The Guilden Morden Reading Group meets on the third Wednesday of the month, 8pm in The Edward VII pub, Guilden Morden and new members are always welcome!
Contact Anne on 01763 852644
Books are suggested by members and reviewed a few months later. We occasionally use reading guide questions and follow up links to specific author websites but the review process is usually very informal and we rate the book in four categories: Great Read/ Good Read/ Okay Read/ Did not enjoy.
We have a mix of genres and older and newer works for the next few months as we aim to cater for all tastes:
The Light We Can Not See by Anthony Doerr: This novel won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. It describes the parallel lives of two unusual young people of different sides of the war. The Washington Independent Review described the book as being ‘comprised of layers of short, truncated chapters, whose accelerating pace parallels that of Europe’s collapse’. Everyone rated it a Great Read and the best book of the year for the group, with beautiful writing, a well developed story and interesting characters.
The Beauty of Murder by A. K Benedict: The book initially seems to be a detective story set in Cambridge but soon develops as a fantasy with bizarre elements of time travel. The Crimepieces blog describes it as ‘an enticing meld of thriller supernatural, fantasy and philosophical reflection’. The provoked a mixed reaction for the reading group, ranging from a Great Read to Did not enjoy. Some found the style overly descriptive and were challenged by the fantasy but others found it intriguing.
The Periodic Table by Primo Levi: The author, a chemist by training and profession takes the periodic table as his inspiration for a series of fictional and autobiographical essays including his experiences of fighting for survival in Auschwitz. The Guardian wrote: ‘If you were looking for a good book, a really good book in every sense, this is it.’ Many found it challenging but all rated it a Great Read or a Good Read.
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll: This work published in 1871 is a sequel to the classic ‘Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland’. Fantasy Book Review gives the book 8.8 out of 10 describing it as ‘Brilliantly plotted, wonderfully inventive nonsense story, full of humour, riddles and rhymes’. Most found it a Good Read or an Okay Read.
A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson: This novel continues the story of the Todd family, introduced in ‘Life after Life’, focusing this time on the life of Teddy a bomber pilot in the Second World War. The Telegraph concludes its review by saying that by the ending, with one of the most devastating twists in recent fiction, ‘adds a further level of overwhelming poignancy to an already extraordinarily affecting book’. Most rated the book a Great Read or a Good Read.
Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee: This is the ‘companion piece’ to the much loved ‘To kill a Mocking Bird’, but written some years earlier. It was generally not very well reviewed, considered ‘an anxious work in progress’ by The Telegraph. Members of the reading group rated it as Okay Read. Most found it a disappointment compared with Harper Lee’s only other work and didn’t recognise the main character, Atticus Finch from that classic novel.
Not My Father’s Son by Alan Cumming: The actor’s autobiography is considered by The Spectator as " a misery memoir… that’s surprisingly thoughtful’. Most rated it a Good Read.
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler: This is the author’s 20th book and describes the Whitshank family across several generations. It has 4 stars on Amazon with recent reviewers commenting ‘Beautifully written, if not one of her best’. Reading group members rated it a Good Read or an Okay Read.
Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery by Henry Martin: The New York Times described this book as ‘an extraordinarily intimate, compassionate and sometimes frightening understanding of his vocation’. Rated a Great Read or a Good Read.
Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver: The fictional work set in the Appalachian Mountains uses the effect of climate change on the migration behaviours of the Monarch butterfly as a vehicle for change and challenge in the life of a young mother in rural Tennessee. The Good Reads website gives the book 3.75 stars out of 5, describing it as ‘arguably Kingsolver’s most thrilling and accessible novel to date". Rated
‘The Invention of Winds‘ by Sue Monk Kidd: A fictionalised account of the life of two abolitionist sisters and their slave. Rated a Great Read
‘Mona Lisa: A life discovered‘ by Dianne Hales: The author attempts to trace the life of Lisa del Gicondo, believed to be the woman portrayed in the famous painting. The Chicago Tribune recognises that the work is a labour of love but ‘those considerable efforts don’t translate into a satisfying book’ Members of the reading group rated it an Okay Read.
Elizabeth is missing‘ by Emma Healey: A debut novel which centres on Maud, an elderly woman with dementia who is constantly wondering what has happened to her friend Elizabeth. Waterstones reports that ‘The Guardian’s readers placed it number three in the broadsheet’s list of its 10 best books for 2014; it won the Costa first novel prize that same year; and no less than nine publishers went to great lengths – from sending its author Emma Healey tins of peaches, to playing her Ezio Pinza’s performance of Mozart’s Champagne aria (which her central character adores) – to secure [the work]’. Reading group members rated it Good Read.
‘Child 44‘ by Tom Rob Smith. A thriller set in Stalinist Russia. Readers were split across the whole range from Did not enjoy to Great read.
‘Nora Webster‘ by Colm Toibin. A dramatisation of the life of a woman and her family in a small town in Ireland in the late 1960s. A split between Did not enjoy to Great Read. Most preferred another of Toibin’s works, Brooklyn, which has been made into a film.
‘The narrow road to the deep north‘ by Richard Flanagan> A Man Booker prize winning work that describes how the Burma railway claimed the lives of Australian Prisoners of War, even if they survived the camps. It was agreed to be a Great Read but harrowing.
‘This Boy: A Memoir of a Childhood‘ by Alan Johnson: This autobiography was rated as a Great Read and a Good Read. Most group members liked his style of writing.
The foundling boy‘, by Michel Deon (French fiction): Only the second of 90 year old, Ireland based, Michel Deon’s books to be translated into English. The Spectator describes is as a ‘big -hearted coming-of-age shaggy-dog story that describes the interwar boyhood and youth of Jean Arnaud, raised backstairs on a Normandy estate after his abandonment one night in 1919’. This elicited the full range of views from Did not enjoy to a Great Read.
‘H is for Hawk‘ by Helen MacDonald: The winner of both the Samuel Johnson Prize and the Costa Book of the Year award is an account of the training of a goshawk in response to the author’s grief over the sudden death of her father. During the many challenges this process brings, Macdonald confronts her own nature and comes to terms with her loss. Her conclusion is: "Hands are for other human hands to hold. They should not be reserved exclusively as perches for hawks". Much of the group’s discussion examined the long lasting effects of grief and the extreme choices taken by Macdonald. Most rated it a Good Read but many Did not enjoy it.
‘We are all completely beside ourselves‘ by Karen Jay Fowler: The New York Times calls "a novel so readably juicy and surreptitiously smart, it deserves all the attention it can get.’ The book appears to be about Rosemary who is troubled by her unhappy family and the loss of her sister and brother. It is, but much more too, with a major twist around page 77 (or 25% for ereaders). The group had a number of criticisms but most voted it a Good Read.
‘The Goldfinch‘ by Donna Tart: The Guardian’s review introduces this book as "The story of a boy who loses a mother and gains a painting…. this novel is an astonishing achievement". The group’s opinions were similar to those in the groupreads.blogspot.co.uk with "more bifurcated reactions than most". The votes were either Great Read or Did not enjoy. Some held both views simultaneously; enjoying the both the more obvious and the subtle themes and the detailed descriptions, but finding some sections overly long and detailed.
‘Longbourn, by Jo Baker: The story of the lives, loves and endless drudgery below stairs in the world of Pride and Prejudice. Mapping Jane Austen’s novel chapter for chapter the novel brings a different perspective to the members of the Bennet family. Most rated it a Good read.
‘Oryx and Crake‘ by Margaret Atwood: Life in a post-apocalyptic dystopian world, from the perspective of Snowman, previously a boy called Jimmy. Some considered it a Great Read (in one case ‘the best in ages’) but several others Did not enjoy it.
‘The book thief‘ by Marcus Zusak: The book is set in Nazi Germany and narrated by Death. It focuses on young girl, her relationship with her foster parents, the neighbourhood and a Jewish man who hides in their home. The group rated it a Good Read.
‘Bitter greens‘ by Kate Forsyth: Kate’s website describes the book as ‘Three women, three lives, three stories, braided together to create a compelling story of desire, obsession, black magic and the redemptive power of love.’; Generally rated a Good Read.
‘Dear Life‘ by Alice Munro: A series of short, and mostly, autobiographical stories. People were generally disappointed, given the calibre of the author and it was rated Okay Read.
‘Lacuna‘ by Barbara Kingsolver: An epic journey of two artists and cultures – from Mexico City to the America of Pearl Harbour, FDR and J Edgar Hoover. Most rated it a Good Read.
‘Night Circus‘ by Erin Morgenstern: The circus is the stage on which two magicians’ young proteges compete in a deadly competition which neither understands. Reading group members were equally split between a Great Read and an Okay Read. Almost everyone enjoyed the detailed descriptions and imagery of the circus but many didn’t warm to the characters.
‘Cambridge blue‘ by Alison Bruce: An enjoyable story but with no particular relevance to Cambridge. An Okay Read
‘Restoration’ by Rose Tremain: Historical fiction set in the time of Charles II. Most voted it a Great Read.
‘Significant sisters: The grass roots of active feminism 1839 –1939’ by Margaret Forster: Lives of eight women who pioneered vital changes in society. An Okay read: Interesting subject matter but not an engaging style of writing.
‘The Children’s book’ by AS Byatt: A fictional account of families and creativity in the Edwardian period. A spread from a Great Read to ‘Did not enjoy‘. Many thought it was too long with unnecessary detail.
‘The long song’ by Andrea Levy: Orange prize winner and "Best of the best" for this award. Most rated it a good or Great Read despite many taking time to get to grips with the vernacular language and the accounts of violence towards slaves.
‘Why be happy when you could be normal’ by Jeannette Winterson. The Telegraph described this as a ’painful memoir of love, longing and broken relationships’. Most rated it a Good Read.
‘The bell jar’ by Sylvia Plath. A semi-autobiographical novel about mental illness, first published in 1963. This elicited the widest reviews from ‘Did not enjoy’ to Great Read but all agreed that it showed how much attitudes to mental illness have changed in the last 50 years.
‘Wolf Hall’ by Hilary Mantel. An epic historical fiction of the life of Thomas Cromwell. Hardly anyone had finished this very long book when the group discussed it but most thought it a Great Read.
‘My animals and other family’ Claire Balding. This well observed and humorous autobiography brought Clare’s childhood in a horse racing family to life and was rated a Good Read.
‘Any Human Heart: The intimate Journals of Logan Mountstuart’ by William Boyd. It is written in the form of a lifelong journal of the central figure, a writer. Boyd also wrote the screen play adaptation, broadcast in 2010. It was rated as a Good Read.
‘Mountains of the Mind’ Robert Macfarlane. Winner of the Guardian’s First Book award in 2003 it describes the author’s personal fascination of mountaineering as well as the cultural impact of mountains and mountaineering. Probably the most highly rated book of the year – most voted it a Great Read.
‘The Conjuror’s bird’ by Martin Davies. An interwoven historical and modern fiction based on the life of the naturalist Joseph Banks which The Times described as ‘highly successful and informative entertainment’. Most voted it a Great Read.
‘Names for the Sea’ by Sarah Moss. A non-fiction work of a year spent in Iceland as a university lecturer in the immediate aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis. It was generally regarded as only an Okay read but many members of the group were reminded of trips to the island and their experiences as ex-pats around the world.
‘Pigeon English’ by Stephen Kelman. Shortlisted for the booker prize in 2011 this modern fictional describes the life of a young immigrant to London from Ghana caught up in gang warfare. The author was influenced by the case of Damilola Taylor. Most rated it a Good Read.