Book Reviews

Book reviews from Reading Groups across the Vale


Here is a selection of reviews from Reading Groups supported by Vale of Glamorgan Libraries. All these titles are available as sets from our Reading Group Collection List. As these pages develop there will be a variety of opinions from groups featured and hopefully they will prove helpful to others in choosing their next read!


  •  The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
    All members of the group agreed this was an entertaining, humorous novel; some even enjoyed a couple of ‘laugh out loud’ moments.

    The main protagonist, Don, a high functioning person with undiagnosed Asperger’s syndrome, is looking for a wife. Through Don’s narration, you soon learn logic is his favoured tool for decision making. However, on occasion we felt this was not always consistently voiced and his actions were out of character. Whilst appreciating ‘learnt behaviour’ could chance some aspects of his life, there were a couple of scenes which appear to have been written more for a visual audience, (possibly with a film/play in mind, rather than a novel?), or to quickly round off the storyline.


    We questioned the aim of the book, particularly given the number of other publications on the market with a subject matter relating to Asperger’s, and concluded that what this particular book does well, is provide an insightful view of the different ways each character navigates their complex emotional world…Don just does things his way. The phrase ‘normalising the condition’ was used more than once in the discussion and by different members of the group, but always followed by a united ’whatever normal means!’


    Whilst the themes are issue lead, the book is light and verges on the chick lit genre. Llantwit Major Library Book Group unanimously recommends ‘The Rosie Project’ as a good read.

    Llantwit Major Library Book Group Book Review

  •  Remainder by Tom McCarthy
    This is a "Marmite" book - you either love it or hate it. Members of Rhoose Readers found the book slow and descriptive to the point of boredom, but if you look at the point of all the description - that of a man trying to rebuild his memory after a catastrophic accident, you see patterns emerging and seemingly unimportant details take on great significance.


    It is a story of obsession, of descent into madness, of loss of conscience and of how almost unlimited money can make one feel invincible. It is definitely an odd novel, quirky and disturbing, but utterly compelling at the same time. One Sully Reader says she enjoyed it's strangeness and found the writing style easy to follow, and Alexis from Barry Shared Reading Group described it as "a clever, artful and original puzzle of a book. Seemingly prosaic details return and echo as strange symbols and patterns. Quite brilliant."


    Alexis goes on to say, "Right from the beginning, I found it hard to put the book down, the prose flowed so well. It must have taken McCarthy a long time to so artfully arrange all the impressions, sights, sounds and fragments of memory; like tiny pieces of some vast and demented jigsaw puzzle. It seemed that every prosaic detail returned and echoed as a symbol or pattern, all the way through the narrative. As for the protagonist himself, I can’t say that he’s likable as such. But that’s all part of the fun; watching him drift further away from the real world and go deeper down the rabbit hole, in his quest to recreate a memory. Or is it a vision?"


    Andy Griffiths, Community Outreach Officer, Sept 2015

  •  Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn

    Despite a slow start this is an enjoyable book with lots of twists and turns and you are easily drawn in to the story. Your loyalty to the characters switches back and forth throughout and it becomes a fascinating insight into a twisted, manipulative mind. One caveat though - if you want to get the most out of this book, DON'T go and see the film first!


    Sully Readers' Circle

  •  The Light Between Oceans by M L Stedman
    It is very rare for me to say "this book is a page-turner" but this book is one of those occasions.


    Tom Sherborne returns from the horrors of the First World War to Australia. Like many returning heroes he feels guilty, having survived unscathed the slaughter of the Western Front and takes up the post of Lighthouse Keeper on a small island in the extreme west of Australia set between the Indian and Southern Oceans.


    The crux of the story is one of rights and wrongs and the righting of those wrongs. Questions of moral duty are posed and left hanging to be taken up later. The book moves at a generous pace with believable characters (and) short chapters.


    David Briggs, Annette's Book Club

  •  The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Moshin Hamid

    It was liked by the group - fantastic, pertinent and topical. It is a quick read and very accessible. People need to read it to humanise "terrorists", e.g. how Islamic males are portrayed in the media. It is a clear insight into the life of a Pakistani young male in this century - the racism faced, the effect of Jihadism and US/West involvement in the region.


    Barry Book Club

  •  Shadow Baby by Margaret Forster

    This is a great book for a reading group. It examines motherhood over many years and what it means to a variety of people. As in all her books the female characters are very well drawn. We all cared about them so much. It made for good discussion about the changing nature of being a mother. Margaret Forster is a wonderful writer of the relationships between women and generations. Also the secondary place of men in women's lives was portrayed well, even though on the surface they seem important. The only drawback is that it is a very sad book examining the female position in society and what they perceive their role to be.


    Elaine's Book Group

  •  The Road Home by Rose Tremain

    Liked the cast of characters especially Lew – had a lot of sympathy for him.  Author also portrayed his darker side.  

    Good story, no boring bits, some memorable its.

    A bit annoying – a bit off pat – things fall into place quite easily – a bit too unrealistic.

    Enjoyed it, though starts off a bit depressing.  Thought fairly realistic.  Don’t know if I would read another of hers.

    I’d like to know what happened next! Good story, characters real, Lev was flawed – well portrayed.  Enjoyed it slightly less on second reading – but being picky.  Good story, flowed well.  Very human story.

    Readable, fairly light. A bit like a 21st Century fairy tale but also some very dark bits.

    Lev’s attitude to women was very difficult.


    It took a while to get into it (possibly because I was slightly concerned that I wouldn’t get it read in time!) but once we got to the point were Lev found work I really enjoyed the book.  I thought it was a very unusual and clever way to show British people through the eyes of someone who doesn’t understand the language, the culture or the humour at first.  It was also interesting to see how Lev’s relationships with other people, particularly those in his home village, change over time as he becomes more “British”.

    I wasn’t too sure what to make of Lydia – if anything she irritated me even though she tried to help him and understandably got annoyed when he asked for £10,000.  Maybe it was because she didn’t seem genuine to me – just taking the good life when she had the opportunity with the conductor.  I loved the conversations that went on with his landlord in the flat – that seemed to be a closer friendship that he had with Rudi.


    Cowbridge Reading Group

  •  Before I fall asleep by S J Watson
    This is an intriguing book choice.  All in the group enjoyed it to a greater or lesser degree.  It inspired discussion about memory, relationships, trust, families and modern attitudes to mental health issues.

    It was good to compare the book with the film as many of the group had seen it.  This led to a more general discussion of book v film. With books winning every time.

    Some aspects of the book stretched our credulity and we all found it very hard to imagine what if must be like to have no memory at all.  (More information about types of treatment would have been interesting but didn’t detract from the suspense engendered by the author. 


    Elaine’s Book Group

  •  The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce
    The story tells of an elderly man, Harold Fry, who receives a letter from an old flame dying from cancer in a hospice at the other end of the country.  He writes a letter in response and leaves home to post it.  Unable to do so because he feels it an inadequate response, he embarks on a journey of 627 miles, walking all the way.  His quest develops into a belief that if he can get to Queenie, he will save her life.  The novel recounts his journey and the plethora of characters he meets along the way and during which his marriage to Maureen and his own childhood is revealed.  The story is laced with loneliness, with life’s numerous small disappointments, grieving, and it’s daily reality.  But this is tempered with a sense of quiet celebration because his journey is both physical and metaphorical.

    The group agreed the book read easily and for the most part was an engaging storyline.  There was no doubt that parts were funny but equally some very poignant passages.  It was felt that the storyline lapsed into the ‘sickly-sweet’, designed to tug at the heart strings.  There’s no doubt the book is beautifully written and incorporated some memorable lines –

    ‘his clothes folded small as an apology’

    ‘he wasn’t so much walking to Queenie as away from himself’

    ‘For years they had been in a place where language had no significance’

    Regarding Maureen, ‘her presence was like a wall you expected to be there, even if you don’t often look at it.’

    Some considered that Harold was not a likeable figure. He was undoubtedly a victim of his upbringing, just as his father was a victim of serving in WW1but his incommunicative and cold attitude does not encourage empathy.

    Maureen’s character develops from a woman frozen by grief into a person hopeful of the future by letting go of the past.  She realises her priorities and rediscovers the emotions she felt during the early years of her and Harold’s relationship which have laid dormant for so long.


    Rhoose Readers Reading Group

  • The Road by Cormac McCarthy

    This book generated an enormous amount of discussion, from those who hated it (not many) to those who loved it.

    It is very cleverly written, just flows along like a road.  No real beginning, and disagreements about what the end signified.  Father/son relationships marvellous in spite of the bleak, harrowing nature of the rest of the novel.

    A lot of argument about whether the landscape was due to global warming or not.  Generally felt it was a book everyone should read.


    Elaine’s Book Group