Talking about books

 ~ at home


books we read in may

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

I’m currently a third of the way into this, and I know I’m set for heartache in the pages to come. Eleven year old Hamnet’s desperate efforts to help his sister are matched by the frustration the reader feels; there is an unsettling sense of absence and passage of time that is sharpened by the shifting time perspectives. Death for one or both of these twins is horribly inevitable.

Agnes, their mother, is intuitive, instinctive and a gifted herbalist. A woman of the woods, perceived by some as transgressive, her strength is fascinating. O Farrell’s account of her seeking out a place in nature to give birth to her first born is captivating – as is the relationship she has with her brother, Bartholomew. It is very much her story – despite the title – and her husband, the ‘Latin tutor’ has, so far, played a minor part, a support role. I’m enjoying discovering a woman history has been so keen to misrepresent.

The novel is rich in detail, but not burdened by the extensive amount of research that would have needed to have taken place to evoke 16th century Warwickshire so beautifully. You never feel like you’re reading an historical novel. This is a story of domestic life and of family, of love and death. I’ll get the tissues ready…

Jude Walker

The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd

I recently finished The London Eye Mystery by Siobhan Dowd. This book has been on my reading pile for quite a while but I decided to delve in. I quickly settled into the book as it felt I was being taken in to the complex mystery with Ted the main character. It’s set in London (as you probably guessed!) and follows the story of Ted, an autistic 12 year old with a sparky brain. Him and his sister Kat travel across London to find clues to the disappearance of their cousin Salim. This isn’t your ordinary mystery because of the circumstances of the disappearance. Salim enters the London eye but doesn’t come back down! As it says on the front ‘What comes up most come down, mustn’t it?’.

It was a surprising ending and left me questioning why I hadn’t picked up the clues and hints. Reflecting on the book, it’s themes are based around Ted and his one of a kind brain, his relationship with his sister and lastly trying to be heard when no-one will listen. It’s a book that requires your full attention, a book that left me feeling confused, humble and amazed. This is a book that I love and I hope you will too.

Phoebe Walker ~ age 13

Our Lady of the Nile by Scholastique Mukasonga 

An eclectic mix this month which began with this book set in Rwanda 1979. The action takes place in a convent school for girls where most pupils are Hutu and the only two Tutsi girls are bullied and mercilessly persecuted .
I found it a beautifully written portrayal of a girls’ boarding school which included some lighter moments and childish pranks to offset the menacing tone.
However, as I knew what was to come in 1994 with the Tutsi massacre, it was rather overshadowed by doom. Perhaps more of a history lesson than a novel to enjoy?

Eliza Lowe and the Founding of the Woodard Schools by Penny Thompson

Another history lesson and more schools for girls but this time written by a friend of mine and set here in England.
Eliza Lowe was quite a trailblazer in the 19th century: she was running a school for girls in Liverpool while still in her twenties; she set the curriculum and included music and the arts in addition to the basics, while also laying down the rules of the establishment. Her success meant she moved locally to larger premises and later to London.

The book follows the later lives of some of Eliza’s pupils and also illustrates how Eliza’s younger brother, Edward was influenced to go on and persuade the Woodard schools to cater for girls. Not something that was universally welcomed in the mid-C19th.
A true story, well researched and one to make us truly grateful there were such women pioneers paving the way for us so long ago.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

This story is narrated by Klara, a robot or AF – artificial friend. She is purchased from a large store as companion for a human named Josie and we follow her life in that family. While I could see that the story was well written, it did nothing to grip me as I felt I could not relate to any of the characters.

The Graduate by Charles Webb

For book group this month we were to look at weddings in literature with each of us to tell of a favourite. There were the obvious choices from Jane Eyre, Far From the Madding Crowd and Persuasion but I chose to go back to the 1960s as I still have strong memories of the wedding when Dustin Hoffman as Benjamin Braddock forces his way into Elaine Robinson’s wedding and takes her away.
I found the book online and enjoyed reading the well-known story – little changed for the 1968 film.  The characters are believable and I wanted to shout at Mrs Robinson. I enjoyed the unfolding of events even though I knew the ending when they jumped on the bus together!

Sarah Akhtar

National Women's Register, Trentham

A Woven Rope by Jenna Plewes

During the last month, I have been reading and re-reading poems from A Woven Rope, a collection written by Worcestershire-based writer, Jenna Plewes. Many of those included appear brief and straightforward, but each deals with an important subject or aspect of life. Powerful imagery abounds and many are significantly persuasive when read aloud. Jenna shows understanding of and empathy with, each of her subjects and passes on her knowledge and emotions to her reader.
Some of the poems will make you smile, as understanding dawns after reading the final line; some will make you cry. But above all you will feel joy from having read the words gathered together by such a versatile and highly skilled poet.

Murder on a Summer’s Day by Frances Brody

Mrs Shackleton, a Private Detective with friends in high places, is asked by the India Office of the British Government to find an Indian Prince who has gone missing in Yorkshire. The circumstances are set by Frances Brody at a time when Mrs S is driving a Jowett motor car which has a dickie seat. She has a motoring coat and gloves and changes outfits three times each day. We meet a range of characters who throw light on the nature of society at the time and while the style is light, making for an enjoyable read, the plot and its development are not lightweight.

It’s perhaps an unexpected choice for a man to read, but makes a pleasant change from the current style of literature when strong language and unpleasant events take up so many pages. Appropriate for summer reading as it is set at that time of year. I defy anyone, for whom this is an introduction to KS, to not seek out another in that series of mysteries.

Roger Noons

Heaven on Earth: 101 Happy Poems edited by Wendy Cope

Just the job in times like these!

Cold Spring in Winter by Valérie Rouzeau (translated by Susan Wicks)

In these poems, written after the death of her beloved father, Valérie Rouzeau uses broken words, broken syntax that would be quite unintelligible to anybody with school French – but don’t worry, Susan Wicks has done an outstanding job of translating them in this bilingual edition; The poems are moving, sometimes heart-rending, and despite the idiosyncratic language are absolutely not a challenge to understanding.
‘My father my father on earth as he is in summer wind winter wind / Oh my father on earth as he is never I parrot it back my father my father’

One of the poems from this collection will be featured in July’s Poetry Breakfast on the theme of ‘Absence and Edges’ with guest poet, Sheenagh Pugh. AD

Writing Home by Alan Bennett

Every page a treat – well, it is Alan Bennett.

Musical Thoughts and Afterthoughts by Alfred Brendel

For Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt lovers – written with great insight by a great pianist, with quite a lot of musical quotations, but don’t worry if you can’t read music, as long as you’re familiar with (love) at least some of the piano music he writes about. Includes an entertaining chapter entitled ‘Coping with pianos’.

Andrew James

Doctor Thorne by Anthony Trollope

My late grandmother had an expression which we still use regularly in our family; after watching some TV programme or other and asked what she thought of it, she would say ‘I could have finished it in half the time’. I’ve been feeling that about the third of Trollope’s Barchester novels which I have nevertheless enjoyed.

During Covid-time, I’ve read, among much else, Middlemarch and three other Trollope novels. These Victorian works are long and leisurely, no doubt reflecting the time when there was more time to read and fewer distractions. How Trollope wrote over forty long novels as well as working full-time for the Post Office I shall never know. Doctor Thorne (all 600-plus pages) is charming and amusing, as well as holding a mirror to the English class system – poor Frank Gresham was pulled between his impoverished love and the pressure to ‘marry money’ to save his family’s estate – it’s a long story with the inevitable happy ending. If you have the time, wallow and enjoy!

Philip Browning

Talking about Books and Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

I think I first I read this book in my teens, probably after enjoying The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (published the same year, by the looks of it).I enjoyed it rather more than I expected this time. It does sag a bit in the middle but otherwise I found it a surprisingly easy and engaging read, for an older book, and liked the way a variety of characters were used to convey the social and political situation. Parts of the delivery are humorous and the portrayal of Alan Breck’s vanity and quirks is lively.

Apparently the book was written when the fashion had moved away from accuracy in historical fiction and writers were expected to be faithful more to the spirit of the age than the facts. In the preface, Stevenson warns the reader that historical accuracy was not primarily his aim, remarking ‘how little I am touched by the desire of accuracy’. I think this was a good thing, as he freed himself to write a rattling good yarn!

I came across Stevenson’s epitaph while working on my submission, which I chose to take at face value as a brave and beautiful sentiment, but there’s an interesting piece and you can read about it here.

Carmen by Prosper Mérimée

This 1845 novella was the inspiration behind Bizet’s famous opera, which I haven’t seen. Apparently the opera only covered one of four parts, and that with a lot of changes. Although named for the woman, the novella is really the story of the man driven to desperate acts by his jealous love for her. He throws away everything for a miserable time with her, killing her husband and later her new love before turning himself in, and concludes that the Gypsies are to blame for the way they brought her up. What is it about her that obsesses him?

Apparently the author based the story on a tale he was told by a Countess on a visit to Italy in 1830. He made Carmen a Gypsy because he’d been studying them for some time. The fourth part of the novella consists of his observations on the Gypsies (his term), the accuracy of which has been questioned. As you’d expect with something written so long ago, the book includes “language and attitudes of the time” (to paraphrase the Talking Pictures TV warning).

Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf

I’ve recently finished reading this with the slow reading group. It was the first title I’d read by the author and perhaps it suffered from my inflated expectations. I think it’s fair to say it wasn’t a particularly popular choice with the group and there was a lack of clarity about what Woolf was trying to say. We read around various reviews and study guides, which picked up some techniques and background parallels we’d recognised and some that we’d missed, but they didn’t really help with our remaining questions.

From my own point of view, I would far rather have heard more about Septimus the shell-shocked soldier and less about the party. There appeared to be quite a bit of autobiography in Mrs Dalloway and her lifestyle, but Septimus ended up feeling a bit of a literary trick. Apparently, in the introduction to the 1928 edition, Woolf explains outright that Septimus and Clarissa are doubles. Still, it seems he was one of the first fictional characters to show the horror of war and its lasting after-effects, so that was a significant achievement.

Marian Newell

Talking about Books, and Slow Reading Group, Much Wenlock

Tennyson: to strive, to seek, to find by John Batchelor

Another of those books that have been hanging around since Christmas. I don’t read much traditional biography, but I was interested in Tennyson because I know his birthplace, Somersby in Lincolnshire, and also parts of the Isle of Wight. I have to confess I hardly know any of his poetry.

I found the opening chapters interesting but after that the book was hard-going because, I think, of my lack of knowledge/interest in mid-Victorians and the whole ‘Apostle’ thing at Cambridge. It was very well written, and easy to read. I just got a bit bored with all Tennyson’s male friendships, and his agonising over whether he should marry, and the way he took on the pose of the poet and was not above using people who were useful to him. What I did find interesting was Tennyson’s peculiar family background and that although he became ‘Alfred, Lord Tennyson’, I think as a result of ambition, he had an uncertain social place, safer I think than Dickens, but not much.

If you know and like Tennyson’s poetry you may well find a lot to interest you in the analysis of his work, his apparently abundant lyric talent and the extremely long genesis of some of his best known poems, some of which took him 30 – 40 years to write.

Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

I enjoyed this very much and thought Ishiguro was back to form after The Buried Giant which I found hard work to finish. This was a satisfying read, more involving from the first page, with an interesting sci-fi setting in which we are asked to consider (as we were in Never Let Me Go) could this happen?

The scenario is the near future when many parents choose for their children options including isolation and on-line education, organised socialisation with their own sort only, the aim being to get into a college for the privileged and get ‘high-status’ jobs.

The story is written from the point of view of an AF, or artificial (android) friend, so we learn about her particular child and her family, and wider society as she does.

Ishiguro raises a lot of interesting questions – the AF Klara is obviously sentient, she has conscious awareness, learns and has memory. She knows about feelings although she does not seem quite to experience them. In her efforts to understand the world, she is, like humans, held up by her own particular ways of seeing and understanding things: and in her effort to be a good AF some of her thinking and her behaviour approaches irrational human acts.

Written with Ishiguro’s trademark low-key tone and gentle pacing, I found it a brilliant book.

After Leaving Mr Mackenzie by Jean Rhys
I might have mentioned Jean Rhys before! But I have just re-read this 1930 novel and enjoyed it very much again. It’s not a happy read, but Rhys is so important I think in how she tackled women’s lives (particularly women who were on the edge of society), and in particular the hypocrisy of the times.
What she writes of how women were used by and excluded from ‘proper’ society between the two world wars in Europe, particularly if they were not straightforward ‘English-women’, I think still applies very much to people who are marginalised in Western society today.  She is also a very clever and stylish writer who uses form to let the reader come close to the minds of her protagonists while we enjoy the sometimes humorous but always spot-on negotiations necessary for social, psychic and sometimes even physical survival. Here’s an early passage describing the ‘heroine’ Julia Martin that might whet your appetite:
‘Her career of ups and downs had rubbed most of the hall-marks off her, so that it was not easy to guess at her age, her nationality or the social background to which she properly belonged’ – The marginal female’s dilemma in a nutshell!
Christine Leaman

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

The Book Thief is every bit as good, and better, than all its reviews!!  I’m recommending it to everyone I know!


Meg Parkinson

Poetry Breakfast, Much Wenlock

Ariadne by Jennifer Saint

There has been a run of books recently that retell the great stories of Greek myth, some have been outstanding – Circe, Silence of the Girls. Ariadne is a deserving addition to the ranks. Accomplished, compelling and deeply moving, it tells the story of the woman who handed Theseus his success against the Minotaur. It’s message – that women’s contributions are rarely acknowledged – is a well-worn one. But Saint takes it a step further to suggest that, when men offend the gods, it’s women who pay the price. Both Ariadne and her sister Phaedra pay a high price indeed for their involvement with Theseus and Athens.

At a sentence level Ariadne may not be quite as beautiful as Circe or as potently economical as Silence of the Girls, but this is a minor gripe. Ariadne is a sweeping story with wonderful, fully realised characters. It’s ending – perfectly pitched – will stay with me a long, long time, I’m sure!

The Fair Botanists by Sara Sheridan

I was lucky enough to be sent a proof copy of The Fair Botanists, which is due for publication in early August. Set in Edinburgh in the summer of 1822, it sets the story of two women against the backdrop of an enlightenment city, gripped by – among other things – a passion for botanical innovation. The newly widowed Elizabeth arrives in London to live with her late husband’s aunt. She forges a friendship with Belle Brodie, a kept woman with a passion for plants and perfume.

Well, I’d always say that there can be no enlightenment without enlightening women, and Sara Sheridan gives us two great ones to reckon with in Belle and Elizabeth. The Fair Botanists gives us a glimpse into the complex life of Edinburgh in the 1820’s with joyous female characters at the heart of the story.
I found myself really engaging with the characters – both male and female. The juxtaposition of the self-determined Belle with an Elizabeth bound on a journey towards self-realisation was, I felt, extremely touching.

Annie Garthwaite


Annie’s Fund

Talking About Books contributor and debut author Annie Garthwaite is crowdfunding to send young people from under-privileged schools on creative writing courses with Arvon.

Annie says: I’ve kickstarted the fund with a £500 donation – but I need your help to grow it to £5,000.  That’s how much it costs to bring 16 young people to Arvon. Once there, they’ll work with published writers and experienced tutors who will help them unlock their inner writer and discover the life-enhancing power of words.

Annie’s Fund will give this gift to the young people who most need and deserve it – students from cash-strapped state schools who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford to send their students to Arvon.

For me, this is payback time, In July this year – at the great age of 59 – I’ll publish my first novel. That would never have happened were it not for two inspirational state school teachers at the Manor Comprehensive School in Hartlepool. More than 40 years ago, they ignited in me a love of words and story that’s been with me ever since. Their inspiration was a great gift, and I want to make sure today’s young people have it too. Maybe you can give a little, maybe you can give a lot. But, whatever you give, it will make a difference.

Go to to find out more about the fund, and about the Arvon Schools Programme.

Thank you!

Out by Natsuo Kirino

A Japanese crime classic. When a woman kills her gambler husband, her three friends and co-workers who do a night shift in a Tokyo factory that packages ready meals pitch in to help dispose of the body. Just as you think the plot is about to take a predictable turn, there’s a twist. Mingles the gruesome genre of the Yakuza with threads of a dysfunctional Kore-Eda family. Atmospheric page turning stuff.

Queenie by Candace Carty-Williams

A black woman has a personal and career crisis after her 3 year relationship with a man from a white racist family breaks down. Initially exasperated by the self-defeating behaviour of the main character of the title, I was subtly brought to understanding and sympathy for her position followed by respect for her resilience. An excellent read.

The Bone Code by Kathy Reichs

This latest Temperance Brennan book is much better than the previous one which was rubbish. That said there are ‘end of chapter’ devices which are meant to be suspenseful but are just plain irritating. Tempe is noted as reading a Karin Slaughter novel as well, clearly a mutual admiration society! However Birdie the cat and Ryan the Montreal hunk rescue the story. It is set after the Covid Pandemic has ended but a couple of cold cases reveal yet another threat to the human race.

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth

The reviews of the recent Roth biography prompted me to read some of his work. This is a novella. A boy working in a library falls for a girl from a rich family that makes bathroom sanitary ware. It doesn’t sound very inspiring but the writing is first rate. You are drawn in from the first page as he evokes a Jewish community in the New Jersey suburbs in the late 1950s. A much copied genre ever since but probably very original back then.

Islands of Mercy by Rose Tremain

Yet another book where one of the characters goes to the jungles of Borneo in search of rare insects. Meanwhile back in 186Os Bath a doctor’s daughter (who is apparently 6ft 2ins) weighs up her choices in life. An Irish tea room owner and an independent woman artist play roles in her decision. (Interesting aside that her suitor lives in Edgar Buildings where Persephone Books has just set up shop)
A bit of a disappointment after the quality of her previous novels.

Jenny Newton

Talking about Books, Much Wenlock

Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

The title of the book was a name interchangeable with the name Hamlet. This is an imagined tale of Shakespeare and his eventual wife and specifically how it circles around their children. In a back note she explains that little is really known of the family and surprisingly little of William himself. This novel cleverly develops the various possibilities of life in the 16th and 17th centuries. Some confusion arises from her adoption of different names to those commonly used for the family (such as calling his wife Agnes rather than Anne) and there is also the odd chapter that does not follow in its natural time sequence, which I found distracting, but once you have got over these minor confusions and irritations the story takes hold and it all feels very credible with possibly some wild imaginings. A very enjoyable read and at the end, in an Author’s Note, there are justifications for the name variations which might have been better at the start.

In Pursuit of Spring by Edward Thomas

A book by one of the English poets that died in the First World War at the Battle of Arras in 1917. This is an entertaining description of a cycle ride taken in 1913 from London to the Quantocks. His occasional photographs add to the interest, though a trifle dingy in black and white. His qualities as a poet are clearly evident as the descriptions of his journey can be quite lyrical. He also displays a very detailed learning of poetry when he quotes from time to time. This book is not simply a travel log. He digresses frequently to discuss some musings that can be amazingly interesting; such as about clay pipes or of three Wessex poets. One interest that persists throughout relates to his visits to churches and in particular their graveyards where the people there at rest and the grave epitaphs give rise to many surprising digressions. He meets a number of characters en route that give insights into the period and there is ‘the Other Man’ who crosses his path from time to time, seemingly on a similar journey. A brilliant book and so very evocative of the time.

The Salt Path by Raynor Winn

The tale of the consequences experienced by a couple, bankrupted and losing their house due to an investment in a friend’s failed business. Being homeless propelled the pair, based on a book she saw called Five Hundred Mile Walkies while avoiding the bailiffs, to undertake the South West Coast Path involving Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. You won’t learn a lot about the actual route as the book is more focused on their experiences and the people they encountered at different stages of their progress. But it is also suffused with their own issues surrounding their homelessness, penury and in particular the fact that her husband has a terminal illness. Considering all these aspects it is a remarkable story although I am not sure I fully engaged with her as a narrator. Still, it was a fascinating read.

Kingfishers Catch Fire by Rumer Godden

Set in Kashmir in the 1950s, where Rumer Godden had lived herself, this novel involves a mother and her young children renting a house for five years near Srinagar which she agrees to renovate in exchange for a cheap rent. They live within the community there with few financial resources although relatively she seems to be better off than her neighbours. Various suppliers and fixit men assist in securing her requirements but this generally appears exploitative, possibly even both ways, and gradually life becomes quite challenging until there is a catastrophe that upsets everything. An insightful description of life in Kashmir with a gripping narrative well written.

The pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford

I found I had a copy of this book when it was to be broadcast on BBC so I read it instead. Very entertaining it was too. One thought that continued throughout was how difficult it would be to dramatize as it is mainly the view through Fanny’s descriptive eyes and even then you do not know exactly who she is until about a third of the way through the book. You recognise that she is one of many daughters of a fickle mother in a large, rich family attached to various aunts and uncles living in a stately home. Her observations of their antics, for that is what most of them are, roam far and wide from their very rich rural childhood experiences through to the various adult relationships and encounters with the wider world and abroad. Supposedly loosely based on her own upper-class family it canters along very agreeably through the decades from the 1920s with hunts and balls into war. She quotes one French character as saying: ‘Histoires de revenants, made up by some dim old English virgins, are neither true nor interesting. Donc plus d’histoires de revenants …’ and this is definitely not a ghost story.

Donald Adams

We Need to Talk About Books, Craven Arms

Real Life by Brandon Taylor

Real Life takes place over a weekend. Events over the course of this weekend build to act as mini catalysts for Wallace, a young, black, homosexual, biochemistry student. The tensions and sense of claustrophobia and loneliness in a life he really doesn’t feel he belongs in, become increasingly apparent. It was a challenging read covering issues of race and sexuality; the way the characters interacted felt harsh, but it was a page-turner for me, both in terms of the build of tension and in terms of the language which I loved: it was tight and sparse, whilst somehow managing to give a crystal-like clarity to atmospheres and undercurrents.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Am I the only person I know who hasn’t read this before now? It seems to be something of a classic! It is rare to read prose which makes reading so effortless and I really, really enjoyed it. I know Smith redrafted and revised constantly, but this certainly left a narrative which never, ever drags. I loved the detail of the thought-processes and observations of Cassandra, told through her diary entries and I loved the descriptions of her family’s Bohemian lifestyle. I loved it for its twists and surprises and for not following the inevitable; for having imperfect heroines who live life passionately. A great read.

This Thing of Darkness by Harry Thompson

This is a tome of a novel but it is a brilliant tome! I am fascinated by the Shipping Forecast and this majestic novel tells the story of Captain Robert Fitzroy (one of the shipping zones is now named after him, formerly Finisterre). The scope is large and covers Fitzroy’s time serving with distinction as a Royal Naval Officer sent on several missions to chart the coastlines of Tierra Del Fuego, the Falkland Islands and Argentina; to a fall from (naval) grace and a spell as Governor of New Zealand. It continues with his employment at the forerunner of what we now know as the Meteorological Society, where he is convinced he can predict weather patterns which will provide early warnings of storms at sea and so ensure the safety of Britain’s shipping. On one of his voyages, he has a rather famous passenger – Charles Darwin – and we witness the gradual unfolding of Darwin’s ideas of natural selection, after his visit to the Galapagos, pitted against Fitzroy’s inner demons and arguments regarding what he sees as his own mission for God. It brings the time period (mid to late 1800’s) alive. I was truly hooked.


Lusaka Book Club and Silverwood Book Group

How to be both by Ali Smith

I came late to Ali Smith, and started out a few months ago with her seasonal quartet, one volume of which I had to read for my book group. I liked the books well enough, and found them easier to read than I had expected, but they didn’t knock my socks off. Then, on the advice of a couple of Ali Smith fans, I tried ‘How to be Both’. Well – wow – blimey – what a book! All of a sudden the writer was elevated to the status of genius in my mind. It’s a clever, complicated, mould-breaking kind of book, with a dual narrative and elements of real history. It’s moving, witty, emotional, poetic… but what made it stand out for me is the joy. The two stories told are not especially joyous, in fact one of them is quite sad, but my goodness, the pages sing with joy. Joy of the human condition? I’m not sure I could define it. I can’t wax intellectual about the deeper meanings of the story but what I can say is that reading it made me smile, made me laugh – made me happy!

Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid

Another book that I enjoyed recently was Kiley Reid’s Such a Fun Age. It’s about Emira, a young black woman in Philadelphia who is wrongly accused of kidnapping a white child; she’s actually the child’s babysitter. While there are some flaws in the characterisation the story unfolds convincingly, fuelled by interesting issues to do with race, class, careers, coming of age and identity. I found it a thought-provoking and engaging read.

An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Finally, this was a brilliantly written novel, again with a strong theme of race. The black husband and wife of the marriage in question are fully realised and complex, and the story of their relationship after the husband is wrongly arrested and imprisoned raises loads of interesting questions about faith, loyalty, family, justice… love. I found it absorbing and moving.

Nicky Bennison

The Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss

I hadn’t read anything by Sarah Moss and felt I should as so many of my friends had recommended her,  and this was on the library shelves. A sinister story full of menace ~ one of those where you know how it will end, but it keeps you going nonetheless. I’ll be reading more of her ~ Maggie O’Farrell recommends her, too!

Save me from Dangerous Men by S. A. Lelchuk

The title alone would have put me off this one, but it was well reviewed in the New York Times and the library had it in so it went up to Berneray with me. It says on the cover that it’s for fans of Killing Eve, and that’s exactly right! It is fast-paced, darkly funny, and the lovely twist is that the central character owns a bookstore and is an absolute bibliophile!

Seven Kinds of People You Find In Bookshops by Shaun Bythell

Shaun is the owner of The Bookshop, Wigtown which has to be one of the most beautiful bookshops in the UK. We held a very happy Readers Retreat there in 2015 and I would love to to do it again one day.

His first two books were in diary form ~  Diary of a Bookseller and Confessions of a Bookseller. I loved them both.

In this one, Shaun philosophises on the nature of people who spend time in bookshops (so I guess that’s all of us!) and it made me smile ruefully and even laugh out loud as it brought back memories of my 30+ years behind the counter. I loved it!


The Survivors by Jane Harper

I loved her first novel, The Dry, was very disappointed with the follow on, Force of Nature, didn’t really enjoy The Lost Man (it was okay) but thought The Survivors was excellent ~ so thank you to Jenny Newton for recommending it.

The Survivors is a story of lies and secrets and the damage they can do to families and relationships for years after traumatic events. I was completely hooked, and didn’t expect the ending!


Sweet Caress ~ the many lives of Amory Clay by William Boyd
This was my stand-out book of the month. A beautifully written and absolutely intriguing tale. Written from the post of view of one woman, we follow her from childhood to old age in a life that encompasses the decadence of the 1920s, where she makes a living as a society/fashion photographer through the rise of facism and the wars of 1914–18 and 1939–45 (and the and the Vietnam war) where she uses her camera to tell a different kind of war story. Throughout it all she questions every aspect her life through the device of a retrospective journal ~ complete with black and white photographs ~ and the story alternates between the journal and life as it happened. It’s a full life and a life well-lived and William Boyd is to be credited with getting this woman’s voice pitch-perfect. 
Anna Dreda

Wenlock Books Events


  1. Marian Newell

    I was given ‘I Capture the Castle’ by my sister-in-law when I was in my teens. It wasn’t my usual choice of reading because I was animal-obsessed but I enjoyed it then and again on re-reading years later. I found the characters engaging and their fates mattered to me.

    I read ‘The Pursuit of Love’ a while back and enjoyed it enough to read the sequels and a biography of the Mitford sisters. It’s a window on a different time and class.

    • Anna Dreda

      I really enjoyed the Dodie Smith, too. I haven’t read any Nancy Mitford ~ I’ll have a go one of these days! Thanks Marian, Anna x

  2. Sarah Akhtar

    Thanks Anna. Interesting to read a more positive review of Klara and the Sun. Perhaps I was in the wrong mood for it. Now reading a book that won the Commonwealth prize which is another history lesson! Must seek out some light relief!

    • Anna Dreda

      Light relief sounds like a good idea! Different books suit different people, and at different times, too. That’s why I never mind getting multiple reviews on the same title!
      Thank you Sarah! Anna x


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