One of the most popular requests when forming our Women’s Institute was to form a Book Group.
We will meet separately to the main meeting, on the third Wednesday every two months at 7.30pm. The dates are:
20th March 2013
15th May 2013
17th July 2013
18th September 2013
20th November 2013
Venue – Pavilion Bar, Ruskin – follow us on Facebook
Two mouthfuls of titles and two very different books. We started with The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher, by Kate Summerscale a book that polarised views within the group. A non-fiction book detailing the true life crime of a murder in Wiltshire in 1860. The author had obviously done a huge amount of research into the subject, and none of the detail was left out. Some felt that it was like reading a thesis rather than a book for pleasure.
The blurb: “It is a summer’s night in 1860. In an elegant detached Georgian house in the village of Road, Wiltshire, all is quiet. Behind shuttered windows the Kent family lies sound asleep. At some point after midnight a dog barks. The family wakes the next morning to a horrific discovery: an unimaginably gruesome murder has taken place in their home. The household reverberates with shock, not least because the guilty party is surely still among them. Jack Whicher of Scotland Yard, the most celebrated detective of his day, reaches Road Hill House a fortnight later. He faces an unenviable task: to solve a case in which the grieving family are the suspects. The murder provokes national hysteria. The thought of what might be festering behind the closed doors of respectable middle-class homes – scheming servants, rebellious children, insanity, jealousy, loneliness and loathing – arouses fear and a kind of excitement. But when Whicher reaches his shocking conclusion there is uproar and bewilderment. A true story that inspired a generation of writers such as Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Arthur Conan Doyle, this has all the hallmarks of the classic murder mystery – a body; a detective; a country house steeped in secrets. In The Suspicions of Mr Whicher Kate Summerscale untangles the facts behind this notorious case, bringing it back to vivid, extraordinary life.”
Here’s what we thought:
An unusual book that started off well but became frustrating. I really wanted to know “who did it” but even at the end there was no satisfying answer. 2/5 – Val
Enjoyed the basic storyline, but too much attention into other crimes. 2/5 – Pam
An interesting read depicting the era of the day. Went off at a “tangent” in several places but overall enjoyable. Something that I would not normally read. A real ‘mystery’. 4/5 – Mary
I hated this book! So difficult to get trough. A few good quotes in it, but not worth a read. 1/5 – Rhona
Greatly detailed book, containing researched scenarios around a devastating murder of a child. I wouldn’t call it an enjoyable read but can respect and admire the authors skilled writing and ability to weave fact and fiction. 3/5 – Anne
Very detailed and factual. Too hard going and unfortunately didn’t want to finish it – and I didn’t! 1/5 – Morven
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce had a much more positive review from the majority of the group. A sometimes sad, but oftenuplifting account of recently retired Harold on his mission to walk the length of the country to be reunited with an ex work colleague who paid him an act of kindness before she dies.
The blurb: “When Harold Fry leaves home one morning to post a letter, with his wife hoovering upstairs, he has no idea that he is about to walk from one end of the country to the other.
He has no hiking boots or map, let alone a compass, waterproof or mobile phone.
All he knows is that he must keep walking.
To save someone else’s life.”
Here’s what we thought:
An easy read, and an unusual idea with a good ending. 4/5 – Mary
A gentle read. Really enjoyable, got to know the characters well. 4/5 – Helen
This gets better as the story goes on. A ‘nice’ story, worth a read. 3/5 – Rhona
A really lovely book, although it is a bit of hard work at the beginning, but definitely worth persevering with. Well written characters that draw you into the story. 4/5 – Morven
Our next reading choices are Stay Closeby Harlan Coben and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Societyby Mary Ann Shaffer. We will be meeting on Wednesday 15th May, 7.30pm at the Pavillion Bar, Ruskin to discuss. All welcome, if you have read both, one or none of them.
We had a great turn out for Wednesday’s Book Club. Thank you to Sue M for leading the group and the insightful summary of the evening:
The cold didn’t put us off – after all, we had just read all about Alaska, so it felt almost tropical as we settled down to discuss our choices:
The Greatcoatby Helen Dunmore
The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey
First we launched into The Greatcoat. The concensus was that it was a good read but hardly groundbreaking. It was a ghost story, but not at all creepy. Most thought the idea of snuggling up to an itchy, smelly greatcoat a bit far fetched! Some elements were more believable though, especially the realistic presentation of post-war society. Terms from the war were used effectively and sparked a curiosity leading to an unexpected bonus for one member who had the opportunity to discuss National Service with a relative who had rarely spoken of this period in his life. There were contrasts in the interpretation of the ending too – always interesting to discuss.
An interesting and easy read. Not very scary for a ghost story but left you wanting to get to the end to see the outcome. 3/5 – Mary
Didn’t have enough depth to keep me interested. I struggled to get tot know or like the characters and thought more work could have been done on developing the characters to allow some emotional connection for the reader.
2/5 – Sarah
An unusual take on a ‘ghost’ story. Quite a short fast paced read, but great descriptions of World War II airfields and night raids. Enjoyed it!
4/5 – Kath
Couldn’t really get to know the characters or care about them. The coat felt creepy to me. A quick read but not one that I would particularly recommend.
2/5 – Helen
A good tale of 1950′s and wartime life but a poor ghost story – not scary or creepy at all!
2.5/5 – Morven
I think I was in the minority within the group in finding this quite a pleasant read. I thought the Greatcoat was used as a great device to access another time and place. The atmosphere of the air field, the fear and anticipation of the raids was very well portrayed. I agree that further characterisation would have made it a more well rounded read, but the novel also benefitted from the fast paced nature of not being padded out with too much unnecessary detail.
4/5 – Cara
Could have been much more satisfying but I felt the characterisation lacked depth. I wanted to care more about them.
3/5 – Sue
The Snow Child had a more unanimous response. Everyone had thoroughly enjoyed it. The Alaskan landscape was drawn to perfection – its hardships and its beauty in equal portions. Interestingly, there were more parallels: the description of Jack and Mabel’s fresh start in a remote homestead with all its despair and hope rang true for one member whose parents had experienced a similar move to the wilds of Wales. The magical, fairy tale quality of the book was always balanced by the harsh reality and humanity as well as the veracity of the environment. Again, the ending sparked a lively debate – what really happened? No fairy tale ending perhaps, but isn’t that the point? A recommended read!
Fabulous book! A fairy tale set in Alaska. The landscape was the biggest character giving a backdrop to a lovely heartwarming story.
5/5 – Sue
Beautiful story full of hope and I become obsessed with the glimpses of happiness and laughter that developed as the story unfolded. Very descriptive and great characterisations. Highly recommended.
4/5 – Sarah
Breathtakingly beautiful setting. I fell in love with Alaska along with all the characters. A wonderful first novel. I’d highly recommend it.
5/5 – Kath
A lovely read, felt very magical. Really got to know Mabel. Fabulous descriptions of the extreme cold and the desperation that the couple felt.
4/5 – Helen
A book to get lost in! It transported me to a time and a place I knew nothing about beforehand, and I totally fell in love with it all. The characters were brought to life so brilliantly, that I felt as if I was living with them whilst reading it. I’ll be making my own snow child at the first opportunity.
5/5 – Cara
5/5 – Rhona
The choices for the next discussion are:
The Unlikely Pilgrimage Of Harold Fryby Rachel Joyce and/or The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill Houseby Kate Summerscale.
We will meet at 7.30pm on Wednesday 20th March – Pavilion Bar, Ruskin, Ruskin Drive, St Helens, WA10 6RP.
We have so many great books suggested each meeting, but obviously can’t choose them all. Here are some that you may wish to take a look at independently.
We struck out for this month’s choices and went for two books. The first The House of Silkis Anthony Horowitz’s take on a new Sherlock Holmes novel.
“It is November 1890 and London is gripped by a
merciless winter. Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson are enjoying tea by the fire when an agitated gentleman arrives unannounced at 221b Baker Street. He begs Holmes for help, telling the unnerving story of a scar-faced man with piercing eyes who has stalked him in recent weeks.
Intrigued by the man’s tale, Holmes and Watson find themselves swiftly drawn into a series of puzzling and sinister events, stretching from the gas-lit streets of London to the teeming criminal underworld of Boston. As the pair delve deeper into the case, they stumble across a whispered phrase ‘the House of Silk’: a mysterious entity and foe more deadly than any Holmes has encountered, and a conspiracy that threatens to tear apart the very fabric of society
The majority of members were very positive about the new novel. Admitting that they had never read any of the originals, and being drawn into the mystery very quickly. The discussion led us to conclude that many of the characters had multiple layers and seemingly insignificant details all had a purpose by the end of the novel. For example Holmes asking one character if his wife could swim, resulted in a very significant conclusion and key to unravelling the mystery. Although set circa 100 years ago, many issues within the novel are still as shocking in present day.
A very clever homage to the original texts. The subject matter was rather a shock to me when it was revealed what the House of Silk turned out to be. Loved the discussion of the group, to hear other peoples opinions and interpretations.
Cara – 4/5
Here’s what the other members had to say:
An extremely well written book, true to the original stories re; Sherlock and Watson. Detailed and thought provoking. However I found the interestingly up to date storyline disturbing and unpleasant. Anne - 4/5
This really had the voice of the originals. Great portrayal of Homes and Watson. Deb - 5/5
I think the author felt pressured to stretch a Sherlock Holmes story out to a full novel. The result feels like two stories mixed into one. Which can be a bit confusion. Kate - 3/5
A rip-roaring tale in the style of Sherlock Holmes. Some aspects of the finale were disappointing but overall I really enjoyed the book. Morven-4/5
I thought Horowitz did a good job of keeping the tone and dialect true to the original stories. An easy read, but I wouldn’t necessarily recommend it . Cathy-3/5
The second book up for discussion was The Last Lectureby Randy Pausch. This book was based on an actual lecture given by Randy Pausch when he knew he had incurable pancreatic cancer. It was a very inspirational look on our childhood dreams and how we should pursue them. Some of us hadn’t actually read the book but had watched the lecture on You Tube here.
A bit cheesy but thought provoking and a few pearls of wisdom. Worth a quick read. Cathy-4/5
I loved this book (and the YouTube video). I found it very uplifting and a chance to evaluate your own life to make changes for the better. Morven-5/5
Lovely legacy for his children. Worth a read. Rhona-4/5
Worth a watch. Deb
Moving and inspiring, a lecture courageously given as a professor comes to face his imminent death at a young age. For me, many messages are available having watched the lecture on YouTube. You will take from this what you need to. Anne-5/5
Uplifting, inspiring and scattered with good advice. Very moving read/watch. Kath-3/5
As the choice of two books worked well we decided to do this again for our January meeting. The book choices are The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey and The Greatcoat by Helen Dunmore. We will be discussing them at 7.30pm on 16th January 2013 at The Pavilion Bar, Ruskin Leisure, Ruskin Drive, St Helens, WA10 6RP.
Sue Morris will be leading the January group. Anyone wishing to lead future group sessions, please shout.
The majority of the members attending the meeting had a very positive report to give on The Night Circus. Getting lost in the fantasy and being swept along with the romance of the circus was a common theme. The discussion moved onto how the book had even affected peoples dreams.
I did enjoy the book on the whole, but think my expectations were raised a little too high and was waiting for a big bang at the end of the book. I thoroughly appreciated the imagination of the author though and was mesmerised by the descriptions of the circus. Cara – 3.5/5
Here’s what the other members had to say:
Enchanting fairy tale that I really enjoyed. Well worth a read. Rhona – 4/5
This is my favourite of the books we’ve read so far. I really enjoyed exploring the circus world. I felt there was an interesting spiritual aspect that added an unexpected depth. Kate – 4/5
This was absolutely enchanting! I got completely and beautifully lost in this book. A wonderful read. Deb – 5/5
A very enchanting book, the story is slow and gentle at first but does keep you hooked throughout. A mysterious read. Morven-4/5
Didn’t manage to finish-not sure I will. Not my sort of book – struggled with the fantasy. Helen
Loved it! So mesmerising and enchanting. Didn’t ‘read too much into it’ – perhaps because I hadn’t realised it was a book club choice. Felt almost bereft after I finished it and wondering what I could pick up next! Jen-5/5
Our next read(s) for the 21st November are the choice of The House of Silkby Anthony Horowitz, which is a new Sherlock Holmes novel and The Last Lectureby Randy Pausch. Members are invited to choose one or the other, but of course you can read both. The Last Lecture-Achieving your Childhood Dreams is a non-fiction book and the original lecture that it is based around can be viewed on You Tube here. Morven told us about this inspirational story and it is very moving. So if you don’t have chance to read the book, you can cheat and watch the live lecture.
Cathy Gibson will be leading the November book group and Sue Morris the January group. Anyone wishing to lead future group sessions, please shout.
Our third book club meeting saw us discussing the classic I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith.
The blurb describes it as:
‘I write this sitting at the kitchen sink’ is the first line of this timeless, witty and enchanting novel about growing up. Cassandra Mortmain lives with her bohemian and impoverished family in a crumbling castle in the middle of nowhere. Her journal records her life with her beautiful, bored sister, Rose, her fadingly glamorous stepmother, Topaz, her little brother Thomas and her eccentric novelist after who suffers from a financially crippling writer’s block. However, all there lives are turned upside down when the American heirs to the castle arrive and Cassandra finds herself falling in love for the first time.
The reviews were mixed for this book with some members not getting very far into it, whilst others had thoroughly relished it.
This made for some quite lively discussion about the characters and their purpose in the story.
Personally, I found the book quite difficult to get going, with it’s intricate detail and descriptions of the surroundings, but after the fur coat ‘incident’, which I thought was hilarious I really warmed to the book. A gentle and charming coming of age novel, which I think justly deserves it’s title of a classic. Cara – 4/5
Here’s what the other members thought.
A gentle captivating book with intense detail that brought the story of this eccentric family really alive. The humour is true to the narrative of the main character Cassandra, who grows on the journey of the book from a childish teenager to a maturing lady. Try it! Anne – 4.5/5
Well written – enjoyed it all! Mary – 5/5
I felt the first three quarters of the book was just an alternative version of Pride and Prejudice. However, the book picked up and found it’s own voice by the end. Kate – 3/5
I liked the book better once having discussed it at the group. Really hard to get into but glad I made myself read it! very well written, a lovely coming of age story. Deb – 3/5
I couldn’t get into this book. I found it overly descriptive, but with not much happening. I didn’t find the characters very likeable. I didn’t finish the book :0( Morven – 1/5
We discussed a number of potential books for the next meeting, taken from the Richard and Judy Summer reads collection. Hopefully offering a good summer read worthy of some great discussion in September.
We plumped for The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern described as:
The circus arrives without warning. No announcements precede it. It is simply there, when yesterday it was not. The black sign, painted in white letters that hangs upon the gates, reads: Opens at Nightfall Closes at Dawn. As the sun disappears beyond the horizon, all over the tents small lights begin to flicker, as though the entirety of the circus is covered in particularly bright fireflies. When the tents are all aglow, sparkling against the night sky, the sign appears. Le Cirque des Reves The Circus of Dreams. Now the circus is open. Now you may enter.
Contains spoilers so if you are intending on reading the book, read this post afterwards!
Our second meeting of the WISH book club saw a healthy turnout as usual last month, all ready to start discussing our latest read, The Radleys by Matt Haig.
Set in a Manchester suburb, The Radleys describes the life of what first seems a ‘normal family’. It soon becomes clear that The Radleys are in fact, vampires and we follow the story of how Mum, Dad, and 2 teenage children carry out their lives. There are some grizzly scenes in the book (understandable when there is quite a bit of blood being consumed?), some humour and plenty of action towards the end.
Cara asked us what our overall impression of the book was and got a mixed reaction. A number of us did not know that it was a vampire book, with some saying they wouldn’t necessarily have picked it up had they known earlier. This didn’t necessarily mean that they didn’t enjoy the read though. Those of us who have previously read vampire fiction felt it wasn’t a particularly sexy look at vampires which made a change from some vampire books. Some of the group wondered if it was so hard to believe as Manchester is so local to us.
As a group we had a some questions about the author -
- we wondered if it was written with being made into a film in mind?
- we wondered if Matt Haig has always been interested in vampires? There seemed a lot of knowledge in the book – we particularly liked the celebrities being named as vampires too!
Here are what the members of the group thought.
Our next book is I Capture The Castle by Dodie Smith. We will be discussing it on 18th July, 7.30pm at the Micklehead Pub. All are welcome.
So we have held our first book club meeting and what a success it was. 15 of our members attended to discuss our first book – S.J.Watson’s debut novel, Before I Go To Sleep.
The majority of our group found it a fascinating read with just 2 feeling neither positive nor negative about the book. We looked at how the book explored Christine’s life and whether realistically she might have written a synopsis of her daily diary to stop having to spend so much time each day reading it through.
We looked at how we might feel if we woke up every day having no knowledge of who we were and concluded that we found the book to be extremely well written. We all felt uncomfortable at times reading Christine’s thoughts.
Members of the group felt that perhaps Christine would just ‘know’ she was a mother but weren’t sure how she would just feel it.
When we were asked if we liked the main character, Christine, the overwhelming feeling was that we were just glad we weren’t in her position. Even more scary then that the author, after writing the book, discovered a case in the US very similar to this one.
The Ending of the book caused great discussion in that most of us would have been disappointed if everything had turned out completely fine. We did agree that we wanted a sequel to find out what happened next!
All-in-all a super choice for our first book group read and so onto book number 2…
We had a discussion about what we might like to read next and decided we vote on some suggestions, so over to you, voting closes on Monday 9th April so we can announce the winning book at the next meeting.
Thanks to everyone who signed up for the Book Club, we had a huge interest. Our first book will be SJ Watson’s Before I go to Sleep. It is currently a Richard & Judy Book Club choice and was also the Channel 4 TV Book Group first read. It was reviewed on their programme last Sunday,view it here at 12 mins into the programme.
It’s had great reviews and is described as a gripping first novel. As it is featured in both those prominent book clubs it is currently available in WHSmith, Tesco’s etc for about half the retail price approx £3.99, also Amazon and £2.70 on Kindle.
I did try and secure us some further group discount but as it’s been so popular nowhere has been able to provide a significant number in one go. So it’s over to you, I know some of you couldn’t wait and have already got the book. For the rest of you, if you can go ahead and source the book and get going.
We plan to hold the Book Club every two months initially and see if that frequency suits most people. We can change if people want to have it more often in the future.
We will meet on the third Wednesday of the month, all the dates are listed here on the brand new (and rather bare at the moment) WISH website www.wisthelens.co.uk.
The first meeting will be Wednesday 21st March to give us all chance to get through the book. We are going to meet at the Micklehead Pub at 7.30pm.
We can discuss what our future reading list will be on the 21st, so if you have any burning recommendations then please bring them along.
About the book
Christine wakes up every morning in an unfamilar bed with an unfamiliar man. She looks in the mirror and sees an unfamilary, middle-aged face. And every morning, the man she has woken up with must explain that he is Ben, he is her husband, she is forty-seven years old, and a terrible accident two decades earlier decimated her ability to form new memories. But it’s the phone call from a Dr. Nash, a neurologist who claims to be working with Christine without her husband’s knowledge, which directs her to her journal, hidden in the back of her closet. For the past few weeks, Christine has been recording her daily activities-tearful mornings with Ben, sessions with Dr. Nash, flashes of scentes from her former life-and rereading past entries, relearning the facts of her life as retold by the husband she is completely dependent upon. As the entries build up, Christine asks many questions. What was life like before th accident? Why did she and Ben never have a child? What has happened to Christine’s best friend? And what exactly was the horrific accident that caused such a profound loss of memory? Every day, Christine must begin again the reconstruction of her past. And the closer she gets to the truth, the more un-believable it seems.