Tag Archives: reading-groups

Books You Might Like to Try Reading


It’s been suggested that readers might find a list of books that I’ve read in recent times helpful. This might lead you to think of reading the book yourself, or prompt a search for the title and see which other books that might lead you to, on Amazon for example. I don’t know about you, but I love to pore over books in bookshops – I could happily wile away an afternoon in one. That’s how I’ve found most of the books on this list – by choosing them after an hour or so perusing the hundreds on display on the delightful shelves of Waterstone’s or Foyle’s of Charing Cross. Sometimes, though, I find the choice overwhelming. Where to start? What kind of book am I in the mood for? There have been many books that I’ve struggled with at the beginning, but have grown on me as I’ve persevered, but others that start well and flop very quickly. I suppose I’m at an age now where I’ve decided that life is just too short to spend time reading bad books. So occasionally I am happy for a little help or guidance – a recommendation from a friend; an author who is written about in a newspaper; an adaptation of a book I see is on TV; a title I notice on a billboard. These things might not necessarily to choose a particular book, but give me a starting point. ‘Crossing to Safety’, for example, was reviewed in an end-of-year list of books each chosen by other authors as ones they had read that year and which they would warmly recommend to a friend. I liked the tenderness of the review; it seemed to me to a story that had touched the heart of its reader in an extraordinary way. It intrigued me greatly and I ordered it that day. However, there are other books I have been told of that lead me to search for them in the bookshop and when I get there, I have a preview read and my eyes are drawn to a book on the next shelf. I might end up buying the book I went for, but I also come out with at least one other, or sometimes I come out with six books I find and leave the one I went for on the shelf! I am not to be trusted with a credit card in any book shop, or cash in a charity shop. Books to me are friends I haven’t yet met – there for the meeting and the development of a relationship; companions on a lovely, nurturing journey

I trust you find my list helpful, in that it may lead you to find a book that will become your own companion for a while. Do comment on the Blog about any books you found particularly great. It really doesn’t matter what genre they’re in. I never stick to categories anyway – I simply read what appeals to me on the day. Enjoy your reading!

In other posts, over the next few weeks, I’ll be offering a review of each of these books.

Happy Reading!


(List is not in any particular order – all of these I read in the past two years. )



Title Author
Never Let Me Go Kazuo Ishiguro
A beautiful novel about a group of students growing up in a version of contemporary England – it all seems rather strange though, and from the start, we’re wondering what’s behind the story. Theirs is a childhood that’s not quite right, yet seems, conversely at times, idyllic. It tells of deep friendships, dark secrets, coming to terms with one’s destiny and the sense of the fragility of life. A firm favourite of mine
The Pirate’s Daughter Margaret Cezair-Thompson
An unlikely choice of mine on a wet day in a second hand book shop – a musty copy that had appeal because of its setting in Jamaica. The tale of a local girl’s affair with Errol Flynn, the actor and the child they had together. The story covers the period of the rebellion on the island and the ensuing turbulence. It’s a pacy story with good characterisations and fascinating twists and turns in the plot
The Winter Ghosts Kate Mosse
A young man, grieving for his brother lost in the Great War, spins his car off the road in a snowstorm in the Pyrenees. He meets a captivating woman in an isolated village and during the night they talk of love and loss and war. She vanishes in the morning and he begins a search for her and finds himself deep in the mountains, at the centre of a mystery that has been concealed for almost a century. It’s a book that deserves a reading in one sitting – a story that transports the reader down the years to face the heartbreak of loss and the need for closure.
Bring Up The Bodies Hilary Mantel
Wolf Hall Hilary Mantel
Two fabulous books – not to everyone’s taste – and they need a dedicated attention span and some determination. Stories of the times of Henry Tudor, they are written from the perspective of Thomas Cromwell, and Mantel certainly gets under his skin. I did feel as if I was there and that I finally understood what was going on – it’s a ‘get-down-in-the-dirt-of-the-times’ book and it isn’t pretty. Some of the people you might have previously sympathised with are drawn in greater detail and we see them as the humans, with foibles and failings, they really were. I loved both books, but they need time – however they are well worth the investment.
French Revolutions – Cycling the Tour de France Tim Moore
A witty and brilliant book by this sports writer! What fool, for the sake of his craft, would determine to cycle the whole route of the Tour de France, when they rarely if ever cycled in normal life? Moore does, with some hilarious and painful consequences. It’s a great read for all lovers of real-life story and not just for cycling enthusiasts
The Sense of an Ending Julian Barnes
Do you remember all the friends you had at school? How good do you think your memory of relationships is? There are some that might have meant little to you, that possibly had a major impact on another. Tony and Adrian were in a group who swore to stay friends for life. Now Tony is retired and divorced and a letter jogs his memory of the past. “We live in time – it holds us and moulds us – but I’ve never felt I understood it very well.” he reflects at the beginning. Life is confusing and just when we think we’ve got it, it slips through our fingers again, like sand. A story that explores friendship, fractured relationships and the putting together of lost pieces.
Fortune’s Rocks Anita Shreve
One of those rare books where you find the end unbearable – because you want to stay in the world of the story for ever. A story of forbidden love, heart-breaking and perplexing; fulfilling yet devastating. Love that finds its loss unbearable and the need for that loved other the very purpose of life. Shreve is really at her most poignant here – the characters are wonderfully multi-dimensional – we love them, yet are angry at them; we see something of ourselves in them, yet are repelled by what they do and who they betray. Heavenly
Eden Close Anita Shreve
Another great Shreve novel. Seems simple enough – boy comes home to clear up house after death of his father and finds himself drawn into the secrets of the past he thought he knew. Eden is the girl next door – and her story – the events of a dreadful night when he was a young boy – draw him in and he stays on to search for meaning in the house down the road. Can friendships be reignited even though there are terrible secrets buried between them? Can love find a way through treachery and heal the wounds that have become deep scars?
Incendiary Chris Cleave
This was a real ‘wow’ for me – a story I didn’t expect. The whole story a letter to a terrorist, it tells of the anguish of a young mother who loses her tiny son and husband in a bomb blast at a football stadium. But it’s never just one story and it’s never that simple – her story begins before the blast and she has to go on after, living with the consequences of her own actions and somehow finding a way to comfort herself amidst that awful loss. Fascinating and compelling
Arthur and George Julian Barnes
Not the easiest of reads, and not the most fascinating of subjects – that of a young man, seemingly wrongfully, imprisoned for a terrible crime in Victorian England. Creator of Holmes, Arthur Conan Doyle, takes up his case and this is the story of their odd relationship and the impact it has on them both. It also covers Conan-Doyle’s second marriage, a story in itself.
Crossing to Safety Wallace Stegner
A book I find myself going back to again and again – there are so many gorgeous passages. This is writing at its most beautiful and soul-searching. “There it was. There it is, the place where during the best time of our lives friendship has its home and happiness its headquarters” Two young couple become good friends during the Great Depression. Seemingly initially very different, they find they have much in common and both men work at the University. It is the story of their friendship – of the twists and turns that takes – of its complexities – of love, loyalty, vulnerability and conflict. Larry is the key voice and he is the one wrestling with the meaning behind some of the trials and tragedies each one of them faces over time. The narrative is sometimes so moving I found it necessary to put the book aside and weep. Not many stories make me do that. I quote from it incessantly.

“If we could have foreseen the future during those good days in Madison…., we might not have had the nerve to venture into it.”

The Watcher in the Shadows Carlos Ruiz Zafon
From the author of “The Shadow of the Wind” – a story of a toymaker, living as a recluse in an old mansion, surrounded by strange creatures he has made. Irene’s mother takes her and her brother to work there one magical summer, to Blue Bay, as housekeeper to the secretive and eccentric toymaker. The magic begins immediately and soon the eerie figure watching from a locked room starts to move beyond and lives begin to be claimed….
The Ex-Wives Deborah Moggach
The sort of novel we all need to read from time to time, to allow us to take a break from thinking too hard and from becoming too reflective! Fun and something of a frolic, it’s the tale of an old actor, living alone with a dreadful little dog, when his latest wife leaves him for another, younger, man. Feeling morose, he falls for a young girl who leads him into an adventure he would never have expected!
Apple Tree Yard Louise Doughty
Goodness me, this book had me on the edge of my seat! It excited from the first page – in the most unusual way. Captivating with its candid insight into the mind of an intelligent and professional woman, who finds herself in a relationship she would never have imagined. From the start, we are horrified and tantalised in equal measures and it had me holding my breath as I turned the pages. There are so many twists, it was exhilarating, yet the pace is thrillingly calm and measured – perhaps that is the secret of its appeal. What happens when life gets so out of control that we find we cannot hold it together? This is a story that bruises the soul and leaves you breathless.
Life After Life Kate Atkinson
Just imagine if you could choose to live your life a different way? A choice you make that leads you down one road, supposing you make a different choice, where would you be now? What if you could keep on going back until you got it right? Or will it ever be right? What about the consequences of different choices for others in our lives? A great novel by this wonderful story-teller of how different turns in events make for different lives we end up leading. It tells of a baby born in a snowstorm in 1910, who dies before she took her first breath. And yet, what if the same baby lived to tell the tale? It’s a brilliant story and is positively dazzling in its telling.
The Invention of Wings Sue Monk-Kidd
One of the most moving stories I’ve read – the story of Handful, an eight-year-old slave child, who is presented as a gift to her owner’s daughter, at an eleventh birthday. At turns, it enthralled me, yet repelled and sickened me, before enraging me and stirring me to want to rise to action. Based on the lives of the Grimke sisters, abolitionists and feminists it charts the tales of the sisters, the slaves of the household as well as giving us great insight into the lives of all those, on both sides, involved in slavery. Captivating and wonderfully written. A never to be forgotten book.
The Secret Life of Bees Sue Monk-Kidd
Another engaging and captivating story – the tale of a girl’s tempestuous relationship with her father, and her subsequent running away to make a life of her own. Accompanied by her father’s black servant and finding refuge with three black sisters, she learns about bee-keeping and finds herself closer to the mysterious story of her mother’s life and death than she could have hoped for. Deeply fascinating.
The Legacy of Elizabeth Pringle Kirsty Wark
The first novel from the News night presenter, it isn’t brilliant, but it’s a good, engaging story, if a little clunky at times. It tells the story of a woman who returns to Arran, years after she left it, when her mother is left a house by a mysterious old lady, simply because she had seen her pushing a pram down a road thirty years previously. Behind ordinary lives, there is often a deeper story running, if only we looked for it, or cared to know it. There are many secrets to be found in these lives and at times this story captivates and charms.
And The Mountains Echoed Khaled Hosseini
Author of ‘The Kite-Runner’, Hosseini is fabulous teller of tales and holds the attention from his opening words….”So then, you want a story and I will tell you one. But just the one. Don’t either of you aske me for more. It’s late and we have a long day ahead of us, Parit, you and I. You will need your sleep tonight. And you too, Abdullah. I am counting on you, boy, whie your sister and I are away.” A father is taking his child away – separating her from her brother – but that brother cannot let her go easily. He is the only one who can make her happy. He trades his shoes for a feather for her collection. When his father sets off on that fateful journey, neither child could possibly know what the future will bring for them…We want to know though, and we keep turning the pages to find out. It’s a well-crafted book, that covers many years and spans continents. It speaks of heartache, betrayal, hope and the unbreakable bonds of love.
Gone Girl Gillian Flynn
I like a good thriller and had great hopes for this book – it didn’t live up to them, despite all the hype. Others however, I know, love it, so I must be fair and include it. You may like it. I found the format predictable and the characters held no charm for me – I simply didn’t care what happened to them. I love a villain and I love a character that has the capacity to be both hero and villain and victim and survivor – I found that none of that characters fascinated me at all.
The Reluctant Fundamentalist Mohsin Hamid
“Excuse me, sir, but may I be of assistance? Ah, I see I have alarmed you. Do not be frightened of my beard. I am a lover of America…” I was caught at the back cover. I had to look inside to read more. Unusually, the story is the monologue of one man talking to another and all the action takes place in one place, in one time, although the story covers several years. How do we end up caught up in events that once sickened and alarmed us? How do our sympathies change over time? What makes us lean towards an ideology at odds with the one we have adopted as our own? This story compels as it explores these issues – we grow to love the characters and are drawn into their lives easily.
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves Karen Joy Fowler
I had no idea what to expect when I read “What if you grew up to realise that your father had used your childhood as an experiment? We read of Rosemary who is now a college student, coming to realise that she needs to go back before she can go forward. Her life no longer makes sense and she needs to know what happened to her brother. Why did he run away? Where is he? And what has that to do with her sister, who was sent away from the family home when she was only five-years old. This is a story of the most unusual, if not unique, sibling love and rivalry that will really get under your skin. Don’t skip ahead and cheat! The surprises are well worth waiting for.



Monday’s Child

Whose Children?

I’ve written before about the reading group I run in a Care Home.  I go monthly, meet with between 4 and 10 elderly residents, mostly women, but there have been 2 or 3 men who have come along. I’ve been visiting for over a year now and they have become dear friends. We share an afternoon together; moments in time where adventures of the mind and soul can be had.  Our reading can take us to wonderful places; we meet characters who delight or intrigue; we laugh; we are puzzled; we feel sad, we cry, we become angry. In short we are, as lovely Doreen said last week “We are stimulated”.

There’s plenty written about what makes us think and what sort of thing galvanises us into action. What I have seen and experienced though, on those Monday afternoons, is something really special. What would I say to a lady of 89 who I have only just met? Who spends her life now surrounded with those whose gait is even slower than her own? Who feels as if life is going on ‘out there’ without her now – while she waits, often in pain or at best discomfort, for the door to open to the next world? What do I have in common to begin a conversation? How do I find out what lies behind those rheumy eyes? Reading is the key that unlocks the mystery; that gently enables us to share a lovely time and a place – like  a little room we can go to. We keep it simple – short is good (listening and concentrating gets harder over the years) – poems work – little stories too – a fairy tale might occasionally enchant – but  Shakespeare, Thackeray, Elliot, Hardy – they are much loved too. Some of my friends know the classics well, some have read little throughout their lives but on those Monday afternoons we share in the delights of a variety of good literature

This week, I decided on the theme of “New Beginnings” – after all, we’d had a summer break and we were starting a new term. When you’re in your nineties, it always seems to be about ‘endings’ (they told me about two deaths there had been over summer) so I thought it would be refreshing to think about beginnings – about new born babies and the way we celebrate them. There were six of us this week. I read something we probably all know:-

Monday’s child is fair of face,

Tuesday’s child is full of grace,

Wednesday’s child is full of woe,

Thursday’s child has far to go.

Fridays’ child is loving and giving,

Saturdays’ child works hard for a living,

And the child that is born on the Sabbath day

Is bonny and blithe, and good and gay. (Anon)

Well, a few of them knew it and were joining in quietly and tentatively, but by the last line everyone had found their voice, were sure of the words and we chorused it together. Then everyone wanted to talk! I heard of an older sister who had been a Wednesday’s child – “Always whining, she was too!” said Mary. Bessie had been a Sabbath baby “A lot to live up to!” “Me too,” I offered, “I try to be perfect, but never quite make it!” Everyone  was laughing and the afternoon was filled with sunshine. And Jean told of being a Saturday’s child, “I was expected to do everything for my brother. He never lifted a finger”. A good time to move on to “For an Unborn Baby” by Janet Shepperson, then:

If she’s a girl,

I hope she’ll stretch her wings

and grow up free, wide ranging

like a seagull, dealing with the winds

competently, swifting on currents of air,

able to live on anything she can find

in the murky sea, or even on rubbish heaps,

adapting with ease when storms drive her inland.

May she choose wisely if in the end

she settles on one name, one piece of ground.


May she banish those who’d seek to protect her

from heartbreak, or joy.

– And may he achieve no less

if he’s a boy.

So began a discussion of how our hopes for girls might be different – how we might choose different colours for their clothes even. Emily started to talk about her daughter – she tells all about the dreams she had for her and how they never happened. How she married a man who Emily hadn’t liked and how she watched with sadness when the marriage broke up, yet couldn’t somehow offer comfort to her daughter and how even now, many years later, all that lies still unspoken, between them. “She’s never married again. That’s sad. But she’s happy. She seems content with her own company”. She sits pondering that thought and the rest of us keep a companionable silence with her for a moment. “She comes to see you though”, says Joyce. “Oh yes.” And that’s what matters now – that she comes; that they have that time with each other.

We laughed together at the next tale from “Blue Remembered Hills” by Rosemary Sutcliffe – about babies being brought by a stork. It ends:

“Nor did it occur to me that at age zero, I would have been unlikely to have had teeth to chatter”

That led to lots of sharing about what we believed as we grew up about where babies come from and some wonderful stories about how children ‘fill in the gaps’ when they don’t know the truth.

Our favourite of the afternoon was Kahlil Gibran’s “Your Children”

It begins:

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

they come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.


You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrows, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.


You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.

The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that

His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He knows the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Kahlil Gibran (1883-1950) https://www.library.cornell.edu/colldev/mideast/gibrn.htI

I read the last words and let them rest in the room. I feel it again – the magic of hearing words allowing thoughts to come from within our souls. Emily is the first to speak, “Very deep.” Joyce adds, “Fancy being a bow”, and she says it shyly. “I suppose that’s all parents can wish for, isn’t it?” puts in Doris, who hasn’t any children of her own, but was  a teacher, “To set them off on the right track and hope they get to a good place”. Soon, our thoughts still milling around, we are taking tea together and sharing a platter of fresh fruit, brought to us by the Activities Coordinator. When we are old, we need to have our activities coordinated, you know, we relinquish our ability, so they tell us in care homes, to coordinate our own activities. She is a good person though and loves the people whose activities she is coordinating.

I leave and on the way home I think of all my arrows, and wonder at the joy of how I now have learned “to be like them,” and I pray  to the Archer who I know and love, and thank him that he is guiding them, that he has a purpose for them and that “He loves also the bow that is stable”.


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