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Best books: Maggie O Farrell – This must be the Place.


Maggie O Farrell – This must be the Place. (Shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award 2016).

This was our book club choice for January on the basis we had read an earlier novel by the same author called “The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox” which we had all found very thought provoking.

This Must be the Place touches upon many weighty themes such as infidelity, bereavement, infertility, guilt and alcoholism and of the love people have for each other; both as husband and wife and parent and child.

There are two main characters – Daniel, who comes across initially as someone who is very likeable but then we learn how his past has dramatically shaped him and how his issues with drugs and alcohol nearly cost him everything he holds dear to him, and his wife Claudette, who had a very famous past from which she ran away to live a new life as a recluse. The book focuses on Daniel and how his life is interweaved with the other characters but each one, specifically Claudette, bears a huge impact on the outcomes and decisions he makes in his life.

The story is told through a different character every chapter and some of our book club members didn’t like the fact the story jumped about from one year to another and from a different setting each time, although personally I found this maintained interest and made me wait for the final pieces of the puzzle to slot together to complete the picture. The way in which the book was written was just as complex as the relationships within it, but it could be argued this reflects real life.  In reality, love is extremely complicated and perhaps the author wrote in this way to mirror the relationships she was writing about.

The author has a wonderfully descriptive style and her words instantly evoke the Irish and American landscapes in this story of two people’s lives, the twists and turns it takes, the love they have for each other and for their children and how the previous decisions made in their earlier lives impact upon their present and future.

I really enjoyed this book and found it very easy and refreshing to read but the views of our book club were quite divided, especially over the ending, so I will leave you to make up your own mind…

Christmas photo Paul edit

What I am reading now


I really take note when my friends and colleagues are making recommendations about books and films they have loved or been inspired by and why. The below would be my contribution to that discussion.

  1. Inspirational insights in breaking the glass ceiling

Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg

Sherly Sandberg is now COO of Facebook having joined Google when it was an obscure start up. She talks openly of how she managed her life to be able to reach the top – covering support from her husband to debilitating morning sickness and the excitement of her generation at the opportunities available versus the reality of trying to ‘do it all’. She chats through lots of familiar dilemmas.

2. Essential reading if you’re Tri-curious

Run, Ride, Sink or Swim by Lucy Fry

Lucy Fry is a columnist for the Sunday Telegraph and has written this instructive, funny, inspiring book for the beginner triathlete. I used a number of her ideas in my (very amateur) tri training and race day preparations – and sections had me laughing out loud!

3. In-flight Reading

Black Wings has my Angel by Elliott Chaze

1953 noir crime novel featuring an escaped convict, plans to rob an armoured truck, a love/hate relationship and the perfect crime. Now published by NYRB classics – short and gripping – perfect for a flight.

4. A kitchen classic

Ottolenghi – The Cookbook

I was a little late to the party on Otto but was given this book for my birthday and it’s brilliant. Cooking is a joy for me – and my favourite recipe (so far) in this book is Kosheri (an Egyptian rice and lentil dish a bit like pilau rice but voted ‘even nicer’ by my family) – try it!  Page 100.

5. Bedtime wind down or a beach read

The Hive by Gill Hornby

There’s only space in the playground for one Queen bee!

Witty story based around playground politics and the social hierarchy of primary school volunteering. There’s characters you love, some you really don’t and some you ‘know’ from your playground years. No need to turn your brain on just relax and enjoy!


Please do contact us to share your “Best Book(s)” or current read. 

Where possible, Horsley library will stock books recommended on Horsley Hub. 

Stepping out of your comfort zone


A few months ago I joined a bookclub, something I had wanted to do for years but never quite got round to. Well late this year I finally managed it and although we have only had a couple of meetings, it has been fun and of course interesting, if a little strange, to widen my horizons and read something suggested by somebody else.

I have to admit, despite my head being keen to pass over the responsibility of choosing a new book to a book group, my heart struggled; allowing somebody else to choose such a personal thing as a book did not sit that easily with me. For me, reading has become as engrained in part of my nightly rituals as cleaning my teeth. The house is quiet, all the kids are asleep and a stillness falls. Finally it’s time for me. I love the escapism of reading, the getting so caught up in a plot that you cannot wait to find out what happens next, when characters are so well written that you genuinely care about what becomes of them and I believe the impact of a really good book can stay with you a lifetime.

So to let go of the opportunity to pick my own book and hand it over to someone else, however like-minded they are felt like a big thing for me. However, I need not of worried this time at least. “The Girl Who Wrote In Silk” by Kelli Estes was a great choice.

Set in Seattle, weaving back and forth from past to present day, it tells the story of two female characters linked by a tragic event in history. It starts in the present with Inara, who should be following in her fathers footsteps to start her business career, but upon inheriting her Great Aunt’s rundown estate on an island off the coast, she instead decides to embark on restoring it to its former glory. In doing so she finds an embroidered sleeve hidden under a stair tread and sets about discovering exactly what it is and who left it there.

From there we meet the undoubted heroine of the book, Mei Lein, who faces persecution as a young Chinese-American girl during a little-known era of American history when Chinese citizens were brutally forced out of the country they called home. Mei Lein somehow manages to survive this ordeal and falls in love with the man who rescued her, Joseph.

The story recounts their life together, the difficulties and isolation they faced from an inter-racial marriage, and the events that lead to Mei Lein using the art of embroidery to symbolize and teach her son about her heritage and her tragic past. In the present day Inara discovers that her family is more closely connected to the embroidered sleeve than she could of imagined and she battles with herself and her family in order to right the wrongs of the past.

This book is a real page-turner and beautifully written, in particular the story of Mei Lein and her family is what is really at the heart of this book. Some may argue that the present day plot is unnecessary and waters down the often heart-wrenching story of Mei Lein. She is a true survivor, dignified and mild mannered but with an inner strength and resolve that she holds just below the surface, something she needs to depend on frequently in her attempt to live peacefully amongst racial intolerance.

Other characters are well written too, Joseph, Mei Lein’s husband is depicted as a kind, gentle man who the reader immediately warms to for looking after Mei Lein and showing her love. The villain of the story, Duncan Campbell, is also a character the author develops well and ensures the reader instantly feels very uncomfortable with.

The contemporary characters and plot unfortunately lack the depth and interest of the 19th century ones and rely heavily on the historic narrative to propel the story along. There are a few too many coincidences and clichés to make it fully believable, but the two stories flow well and together they form a very poignant, emotional read. This is a captivating story, not at all taxing for the reader but has enough substance to hold interest and draw you in with a heroine that stays with you long after the last page.

It is very possible I would have never read this book if it were up to me alone, I tend to avoid dual storylines or anything too historic. But I have learnt that it can be good for the head and the heart to step outside the comfort zone and safe haven of familiar authors or genre’s, to take a chance on something you may not have chosen for yourself and find that you become utterly absorbed.