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2020 Book Reviews

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens - January 2020


At our January meeting we discussed A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens.  A Christmas Carol is a short novel, less than a hundred pages long, but it has had a very strong influence on our culture and on the way we celebrate Christmas today. 


We all knew the story and the characters, having seen many adaptions of the book, but surprisingly a significant number of us had never read Dicken’s original novel and most of the group who had read the novel read it a long time ago.


Almost uniquely for our group we were unanimous in enjoying A Christmas Carol, even the members who are not Dickens’ fans.  As one member said, “I very much enjoyed it, a darn good story well told.”


We had a very interesting discussion about the book.  Dickens wrote the novel in order highlight concerns about poverty and injustice in Victorian England but it was pointed out that though the novel was published in 1843 a number of the issues it is concerned with such as homelessness and poverty are still with us today.



Andy Moir

Upstairs at the party by Linda Grant - February 2020

At our February meeting we discussed Upstairs at the Party by Linda Grant.  The novel is narrated by Adele, who was born to a Jewish family in Liverpool in the early 1950s. She goes to York University to study English and the novel tells the story of the friends she met there and how the dramatic events at Adele’s 21st birthday party affected her and her friends for the rest of their lives.


Most of the group enjoyed the novel and thought that it was very well written and vividly evoked the 1970s and it made some people nostalgic for their time at university. Whilst it was a novel, we thought that it was based loosely on Linda Grant’s own experience since she was born to a Jewish family in Liverpool in the early 1950s and went to York University to study English.


Some members were less keen on the book and felt that it lacked a strong plot and one member said “A bit too much name-dropping for me.  Lots of descriptions of clothes and personal appearance”.


It was an interesting meeting which lead to some discussion on how universities have changed since the 1960s and 70s.

The Girl Before by J P Delaney - March 2020


Unsurprisingly, given the current situation, there were only nine of us at the March meeting where we discussed The Girl Before by J P Delaney.


Whilst most readers appreciated the quality of the writing, no-one expressed whole-hearted satisfaction with the novel. Amongst the comments were that as each sequence of the unrolling of both the main characters narrative was revealed, they were too repetitive of each other.


There was a general feeling that all four main protagonists were too manipulative, too “creepy” and deeply unpleasant. What surprised this reader was the acceptance of most members as being technically quite plausible, were the bio-metrics functions that One Folgate Street possessed. There were also reservations concerning the way in which two main characters met identical deaths, which stretched credibility too far. Some readers complained of too much sex in the story, a complaint not shared by this reader!  


In summary, a well-written but flawed novel.


Harry Franklin

Transcription by Kate Atkinson - April 2020


Our successful and enjoyable meeting in April was held using Zoom and it was “attended” by ten members. For the foreseeable future all our book group meeting will be held using Zoom. 

We discussed Transcription by Kate Atkinson at the meeting.  The novel tells the story of  eighteen-year old Juliet Armstrong who in 1940 is reluctantly recruited into the murky world of espionage. She joins an obscure department of MI5 tasked with monitoring the comings and goings of British Fascist sympathizers. She discovers the work to be by turns both tedious and terrifying. But after the war has ended, she presumes the events of those years have been relegated to the past forever.

Ten years later, now a radio producer of children’s programmes at the BBC, Juliet is unexpectedly confronted by figures from her past.  The story is full of double agents and you don’t know who is telling the truth.


As usual the group’s opinions of the book varied and an interesting discussion occurred.  The group were split roughly 50/50 between those who really enjoyed the book and those who were no keen on it and thought that it wasn’t as good as the other novels we have read by Kate Atkinson.


Animal Farm by George Orwell - May 2020

We held another successful and enjoyable meeting in May using Zoom and it was “attended” by eleven members and a guest. For the foreseeable future all our book group meeting will be held using Zoom.


We discussed Animal Farm by George Orwell at the meeting.  Animal Farm is an allegorical novel first published in England in August 1945.  The book tells the story of a group of farm animals who rebel against their human farmer, hoping to create a society where the animals can be equal, free, and happy. Ultimately, however, the rebellion is betrayed, and the farm ends up in a state as bad as it was before, under the dictatorship of a pig named Napoleon. The story is based on events leading up to the Russian Revolution of 1917 and then on into the Stalinist era of the Soviet Union.  George Orwell had difficulty getting the novel published because the Soviet Union was an ally during World War II.

Unusually for our group we were unanimous in our praise for the novel both for the story and for the clear style in which it had been written.  A majority of the group had read it before, often more than 40 years ago, but they all found something new in it on a second reading.


A number of people commented that even though the novel was written more than 70 years ago it was still very relevant to the world today.


Andy Moir

June 2020

We held another successful and enjoyable meeting in June using Zoom and it was “attended” by ten members.  The next book we are due to discuss is North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell and because it is a long book we decided to give ourselves two months to read it. So at our June meeting we all talked about one or more books that we have read recently and would recommend to the rest of the group.


As you would expect from our group, we had a very varied selection of books recommended to us.  They ranged from contemporary fiction, to science fiction, to historical fiction to non-fiction to poetry to biography.


 Liz recommended Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee.  


Pauline recommended The Ice Cream War by William Boyd, Tombland by C J Sansom and Conversation with friends by Sally Rooney.


Brenda recommended The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt and The Neighbour by Fiona Cummins.


Judith recommended Sun Fall by Jim Al-Khalil and Becoming by Michelle Obama.


Glenys recommended The Secret River by Kate Grenfell and Glenys husband Ron recommended A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles.  


Harry recommended Birdsong by Sebastian Faulkes.


Paul recommended a non-fiction book Grace and Power by Sally Bedell Smith. 


Jenny recommended Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo and the poem Adlestrop by Edward Thomas.


I recommended the non-fiction book The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive by Philippe Sands.


Two members who weren’t at the meeting also sent in suggestions.  Kay recommended After the End by Clare Mackintosh as well as two other novels I let you go and Let me lie by the same author. Finally Ros recommended On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.


After we had finished our recommendations Val organised a very enjoyable literary quiz which Brenda won.


Andy Moir





This page last edited on 29 June 2020