Minsterworth Reading Group is a friendly gathering for those who enjoy a good book. We meet each month to discuss our latest read and then enjoy a brew and a slice of cake! Everyone takes it in turn to select a book and previous choices have included biographies, historical, crime and a flurry of romance.
See the list below of book reviews.
(The latest review is at the bottom - you may pass some interesting titles as you scroll down!)
See the list below of book reviews.
(The latest review is at the bottom - you may pass some interesting titles as you scroll down!)
Should you wish to join the Book Club and join our monthly zoom reviews please email email@example.com
The Club is always the first Wednesday of the month at 7.45pm either by zoom or face to face.
The Club is always the first Wednesday of the month at 7.45pm either by zoom or face to face.
'Mrs P’S Book of Secrets' by Lorna Gray.
When I think of last month’s book, Mrs P’S Book of Secrets, Marmite or Liquorice all Sorts come to mind as this book, had those who loved it and those who hated it and a few in between!
Featuring mystery, romance and perhaps a nod to a ghost, this book is set in Moreton in a Marsh in the aftermath of WW2. Other Cotswold towns get a mention plus many chilly bus rides in between and you can imagine a lumbering bus navigating the Cotswold Hills in the midst of winter.
The main character is Lucy a war widow who works at her uncle’s small Publishing House. Also working there is Robert, a former prisoner of war. His work as editor uncovers secrets of a little girl’s abandonment and this draws Lucy and Robert together. A romance between the two slowly develops.
The book reflects difficulties post war publishers faced when rationing restricted their paper supplies to a bare minimum. At the heart of this book the author shares how a small publisher tried to get more paper via illegal activities.
Reports from our Book Club readers felt the language was too flowery and not well written, but a more positive slant felt it was an intriguing story.
'The Pied Piper' by Nevil Shute.
This book starts at the beginning of the 2nd World War in The Alps. An Englishman, John Howard has been on a fishing holiday and is looking to return to England to avoid the impending threat of war in Europe. As he makes his way home, he is asked if he can chaperone two children and take them safely back to England. He commences his journey and as it progresses, he encounters various dangers along the way he is asked to take more children to safety. The conditions of his journey become more dangerous as the impact of war takes effect.
He eventually arrives back in England somewhat ragged, but with his charges all safe.
This book was very well received by our members and did reveal quite a few Nevil Shute fans. The character of John Howard was considered patient and responsible and typical of that time. Overall, it was a good read and some felt it was a hard book to put down.
'The Thursday Murder Club' by Richard Osman
TV presenter Richard Osman’s debut crime fiction novel. Four residents of an up-market retirement village form the Thursday Murder Club held in between Art History and Conversational French. Each has a good education and a sharp intellect and gather in the Jigsaw Room on Thursdays to discuss cold cases from the “borrowed” files of a former member who was an Inspector in the Kent police for many years. Until they stumble on a live murder case, disturbingly close to home. The four elderly members of the Thursday Murder Club, Elizabeth (an ex-intelligence agent), Ibrahim (ex-psychiatrist), ex-nurse Joyce and ex-trade union leader ‘red’ Ron, formerly at the top of their varied professions, soon find themselves in the middle of their first live case. They get down to solving the mystery, often ahead of the local police force, sometimes feeding information to them and at others withholding evidence. This was an amusing tale with Richard Osman’s easy writing style, though not laugh out loud funny and the plot lacked a bit of pace with factfinding overseas trips by members of the TMC slowing it down. We already know that there are sequels as Richard Osman builds his portfolio.
'The Beekeeper of Aleppo' by Christy Lefteri
The Beekeeper of Aleppo is a poignant, thought provoking and compelling story of love, courage, determination and survival. Nuri and Afra lived a simple life with a close family and friends in Aleppo. Nuri is a beekeeper and Afra an artist. Their world is torn apart by the civil war and after their son is killed, they embark on the perilous journey through Turkey and Greece to an uncertain future in Britain. On their journey they confront dangers and hardship, whilst enduring the pain of their devastating loss. The author, having worked in a refugee centre in Athens, shows clear insight into the suffering and emotional plight of Syrian refugees. “A powerful testament to the human spirit”. Whilst some members of our reading group felt the book would be too harrowing to read during lockdown, the majority who read it felt that whilst sad it was also uplifting, moving and enlightening.
'September' by Rosamunde Pilcher
I chose this book as a pleasant reminder of how life was lived in the time after the war in Scotland in September, the end of the “Season”, great celebrations were held – grouse shooting, picnics on the moors, luncheons and parties. Rosamunde Pilcher’s book ‘September’ tells us of a family living in the Highlands and the complexities of family life. Entertaining and a good read.
'The Sentinel' by Lee Child
This month’s book is the latest in a series of 25 successful Jack Reacher stories by the author Lee Child. The book certainly divided the reading group. Some are avid fans of the Jack Reacher books and others found the graphic descriptions of violent incidents just too much in this crime thriller novel. Jack Reacher is a fictional character and the protagonist who finds himself after leaving the US Army as a major in its military police at age 36, someone who roams the United States taking odd jobs and investigating suspicious and frequently dangerous situations. In The Sentinel Reacher is battling a ransomware cyber-attack in a small town. A very up to date storyline.
'The Glass House' by Eve Chase
On a sweltering hot summer day, when the Harrington family discovers an abandoned baby deep in the shady woods, they decide to keep her a secret and raise her as their own. But within days a body is found in the grounds of their house and their perfect new family implodes. Years later, Sylvie, seeking answers to nagging questions about her life, is drawn into the wild beautiful woods where nothing is quite what it seems. Set in the Forest of Dean The Glass House by Eve Chase was our Book Group choice for August and was also a Richard and Judy Book Club Pick. It met with almost universal favour by the Group who loved the interweaving of the characters’ stories and found it a compelling read. The Forest was generally recognised, and most enjoyed the happy ending after the difficult year we have all experienced.
‘The Wild Silence’ by Raynor Winn
Last month we reviewed the sequel to her very popular ‘The Salt Path’ which the group had read a couple of years back. The book certainly provoked a very lively discussion and comparisons with the first biography which had introduced us to Ray and Moth, how they managed Moth’s diagnosis with CBD, which along with a change in their home situation drove the couple to walk the South-West Coastal Path. ‘The Wild Silence’ picked up the story seeing them living in a converted chapel in Cornwall before settling at a farm. While the group enjoyed reading how the story continued after the coastal walk, many of us felt it wasn’t as strong a read, and Moth’s voice was lost as Ray reminisced about their early days, then switched to the present. Over-long descriptions of nature were also a distraction. We debated whether this was because ‘The Salt Path’ wasn’t written for publication but more a personal diary, while this book had been commissioned by the publishers and Winn was just over-ambitious? ‘The Salt Path’ wasn’t written for publication but more a personal diary, while this book had been commissioned by the publishers and Winn was just over-ambitious? We were left frustrated by the often helpless situations the couple continued to find themselves in, such as the challenging Iceland trip which could have been a far easier trek. We felt Moth’s achievements – for example, managing his health while studying for a degree – weren’t really celebrated, and we were left with a feeling that the couple’s lives still seemed to be unnecessarily chaotic.
'Once Upon a River' by Diane Setterfield
The book group reviewed in September; a book chosen by Ruth Thomas. Ruth said “I chose the book because I’d previously read something by the same author, which I enjoyed, and because it was recommended to me by my daughter-inlaw, and she has good taste in books! I thought it would be an interesting read because the book has a river as a main theme running through it, and our lives in Minsterworth are so influenced by the Severn which runs through our village. In this case though, the river in question is the Thames, particularly the area around Cricklade and down to Oxford. Inextricably tied up with the river the book also focuses on a small child, rescued from drowning in the river, and the way in which the lives of the characters in the book weave around this strange young girl. Book club members enjoyed the book, with its river connections. They enjoyed the writing style which some described as almost poetic, and the way the writer wove the idea of storytelling into the narrative. They enjoyed the array of characters, although we agreed there were many and some members felt it was sometimes a bit hard to remember them all! We were also interested to know that one of the characters was based on a real person, Henry Taunt, who’d taken lots of photographs in and around Oxford, when photography was in its infancy in the late 1800s. And our discussions led us on to talk about Sabrina, or Hafren as she’s also known, the Welsh Goddess of the River Severn, and the mythology of her story.
'The Smallest Man' by Frances Quinn
Inspired by a true story, and spanning two decades that changed England for ever, The Smallest Man is a heart-warming tale about being different, but not letting it hold you back. About being brave enough to take a chance, even if the odds aren't good. And about how, when everything else is falling apart, true friendship holds people together. In 1625 Nat Davy was given to the new Queen of England as a gift. They called him the queen’s dwarf, but he was more than that. He was her friend, when she had no one else, and later on, when the people of England turned against their king, it was Nat who saved her life. When they turned the world upside down, he was there, right at the heart of it, and this is his story. A cracking read.
'Hamnet' by Maggie O'Farrell
This book is a fictional account of Shakespeare’s son written by Maggie O’Farrell. Hamnet died at the age of eleven in 1596 according to records, and the play Hamlet was written by Shakespeare the following year. I loved this book, beautifully written, conveying the atmosphere of the family home, the countryside and the village and was delighted that the members of the group who attended were equally impressed. This was a smaller group than usual for a variety of reasons, but the discussion was stimulating, and much enjoyed by those present. Our meeting in January will discuss the way forward for us all and I’m sure we will be reading some very good books in the new year.
'The Woman in the White Kimono'
by Ana Johns.
Japan 1957 - young Naoko Nakamura has a marriage arranged for her which will secure her family’s status in their Japanese community. However, she falls in love with an American sailor, becomes pregnant and is cast out in disgrace. In present day USA Tori Kovac finds a letter in her father’s possessions after his death that takes her on a journey of discovery that leads her to Japan and completes the story. I suggest you read it for yourselves to see how such a journey grew from a true happening when the letter was discovered and then evolved into “The Woman in the White Kimono.” Minsterworth book group is intrepid and after the news that many people could not make it in November Ruth valiantly set up Zoom at the last minute. Discussion concluded that it was a sad story, that we do not know much about Japan and its society, but we had to keep reading as events unravelled and it was perhaps a mirror image of life not that long ago here. This book is an elegant testament to the tenacity of hope.
'Girl A' by Abigail Dean
Girl A is Abigail Dean’s shocking debut novel which follows the lives of seven siblings living under an abusive father and complicit mother, with Religion playing a major role in their abuse. The story was told from the point of view of Lex (Girl A) and there was relief that she escaped at the end of the first chapter which meant we could then read about how their lives had been affected differently into adulthood. The author drew inspiration for the book from real life cases such as Fred and Rosemary West and David and Louise Turpin.
Members all agreed that although the book was harrowing it was incredibly well written, compulsive and with many layers. Several were tempted to put the book down after the first few chapters due to the subject matter but were glad that they changed their minds and continued reading to the end. The book generated lots of interesting discussion from the group who all had meaningful contributions to make on the subject. We all agreed that, although it was difficult subject matter, we were very glad to have read it.
'A Thousand Ships' by Nathalie Haynes
A poignant all-female retelling of the Trojan war and the impact of the fall of the city on the women of Troy. The tragedies that befell the women unfold in the stories of each character. After ten years of brutal conflict, the Greeks are victorious, and the Trojan women are enslaved and dispersed across the Greek world. These are their stories.
The book is engaging, well researched and written. The narrative moves between the various stories through time: before, during and after the war. The witty and sarcastic letters from Penelope to her wandering husband, Odysseus, offer some welcome humour while the antics of the various gods and goddesses also add some light relief.
Many members enjoyed this book more than expected and the relevance of the impact of the war on women led to some very lively discussion.
'The Girl Who Died' by Ragnar Jonasson
A "Scandi noir" set in the remote Icelandic fishing hamlet of Skålar. Una answers an advert for 'Teacher Wanted at the Edge of the World', having been unable to find a job in Reykjavik. She has only two pupils and hears that the house she is living in has ghostly connections not previously disclosed. Una fails to connect with Skålar's few residents and is certain she has seen the resident ghost.
When one of her pupils unexpectedly dies Una feels increasingly isolated as the intrigue builds and a sense of dread and foreboding gathers.
The group felt the story was implausible at times but it certainly provoked lots of lively discussion — the purpose of a book club, after all.
Still Life by Sarah Winman
A book like no other, it captivated the reader with its many characters brought together in Florence across times and events. It is all about family, friends and so much more than that. Still Life is funny, moving, warm and insightful. Its characters draw you in, so you want to know more. It is full of love and loss and it is cheerful, optimistic and kind. And it’s a good read.
'Balthazar Jones and the Tower of London Zoo' by Julia Stuart
This is Julia's 2nd novel.
The Queen has decided that all the animals that have been given to her as gifts are to be moved from London Zoo to the Tower of London. This wasn’t a new idea as the ‘man from the palace’ explained to Balthazar Jones (a Beefeater who works at the Tower) that animals had been kept at the Tower from the 13th century until the 1830s and the menagerie had been an immensely popular tourist attraction.
The Queen is anxious not to offend the foreign rulers who have sent her the exotic animals and Balthazar, a collector of rare
raindrops and the owner of a very ancient tortoise, is charged with taking care of them in the new royal menagerie at the Tower.
By the end of this book many readers were thoroughly absorbed into the world of the Tower of London, with all the irritations of living within circular walls, and the Lost Property Office of London’s Underground where Balthazar’s wife Hebe works.
Although at its heart this is a story of grief, loneliness and miscommunication, thanks to Stuart's light touch and gift for warm, dry humour, it is also a delightful gem of a novel, filled
with absurdity, hilarity and poignancy in equal measures.
'The Devil in the Marshalsea'
by Antonia Hodgson
The book is set almost entirely within the confines of an eighteenth-century debtors' prison. The narrator, Tom Hawkins, has given up his intended career and instead has been enjoying himself in London, spending all his money on drinking and gambling. Suddenly unable to pay his debts he is taken to the notorious Marshalsea Prison where he is horrified to discover that the last occupant of his cell, Captain Roberts, was murdered, and the killer has never been caught. Tom realises he must find the killer before he is killed himself.
Through the twists and turns of the plot – of which there were many – the book provided an insightful look at the harsh conditions the inhabitants had to endure as a result of not being able to pay their debts. The Marshalsea was a savage world of its own, with simple rules: those with family or friends who could lend them a little money could survive in relative comfort, enjoying large meals and regular bowls of punch. Those with none starved in squalor and disease. And those who tried to escape suffered a gruesome fate at the hands of the jail's ruthless governor. A number of people admitted to skipping over some of the ghastlier descriptions of punishment endured by the prisoners!
The book is filled with larger-than-life characters and we were interested to read the notes at the end of the book which explained that many of the characters were based on people who really existed and were mentioned in the diary of John Grano, a debtor who spent a year in the prison from 1728-1729. On the whole a well-received book, with some people hoping to seek out the other books in this 4-book series.
‘Open Water’ by Caleb Azumah Nelson
The brilliant thing about Book Clubs is it encourages one to seek out and recommend books that others might not even pick up. ‘Open Water’ was a case in point. Selected from recommended reads in The Sunday Times and the fact it was the author’s first novel.
‘Open Water’ tells the story of two young professionals of African heritage. Both bright enough to gain scholarships to predominantly white public schools; and while their academic potential was nurtured and realised, their cultural background wasn’t fully recognised, appreciated or supported.
Oddly, neither of the main characters is named. The narrative is essentially a love story, though as the story unfolds and their relationship develops it becomes very apparent that the male character is struggling to cope with events from his past and reconcile these experiences with how he lives now. The themes of isolation, depression and violence are all explored against a background of racism. The murder of a young black man is witnessed and the main character spirals down: the relationship founders as he is unable to confide in his girlfriend. He truly is in open water unable to find the security she is trying to offer.
The group found the book a lyrical and poetic read. References to black culture – music, literature have all influenced the author’s style. We were all disturbed by the references to ‘stop and search’ and the sad realisation that while we may think we live in a multi-cultural and ethnic society we have a long way to go in realising a more accepting and understanding one.
'Full Hearts and Empty Bellies'
by Winifred Foley
We found this an interesting read, giving an insight into the social history of mining family life in the Forest of Dean. It originated with Winifred Foley sending stories of her childhood into Woman’s Hour on the radio in 1973, after they asked their listeners for memories to read aloud in the programme.
We agreed that it is a book of two halves, the original A Child in the Forest book (1974), extended by recollections of Winifred’s time in service in London and in the Cotswolds. Some found the first half, of growing up in the Forest, the most interesting, but her adolescent years spent working with different families is also enlightening.
The poverty that the family grew up with was vividly described, but the sense of family and neighbourly closeness is huge. It was clear that she was surrounded by love and had a happy childhood, fondly remembered in her reminiscences. It is a book that brings images of living in the Forest a hundred years ago to life and is a valuable resource for younger generations.
'My Brilliant Friend'
by Elena Ferrante
October’s book group choice was My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante. It’s the first of a 4-book set but is a complete read on its own. It tells the story of the beginning of two young girls’ lifetime friendship in 1950s Naples in a poor, deprived area. I felt that the writing was similar to Jane Austen in that the reader was transported to whatever was being written about.
The forensic detail was astonishing and even more so when we talked about the book being beautifully translated from Italian.
This book was chosen some years ago but the couple of people who had read it then were happy to read it again and the general opinion was that it was interesting and worth reading, although a couple of people found that there was a lot of information and that the use of names and nicknames was a bit confusing. One interesting comment was that it was not easy to like the characters, but I felt that it was like a word snapshot of a period of time that was not an attractive one.
‘Penguin Book of Christmas Stories’
compiled by Jessica Harrison
This month we sat down with mince pies and yule log to discuss ‘Penguin Book of Christmas Stories’, compiled by Jessica Harrison.
This is a collection of the most magical, moving, chilling and surprising Christmas stories from around the world, taking us from frozen Nordic woods to glittering Paris, a New York speakeasy to an English country house, bustling Lagos to
midnight mass in Rio, and even outer space.
Here are classic tales from writers including Truman Capote, Langston Hughes, Dylan Thomas, Saki and Chekhov, as well as little-known treasures such as Italo Calvino's wry sideways look at Christmas consumerism and Wolfdietrich Schnurre's story of festive ingenuity in Berlin.
One of the sadder stories showed the ugliest side of Christmas, where a heart-breaking story was told of how racism destroyed a young boy’s enjoyment of the festive season.