Private Life

Serendipity once again opened its doors to welcome our little book group. Fewer people attending this month, but we hope, we will be back to full numbers next month. Good news is that a few of the new members from January returned so we are not that scary after all.

This month we were reading Private Life by Jane Smiley, a book offering ‘a cold-eyed view of the compromises regarding by marriage’ according to one website.

Quite a lot of people found the book hard to get into, and the pace very slow. After 100 pages, nothing had really happened. Our readers also felt that while it was good to know what had happened in history while the book took place, it felt like the history was just background noise and not actually leading the book. It sometimes felt like history was forced into the storytelling. One reader particularly enjoyed the scientific theories of Andrew.

What we all could agree on, was that we were very happy that lives of women and marriage have changed since Margaret lived. We did not feel like it was a book about women on the same level as Little Women, as some critics had claimed.

See you all next month where we are reading Magnificent Joe by James Wheatley – the author will even be there.


woman_reading_library_ca19201Hello everyone and welcome to the Sunderland book group blog for 2014! Unfortunately we’re starting on a bit of a downer as our January group has had to be cancelled, HOWEVER after that we have a bumper season of new books to discuss!

We have some exciting events coming to our group this year too. In March we will be discussing literary legend Jane Smiley’s Private Life, which coincides with her visit to Tyneside Cinema on March 9th. Ideally we’d be doing this book BEFORE her event in Newcastle, but the dates don’t stack up that way. Boo!

In April  author James Wheatley will be joining the group to discuss and read from his book Magnificent Joe. James is a Read Regional author for this year, which means he’s been selected as an OUTSTANDINGLY BRILLIANT Northern author and will be doing events and readings all over the region!

Looking forward to meeting members old and new in 2014.

Laura xx

October book group cancelled


Hello all. Sorry but the October group is cancelled. We’ll be reading the October book in November instead (I’ve updated the list to the right). See you on the 12 November, 6.30pm. x

New term for book group!

Jackie Kay's hero, Audre Lorde. I love this picture.

Jackie Kay’s hero, Audre Lorde. I love this picture.

Summer is over, the dark nights are rolling in, there’s a, autumnal chill in the air, everyone’s back to work (lots of teachers in the ranks!), soall have a reason to be feeling a bit miserable. Luckily, for September we’d been reading Red Dust Road by Jackie Kay— a rare, joyful gem of a book which, though it didn’t TOTALLY rock everyone’s world, was universally praised for its generosity and big-heartedness. Here’s what we thought:

*We loved the way a story which could be a “tragic life story”— adoption, racism, dementia— became, in Jackie’s hands, a humane, joyful story of her search for her “roots”. A testament to her own character and her awesome (adoptive) parents that she manages all these events with such grace and lack of anger.
*Her awesome (adoptive) parents who this book is a love letter to and are the absolute stars of Red Dust Road. Their frank Scottish humour, their total love of Jackie and her brother, their honesty, their communism, their strong colourful characters— we wanted a whole book about them!
*It’s really funny.
*Deceptively easy to read, yet also poetic and conjors incredibly vivid pictures.
*Thought provoking exploration of what makes a person “themselves”.

* Some people found that because they didn’t know who Jackie was before reading the book they found it difficult to care too much about the story. I vehemently disagreed.
*The jumping back and forth in time annoyed the life out of some people and made it difficult to follow.
*A bit underwhelming. Lots of people felt that while they enjoyed the read it wouldn’t “stay with them”.

Mostly the whole book group wants to take Jackie for a drink and a natter.  Also, a special mention for a group member who became a Jackie groupie, researched her life AND read her short stories. Big gold star for you Laura!

Next time, we’re onto something totally different— a novel called How I Killed Margaret Thatcher by Anthony Cartwright. We’re doing it in October because it’s been nominated for the first Gordon Burn Prize, the result of which will be announced at this years Durham Book Festival. You can even come to the prize ceremony too! It’s well worth checking out the rest of the programme too:

Enjoy reading and see you next time!

Weirdo: The clue’s in the name

Goths + pink fluffy tea cosies

Goths + pink fluffy tea cosies

We couldn’t have been more incongruous really, meeting at our cosy, pink, bunting-strewn new venue Serendipity Cafe to discuss a dark, gothy, crime-noir which was full of witchcraft, child prostitution and murder. Yup, this is the month we did Cathi Unsworth’s Weirdo. And it inspired love, hate and everything in between from our members. Here’s a neat surmise of our thoughts:


  • The biggest thumbs up was for the sense of place (small Norfork seaside town) and time (the 80′s). Almost unanimously we thought Unsworth managed to evoke the feeling of small-town claustrophobia brilliantly and that added to the believability of characters and story.
  • The  examination of teenage-girl relationships and female transgression.
  • Corrine. We thought her story was incredibly well examined and terribly sad, particularly the “generational stigma” which she has to endure.
  • Interesting exploration of a sub-culture. And good music!
  • Very completing and readable. A page turner.
  • An interesting take on the crime genre.
  • Even those who didn’t like it were interested in reading Unsworth’s other work.


  • The dialect. It drove everyone MAD due to its inconsistency. If you’re doing dialect JUST GO FOR IT.
  • Although some people did enjoy the split narrative, most of the group felt that the 80′s part was much more powerful and interesting than the section set in the noughties.
  • A bit unimpressed by the character of Sean- felt Unsworth fell back of private detective cliché which was a disappointment for a book which pushed the boundaries in many ways.
  • A few too many stories which went nowhere and characters that just disappeared without being fully explored.
  • Samantha’s “evil” not adequately explained.
  • The end. All felt that Unsworth lost confidence in the end chapter and neatly summed everything up. Not necessary, we thought.

And we’ve got another cheerful one for next month, The Yellow Birds by Kevin Powers, set during the Iraq war. I’m really looking forward to it. At least we’ll have cocktails in teapots, cake and cheese toasties to offset the (possible) gloom.

We’re moving!

Check out the cakes!! Not the only reason we're moving BUT A VERY BIG PART OF IT!

Check out the cakes!! Not the only reason we’re moving BUT A VERY BIG PART OF IT!

After a very pleasant year at the Royalty Theatre, we’ve decided to up sticks and move to a new venue! We’re off to Serendipity Tea and Trinkets at Fredrick Street (right in the town centre). It’s gorgeous- all bunting and vintage chic- and I’m reliably informed they do a mean cheese toastie and cocktails in teapots. The lovely owners are going to open up for us specially. I think I’m going to like this place….

Our new home  does mean that our regular night is shifting from the second Tuesday of the month to the second TUESDAY. And because I wont have to bring tupperware and make tea, we’ll be able to get started at 6.30pm. Everything else will continue as usual with our usual blend of highbrow discussion and filthy jokes. Hope you can come! x

Glasshopper: Neither like nor dislike

Sometimes it’s hardest to do a good book group when most people think a book is just “okay”. I think we felt that a bit this month- Glasshopper proved pleasant but not inspiring. I get a bit wound up about books like this, so we ended up talking about other books and drinking wine. This was the gist of what we thought: 



  • We generally all liked it, in a muted sort of way (except Kelly who HATED it). 
  • The characters, in particular those in the the 80′s/ Jake section were well drawn. There was lots of tiny detail which lots of us recognised.
  • Described as “easy to read” and well written.
  • Sympathetic treatment of depression/ alcoholism, and interesting how both things are viewed and treated differently depending on the gender of the sufferer.
  • Very effective use of a split narrative, which sometimes can be a bit gimmicky but here was used to brilliant effect. The jumping back and forward in time and between jake and his mother  demonstrated effectively and movingly the effect of one generation has on another.


  • We were mainly a bit underwhelmed- it was described (very aptly) as “pedestrian”. It was like it had been designed by committee for book group discussions. 
  • Most thought the book lost the plot (literally and metaphorically) when it moved to France. The fervent defenders of the book argued that they read it as a kind of “dream sequence”/ ending but the rest were entirely unconvinced!
  • The end. What? Why, after the event (trying desperately not to do spoilers!), did everyone just carry on as if  everything was okay? We weren’t convinced. Though admittedly couldn’t come up with a convincing alternative…
  • Most of us less endeared to the Mary side of the story.
  • We felt that it was a bit too “plotty” toward the end (EVERYONE was sleeping with EVERYONE and having illegitimate kids all over the place) and maybe the book needed a better final edit/ paring down. It has that “first novel” feeling that everything and the kitchen sink has been chucked at it.

The funniest thing about the meeting was the fact that Hit Girls has now become book group short hand for everything that is bad. There was a lot of “Well, I didn’t like [Character A/ a plot point/ a particular use of language] but at least it wasn’t Hit Girls. I can see this is going to keep us amused for a long time


Tuesday 11 February 2014
The Crow Road by Iain Banks

Tuesday 11 March 2014
Private Life by Jane Smiley

Tuesday 8 April 2014
Magnificent Joe by James Wheatley

Tuesday 13 May 2014
The Cuckoo's Calling by Robert Galbraith (J.K Rowling)

Tuesday 10 June 2014
The Woman Upstairs by Claire Messud

Tuesday 8 July 2014
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion

Read the book and come along. Eat cake. Discuss.

On: second TUESDAY of every month from 6.30pm-8pm.

Serendipity Tea & Trinkets
10 Fredrick Street

April 2014
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