Biggar & District

Books/Reading Group

THE GROUP meets the first TUES of each month in each others houses at 2PM.
We read most genres of fiction,which hopefully broadens the minds of the members.

PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS BOOK GROUP IS CURRENTLY FULL.However if you are interested in joining the group, please contact the facilitator so that your name can be put on a waiting list. If there were sufficient numbers, a 2nd Reading Group could be considered

Marion Brown
TEL-01899308210 and E-MAIL

Following a request by the editor of "Third Age Matters" magazine, the group selected their Top Ten from books read by the group.



A First for Biggar and District U3A

About two months ago Marion Brown (Facilitator of the Book Group) was approached by one of the editors of the Third Age Matters Magazine. They were planning to start a new feature of book reviews submitted by U3A Book Groups and would Biggar be interested in contributing to this? Marion discussed this with the group and it was agreed that Lydia Black, Marion Brown, Aileen Edgell, Rose Rose and Linda Wardrop would write reviews of books that the group had read over the past couple of years.
These were published in issue 40/FEBRUARY 2020, under the heading of ‘Reviews by Biggar and District U3A Book Group.’ So well done to the Book Group for being the first to contribute to this new feature in the magazine and for putting Biggar U3a on the national stage.


2019/2020 SEASON

This story, written by the above, mimics her trait of being a deep thinker.
The character's unconscious thoughts dominate and continue on and on, jumping from past to present - thus the style of prose etc., - no chapters and long and short sentences and paragraphs. The conscious aspects and gist of the story, relates to preparations and people who will attend a lavish 1920's party on a given day.
The main named person is Clarissa Dalloway. Significant others, Peter Walsh, formerly in love with Clarissa. Robert Dalloway - Lady Brunton, - Lady Rossiter (sally). The other 2 characters introduced as a contrast, but structural part are Septimus Warren Smith (shell-shocked WW1 soldier) and wife Rezia(sad, and heartbroken).

In our discussion and other in absentia views, it was clear that we all found it very hard to get into. The majority of The Group either 'gave up',or battled through but really wished they hadn't! A couple of The Group liked the style and content - one other partially enjoyed from middle to the end.
Those who perhaps wished to think a bit more about Woolf's thoughts may or may not conclude hints of forbidden love between Clarissa and Sally + Septimus and Evans.

To sum up, A Classic it may be but not one for us. It could be described as a 'marmite' book - you love it or hate it, so to speak.
I hope this is a fair assessment and that it makes some sense.

Our next Meeting will discuss: "THE MERMAID and MRS HANCOCK" by IMMOGEN HERMES GOWER.

This crime novel, translated from French, is set in Giverny, where MONETS' house and famous gardens are located.

The 'action' takes place over a two week period in 2010 but it is not as simple as that! We are taken on a journey through times past and reflections of the three women - or so we think!
The characters are interesting, and defined well, namely:
Jerome Morval - victim - womanizer + failover.
Sylvia Benavides and Laurence Serenac - police officers.
Stephanie Dupain - schoolteacher, husband Jacques.

We also have James, an American painter, living rough in the countryside around this area of Normandy. There are other characters, named by the author, which the reader must work at to discover their identity. The inclusion of the dog NEPTUNE, was a nice little added touch too.------ This is where BUSSI sets us puzzles to solve,the murders in this story,making this a quite different book in this genre.
Don't despair if you are confused in the middle part, persevere and you will be rewarded in the end. The descriptions of the scenery around Giverny were spot on, as were the Hotel, streets and mill(true to life).

The author is knowledgeable about Monet and other artists mentioned - and the mystery that there may be undiscovered paintings of his (including lilies ones).

We agreed that this is not your run of the mill crime novel. This is one in which you have to rethink what you thought you knew!!

This novel arouses the reader's curiosity immediately.
A simple well known rthyme,'standing alone' on its page,is how it begins!
The main character Harriet, better known as 'HAL' throughout the book, a young woman living in Brighton on her own. She is finding her life and money troubles hard to cope with after the sudden death of her mother. Her 'salvation' arrives in the form of a solicitors letter-offering a legacy from the will of her grandmother? Deciding to leave behind her tarot card reading job etc.,she escapes to Cornwall.

The clever writing,by RUTH WARE,of the atmospheric,eerie descriptions of the Cornish setting and secretive plethora of characters,only adds to this old-fashioned,Daphne Due Maurier,type book. There are various symbols,which weave their way through this plot,egging you on,to also follow the twists and turns to their conclusion.

The question was asked-did you like HAL? The majority did from the start,although some were in doubt ,initially of her honesty and integrity.
She,although not trying to give full information to the family,found herself 'coming clean',which only contributed more to the ominous,imaginative plot.
This is a definite recommendation on our part,see what you think?

This is an epic story which took the author 10 years to complete with research into the historical aspects of WWII and the technical and scientific information related to we the readers.
The two main characters - Marie-Laure, a blind French girl-living in Paris with her father. The other Werner, an orphaned German boy, living in an orphanage with his sister Jutta, near ESSEN.
We all agreed it was a read which had to be concentrated on and that the detailed rich prose descriptions were really outstanding. Especially the scenes set in ST MALO and in the tall seaside house there.
Some of THE GROUP found the style of writing (out of chronological order) by Anthony Doerr, a touch annoying, but the saving grace in that respect was that the chapters were short.
This book dealt with the mixed emotions which had to be faced in the hell of WWII - cruelty, fear, heartbreak, loyalty and sacrifice. There was a good balance of characters and not any to really dislike as such, apart from maybe Sgt Major Reinhold von Rumpel (in his relentless search for the jewel).
Other characters worth a mention are - Uncle Etienne, Madame Manec, Jutta, Frederick and Volkeimer.
The author cleverly weaves different meanings of the word 'light' throughout - i.e. Marie Laure-cannot see, Werner cannot see anything after the darkness of war, and also the energy of the radio-waves are invisible.
The nature on the beach and in the rockpools are a 'light' welcome relief as are the birds mentioned at the boys military camp.

This is a complete story of historical fiction in every way and one which we think should be a 'must read' by both Book Groups and individuals alike.

This book certainly made for a most interesting Meeting. The premise of this story was a good one,but as is the wont of most writers of 'today' the use of time shifts in this novel was more than could be coped with! (ranging in most decades from the 1920's- 2011).
The characters are numerous and complex - the mainstays being:
The relationships of the above and others was so confusing. This grim, sad tale, set in Edinburgh and London, created an almost DICKENSIAN vibe.

In fact six of the eight of us in attendanced didn't like the book at all. The others although confused felt they had to finish it(if that makes sense). One thing,in favour of this debut novelist is that she did show bouts of good descriptive writing i.e. in wartime London, and also the way various items wove a thread throughout the book i.e. the Orange pips, engraved Brazil nut and cherub doll.
It was also agreed,that this story was far too long and needed serious editing.

I'll finish by saying some of us were still debating who definitely was the dead MRS WALKER.

This book about The Covenanters struggle ,set mainly in the local area of LANARK and LESMAHAGOW,which spread to other areas of Southern Scotland, was a most interesting read. The author was one we hadn't heard of before, but her straightforward writing and use of the Scots language in the spoken parts made it even more enjoyable.
The main 'script' concerned the trials and tribulations of farmer John and Marion Steel and the villagers of Lesmahagow. In this 17th century reign of Charles II - rebellion against him as head of the Church was not tolerated and brute force was used to quell the dissidents. Evictions of ministers from their Manse and Church and of their followers from their homes and land, were swift and commonplace. This happened to local minister Lucas Brotherstone, thereby starting the tragedies which were to befall the Lesmshagow community.
The Sheriff of LANARK, aided by the garrison of soldiers based there, was in control. He also recruited new ministers loyal to The Crown to fill the forced vacancies. One of these was Sandy Gillon, shoemaker of LANARK, an unsuspecting soul who tried to better himself by taking up the post in Lesmahagow, which he came to regret.
The cruelty and barbarism of the authorities was clearly demonstrated, at a secret Sunday gathering at LOUDON HILL. The infamous John Graham of CLAVERHOUSE crushed the opposition and he became a feared commander of troops, namely later at THE BATTLE OF DRUMCLOG and in other areas of Southern SCOTLAND.
To sum up, the familiar surroundings of our area and characters of both fact and fiction, made this book a joy to read. Cleverly too, the abrupt ending entices you to see what happens in the next two volumes!

We recommend 'CHANGED TIMES' to other BOOK GROUPS.

September 2019 "THE SHADOW of THE WIND" by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
This was the first book of our 2019/20 session. Set in Barcelona, the native city of the author, in the 1940's (FRANCO's SPAIN - in the aftermath of the devastating Civil War).
In contrast to this city today, we enter into a grim, grey place, where mistrust, danger and death lurk around the corner. The life of 10 year old Daniel Sempere, a booksellers'son, is turned upside down when taken to a secret place. It's known as 'THE CEMETERY of FORGOTTEN BOOKS',here a copy of all published authors books are hidden. The description of which conjours up an image of a strange library, consisting of maze like corridors - with shelves of books stacked as high as the eye can see, giving it a HARRY POTTERESQUE feel!
This named book, chosen by Daniel, or the other way round, and his obsession of the author JULIAN CARAX, leads him into dramatic situations. There are multiple characters in this story, and the sub story, which take some perseverance to get to know. Too numerous to mention, but some of note are; the above named DANIEL SEMPERE, CARAX, FERMIN DR TORRES, PENELOPE ALDAYA, FUMERO, CLARA and BEATRIZ.
The stories and lives of JULIAN and DANIEL cleverly run in parallel, with seemingly devastating consequences.
We agreed that the 'reveals' in the final chapters were not guessed at all. The way ZAFON draws you in as you progress through this complex story, becoming 'a page turner' to the end is done skilfully. I think it is one we will all remember for our own reasons.

It is a recommended read.

2018/2019 Season

This is a crime novel that's subject matter is different from others in this genre.
Certainly, your attention is grabbed right away - screaming on early morning train - communication cord pulled - dead body hanging from bridge - NATHAN , revealed as killer - all this in CHAPTER one. But this isn't the 'real' story of this book!
The notable characters are D/I Rachel Narey, ex police photographer Tony Winter, Nathan, Alastair Haldane aka Robert Dalrymple. NAREY, initially in charge, but quickly taken off the enquiry, as was confined to bed during her pregnancy (which did not 'ring true' in our opinion).
However, the significance of missing socks and pants, in chapter 1 murder of Aiden McAlpine, and other murders, leads us on to the 'dark web'.
Rachel Narey and Tony Winter, seperately at first, investigate. Narey becomes obsessed with this Murderabilia phenomenon. Finding things re Charles Manson, Lee Harvey Oswald, Denis Nielsen and Nathan, to name a few, and victim's clothing - infallible, and most significantly Martin Welsh (unsolved disappearance and murder of a schoolboy of many years past).
This dark web leads Rachel to ABBADON - where she encounters the sinister and dangerous group 'THE FOUR', i.e. the jeweller, he accountant, the librarian and the landscape gardener.
This is where fact and fiction collide, cleverly done by the author. We encounter Alastair Haldane aka Robert Dalrymple, teacher of Martin Welsh - falsely accused - but became obsessed with everything re Martin. Which leads to revelations and a sinister turn re Nathan, and to a gripping final chapter.
This story,involving this real dark web,was well researched, as ROBERTSON even purchased some items! This added to the chilling mood of the book.

We all agreed,that this was the first book of it's kind to broach this macabre subject,of which we knew nothing.

This is an 'epic' story spanning mostly from 1986-2016. The author certainly set herself a challenge as well as the same for the reader! She must thrive on stress, as this book was written while her house was being renovated, also with her young baby to attend to. Perhaps this is why this read is a bit frenetic in the way that it jumps back and forth in time and place.
The numerous characters and their relationships were only worked out by some of our Group by writing a list or compiling a family tree! The two MAIN narrators were DANIEL SULLIVAN - an American linguist, and CLAUDETTE WELLS - ex famous actress who vanished to a remote part of County Donegal to live a simple reclusive life along with her children. Daniel departs to The U.S.A. to attend his father's 90th birthday - there we meet a raft of characters.
A long hidden secret of Daniel's is hinted at and revealed later on. This unsettles Claudette, making her feel insecure, so once again she disappears. Then even more 'trials and tribulations' of her family are revealed to join the complexities of this novel. O'FARRELLS descriptive writing is skilful and the use of multiple narrators is not something we have come across before. Some of us were hooked by it, others couldn't get to grips with it, and others were left feeling 'why bother'.

All these opinions are quite valid. So we leave it up to you to 'have a go' and give it whatever * rating it deserves

This is a novella, re-issued as part of PENGUIN Decade Books. It is the reflections of Tom Birkin on his sojourn to the small Yorkshire village of OXGODBY in 1920. He is an ex-soldier recovering from the trauma of his WW1 experiences which has left him with a stammer. He is practically destitute and has also gone through the recent break-up of his marriage.
From the beginning of this story, the author's descriptive writing evokes of a time now lost in these rural villages i.e. horses and carts, homemade bread and of lazy, hazy summer days where nothing much of consequence happens.
TOM has been given the opportunity to restore a medieval mural, of which he has pre-war expertise, this is in the village church, hidden beneath years of whitewash. As the mural is revealed it seems to have a cathartic effect on him. He becomes more relaxed and involves himself in village life and his speech improves and the stammer disappears. He is also helped by fellow war veteran, Charlie Moon, who is tasked with looking for the lost grave of an ancestor of miss Hebron (whose will has requested that both these jobs be done).
Other characters appear, visiting him in the church to see the progress but also to find out about this stranger in their midst. We have young Kathy Ellerbeck, the stationmasters daughter, a curious teenager who invites him for meals with her family.
The mild lover interest is Alice Keach(the vicars wife) who ponders whether a chance to escape could happen? The Reverend Keach is a strange sullen man, seeming older than his years, who lives frugally and doesn't endear himself to anyone!
In a way the three main characters are reflecting also on the different facets of 'love' and longing. In the end Tom, many years on, has remaining memories of his time in OXGODBY which gave him hope for the future.
There were no spectacular surprises in this book which was written in a tender,nostalgic way.

Perhaps that was the intention,just to relax and read it?

This book is in the 'classic'category - all be it an American one. It's set in the decadent 1920's and gives an insight into the lives of the established wealthy families and the nouveaux riche.
A couple of us enjoyed the descriptive writing and could imagine being transported to the lavish surroundings,i.e. the colonial houses with large gardens, the beautiful clothes of that era, and the over indulgence of food and champagne etc., flowing at the continuous parties. Most of those attending were so 'shallow', turning up uninvited, not even able to recognize GATSBY, and not caring, only out to gossip and party all night long!
Others of the book group found sections totally unnecessary, e.g. the long, long introduction - (in only 2 copies handed out). This did not bode well and put them off right away.
It was thought that some sections were added to eke out the book and for effect - mainly the parts in the flat in town and other quite brutal bits.
Of the characters, we all liked Nick Caraway (neighbour of Gatsby), who tried to steer him away from of his obsession of Daisy. She was a 'fluffy' character, not really knowing what she wanted, but although hating her cruel husband , stayed. Talking of which - Tom Buchanan a nasty, brutal womanizer who bulldozed everyone in his path to get what he wanted! Best demonstrated in the final events which unfold!
Jay Gatsby, an intriguing, complex character who along with Nick, perhaps the only one with some morality.
Trying to figure out Fitzgeralds motivation for this book,escaped most of The Group,but draw your own conclusions. Similarly the metaphors used - the cars and the colour yellow?

In conclusion-the majority of The Book GROUP gave this the thumbs down.

This serious piece of crime fiction begins with unusually knowing who the murderer is but other matters have to be resolved - is he sane or insane? - this being the crux of the story.
The backdrop is set in 1869 in the village of CULDUIE in WESTER ROSS. This is a harsh, grim environment to try and eke out a living on small crofts.
The perpetrator is a young boy Roderick MacRae - killer of three members of the McKENZIE family (LACHLAN, daughter FLORA and toddler DONNIE). Roderick is the son of cruel dour father John, now an even more morose and depressive character. The whole atmosphere of the place, people and brutal murder descriptions are conveyed well to the reader.
Although Roderick committed these terrible crimes, you may feel a bit of sympathy for him, as if he had escaped from this environment,using his intelligence which he had demonstrated in the writing of his 'memoir'from prison. The factor who was killed was a malicious , vindictive person who ruled his tenants as he liked. In this small community there are no secrets and festering tensions of all kinds are prevalent.
At the trial the prosecution 'expert' James Thomson based his opinion on general anthropology not on anything specific re Roderick. The defence by Andrew Sinclair was ground breaking,i.e. not disputing the crime but Roderick's mental state and other reasons for doing the deed.
The writing by the author is quite clever based on partial fact - which were discovered by him relating to family name MacRae - an unusual mixture!
There was much for us to consider,which we did at our meeting. Feelings which came to mind were anger, frustration and horror, some light relief but not much. Also was Lachlan the intended victim for payback of family persecution or was it Flora for her rejection of Roderick, bringing in sexual connotations.

Judge for yourself,don't be put off by some passages-you will get there in the end - an interesting ,decent read - was our opinion.

Glancing at the synopsis,you think that the only main character is Cecelia Fitzpatrick. You couldn't be more wrong-there are in fact 3 main women characters.
1. Cecelia, husband John-Paul and three children, the youngest being Polly.
2. Tess, husband Will, son Liam and best friend and work colleague Felicity.
3. Rachel, son Rob, his wife Lauren and grandson Jacob.
The first premise is THE LETTER found by Cecilia in the attic while looking through memorabilia of 1984, specifically a piece of THE BERLIN WALL, for one of her daughters. Clearly written on envelope by husband John-Paul - "only to be opened on my death". So begins Cecelia's nightmare on opening her "Pandora's Box ".
Tess is next in the emotional stakes, suddenly leaving MELBOURNE for SYDNEY with son Liam.
Rachel also has her crosses to bear concerning family leaving her for U.S.A.and grieving for murdered daughter Janie.
Their connections come together in SYDNEY - where the other important "member of the cast", Connor Whitby lives. Gradually we the readers are into a complex plot with numerous characters, which we have to fathom out! Liane Moriarty doesn't do simple plots and she comes into her own in that respect.
We have the usual plethera of emotions in the mix, morality, honesty, love, hate, revenge, forgiveness. We thought the BERLIN WALL was a strange 'tool' to use, as was rarely mentioned. I can only think perhaps the WALL was a metaphor for all the Secrets.
Just when you think you come to the end, the author, in the Epilogue, leaving you with numerous 'ifs' to think about.

We all agreed that this book by Liane Moriarty is a complex recommended read .

November 2018 "THE DRY " by JANE HARPER.
Our read was once again a debut novel by a British/Australian journalist turned author. Right from the first page your curiosity is aroused and the atmosphere is strongly evoked,i.e.the searing heat, vast emptiness of the outback and the interminable insects. In this particular case it's the blowflies who "finding little difference between a carcass and a corpse". This sends a shiver up your spine but entices you to delve further into the world of the drought-torn farming community of KIEWARRA.
The story has two running episodes to solve involving the recent triple deaths of LUKE HADLER, wife KAREN and son BILLY(7) - along with the long past death of ELLIE DEACON(15).
The federal agent and school friend of LUKE, namely AARON FALK is the investigator reluctantly compelled to return for funeral, after having received a note from Lukes father "you lied, Luke lied". The author cleverly draws you on again!
The HADLER deaths are not as simple as first thought so Aaron and local new cop RACO look into this but Aaron is thwarted at times as he is still a suspect in the town's eyes for death of Ellis.
HARPER captures the small mindedness, bigotry and long-term resentment of an outback town. The reader has so many questions to be resolved, who to trust and who to believe? Tensions run high as well as the temperature throughout.
The other characters in the mix are interesting too. Gretchen, Mal Deacon, Scott Whitlam, and Taco. The use of italics sections to convey past details,is a tool used to great effect by the author. Although the part re the hunting down and subsequent murder of Billy was gruesome, it fitted in along with the tension near the end. THE DRY certainly held our interest and kept us guessing to the end.

We all loved it - a resounding recommended read.

Although this book is fiction,it is based on on the author's experience of having a severely autistic son. The story certainly conjours up a gambit of emotions - sadness, happiness, frustration, stress and heartache,all definitely felt by the reader.
JONAH(10 years old,non verbal and incontinent),the writer gives us an insight into his world and the total frustration he must feel. BEN and EMMA, the parents, trying to keep everything together and failing, like their marriage and just not communicating fully with each other. There are mounting pressures, from all sides, family,authorities, addictions, money worries.
There is 'added to the mix' GEORG a holocaust survivor, - Bens father, who berates him but has empathy with Jonah and has a calming effect on him.
It is interesting that Emma leaves and we see the unfolding picture of Jonahs day to day life from the male perspective.
The title of the book SCHTUM is very appropriate, most of the people in the story just don't listen to each other or communicate, so JEM LESTER cleverly builds the tension, ending with the important TRIBUNAL.
This book educated us a little and gave us an insight into the very broad spectrum of autism severity.

We found it so interesting and had a pleasant afternoon with lots of discussion.

This novel is written by an author who wrote six books in the 1930's. Mostly forgotten till reissued in 2008(and in subsequent years)when a film was made of this particular one. This is a comic,fantasy tale of its time.
Miss Pettigrew, a middle-aged governess who has lived a dull somewhat sheltered life, although coping with some obnoxious employers. She takes the chance to take up the position of 'assistant' to the glamorous miss DELYSIA LA FOSSE. This catapults MISS PETTIGREW into LONDON'S 1930s world of nightclubs, parties, cocktails and casual sex.
The book has a set of characters,typical of the time:
Delysia LA FOSSE - ditsie to say the least and her female friends.
Tony - the main love interest .
Nick - the shify drug dealer.
Michael - the suave older man, GUINEVERE PETTIGREWS' love interest
Miss Pettigrew the 'heroine' of the day, the fixer of situations, allbeit in an unconscious manner which amusingly totally amazed her.
The use of each chapter broken down into hours and minutes of only 24hrs, made you realize that your life can be changed in a day!

It was thought by most to be an easy read,an amusing romp of its time.

Marion Brown
TEL-01899308210 and E-MAIL

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More Group Pages
French Books/Reading Group
Bridge Group Craft/Textiles Group
Creative Writing Group Lunch Group
Mah Jong Mah Jong for Beginners
Photography Group Science and Technology
Slow Walking Group Table Tennis
The Quiz Group Theatre Group
Ukelele for Beginners Ukulele
Walking Group Wine Appreciation