Book Club 2020-2021

Book Club Meeting June 17th 2021

Via Zoom on June 17th, 6 members joined for the last meeting before the summer break to review The Tuscan Contessa by Dinah Jefferies.

Five rated the book 4 out of 5 & one gave it 3.5.

Set in wartime Italy, this is Dinah Jefferies’ first novel with the action taking place in Europe and, as with her previous novels set in Asia, it is brilliantly researched giving a vivid sense of time and place.

Additionally she prefaced her story with a timeline of events in Italy from 1943 to 1945, the period covered in the story.

We are all familiar with the resistance in occupied France but not so with the situation in Italy which is so well described in this book.

History & fiction are cleverly inter-woven to give a gripping story of life under Nazi rule as the Allies slowly advanced while civil war raged between the Fascists or Blackshirts loyal to Mussolini & the anti-facist resistance members or partisans.  It was very difficult to know who could be trusted & danger was never far away, giving a heightened sense of suspense throughout the novel. The deprivation suffered by the locals is very well depicted. There was never enough food & travel was severely hampered by the shortage of fuel.

Contessa Sofia de’ Corsi & her aristocratic husband Lorenzo live in the beautiful Tuscan Castello.  Lorenzo’s work with the Ministry of Agriculture keeps him away from home for long periods. 

Sofia becomes involved in trying to quietly resist the Nazis who have invaded her idyllic location. She shelters James, a wounded British radio operator, & unknown to Lorenzo she becomes more  deeply drawn into the resistance movement.  Despite her deep love for her husband, Sofia finds herself very attracted to James.

Initially suspicious of the feisty resistance member Italian-American Maxine who comes to stay with her,  trust & friendship develop over the course of time & through shared dangerous experiences.

Tough Maxine, who risks her own life so many times, falls passionately in love with partisan Marco but it is a relationship which ends in tragedy.

Alongside the wonderful descriptions of various Italian locations, there are depictions of dreadful brutality meted out by the Nazis.  This is graphically demonstrated in the scene that meets Sofia & her housekeeper’s daughter Anna when they reach Buonconvento in their search for Anna’s only brother Aldo who has gone missing.   They are horrified to see his tortured body & that of the partisan Lodo, hanging in public. 

Subsequently there is a powerfully emotional scene when Anna confronts her young sister Gabriella as it is believed her foolishness in trying to impress her Blackshirt boyfriend may have led to their brother Aldo’s arrest & death.

Sofia is fortunate to encounter one Nazi who warns her to take care because she is being watched.  Later as the Nazis are preparing to withdraw, she is subjected to extreme mental cruelty from another Nazi called Kaufmann in the horrific way he mockingly describes the hanging of her husband.  He pays for that lie with his life.

Having read other Dinah Jefferies historical fiction novels,  I personally found this one a little disappointing mainly because I found it hard to really warm to Sofia or to fully fathom her relationship with Lorenzo.  It is probable that they were protecting each other by keeping their resistance activities secret from the other.  Although historical fiction is one of my favourite genres , it took me longer than usual to get into this book while others found it gripping from the beginning . (Jean Hartin)

In her research notes Dinah Jeffries mentioned as very useful the two films:
Rome, Open City, Roberto Rossellini ,1945
Tea with Mussolini, Franco Zeffirelli ,1999

Members will read their own choices over the summer period but books mentioned and/or recommended include:

The Death of Mrs Westaway, Ruth Ware (author of The Woman in Cabin 10)
The Sanatorium, Sarah Pearse
The Confession, Jo Spain
The Perfect Lie,  Jo Spain
The Moon over Kilmore Quay, Carmel Harrington
The Seven Sisters, Lucinda Riley ( recently deceased Irish writer)
Reclaiming the European Street, Michael D Higgins

Book Club meeting May 2021

The May meeting was once again hosted by Rachel on Zoom.

Interesting to have two books to review by two Irish men. Both books could not have been more different from each other.

Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan and Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession.

Jean could not be with us but sent us her comments. She awarded 4.5 to Strange Flowers and 5/5 to Leonard and Hungry Paul.

Fidelma thoroughly enjoyed Leonard, loved the characters and awarded 4/5 She did not like Strange Flowers, found it a bit depressing and awarded it 2/5.

Clare liked Strange Flowers and awarded it 3/5.

Jessica enjoyed Leonard immensely and awarded it 5/5. She did not like Strange Flowers, did not finish it – possible 3/5.

Rachel loved Strange Flowers especially first part; did not like 2nd, found it too long, but awarded 4/5. She found Leonard and Hungry Paul very uplifting but never discovered why Paul was called Hungry! Strange. She awarded it 4/5.

Valerie enjoyed Strange Flowers but could not tolerate the middle bit! She awarded it 3/5.

Kate loved Strange Flowers especially his descriptions of people and scenery and awarded it 4.5.

Book Club Meeting April 18th 2021

7 members connected via Zoom to review Midsummer Murders by Anthony Horowitz. We had one apology – she & another offline member also sent in reviews.

Ratings from the nine members ranged from 2 to 4.5 , averaging 3.5 out of a maximumof 5.

A classic crime novel, this book is structured as a story within a story.
The plot follows editor Susan Ryeland who receives an incomplete manuscript, another in the series about the fictional detective Atticus Pund, by Alan Conway, a successful crime writer but a difficult client.
This manuscript is to have a profound effect on Susan’s life.

We read along with her as Atticus Pund investigates a murder at Pye Hall, manor house in the small English village of Saxby-on Avon. There are any number of suspects but as the manuscript was incomplete, the murderer identified by Atticus Pund remains unknown when Susan finishes her reading.
When Alan Conway apparently takes his own life, Susan sets out to locate the missing pages. She discovers the characters in his book were all based on people known to Alan Conway as he reveals secrets of jealousy, greed, ruthless ambition & even murder.
This means several people would be happy to see the end of Alan but would anyone have motive enough to murder him?
Using clues in the manuscript, Susan investigates the true circumstances of Alan’s death in her pursuit to locate the missing pages.
There is a fine twist in this tale !

An issue some of us had with this novel was that while it is very clever, for example in the naming of the characters, maybe the author tried too hard?
The bridge between the two sections was found problematic by some.
In terms of printing, the change of font between the two sections of the book made reading difficult.
Also it is unnecessarily repetitious & might have benefited from better editing.
For some, it must be said, it was a terrific read.
This range of opinions led to a lively & interesting discussion. We all agreed that Book Club membership is a great way to challenge us to read outside our usual genres.

We were probably a bit hard on Magpie Murders – it was hugely popular with the general public & is being adapted for television.
Filming in Marco Pierre White’s Courtyard Restaurant in Donnybrook & in Wicklow was due to start in March this year.
It is also the first in a planned series featuring Susan Ryeland.
The second is Moonflower Murders published in 2020.

Our choice for review at our next meeting on May 20th:

1. Strange Flowers by Donal Ryan

2. Leonard and Hungry Paul by Ronan Hession (Dublin One City, One Book choice)

Book-Club Meeting March 18th 2021

The Book Club Meeting was attended by 5 Members via Zoom. Apologies were received from other Members. Two books were discussed. The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah which obtained a rating of 4 from members and Home Stretch by Graham Norton which scored 3.5 points out of 5.

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds uses the backdrop and struggles of American Migrants during the Dust Bowl and Great Depression to discuss love, courage, women’s struggles and strength. It tackles significant social issues such as Worker’s Rights, Immigration and  Refugees. It demonstrates the perils of Capitalism, when unchecked, and Greed. Basically, it is a Historical Fiction, describing life in the 30s, giving insight into heart-breaking, depressing conditions as a result of weather conditions and man-made lack of understanding of environment and economic greed. It is a very readable book with an intriguing story-line and well-developed characters. You learn a massive amount about the Panhandle and Okies and their Immigration to Southern California, all explored within the theme of love, particularly a Mother’s love for her Daughter.
This Book’s theme is similar to The Grapes of Wrath, but with a totally different story.
Our Book-Club highly recommends reading The Four Winds although it can be slow moving in places with much description.

Home-Stretch by Graham Norton

An engaging novel with a fast-moving story-line, which moves from the familiarity of a small Irish town in 1987 to England, to New York and back to the Cork town. It follows the life of a school leaver, Connor, whose world is drastically changed by a devastating event which affected the whole town. Connor wants to forget his past and forge a new life, But Connor’s secrets and regrets lead him to be ashamed of himself and he is eventually forced to face his past.
Graham Norton’s powerful writing demonstrates his keen understanding of the power of secrecy and stigma, with devastating results. He shows great insight into life in rural Ireland.
Our Members loved reading this short novel as they felt they could identify with Graham Norton’s observations. It made for lively discussion.

Our Book choice for next meeting is Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz.
Zoom Meeting: Thursday April 15th at 7.30pm

We would love more Members to join us on Zoom now that some of our Book-Club Members are choosing to read along with us at home. It’s good that so many are enjoying reading our choice of books at home.

Keep on Reading!

Book Club Meeting February 2021

7 members met over Zoom on Feb 18th to discuss Louise Fein’s novel People Like Us.

This proved to be a very popular choice with all members. Ratings ranged from 4 – 5.

Historical fiction set in Germany, it details events in the period before WW1 , through the war years & beyond, as seen through the eyes of Hetty Heinrich, daughter of a man who became a prominent SS Officer.
In spite of indoctrination, Hetty’s love of her childhood Jewish friend Walter eventually opens her eyes to the reality of Nazism & the cruel injustices being perpetrated against the Jewish people.

In a world where anti-semitism is rapidly taking hold, & where neighbours, friends & family are turning against each other, Hetty is prepared to risk everything, her family & even her life, to fight to save Walter.

While not sparing us the truth of the savage cruelty meted out to the Jews, this is also a story of love, loyalty, courage & the strength of the human spirit.

Reviewing this book prompted a very interesting discussion on dictators & the role of the media in their success.

Our next meeting will be on March 18th when we will review The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.

January 2021

At our January meeting, we reviewed One August Night by Victoria Hislop.

For those who had loved The Island this sequel was a big disappointment.  It started out as promising, dealing with the events of the night when the former inhabitants of the island of Spinalonga returned home to Plaka when a cure for leprosy had been found.  However it then dealt mainly with a minor character from The Island and a completely new character.  In fact some of the club thought it seemed to be written by another writer altogether.  It was too short, felt rushed especially the ending.  There were a couple of references which hinted at a possible 3rd book to come.

Ratings ranged from 2.5 to 3 out of 5.

We briefly discussed other books read over the Christmas period.

Our choice for February 18th meeting  is People Like Us by Louise Fein (available online from Bookstation).

December 2020

We reviewed  Keelin Shanley’s  memoir  A Light That Never Goes Out.

A memoir of courage through her cancer journey , it documents events from childhood, detailing her education, friendships , her brief career as a scientist before she embarked on her career in RTE as an investigative journalist & her 6 O’Clock News programme with Catriona Perry. It is also Keelin’s & her husband Conor’s love story & their life with their children.  

For some it was a difficult read because of the references to her declining health & gruelling treatments & the inevitable ending written by her husband after Keelin’s death,  for others it was close to perfection as a memoir.  

We decided to revert to meeting on the 3rd Thursday of the month as was the case for meetings prior to Covid19.

November 2020

Our first Zoom Bookclub Meeting took place on Thursday 5th Nov 2020.

8 Members participated in this Zoom Meeting, hosted by Rachel Gillen.

Members spoke enthusiastically about their recently-read favourite books. Most Members are avid readers, including one who has read 30 books since May.  Members’ choices covered a wide range of books and genres.

It was a lively and very informative meeting with contributions from everyone.

Books recommended included:

Talented Mr RipleyPatricia High SmithVery Clever
HamnetMaggie O’FarrellRecommended
Greek Island Escape Patricia WilsonMurder Mystery
Key to RebeccaKen FollettMurder Mystery
Here’s the StoryMary Mc AleeseDisappointing
Hidden DepthsAnn CleevesDetective
Vera Stanhope SeriesAnn CleevesDetective
The Woman in Cabin 10Ruth WareThriller
Home StretchGraham NortonGood Read
Lethal White StrikeRobert Galbraith (J K Rowling)Awful
American DirtGeanine CumminsVery Good
Strange FlowersDonal RyanInteresting
The Paris ArchitectCharles BelfoureExciting
The SeamstressMaria DuenasGood
Here is the BeehiveSarah CrossanMost enjoyable
SnowJohn BanvilleStunning
Where the Crawdads SingDelia OwensLyrical
Those Who Are LovedVictoria HislopVery Violent / 2nd World War
The White TigerAravind AdigaHumourous Account of India, Excellent Read
The Stranger DiariesElly GriffithsNew Author
Book recommendations

Members suggested that Audio Books are a great way of enjoying a book.  Apps are available, such as AUDIBLE or BBC Books.  Your Local Library will provide access to Talking Books via your Smart Phone.  Amazon is recommended for buying Talking Books.

Our choice of book for next meeting is “A Light That Never Goes Out” by Keelin Shanley.

Next Zoom Meeting is Thurs 3rd Dec at 7.30 pm.

If interested in joining the Bookclub, contact Rachel Gillen.

We are delighted for Members to read along with us, without joining our Bookclub.