Book Group Readers' Recommendations 2020

At the end of each year, members of the Book Group meet together to share their favourite titles and offer ideas for gifts for friends and family, and for new authors to try ourselves. These are the titles that were mentioned.

A Thousand Ships
by Natalie Haynes
Recommended by Sarah

"Retelling of the Trojan wars from the female perspective. It's an epic story, the characterisation is fantastic and it has a good sense of place. It incorporates the gods and goddesses really well and is quite humorous. I don't really like classic stories but this was just a great novel, a page turner. The author's enthusiasm really comes over and the characters come alive on the page. I didn't want to put it down."

Beth Chatto's Garden Notebook
by Beth Chatto
Recommended by Kathy

"I return to this book time and again because I love it so much. It was compiled from the notebooks and plans of the superb plantswoman, Beth Chatto. I find reading it is like having a cup of tea and conversation with a very wise friend who happily imparts her advice and experience of plants and nature. She passes on her knowledge in a very easy manner, and her love of nature is evident throughout. It's a very soothing read, particularly in all we're experiencing at the moment."

Cold Comfort Farm
by Stella Gibbons
Recommended by Sally

"This is a book I turn to every year or when I need a pick up as it never fails to amuse and soothe me. Set in rural Sussex, it is a pastiche of Mary Webb stories but also draws from DH Lawrence, the Brontes and Jane Austen. Full of humour and beautiful descriptive writing."

by Sinead Gleeson
Recommended by Sarah

"Not a novel, not a memoir. It's about a grim life, a heartbreaking story, told beautifully, leaving you feeling uplifted. It's something to dip into. A book of essays where the author takes us from her childhood to the present day covering all that she's learnt in her life from art, literature, history. It's been described as a wise and compassionate book full of truth and humility."

Dear Life
by Rachel Clarke
Recommended by Sarah

"About palliative care and end of life so I was in tears for most of the time but it was extraordinary, beautifully written and wonderful."

by Maggie O'Farrell
Recommended by Sarah

"A wonderful book."

by Julian Hoffman
Recommended by John

"I bought this book on a whim and think it hits the button. Now I recommend it widely and have given copies to friends. Each chapter talks about celebrating and preserving wild and open places that are currently under threat. The places he mentions are quite diverse, and he describes the environments but also the people attempting to preserve these locations and the animals which inhabit them. It is beautifully written and not all technical."

Master and Commander
by Patrick O'Brian
Recommended by Chris

"There's subtle humour and well-researched social history within a series of great stories. This is the first book of more than 20 titles in the series which covers the naval experiences of the war with the French in the late 18th, early 19th centuries, and the American war of 1812. Each book is complete in itself, but reading them in the right order adds an extra dimension, following Jack Aubrey's progress from newly appointed captain to admiral."

by Elton John
Recommended by Sarah

"Most autobiographies seek to lay the blame elsewhere, but Elton John holds his hands up and I liked that about it."

Olive Kitteridge
by Elisabeth Strout
Recommended by Jill

"An unusual book set in Maine, America. There's not really a beginning, middle and end. Instead, it reads as 13 short stories with Olive as the main character. I felt the characters were beautifully drawn, it was very descriptive of this coastal town, and it has everything of everyday life. A review says it's a book that will remind you how much you love to read."

by Min Jin Lee
Recommended by Diane and Kathy

"Set in Korea and Japan, this is a family saga with strong female characters who are very resilient and display a lot of integrity. It's a very unusual story which focuses on empathy and family feeling and I very much enjoyed it." - Diane in 2020

"It's about four generations who leave Korea for Japan in the hope of a better life. Pachinko is actually a gambling game and the characters get caught up in all the corruption that that brings. It's written in three parts and though it's not an easy book, I learnt a huge amount about Korea and Japan so I loved it. " - Kathy in 2022

Stone's Fall
by Iain Pears
Recommended by John

"Everything a good novel should be: a good story well told, mystery at the centre, interesting characters, a love interest and historical elements. John Stone is a banker and has been financing armaments, and one day he falls from a window. The book explores how and why but it is not a straightforward detective story. Written in three sections, each one goes back in time to reveal what has happened in the previous section. Begins in 1913 London and travels through Paris to Venice in 1867 when the mystery is unravelled. I very much recommend it as a fantastic read."

The Lost Spells
by Robert Macfarlane and Jackie Morris
Recommended by Jane

"A beautiful book - full of wonderful illustrations and poems to read out loud. It's given me such pleasure and I'm looking and reading it each day. The illustrations are full of colour and movement and the poems have rhyme and rhythm to enjoy. This book taps into the pleasure from nature that we've rediscovered this year. It's a book to dip into every time you need a boost to your spirits."

The Margot Affair
by Sanae Lemoine
Recommended by Kim

"Set in Paris, this is a book about mothers and daughters, friendships, the contrast between public and private lives. The author is half Japanese, half French and wrote the book in English because she lived in Australia and studied in the US so there is a strong international perspective. It's raw, with a strong attention to detail and well drawn characters. There's much about food, because the author was also a cookery writer. I loved the book."

The Midnight Library
by Matt Haig
Recommended by Natalie

"The protagonist's story resonated with me at the moment, and I thought it was a clever idea of looking at the different directions your life could lead ultimately with a very positive message."

The Thursday Murder Club
by Richard Osman
Recommended by Caroline

"I love crime books and I was looking for a plotty, whodunnit, easy read. Although this is a murder mystery, it's very funny. It's set in an upmarket retirement home and the characters and the lives they lead is are great for its wit, warmth and humour. It made me chuckle and I've given to friends and family who have enjoyed it too."

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep
by Joanna Cannon
Recommended by Marianne

"A nostalgic, funny story about childhood and secrets. Taking place in a hot summer of the 1970s, friends Grace and Tilly live in a street where a woman goes missing and decide to investigate. It's a heartwarming story full of childhood innocence, and humour."

The Wisdom of Donkeys
by Andy Merrifield
Recommended by Alison

"Much of this book is about the author walking with a donkey as his travelling companion. Donkeys will do what you want eventually, in their own time and in their own way, he says. It is a thoughtful, thought provoking and philosophical book. A lovely gentle book but very deep. I thought it was wonderful."

Tiger, Tiger, Burning Bright
by Fiona Waters Britta Teckentrup
Recommended by
Wild Symphony
by Dan Brown
Recommended by Christine

"A children's book by the famous novelist of The Da Vinci Code, all about music. There's so much to enjoy in this book in the text, the illustrations and the tunes to listen to. Maestro Mouse is going to set up an orchestra and introduces us to different animals who are helping him as we turn the pages. There's everything from hippos to swans, whales to beetles. The message of the book is that though the animals are different shapes and sizes, they can all be friends. There are hidden characters and a music code throughout the book. It's brilliant."

Year of Wonders
by Geraldine Brooks
Recommended by Christine

"This is the story about the plague in a village called Eyam in Derbyshire in 1665. I enjoy novels about real events, and though there are a lot of parallels with our present day crisis, there are also some big differences which made me appreciate that our current situation could be much worse."