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Book club favourites #17

by Brandon King

Confessions of a Bookseller, by Shaun Bythell

'Do you have a list of your books, or do I just have to stare at them?' Shaun Bythell is the owner of The Bookshop in Wigtown, Scotland. With more than a mile of shelving, real log fires in the shop and the sea lapping nearby, the shop should by an idyll for bookworms. Unfortunately, Shaun also has to contend with bizarre requests from people who don't understand what the shop is, home invasions during the Wigtown Book Festival and Granny, his neurotic Italian assistant who likes digging for river mud to make poultices. 'The Diary of a Bookseller' (soon to be a major TV series) introduced us to the joys and frustrations of life lived in books. Sardonic and sympathetic in equal measures, 'Confessions of a Bookseller' will reunite readers with the characters they've come to know and love.

The Doll Factory, by Elizabeth MacNeal

London, 1850. The Great Exhibition is being erected in Hyde Park and among the crowd watching the spectacle two people meet. For Iris, an aspiring artist, it is the encounter of a moment - forgotten seconds later, but for Silas, a collector entranced by the strange and beautiful, that meeting marks a new beginning. When Iris is asked to model for pre-Raphaelite artist Louis Frost, she agrees on the condition that he will also teach her to paint. Suddenly her world begins to expand, to become a place of art and love. But Silas has only thought of one thing since their meeting, and his obsession is darkening.

Past Tense, by Lee Child

Jack Reacher plans to follow the autumn sun on an epic road trip across America, from Maine to California. He doesn't get far. On a country road deep in the New England woods, he sees a sign to a place he has never been - the town where his father was born. He thinks, what's one extra day? He takes the detour. At the very same moment, close by, a car breaks down. Two young Canadians are trying to get to New York City to sell a treasure. They're stranded at a lonely motel in the middle of nowhere. It's a strange place, but it's all there is. The next morning in the city clerk's office, Reacher asks about the old family home. He's told no one named Reacher ever lived in that town. He knows his father never went back. Now he wonders, was he ever there in the first place?

My Name is Why: a Memoir, by Lemn Sissay

At the age of 17, after a childhood in a fostered family followed by six years in care homes, Norman Greenwood was given his birth certificate. He learned that his real name was not Norman. It was Lemn Sissay. He was British and Ethiopian. And he learned that his mother had been pleading for his safe return to her since his birth. This is Lemn's story; a story of neglect and determination, misfortune and hope, cruelty and triumph. Sissay reflects on a childhood in care, self-expression and Britishness, and in doing so explores the institutional care system, race, family and the meaning of home. Written with all the lyricism and power you would expect from one of the nation's best-loved poets, this moving, frank and timely memoir is the result of a life spent asking questions, and a celebration of the redemptive power of creativity.

A Southwold Mystery, by Suzette A. Hill

Rosy Gilchrist has been asked to accompany Lady Fawcett to visit Delia Dovedale, an old school friend in Suffolk whom she hasn't seen for years. Rather reluctantly Rosy agrees to be her companion on this reunion jaunt. But on arrival at their hostess's house Lady Fawcett is informed that her old school chum is dead - recently murdered.

All Among the Barley, by Melissa Harrison

The autumn of 1933 is the most beautiful Edie Mather can remember. In the fields and villages around her beloved Wych Farm, however, the Great War still casts a shadow over a community impoverished by economic depression and threatened by change. Change, too, is coming to Edie, who at fourteen must soon face the unsettling pressures of adulthood. Glamorous outsider Constance FitzAllen arrives from London to document fading rural traditions and beliefs, urging all who will listen to resist progress and return to the old ways - but some wonder whether there might be more to the older woman than meets the eye. As harvest approaches and the future of Wych Farm itself grows uncertain, Edie must somehow find a way to trust her instincts and save herself from disaster.

Big Sky, by Kate Atkinson

The highly anticipated return of Jackson Brodie, ex-military, ex-Cambridge Constabulary, now private investigator, 'a hero for men and women alike'. Jackson Brodie has relocated to a quiet seaside village in North Yorkshire, in the occasional company of his recalcitrant teenage son Nathan and ageing Labrador Dido, both at the discretion of his former partner Julia. It's a picturesque setting, but there's something darker lurking behind the scenes. Jackson's current job, gathering proof of an unfaithful husband for his suspicious wife, seems straightforward, but a chance encounter with a desperate man on a crumbling cliff leads him into a sinister network - and back into the path of his old friend Reggie. Old secrets and new lies intersect in this novel, both sharply funny and achingly sad, by one of the most dazzling and surprising writers at work today.

You, Me, Everything, by Catherine Isaac

Jess and her ten-year-old son William set off to spend the summer at Château de Roussignol, deep in the rich, sunlit hills of the Dordogne. There, Jess's ex-boyfriend and William's father, Adam, runs a beautiful hotel in a restored castle. Jess is bowled over by what Adam has accomplished, but she's in France for a much more urgent reason: to make Adam connect with his own son. Jess can't allow Adam to let their son down because she is tormented by a secret of her own, one that nobody - especially William - must discover.

The Mermaid of Black Conch, by Monique Roffey

March 1976: St Constance, a tiny Caribbean village on the island of Black Conch. A fisherman sings to himself, waiting for a catch - but attracts a sea-dweller he doesn't expect. A beautiful young woman cursed by jealous wives to live as a mermaid has been swimming the Caribbean Sea for centuries. And she is entranced by the fisherman and and his song. But her fascination is her undoing. She hears his boat's engine again, follows it, and finds herself at the mercy of American tourists. After a fearsome battle, she is pulled out of the sea and strung up on the dock as a trophy. The fisherman rescues her, and gently wins her trust - as she starts to transform into a woman. The novel's characters are an unlikely mix: a mermaid, a fisherman, a deaf boy, a Caribbean artist and sweetman and a benevolent white landowner.

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness, by Arundhati Roy

In a graveyard outside the walls of Old Delhi, a resident unrolls a threadbare Persian carpet. On a concrete sidewalk, a baby suddenly appears, just after midnight. In a snowy valley, a bereaved father writes a letter to his five-year-old daughter about the people who came to her funeral. In a second-floor apartment, a lone woman chain-smokes as she reads through her old notebooks. At the Jannat Guest House, two people who have known each other all their lives sleep with their arms wrapped around one another, as though they have just met.

The Trick to Time, by Kit De Waal

Birmingham, 1972. Mona is a young Irish girl in a big city, with the thrill of a new job and a room of her own in a busy boarding house. On her first night out in town, she meets William, a charming Irish boy with an easy smile and an open face. They embark upon a dizzying love affair, a whirlwind marriage, an unexpected pregnancy - before a sudden tragedy tears them apart. Decades later, Mona pieces together the memories of the years that separate them. But can she ever learn to love again?

The Little Red Chairs, by Edna O'Brien

When a wanted war criminal, masquerading as a healer, settles in a small west coast Irish village, the community are in thrall. One woman, Fidelma McBride, falls under his spell and in this searing novel, Edna O'Brien charts the consequence of that fatal attraction. This is a story about love, the artifice of evil and the terrible necessity of accountability in our shattered, damaged world.

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