January – The language of flowers

January is a great month for reading isn’t it? Curled up in a blanket on my huge armchair with candles flickering, the soft scent of Jasmine filling the room (I do like a scented candle), and a Gin & Tonic in hand I started to read ‘The language of flowers’.

The language of flowers – Vanessa Diffenbaugh

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I have no idea which club member chose this book, but I am glad that they did! Victoria’s story is at times hard to read, passed from pillar to post as a child in the care system in America, she feels that nobody wants her. The book tells two stories, the story of her childhood, and the story of her new life as an ‘adult’, out in the world, on her own. Throughout the book, and both stories, we learn a little of the Victorian ‘language of flowers’, the meaning of each flower, and the fact that sometimes flowers have been given more than one meaning. I knew very little of this before I read the book, only that my Gran told me that yellow roses mean friendship, and an assumption that red roses mean love.

The book is charming, and heartbreaking at the same time. Victoria’s childhood was certainly traumatic, and I was exasperated by the injustice of a system that gave up on her at age 10. I was frustrated by Elizabeth’s inability to function as an adult on many occasions, and though her relationship with Victoria was far from perfect, I wanted her to do the right thing by this broken child. I loved Victoria’s ability, in spite of her past, to create a life for herself, even if she wasn’t fully able to function in a society that she didn’t feel she was part of.

I found myself imagining the beautiful bouquets of flowers that Victoria created, and how they would look, and wanting to learn more about the meanings of flowers. The lovely thing is that at the back of the book there is a flower dictionary, which I have since used a couple of times. Yes I liked the book, I liked it a lot, but I didn’t love it, and I hated the end, it didn’t sit right for me. Having enjoyed the first 3/4 of the book so much, by the time I put the book down I was disappointed, however, I know that most of the members of the club did like the ending, so I think you should read it and decide for yourselves. As a group we gave the book 4.5* and I gave it a 4*, so all in all this was a good choice.

Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki – Murakami

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If ever a book was disappointing, this is it! Having read and loved ‘Norwegian Wood’, I was really looking forward to this book by Murakami, the reviews looked good, and the blurb caught my attention. Only two other club members read it, and the three of us were in agreement that this book fell flat, and didn’t even live up to the title, ‘his years of pilgrimage’ really were just a few weeks, and more a short trip than a pilgrimage, if I am honest.

The intrigue in the book is in the back story, just why did his friends freeze him out when he was a young man? Unfortunately I didn’t care, and when I found out, I still didn’t care, it made little sense, and, whilst I don’t want to spoil it here, is a huge plot fail. The story line was poor, the characters unlikable, the writing not very good (maybe that was the translator), and the pilgrimage was not a pilgrimage. In fact the best thing about this book is the cover.

OK, I admit I enjoyed a small part of this book, and this was the part where Tsukuru went to Finland. The description of Finland is glorious, and felt authentic, the characters he encounters here are, in my opinion, the most interesting in the book and I thought for a while that the story might be going somewhere, sadly not. This is not a book that I would recommend, I did however rate it slightly higher than the other two club member, purely because of Finland. As a group we gave the book 2*, I gave it 2.5*, my recommendation….go and read ‘Norwegian wood’ instead.

Have fun reading!

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December – A man called Ove

December is a good month to have 3 book club books isn’t it? I mean, it’s not like anyone is busy in December right? WRONG! The daft idea to read three books this month, ended with me sat reading the third book on the morning of the meeting in a panic….lesson learnt.

Ove is grumpy, he does not like people, and in most cases, the feeling is entirely mutual, in most cases…

A man called Ove – Fredrik Backman

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I started reading this book, and if I am honest, I wasn’t feeling it at all, there was nothing that I disliked about it, I just didn’t get it. I carried on reading, and then somewhere around page 80 I got hooked, and I couldn’t put it down, and this was the joy of this book. The book is a lesson in reserving judgement on people, until you know their story, Ove is not just grumpy, Ove is miserable, irritable, impatient and, at times, mean spirited, but Ove is also extremely sad. Thanks to a new neighbour, who is unwilling to just walk away, and pushes her way in to Ove’s life, we, the readers begin to understand why he is so unfriendly and we start to sympathise with him. I adore Ove, and his wife Sonja, who incidentally, like me, teaches NEET learners (the line “they come in with a police escort and leave quoting Shakespeare” is wonderful), and I adore Parveneh (his neighbour) for just not allowing him to wallow.
As a group we gave this book a healthy 4.5* and I gave it 5*, it made me laugh, it made me cry, and it reminded me that I should be a bit more understanding, as most of people’s lives happen in private.

The boy in the striped pyjamas – John Boyne

I had been meaning to read this book since I was given a copy about 6 years ago, so when it was chosen by a book club member it gave me the excuse to finally give it a go.

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I was going to say that Christmas is perhaps not the right time for this very hard hitting story, but I’m not really sure that any other time would be any better. The subject matter makes it hard to want to read this book, but it is so highly rated everywhere, that I felt the need to see why. The story of the people in the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz, is seen through the eyes of a high ranking Nazi soldier’s son and is beautifully written. The fact that he is so innocent that he does not know who the people are, or why they are there and he wants to make friends with them is heartbreaking. This book is fabulous as a work of fiction, but also unique in introducing the atrocities of World War 2 to a younger audience in a way that is accessible, without hiding the reality of the situation from them. We gave this book 4.5* as a group and I agree, it is a beautifully written, horrifying book that everyone should read.

A Christmas Carol – Charles Dickens

I’ll be honest, I didn’t want to read this book, I know the story, and it has a fabulous message, but I really didn’t want to read Dickens at Christmas.

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Yes, I know that it is about Christmas, so I can see why Aimée wanted to read it in December, but Dickens writes of hardship and misery, his works are bleak and dreary, and not at all festive. This is a short book, and not difficult to read in a day or two, the story is good, the idea that it’s never too late to make a change is beautifully illustrated by this tale, and I believe it is an important piece of literature. If I am honest, I don’t think that I gained anything from reading the book, I already knew the story, I had seen some fabulous film and animated versions, and the book added nothing to this. Only a couple of others read the book for the meeting, and they agreed. We gave the book 3*, but for me that was based on my enjoyment of the book, not on the actual story which is probably more deserving of 4.5* because it is a timeless moral tale. Basically, if you don’t know the story, read the book, if you do know the story read A man called Ove.

Have fun reading!!

November – Wild

The first book for November, was a book I would never choose to read, it just didn’t appeal. Turn the page book club is about trying new things, including books that you wouldn’t normally read, so I did not (as I was tempted to) put this book at the bottom of the list, I chose it for November.

Wild – Cheryl Strayed

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I am NOT glad I chose this book, it was tedious, and I was only a little way into the book when I realised that I wanted out! Like Cheryl though, I did not give up, in fact I took my own little epic journey, ok maybe less epic than Cheryl’s, in seeing this through to the end. Cheryl Strayed hiked the pacific crest trail (or PCT as the book calls it), with no training, no guide, alone, in an effort to find peace, and leave her mistakes behind her. At first I was angry with Cheryl, I mean really? You are going to hike the toughest terrain, through several changes of season with absolutely no back packing experience, and way too much baggage. Then I disliked her self destructive, reckless attitude to life, and to the feelings of those around her, and I thought she was an idiot if I am honest.

I plodded on….and it was a plod! She walked, she camped, ignoring the advice in the guide, and she walked some more, and I waited for the descriptions of the beautiful scenery, and I waited her to stop describing the loss of her toenails… Yuck! I wanted it to be great, I wanted it to shock me by being great, and I wanted something, ANYTHING to excite me about the book. I kept reading, then somewhere, after nothingness, there were other people, some of whom were fabulous. These were the people that Cheryl met at the camps, just off the trail, I cannot remember names, but there were some great characters.

I have to admit that most of the group did like the book, much more than I did, and the true story of a woman overcoming adversity will definitely appeal to many, 1100 miles is a long long way to trek, even when your boots fit, so good for her. I just couldn’t get past the fact that although her story was interesting, it was not well written and left me cold, so cold that I actually did a fist pump when I finished it, so glad was I to see the back of it. The group gave the book an average 3.5* rating, I gave it 2.5* simply because the trek itself was impressive.

One flew over the cuckoo’s nest – Ken Kasey

I chose One flew over a cuckoo’s nest, as I wanted to add a classic in to the mix. I was hoping that lots of people would read it, as I thought the discussion would be great.

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Sadly at the meeting, only one person had actually finished the book, and that wasn’t me! I was only 40 pages away from the end, but couldn’t run a discussion on the book, as so many were 1/2 way through and it would have spoilt it. I finished the book two days later, and yes, I cried, I cried hard. I had seen the film years and years ago, and as I read it I remembered it, but that didn’t make it any less stunning, or less emotional. Kasey writes so beautifully, giving life to characters, who have very little life, and pulling you through laughter, anger, sorrow and great sadness with a magnetic story that you just can’t put down.

McMurphy, the hero of the book, who is a new patient at the mental hospital, has attitude, swagger and likes to push the limits, is written so well, Kasey’s wit shining through. The story is narrated by Chief Bromden, who is a wonderful character, he is a huge, mute (by choice, we discover) native american, with a fascinating back story. The chief watches McMurphy, and everyone else and tells us what he sees, what he has seen in the past and how he expects things to turn out in future. One of the best lines in the book, delivered by the chief, is “But it’s the truth, even if it didn’t happen,” perception is everything, and the chief’s perception may be a little twisted, but this is one of the great joys of this book.

The nurse who runs the hospital, nurse Ratched is a dictator, who runs the hospital with a rod of steel, when things are quiet and running smoothly, she is happy, but when anyone challenges her, she is cruel, but eerily calm. The power struggle between McMurphy & nurse Ratched forms the basis of this story, and keeps the reader hooked. The end is perfect, I will not spoil it on here, but it didn’t disappoint in any way. Those of us who read the book, all loved it, we never got round to rating it, but I will easily give it 5* and thank goodness in a month that I had to read Wild, I also had OFOTCN.

Happy reading!!

October – Station eleven

October’s was a great meeting, for two reasons; almost everyone read both books AND the books were so very different and equally good for discussion.

Station eleven – Emily St John Mandel

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I was running out of choices from the group, so I chose this one, and I have to admit I chose it simply because of the pretty cover, yes I know that was reckless, but isn’t it pretty? The good news is, that lurking behind the pretty cover was a wonderful book, and knowing nothing about it at all, made it all the better. We loved it, and I mean all of us. It was different from anything else that we had read, set in America, the book begins in a theatre, with a performance of King Lear, this is the last day of the world as we know it. A virus spreads through the country (and assumedly the world) wiping out most of humanity, and the book is the story of the survivors. We follow several characters thought the book, at times, they cross paths, and at times they don’t, but there are links to others, that we the readers can see.

The writing is as pretty as the cover of the book, it is descriptive, charming, and whilst I wasn’t as enchanted and the rest of the group, I did very much enjoy reading the book. The group gave Station eleven a strong 4.5*, with three giving it s 5* rating, myself, I gave it a 4* and I would definitely recommend it.

The five people you meet in heaven – Mitch Albom

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I am not at all surprised that this book is rated 5* by Waterstones, it is simply perfect,really, it’s perfect! It is a beautiful, life affirming, no waffle, story with the most mesmerising lead character. Eddie is an old man, who feels that he hasn’t properly lived his life, he didn’t do all of the things he wanted to, apart from when he went to war, he has never left his home town. On his 83rd birthday, Eddie is still working in the same job that he has done most of his life, when a tragic accident kills him, and so begins his journey.

The book considers the question that humanity has long been wondering about, ‘what happens when we die?’ Eddie’s post death journey, is fascinating, thought provoking, and truly wonderful! I adored this book so much, that I gave my copy to my daughter and said “You HAVE GOT to read this!” She did read it, and loved it too. As a group we gave the book 4*, but for me it was an easy 5*, I think everyone, everywhere should read this book, and really, the sooner the better.

Have fun reading!!

September -Room

This book was a challenge, mostly because I had tried to read it before, and had to give up. The style of writing was too much to cope with when I was not focussed, but in July Steph said “We should all read Room”, so in September, we did!

Room – Emma Donoghue

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On my second attempt, it took me about 30 pages to get used to the style, because it is written first person by a 5 year old boy named Jack. Jack and his Ma live in ‘Room’, and the reason for this is heartbreaking. Ma was kidnapped 7 years earlier and Jack was born in Room, this is a tough story, and it is no wonder that many people feel they cannot read it. I do not want to spoil the book, so I will just say this, while it is bad, it’s not as bad as your imagination.

All of the main characters in the book are well written, and I felt the desperation of Ma’s situation and Jack’s innocent acceptance of his world, so clearly. I thought the book was clever, and the mother’s love for her child, in spite of the circumstances of his conception and birth was just beautiful. There were things about this book that I did not like, I frequently got irritated by it, and at our book club meeting I ranted about so many little things, that the group were expecting a poor rating from me. I did not give the book a poor rating, I liked it, I liked it so much that I had a rant about all of the bits that had annoyed me, it was so near perfect, that I was angry that it wasn’t.

This story, based on the true story of Elisabeth Fritzl’s incarceration, at the hands of her father, is emotionally exhausting, you feel anger, empathy, fear, hatred, love, relief and many more emotions in between. I will leave it there and recommend it as a very good read, however I will say that the film just came out and I saw it this week, it left out the bits that irritated me, so on this occasion I think possibly the film is better than the book, and certainly equal to. As a group we rated Room with an average of 4.5* and this was also my rating.

Paradise News – David Lodge

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I did not love this book, I did not even really like this book, but it did not offend me enough to give up on it. It was, for want of a better word… Meh! Few read this book (I think maybe only 3 of us), but none were particularly impressed, there are many storylines crossing over in the book, and many characters. I quite liked Bernard and loved his dying aunt Ursula, who was beautifully described, and a colourful character, but apart from these two, all of the other characters were ok, but I really didn’t care about them, or their holiday enough to enjoy this book. The only thing that I got from the book was that I never want to go to Hawaii, as it is plastic and touristy, and not at all the paradise I imagined. When I said this at the meeting, one of the members of the group (think it was Steph) wrote a note on her book that simply read “Go to the Maldives, NOT Hawaii” :-D. On average we gave the book a 3* rating, it’s the sort of book you pick up off the small bookshelf in a hotel in Turkey, when you have forgotten to bring enough books, and it does the job, but that’s about it.

Have fun reading!!

August – Just what kind of mother are you?

August was an epic month for ‘Turn the page’, I decided, in my wisdom to choose 3 books. This was based on the hope that members of the group would be lazing around on tropical beaches, and be in need of something to read. I was not lazing somewhere wonderful, but, being a teacher, I do have more time to read in August, so I went through the selections of the group and optimistically chose the books. The main book for August was –
Just what kind of mother are you? – Paula Daly

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I chose this book, I really fancied it, the reviews were good and, as I have said before, I DO love a great thriller, sadly this was not a great thriller. It’s not all bad though, I did like the book (mostly), and I thought it was really well written, in that the characters became real to me. I identified with Lisa, but then, as a mother of three, I would, if she was well written, luckily she was, and the harassed, busy busy, never stopping life really reflected my own. I struggled, as did the group (I think we all agreed on this), to understand just HOW the, missing child was Lisa’s fault at all.

I would have liked the book to have explored Sally’s feelings more, her friend is missing and her perspective would have been interesting. I was surprised at Joe’s reaction to Lisa’s fling, the situation did not seem fraught enough, he was a little bit to placid for my liking (perhaps his revenge came after the story finished). Kate’s sister is so well written, I know this kind of self righteous woman, I have met her before, she is judgemental and cruel, and I hated her. The best characters in the book though were the detective Joanne and her aunt, I could happily have read a whole book about them.

The major problem with this book for me, was how quickly I worked out the twist. I will not say why, because I do think this is a pretty good read and worth a go! As a group we gave this book 4.5*, I would give it 4* and I would recommend it.

Elizabeth is missing – Emma Healey

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WOW!!! I am loathe to review this book at all because I might say too much, I want to give nothing away, and I want everyone to read it! Ok, ok, just a short one then..

Elizabeth is missing centres on Maud, she is 82 years old and is struggling with dementia, she does not remember everything, but what she does remember haunts her, and of one thing she is certain, Elizabeth is missing. Maud’s story is two stories, one is the now, the older Maud and her family and friend Elizabeth, the other is young Maud, living at home with her family and her sister Suky. In Maud’s mind the two are mixed up, not unlike a tangle of necklaces in a jewellery box, it is hard work untangling them, but it needs to be done.

There are some beautifully written characters in the book and some very touching moments, a couple of which involve her granddaughter Katy. Katy is young, but wonderful with there grandma, and at one point Maud says of Katy that she ‘makes me feel delicate, rather than clumsy’, I admit, I welled up! I will leave it there, because all of the book club members loved this book, with most choosing it as their favourite of the month and I do not want to spoil it. As a group we gave the book an average 4.5*, there were a few 5* in there, which was a first, and well deserved.

The girl on the train – Paula Hawkins

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Sam chose this one, and I was pleased, I had seen it in the bookstore and really fancied it! It is a little over our 400 page limit, so I added it to August as an extra book. I cannot explain how disappointed I was in this book, I never wanted to get to the end of a book so badly, I just wanted to move on and read something else. I actually don’t understand how is got so many 5* reviews in the first place.

Rachel is not a likeable character, and not because of her flaws, flaws are usually a good thing, they create realism, but Rachel makes so many downright stupid decisions that she becomes a caricature of a person, too extreme to be believable. There is a point in the story where you begin to understand why she is messed up, but even the sympathy that comes with that knowledge, does not save her as a character. The plot twists are obvious, the story is a bit too soap opera and all centred around affairs. I didn’t like the writing either, I thought it was weak, and not in the least bit tense or thrilling, at the points where I should have been thinking “Oh no don’t do that” and worrying about Rachel, I was thinking “ffs wise up!”.

Not everyone in the group read this book, and I certainly didn’t tell them to rush off and do so after the meeting. The average rating for those who did was 3.5* I gave it a 2.5* and that was being generous, there are much better books out there, and if you want my advice, just go and read Elizabeth is missing instead! 😉

Happy reading!!

July – The storied life of AJ Fikry

July was a busy month for most of us, and we only managed to read one book. The book that was chosen for July was –

The storied life of A.J. Fikry – Gabrielle Zevin

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I admit that I am finding it a little difficult to remember this one, and I am not sure that this is a good sign, *runs off to check notes*. Ahhh yes, the grumpy bookseller with a sad past, I liked him, he was human, and was wittily written. I had assumed, on picking up this book that AJ Fikry would be old already, I don’t know why, but I had. This is a love story, in fact it is two love stories, both with the same hero, the owner of a failing bookstore on an island. I liked him for not giving up on his bookstore, I liked him for being grumpy to his customers, in spite of the bookstore failing, because that is who he was. The success  of the bookstore in the past was largely down to his wife, who was charming and friendly, now that he is alone in the store, things are very different.

I loved the quotes from books, that started the chapters, it made me want to read some of the books. I identified with the sales rep from the publishing house, as I used to work in sales for a record company, and I know how it feels to have to walk into a shop where the owner doesn’t want to see you. The theft of his precious book (Tamerlane), was a problem for me, yes he was drunk, but someone came in and cleaned up and took the book, it didn’t take a genius to work out who. I loved the romance of this book, it wasn’t soppy or over sentimental, but had real heart and an honest about it that I enjoyed. There were things in the book that I loved and things that I didn’t, but there was nothing that I disliked enough to complain about in the notes I made in July, and I think it was a nice wee read.

I am glad I knew nothing about this book when I started reading it, as it ended up being a rather sweet story, with a few great little twists. It also contains one of my favourite lines in any book I have read recently –

“You know everything you need to know about a person from the answer to the question – What is your favourite book?”

As a group we gave this book an average 4*, which is pretty good, and I gave it exactly that, it was nice, it was easy to read and the characters had heart.

Have fun reading!!

June – ‘The husband’s secret’

Did I mention that we usually have two books to read a month? I don’t really expect everyone to read both, but there are occasions where we have more time and it’s nice to have a second book to talk about at meetings.

The husband’s secret – Liane Moriarty

In June the The husband’s secret was chosen by two different book club members, so it seemed a good choice as o. The blurb read well, it had ratings of 5/5 from Waterstones, and I like a good thriller, so I thought I would enjoy it.

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The husband’s secret was not what I was expecting, it was easy to read, and most members of the club said they read it pretty quickly, some even ‘couldn’t put it down’. The thing is, I wouldn’t describe the book as a thriller at all, maybe at a push, a drama, but certainly not a thriller. I was not on the edge of my seat, there was no tension, and if I am honest it was a little irritating at times.

Luckily there were several stories intertwined in the book, and some of them worked fairly well, but some really did not. I will say this, the book is well written, with good use of language, and the writer’s emotional intelligence were all very good, but the story, that started well and had me intrigued, got weaker as the book went on.

Cecilia’s story (and the main plot-line) was a real page turner at first, even though I could not understand her actions, we discussed this at our meeting, and some of the members could identify with her. We also had the story of Tess, who, quite frankly, annoyed me to the point of almost quitting reading the book, however I decided that my irritation at the character was probably a sign that she was well written, and carried on. Tess is not a strong woman, and by the end of the book I wanted someone to give her a good shake. Then we were introduced to Rachel, the woman who lost her daughter long ago and was still coming to terms with this. Rachel, at last, gave me a character worth reading about, and I keep going.

The women’s lives are intertwined, and if I am honest I didn’t really care what happened to any of them. The book was more like a week in Eastenders than a thriller, and the plot was mostly predictable. The writing was good enough to keep me reading, even if I kept saying to myself ‘I hope there is a massive twist here that I am not expecting’ (there wasn’t). As a group our average rating for the book was 3.5*, so it could easily have been worse.

Thankfully the book did not take too long to read, and I quickly moved on to our second choice for the month –

Holes – Louis Sachar

Few of the club members read this for the meeting, although some had read it before, I had not. Aimee chose this book (I think), and I was worried that, as a book written for children I would find it dull, or that the writing would be simplistic, wrong and wrong again!

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Holes is a truly wonderful book, easily deserving the 500+ 5* reviews on Amazon. It made me laugh, almost cry and then laugh again, I adored the characters, and could picture the boys digging in the dirt for hours. I hated the system for putting them there, and I hated the ‘Cruella DeVille’ type woman running the camp. I shook my head for the poor boys as they ate their onions for sustenance and I wanted to go and rescue them. The book ends with a real fist pump moment and I love it for that, I would recommend this book to anyone age 8-100. As a group, those who read it, gave it an average rating of 4.5* (for me it was an easy 5*, must check out the film).

Happy Reading!

First meeting – May 2015

I have to be honest, there is little chance of me actually remembering any of the discussion from this meeting. I remember my excitement as I prepared for the first gathering of the new group, I remember sending my son to the shop to get cookies and cake and I remember cleaning my house like a woman possessed. Mostly I remember hoping beyond all else that my plan to bring together a group of people, none of whom knew each other, with only a love of books in common, would not fall flat.
I had invited friends to join the group, and to send me a short list of books that they were keen to read, from which I would create a master list, and then choose two books per month; one main book and one optional second book. ‘Still Alice’ by Lisa Genova was the most requested book, so that became the main book for May, the optional second book was ‘The Children Act’ by Ian McEwan. It was a busy first meeting, with ten people squished into my dining room, sharing chairs and getting to know each other, whilst sipping prosecco (brought by one of the group to toast our first meeting).

Still Alice is an emotional read, particularly if you have known someone who has suffered from Alzheimer’s or dementia, recalling our own experiences brought tears and laughter and quickly created a bond amongst group members. The book is written in the first person, and as such enables the reader to imagine how frustrating it must be to slowly lose your memory, and then yourself, whilst still understanding exactly what is happening to you. The main character is only 50 years old when she is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, this makes it shocking and sad, as her life is halted so young. The average group rating for Still Alice was 4* out of 5*, this book is definitely worth a read, but grab a tissue, you will probably need it.

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The Children Act was disappointing, the main story line of the young man, who needed a blood transfusion, but was refusing it on religious grounds seemed appealing. The legal ramifications of the situation were fascinating, and I wondered what I would do, in that situation, to encourage the boy to go ahead with the procedure that would save his life. However the book also contained the story of the lawyer’s life, her marriage and her character, which was of little interest to me, or the other readers in the group. Those of us who read the book gave it an average rating of 2.5* out of 5*, which was a shame, as it could have been so good.

In conclusion, we had a fabulous first meeting and would happily recommend ‘Still Alice’ as a great read, but also as a great book for discussion.
Happy Reading!