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I have just finished reading this book and must say I found it thoroughly enjoyable. If you are looking for a light, easy read then this is the book for you. I read it in about 2 days, it is written very simply but in a good way.
The main plot is a group of strangers start a reading group. They are a mixed bunch: Ed is a househusband who cares for baby girl and hates his partner; Kate runs her own furniture store and has a troublesome daughter; Donna is a young single mum with two little boys but is desperate for an education; Zoe is a highly strung City worker having an affair with a well known politician; Bronwen is a library worker who has travelled the world; Bob is retired and his wife persuaded him to join the group to get him out of the house and Gideon, the last to join the group, a University English lecturer but likes the sound of his own voice.
The group suddenly find themselves entwined in each others lives, firm friendships are formed and love blossoms.
It's funny, it's honest and it's real. You can really believe in the characters. Sometimes after reading a book, I feel that it's very unrealistic and I like books that I can relate to. This is why I love this so much, it had a nice message and made me feel happy and warm inside.
The author is Julie Highmore; it says inside the book that Julie has been an English teacher, she's worked in a publishers office and she's had articles and short stories published. She has another book published called Country Loving and I am very keen to read this.
Julie Highmore was a new author to me before reading this book so I wasn't quite sure what it would be like. This was her second book that she has had published but has since gone on to write quite a few more.
When a reading group is started, there are a number of different people that sign up to it. Each one has their own problems but they share a common love of books and through this, they end up caring about one another.
As the book progresses we see each character overcoming difficulties and taking on all that life throws at them, with some help from their new friends.
Bronwen works at a local library and has the bright idea of starting a reading group. She soon has a wide variety of people interested and they start up weekly meetings. She is quite a strong character and has done a lot of travelling in the past but now she has an elderly father to worry about and she feels that she needs some extra company.
Ed is a househusband and stays at home with his baby daughter Georgia. He feels like the marriage is going nowhere and is sure his power hungry wife is having an affair at work. Feeling rejected he strikes up a friendship with Kate who makes him feel like he is worth something again.
Kate owns a furniture shop and loves to renovate old items. She has her problems in that it doesn't always make a lot of money and she has a teenage daughter to cope with too, who is into noisy 'music' and hardly ever comes out of her room. Her friendship with Ed, gives her a new lease of life but isn't sure whether this new relationship will turn into something more.
Zoe is having an affair with a politician but things are not going smoothly for her. He stands her up, expects her to partake in threesomes and generally makes her feel very unhappy. Will her new friends make her see that she is worth more than that?
Donna is a young single mum of two boys who desperately wants to get back into education. Her neighbourhood 'friends' are all deadbeats who have no ambition but she wants more from life. The only problem of course is money. She has no way of supporting herself so she starts to play a dangerous game with a married man in the hope of getting enough money together to go to college.
Bob is semi-retired and bored with staying at home all the time. His wife encourages him to join the reading group even though he isn't really into the type of literature that they generally read. He's a kind man even though he does tend to be a bit of a bigot at times.
Gideon is the new arrival at the group and tends to take it over. As an English lecturer he has lots of opinions on classic works and although this impresses Bronwen, the rest of the group feel a bit out of his league. He is rude and obnoxious but doesn't even realise it.
I'm sure I speak for many on review sites who realise the importance of belonging to a community, whether it is online or in the flesh. This book really struck a chord with me for that reason. Most people on here love the sense of sharing their opinions and learning something new, and this book is what that is all about.
The book is told through the eyes of Ed in first person at times but is mainly a third person narrative. This unusual way of writing was a bit of a struggle at first until I got into it as it jumps from person to person in small sections of each chapter.
The story starts simply but really develops with the characters' problems and dilemmas. Most of these revolve around relationships of one sort or another but there are the normal day-to-day problems of being behind with the bills or not having enough time to do what you want to do.
The characters are easy to relate to and I have to say that I felt compassion for Donna, as I was married young and had 2 children early before the relationship broke down when I was only 22. I would have liked to go to college but found that I just couldn't afford it with the mortgage and other bills to pay. I'm only glad that I didn't get into the things that she does in this book to do it.
There is a lot of scandal in this book but it isn't told in a sleazy way and I found myself almost crying out, 'Don't do it!' a lot of the time. Of course the characters generally do it and things inevitably go wrong.
It isn't all doom and gloom though and there are some happy endings for most of the characters as they each plough their way through their problems. They each learn a valuable lesson about themselves and there are a lot of amusing bits in the book too.
I have to say that I wasn't sure how this book would go but I ended up thoroughly enjoying it. I'm off to look for some other books by this author at the library myself now.
***Other Julie Highmore Books***
Play It Again
Kiss Me Quick
Your Place Or Mine
Beautiful Strangers (due for release June 2007)
***Price and Availability***
This paperback retails for £6.99 but it is available at the cheaper price of £4.85 at www.dvd.co.uk.
ISBN No. 0755306074
When the local library starts a reading group, Ed is the first to sign up. He is soon joined by Kate, Zoe, Bob, Donna and Gideon. As the reading circle draws its members into an unlikely community, the plots become increasingly outlandish, and their lives grow ever more entwined.