Book Group Readers' Recommendations 2021

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 Long Petal of the Sea
by Isabel Allende
Recommended by Viv

Not having read any Allende for many years, I thought this would be a tale of magic realism, but in fact it's a conventional and poignant saga of alienation, belonging and the strength of love. Though set in the Spanish Civil War and then in Chile as the characters seek exile, there is much about the book that is relevant to today and ultimately it's a book of hope.

Dark Skies
by Tiffany Francis-Baker
Recommended by Alison

This book ticks many boxes - autobiography, travelogue, history, natural history. Each of the chapters takes on a variety of subjects - a night walk through the woods, winter traditions and superstitions, childhood memories of nighttime wandering, the midnight sun. There are quotes from an array of writers and poets as well as the author's personal relationships. It's an unusual and lovely book which I picked up in a bookshop while browsing. It has a very attractive cover!

Early Morning Riser
by Katherine Heiny
Recommended by Graham

This was a fun, funny and uplifting read with entertaining and likeable characters. It's set in a small town in Michigan, USA, where a primary school teacher dates a carpenter. The book covers 18 years of their relationships together and with their neighbours. There are lots of foibles of the generations perceptively described, and also the love and kindness in the community. It was an amusing and refreshing read.

Girl, Woman, Other
by Bernadine Evaristo
Recommended by Dawn

My book of the year! I didn't think this book would appeal to me but it was recommended by a friend, and I thought it was amazing. There are twelve stories, all interlinked. So clever.

Heart's Invisible Furies
by John Boyne
Recommended by John

This is the story from birth to death of an Irish gay man. Though there are some serious subjects covered, it was a wonderful novel with funny escapades, fantastic characters and very well written dialogue. It had me laughing out loud, and there aren't many books that do that.

The Book of Pebbles
by Christopher Stocks
Recommended by Jane

Beautifully illustrated by Angie Lewin, her muted colours and detailed pictures drew me in to this book, though I do love pebbles! In the short chapters, pebbles are the inspiration to approaching a range of subjects - the sculpture of Moore and Hepworth, geology, and also the landscape of Norfolk and Suffolk. It's a beautiful book to give as a gift.

The Last Painting of Sara de Vos
by Dominic Smith
Recommended by Jane

This book caught my eye in the bookshop. It is all about art, so that was the subject that appealed. There are three timelines - 17th century Holland, New York in the 1950s and Sydney in 2000. The story of the painting continues throughout the book through forgeries and art theft with interesting characters and an engaging plot.

The Other Passenger
by Louise Candlish
Recommended by Neil

I've enjoyed this author's writing and the theme of intergenerational financial injustice in this novel particularly appealed. It's set in London in the days between Christmas and New Year - that strange, disorientating time. The characters have to struggle to remember what happened on Christmas Eve when someone goes missing. Resentment bristles through the book and there are so many twists and turns in the plot, the reader is in danger of whiplash, according to one reviewer. I loved it.

The Sweetness of Water
by Nathan Harris
Recommended by Christine

An impressive first novel that I enjoyed reading from beginning to end. The author creates a vivid sense of time and place with his prose. You feel you are right there, somewhere in the American South, in the aftermath of the Civil War. Skilful words and memorable characters highlight the dilemmas of the people who cannot accept that the laws have changed and some will carry the scars of their previous enslavement.