of the time was acknowledged.

    There were clearly many slaves and many others involved in the story and there was perhaps an overflow of characters needed to tell the story, which, for some started rather slowly before becoming engaging.

    The volcano was the star and after some hesitation we agreed that the introductory paragraphs about the science of volcanoes which presaged each chapter actually added to the tension.

    The rather unexpected need to understand the physics of the delivering of water down a gradient as the central part of the plot line to the story soon disappeared as the implied threat of the volcano increased.


    The characters we found tricky as they were not that well defined. The central character, Attilius, was a new boy to the job of aquarius and despite his obvious qualification for it was portrayed as suspicious to some cynical old hands with whom he had to work. As the story progressed he became stronger and more inclined to deliver the responsibility given to him despite a number of obstacles of procedure and personality. His relationship with Corelia and even her presence at all we regarded as an inevitable need for romance, possibly required by the publishers, but not really needed in the story. Pompeii was a big enough event in the history of the time that it didn’t need a boy/girl flirtation. The things they did didn’t add to the story.

    Ampliatus was a man of his time and there are modern equivalents. A slave turned tycoon who did deals and made a fortune without worrying about morals. We recognised him and had an understanding of his role in business life.

    Pliny was well portrayed and was perhaps the most understandable of some rather stiff characters. He was a Roman nobleman and scholar and not without moral understanding. His desire for accurate factual recording has been recovered through his writing and is an important part of the record of the eruption of Vesuvius.

    Exomnius and Corax and their roles in the story of the eruption were rather confusing and the setting up of each one to have a later important impact seemed to fade away.


    We all felt that the description of the final eruption of Vesuvius was very clear and true to the known way in which this eruption took place. The actual ending of the story of the characters was less popular although we accepted that an ending with everyone perishing “en masse” was unlikely to be endearing, particularly to the publishers.


    The author was known to some as a reliable author of historically-based fiction having been a journalist but maybe more known now as an author after a number of similar fact-into-fiction books. His knowledge of Roman life seemed extensive.

    On this basis we all seemed happy to try another of his books at some time.


  29. This wasn’t a read but a ‘listen to’ – the unabridged version of the Taint of Midas by Anne Zouroudi. She weaves a story with greed, avarice and dishonesty at its heart, and yet set in an idyllic way of life that has its roots stretching back a couple of millenia. We have the gentle bee keeper and long time friend of her hero, the barber who only cuts enough heads of hair each day so he can indulge his passion for sea fishing. She tells of a simple rural life, with people who have time to savour what life gives them, be it freshly caught and cooked fish flavoured with herbs, or locally produced wines.

    We have a bee keeper knocked down and killed in a hit and run accident, the embittered builder and developer always out to make money at someone else’s expense, corrupt officials with scant regard for the laws of the land. Stir into this mix a police sergeant who is not corrupt but likes a quiet life, and his rookie side kick who is badly troubled with a bout of conscience, and you have the makings of a fine and gripping story. Into this mix we can stir ‘The Fat Man’.

    Her unlikely hero, Hermes Diaktoros, she refers to him throughout as ‘The Fat Man’, is unquestionably an enigma. In turn he has a luxury yacht, properties spread through Greece, untold resources but drives an idiosyncratic Greek car, a Namco Pony. He works with, but not for the police. He works with, but not for various government departments in Athens. He has a passion for wearing simple white tennis pumps, which he always keeps immaculate by using a bottle of whitener kept in his hold-all, which we come to realise truly is a hold-all.

    He seems to have an uncanny ability to know what miscreants have been doing before authority finds out, and a knack of just happening to be in the right place at the right moment. He is motivated far more by natural justice than by the law, crime and punishment.

    This is a cracking read for lovers of mystery drama. Needless to say The Fat Man ensures justice is done. Just how, well you’ll have to read – or listen to – the book.


  30. Master and God by Lindsey Davis – a departure for LIndsey Davis, she’s moved to the time of Emperor Domitian and has two new characters: a Roman hairdresser, Flavia Lucilla, and Gaius Vinius Clodianus, a Praetorian. Together they are involved in plots to overthrow the Emperor – and their own relationship takes second place. But there are lots of jokes too – as well as bits of history. A really good read – and the opportunity to learn about Roman hairpieces!


  31. Decided it was about time that I read Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury. I was surprised to find that I really enjoyed it even though I wouldn’t normally chose science-fiction. The main character Guy Montag is a fireman, but he doesn’t put out fires he burns books. I think everybody who works in libraries should read this and hope this never comes true! This was written in the 1950s but you can see that some of this world has actually come into being. People not being able to read, mindless drivel on TV


    1. I can defintiely recommend this – it’s a really simple story, but very thought provoking and quite inspiring in its way!


  32. Margaret Cross | Reply

    I am an avid reader of mysteries and thrillers. At the end of “Both Sides Of The Fence”, when Liz regains consciousness, I actually had tears in my eyes.It is unusual for me to get so deeply involved with the characters.


  33. | Reply

    Review for One Day by David Nicholls
    I love human interest books so I was bound to like this one; the story itself being very basic, simply following the lives and the relationship of the two main characters. It did take me about 5 chapters to really get into it. At first I didn’t relate to either character- or particularly like them. Dexter is one of those men who is handsome and knows it, and he comes from a privileged background and has no real aspirations in life other than to travel and meet women. Emma likes to think of herself as being individual, she is an academic and wants to make a difference but somehow they complement each other. It is a story of unrequited love.
    There were some parts of the book that were really sad but the author skipped over them and so the book wasn’t as moving as it could have been. I would have liked the highs and the lows to be highlighted more than they were. Having said that, I still really enjoyed reading it, and I would give it 4 stars.


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