Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox by Maggie O'Farrell

About the book

In the middle of tending to the everyday business at her vintage-clothing shop and sidestepping her married boyfriend’s attempts at commitment, Iris Lockhart receives a stunning phone call: Her great-aunt Esme, whom she never knew existed, is being released from Cauldstone Hospital—where she has been locked away for more than sixty-one years.
Iris’s grandmother Kitty always claimed to be an only child. But Esme’s papers prove she is Kitty’s sister, and Iris can see the shadow of her dead father in Esme’s face.
Esme has been labeled harmless—sane enough to coexist with the rest of the world. But she’s still basically a stranger, a family member never mentioned by the family, and one who is sure to bring life-altering secrets with her when she leaves the ward. If Iris takes her in, what dangerous truths might she inherit?

Reviewed by Museum Book Group:

This clever story uses the interaction between the characters and its effect upon them, of Esme being incarcerated for sixty years. This book caused much lively discussion. we remembered the closing of the asylums and the reason for many old ladies being patients was that they were socially inconvenient.

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The Reading Group by Elizabeth Noble

About the book

The Reading Group follows the trials and tribulations of a group of women who meet regularly to read and discuss books.Over the course of a year, each of these women become intertwined, both in the books they read and within each other’s lives.
Inspired by a shared desire for conversation, a good book and a glass of wine-Clare, Harriet, Nicole, Polly, and Susan undergo startling revelations and transformations despite their differences in background, age and respective dilemmas.
What starts as a reading group gradually evolves into a forum where the women may express their views through the books they read and grow to become increasingly more open as the bonds of friendship cement.
In The Reading Group, Noble reveals the many complicated paths in life we all face as well as the power and importance of friendship.

Reviewed by Enjoying Books Reading Group:

A good holiday reading with interesting issues. We found lots of discussion points on womens lives at different ages.

Star rating: ** ½

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Singled Out by Virginia Nicholson

About the book

In 1919 a generation of young women discovered that there were, quite simply, not enough men to go round, and the statistics confirmed it. After the 1921 Census, the press ran alarming stories of the ‘Problem of the Surplus Women – Two Million who can never become Wives…’. This book is about those women, and about how they were forced, by a tragedy of historic proportions, to stop depending on men for their income, their identity and their future happiness.

Reviewed by Selbourne Book Circle:

Unanimous opinion – the subject was interesting and she wrote well, but the book was repetitive, too long and the type too small. However, it led to a good discussion.

Star rating: **

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Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi

About the book

Every Thursday morning for two years in the Islamic Republic of Iran, a bold and inspired teacher named Azar Nafisi secretly gathered seven of her most committed female students to read forbidden Western classics. As Islamic morality squads staged arbitrary raids in Tehran, fundamentalists seized hold of the universities, and a blind censor stifled artistic expression, the girls in Azar Nafisi’s living room risked removing their veils and immersed themselves in the worlds of Jane Austen, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry James, and Vladimir Nabokov. In this extraordinary memoir, their stories become intertwined with the ones they are reading.

Reviewed by Goodworth Clatford WI Reading Group:

Fascinating. Very condensed and slow reading because there was so much to take in. A vivid picture of life in Tehran and subjugation of women.

Star rating: ***

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The Senator's Wife by Sue Miller

About the book

Once again Sue Miller takes us deep into the private lives of women with this mesmerizing portrait of two marriages exposed in all their shame and imperfection, and in their obdurate, unyielding love. The author of the iconic The Good Mother and the best-selling While I Was Gone brings her marvelous gifts to a powerful story of two unconventional women who unexpectedly change each other’s lives.
Meri is newly married, pregnant, and standing on the cusp of her life as a wife and mother, recognizing with some terror the gap between reality and expectation. Delia Naughton—wife of the two-term liberal senator Tom Naughton—is Meri’s new neighbor in the adjacent New England town house. Delia’s husband’s chronic infidelity has been an open secret in Washington circles, but despite the complexity of their relationship, the bond between them remains strong. What keeps people together, even in the midst of profound betrayal? How can a journey imperiled by, and sometimes indistinguishable from, compromise and disappointment culminate in healing and grace? Delia and Meri find themselves leading strangely parallel lives, both reckoning with the contours and mysteries of marriage, one refined and abraded by years of complicated intimacy, the other barely begun.
Here are all the things for which Sue Miller has always been beloved—the complexity of experience precisely rendered, the richness of character and emotion, the superb economy of style—fused with an utterly engrossing story that has a great deal to say to women, and men, of all ages.

Reviewed by Bookworms Reading Group:

Why start in the first tense. The book was quite a light read – an interesting theme which did not really develop. One spent time waiting for something to happen.

Star rating: **

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Homestead by Rosina Lippi

About the book

Each life has its place, and every variation ripples the surface of the tiny alpine village called Rosenau. Be it a mysteriously misaddressed love letter or a girl’s careless delivery of two helpless relatives into Nazi hands, the town’s balance is ever tested, and ever tender. Here is a novel spanning eighty years — years that bring factories and wars, store-bought cheese and city-trained teachers — weaving the fates of the wives, mothers, and daughters in this remote corner of Austria. To quote Rosellen Brown, “the women in this haunting book are deeply and uniquely of their place, yet they speak (often wordlessly) of women’s longings and satisfactions everywhere.”

Reviewed by Hedge End WI Reading Group:

One reader didn’t enjoy the book, but even she with the other eight thought it well written with many excellent sections. It was at times bitty – one wanted to continue with the episode in hand. The descriptions of the environment and hardship of the area were excellent.

Star rating: ***

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Amenable Women by Mavis Cheek

book cover

About the book

Flora Chapman is in her fifties when her husband dies in a bizarre ballooning accident. Seizing upon her new found freedom, she decides to finish the history of their village that Edward had begun. A reference to Anne of Cleves, Henry VIII’s fourth wife who he rejected for being ugly, captures her imagination as she begins to delve deeper into the life of this neglected figure. Meanwhile, in the Louvre, Holbein’s portrait of Anne of Cleves senses the tug of a connection and she begins to tell the story of the injustices she suffered and just how she survived her marriage . . .

Reviewed by Havers Reading Group:

Thoroughly enjoyed. Amazing imagination – novel, mind searching – to put across history in such an interesting way. The group had all researched Anne of Cleeves etc because of the above. Also the present characters well portrayed.

Star rating: ****

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Courtesans by Kate Hickman

About the book

During the course of the 18th- and 19th-century a small group of women rose from impoverished obscurity to positions of great power, independence and wealth. In doing so they took control of their lives – and those of other people – and made the world do their will. Men ruined themselves in desperate attempts to gain and retain a courtesan’s favours, but she was always courted for far more than sex. In an age in which women were generally not well educated she was often unusually literate and literary, courted for her conversation as well as her physical company. Courtesans were extremely accomplished, and exerted a powerful influence as leaders of fashion and society. They were not received at Court, but inhabited their own parallel world – the demi-monde – complete with its own hierarchies, etiquette and protocol. They were queens of fashion, linguists, musicians, accomplished at political intrigue and, of course, possessors of great erotic gifts. Even to be seen in public with one of the great courtesans was a much-envied achievement.

Reviewed by Hankley Book Group:

Only one member managed to complete but this was due to a busy time of year rather than not liking the book. An interesting topic despite being written dryly in places and digressing from the main chapters.

Star rating: **

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The Future Homemakers of America by Laurie Graham

About the book

Filled with warmth, wit and wisdom, ‘The Future Homemakers of America’ takes us to the heart of female friendship. A novel fans of ‘Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood’ will not be able to resist. Norfolk,1953. The Fens have never seen anything quite like the girls from USAF Drampton. Overpaid, overfed and over here. While their men patrol the skies keeping the Soviets at bay, some are content to live the life of the Future Homemakers of America – clipping coupons, cooking chicken pot pie – but other start to stray, looking for a little native excitement beyond the perimeter fence. Out there in the freezing fens they meet Kath Pharaoh, a tough but warm Englishwoman. Bonds are forged, uniting the women in friendship that will survive distant postings, and the passage of forty years.

Reviewed by Wallington Village Reading Group:

Light but enjoyable read was the opinion of most of our group. Our male member thought it was a ‘woman’s book’ with only one of the male characters appearing in a good light. Initially it was difficult to keep straight in our own minds all the characters. The voices and accents of the audio version of this book were particularly good.

Star rating ***

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