Logo : Shetland U3A   Logo : Shetland U3A
Logo : Shetland U3A

Book Group  SU3A Book Group


This Group is for people who enjoy reading. The books we choose come from an eclectic background and may be contemporary novels, well known classics, not so well known books and members favourites. These can be fiction or non fiction.

There is no particular format for discussion, some may not have finished the book, some will have enjoyed it, others not, but this in no way deters from lively and often humorous discussion. The books are chosen and agreed by members, normally on a 6 months basis.

We meet from 2pm - 4pm on the fourth Tuesday of the month at Isleburgh, in the Radio Room. We occasionally have to change rooms, but the exact room will be displayed on the Isleburgh information board in Reception.

New members are always welcome. Come along to a meeting and see what you think, you may find it difficult not to join in the discussion.


Dates for 2019

22 January         I capture the castle by Dodie Smith

26 February        Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge

26 March            The Valley at the Centre of the World by Mallachy Tallack.

23 April               Black Roses by Jane Thynne

28 May                The Seige by Helen Dunmare

25 June               Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvie

23 July                Ice by Ulla Lena Lundberg

27 August           Miss Garnetts's Angel by Shirley Vickers

24 September     Murder of a lady by Anthony Wynne

22 October          House between tides by Sarah Maine

26 November      a chance to meet a guest with a literary bent....

No meeting in December


Dates for 2020

28 January        Red Birds by Mohammed Hanif

25 February      Ragged Edge of Night by Olivia Hawker

24 March           Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte


 Contact for the group is Larraine Gray, 01595 840517.



Book Reviews for 2019


I capture the castle by Dodie Smith, 22 January

It’s an enchanting story and I enjoyed the way it was written. I liked the witty descriptions and I liked the characters. However I would have liked more depth to some of them. The story is sharply funny but poignant. The marriage plot was a bit Jane Austen-like. The book does raise big questions about the role of women at that time.

The first sentence was odd! I enjoyed most of the book. The characters were all eccentric except for the Americans. I found the book amusing and particularly liked the part where Rose wears the fur coat and is mistaken for a bear.

I liked the title and I like the use of the word “capture”. The author certainly captures the castle and I just loved the descriptions. The second part shows a coming of age.

I didn’t think the Americans were drawn as strongly as the family and their acquaintances. This is my second time of reading this book and I am quite pleased to have read it again.

The use of language was straightforward and the illusions were well described. Parts rang home with me. I have memories of having baths in front of the fire. I enjoyed the flashes of humour and there is an excellent history of the castle. Certainty and ignorance go hand in hand here. I enjoyed reading it again and got a bit more out of it this time.

The descriptions are absolutely brilliant. I did think it was going to be funnier than it is. It’s written by an older person trying to be a younger person and I am not sure it works that well. It is obvious that it is going to be Simon she falls in love with and so I got bored with it. If Rose had been killed pretending to be a bear that might have made it better!

I did enjoy the physical descriptions but the characters are cartoon-ish and the plot too stereotypical. The use of language made it worthwhile but the love story was pure farce.

I found the 6d book extremely funny and very well written. The second part ventures into something more serious with big issues being flagged up. It’s vaguely similar to “A summer birdcage” by Margaret Drabble but is nothing like as good. It fell well short of “The Towers of Trebezond” by Rose MacCaulay. However there are some very good things in it.

I read the first 10 pages and then life got in the way. So I tried again but I kept getting stuck at page 10. I will try to find time to read it soon.

It felt like a fairy tale to me. The illustration in my copy at the start of the 6d book encourages this impression too. I enjoyed her use of language, particularly when she is describing situations and some of them really hit the spot for me. I enjoyed the descriptions, humour, and the dialogue but soon sussed the inevitability of the love story. I felt the passages about religion were laboured and there was too much of it. There is a nice neat ending though in that the story ends with Cassandra having only the margins of her third notebook left to write in. I will pass this book on.


Master Georgie by Beryl Bainbridge 26 February

Myrtle was the main character of the book for me. She uses childish phrases when she speaks of her childhood. I enjoyed the little flashes of humour. There seemed to be endless descriptions involving lice and maggots! The book showed the ineptitude and chaos of wars and fighting. It is a detailed description of mayhem. It was very accurate historically and in the geography. But I was depressed by the book and shocked by the final page.

I was not impressed. Compared to the works of Helen Dunmore I found it less sparkling and not as deep.

I found it just plain weird. I enjoyed the writing but it all seemed so pointless. I mean, taking families to observe the war. It didn’t go anywhere for me. The ending wasn’t a surprise - in fact I think it was a bit of a cop-out. I did like the style which was different for each person telling the tale.

It absolutely gripped me. It’s a very grown up novel. This is an author at the top of her game. The book points out the horrors without indulging in them. There are lots of good bits about it. There is absolutely no fat in it – there is no padding at all, each word is valuable and the detail is terrific. I will be keeping the book and I intend to re-read it.

I read a review which said it is her finest work. I didn’t like it though. I missed the innuendos and was shocked to find it was Myrtle who had his children. I didn’t like any of the characters but it was very funny in places. It was also very dark in places. I enjoyed the less gruesome descriptions.

I found it difficult to have any feelings for the characters. I had no empathy whatsoever for any of them. I haven’t finished it and it’s not for me.

I liked the different styles for the characters because then it was a different telling of the story. I didn’t like the book at all though. There didn’t appear to be anything to take me on from one chapter to the next. I felt it was a bit like a text book on the Crimea. It was a bit disappointing having read “The Birthday Boys” although I appreciate it is true historically. I didn’t feel involved at all and I didn’t enjoy it.

I enjoyed reading it. I did like the detail of the Crimea. It shows a perceived glamour against the futility of war. It shows the crowd mentality and following the herd. It’s a cunningly competent narrative. It’s a quiet drama.


The valley at the centre of the earth by Mallachy Tallach 26 March

I like this book because of Mallachy’s affinity with Shetland. He writes of it as a happy and peaceful place with time to speak to your neighbours and to make friends. The characters are likeable. The author has done lots of research. It’s a drama, yes, there is the slaughter of the lambs but if I thought of uncomfortable things like that I would become a vegetarian! I liked the humour. The piece about moving the chest of drawers up the stairs was comical. There is love, understanding, sadness, happiness and loyalty here. It’s an absorbing story and the use of the Shetland dialect is very effective.

The blow by blow account of killing the lamb could be used as a manual! I loved the use of the Shetland words. They set the scene without putting non-Shetland readers off. There is a judicious blend of accent/dialect which is very good. The descriptions of the weather were really good. It’s a handbook on crofting life.

It started slowly for me but I thought the writing is very good. Slaughter of the lambs as described is illegal surely? I liked his descriptions of places and people but perhaps there was a bit too many of them? I skipped a few I must admit. The characters were believable. David was used over the renting of the house and I thought there was a lack of paperwork regarding the fire making it a bit unlikely. I felt there was an element of autobiography in the book.

This is the Shetland you would like to exist, this is Fair Isle crofting. Still clipping by hand doesn’t happen. The author lives in Glasgow and it shows. His description of Up Helly Aa was just not true. The dialect has the cadences all wrong. There is a darker side to Shetland and I am uneasy about books which portray Shetland as an ideal place to live. He didn’t bring the scenery and wildlife to life for me. I have real doubts about the book. It will be going on the” to be recycled” books shelf.

This was my second reading of this book and I found it really different this time. I loved the people. He has amazing insight into the characters. I felt it could easily have been written by a woman as there was not the usual male approach. The drunken episode should be used in Drink Aware programmes. I had some problems with the dialect but I liked his style of writing.

I’ve read 60% of it and intend to finish it. However I am not enjoying it at all. I was saddened and then annoyed by it. He’s trying to be lyrical in his descriptions. There is no real story or no development of it anyway. I can’t see the characters as real people. The dialect is irritating. It’s not Doric or English. He should use one or the other. The sentences just didn’t ring true.

I liked it although not the style of writing which seemed more like a diary. One particular phrase on Page 26, “The thing about an island….you feel you can know it” struck a chord. Somehow, reading that so early in the book seemed to make my mind want to find out more. It was interesting.

What a contrast with our last choice. This verged on the verbose and was, at times, repetitive. Having said that, some of his descriptions of Shetland, Shetlanders and Shetland life were wonderful and very pithy. I was not expecting to enjoy the book but, on the whole, I did. I found it too long and too slow and I was getting bored by the end but I persevered! I shall keep the book and offer it to friends who love Shetland but only as a loan.


Black Roses by Jane Thynne 23 April

This book is as good as any history book on this period in time. It describes the implications for young women growing up in Germany. I appreciate being educated by my books and this was extremely well researched.

The book is written from an unusual point of view for this genre. I was particularly struck by the quiet conveyancing of the nightmarish quality of Thirties Germany, the Jewish families unable to get out.

I wouldn’t have read this book by its appearance. The cover doesn’t sell the book. I was not involved with the characters. I didn’t like the romantic side of it too much. I have heard of these things happening from my father. I am not sure I would read any more of her books.

I found it very hard going. It was difficult to get into. However once I did I became faintly interested. Her portrayal of people was interesting. I was not struck by the historical aspect but it is obvious she had done a great deal of research.

I am so glad I read it. I didn’t like it and wondered if I would only read the first few chapters but I persevered and I am glad I did. Clara didn’t seem plausible to me but she was born into high society so anything could be possible. The writing from the female point of view was very good. It is fascinating that women were deemed important mainly for the procreation of children but only certain types of children. It was a very patriarchal society and all the double standards depicted reminded me of “The Handmaid’s tale”.

The first chapter was a struggle but then I went on and found it compelling. I understand why Clara wants to do what she does. What a false society – that came through strongly. Some men’s attitude regarding women is very well written.

I found it unusual that there was murder on the first page and then I had to wait until Chapter 47 for the next one! I found it very interesting and was not aware that the campaign against the Jews had started so early. There were some good and funny descriptions of characters and situations which softened the story somewhat. I thought the geographical details were a bit OTT. Was Thynne trying to impress us? There seemed to be too many characters and I found it confusing. However the characters were all well drawn. The sense of suspense made me want to read on. The false friendship of the wives was interesting.

There is an interesting spread of characters and an abundance of history and research. It’s clear that, then, a woman’s place was firmly in the home. This shows Clara as a having a different role. I was not aware of labour camps for women to be taught motherhood. There were some American terms used in the text which was irritating. There were ironic touches which took my breath away. To say I enjoyed it is not the right word to use but I read it with interest.

The film background misled me to believe initially that it would be a light book to read. I found it actually affected my mood (downhill) as I went along. I was surprised by the amount of control over women, for example the brides’ camps, no smoking and the fashions encouraged. The women were ruthless in some cases e.g Magda married Goebbels for what he could provide and she personally killed her 6 children. I checked the time span of this story and can’t believe that Clara found her way around Berlin quickly enough to outsmart those tailing her. Also she was accepted into several social groups quickly but this was probably because she was well connected back home. But was this realistic? The celebrations of Hitler’s birthday was a surprise too. I felt the author over-used the German names for everything at every opportunity e.g all food and wines were given their German names over and over again. This is a personal grumble of course.


The Siege by Helen Dunmore May 2019

I read this twice. It is so well written with a wonderful literary style. It showed how the community were all made wary of each other. The fictitious side of the book is the story of the family’s story, everything else is factual and very well researched. Mikhail’s story is the kernel of the book. I found it a difficult read and actually painful. There is an unrelenting desperation. It’s as if though the residents were toughened up before the Germans surrounded Leningrad. The historical truths are heart-rending. The author is extremely good at depicting the waiting and the anxiety of the time.

I found the book difficult to read in big chunks. It’s very powerful, gripping and harrowing so you wanted to carry on with it. I didn’t enjoy it but I definitely appreciated it. Dunmore’s way of writing made it very readable.

The first time I read the book my response was very much that of the other members. I’ve read it more recently and I find her mastery of language is just extraordinary. It’s a very visual book with lots of little pictures in your mind. It’s good that it came after Black Roses (April book by Jane Thynne) as it showed again how it is to live in a totalitarian regime. This is why people go to war. It described the nightmarish quality in Hitler’s Reich and here under Stalin’s rule. This is a very good book. We are looking at some serious books and this is good for this group. I could not put the book down, I had to read it. It’s one of the best books we have read.

I liked the book. I have ordered the follow-up (The Betrayal) which is about the lifting of the siege. Out of this awful time has come a personal statement from Putin about his family history. The siege and the privations went on for a long time after 1944. This book is like a history lesson and a very good history lesson. It is extremely well researched.

I found I wanted to read this book but didn’t want to know what happened next. I did something I do not usually do and I read the ending before I should have done. It’s harrowing but there is enormous beauty in the writing. The writer gets all the senses going, you can feel and taste all that they experienced.

I found it a very moving book. The family’s personal circumstances made it very sad. It reminded me of “Terror in the Arctic” which is heart-rending but details some experiences of living in Norway when the Germans arrived and then withdrew, destroying as they went. I felt I was there, in Leningrad, in this book. The lack of trust in others and constant suspicion was very well described. As has already been noted I felt all my senses were activated. I know what it is like to have to wear lots of clothes to keep warm and I also know it didn’t work!

I thought p.146 (2nd para) showed how we, today, take so much for granted in how our food is provided. The burning of books and furniture horrified me but then those were desperate times. The language used to describe the siege and the desperation of the families is excellent and I felt such admiration for the doggedness of Anna, Marina, Andrei in their care for each other and for Mikhail and Koyla.


Poverty Safari by Darren McGarvie  23 June

This is a passionate description of causes of poverty. I felt the style of writing was poor. The author is obviously trying to impress the reader. I began to think that some of his words he made up. He made it clear that we are all responsible for our own destinies. I believe he is self-educated. I was impressed by his use of statistics. He must read more history to present a more balanced view. The book left me depressed.

I am halfway through the book. I found it interesting but I have had to make myself read it. The style does not encourage you to read it. He states “ If you haven’t experience of any of this you are very lucky”. I think this is inverted snobbery. It’s not implicit that people do drugs and alcohol because of their circumstances. I do have empathy but I don’t know if there is an answer to this. I will finish the book.

I physically found the book difficult to read. I became very annoyed with him. He implies “What a tough time I’ve had but aren’t I clever to get out of it?” I am not prepared to put the effort into reading this. I am not sympathetic.

I dipped into this book. I read it fairly extensively. It’s angst-y. It’s Greater Glasgow with all that that implies. I watched a BBC Scotland programme “The disappearance of Julie Riley” which gave the visual elements McGarvey is writing about. He is an unsophisticated author and very passionate. People live like this and they shouldn’t. We must take responsibility for what we do. I understand that other book groups are reading and reviewing this book so It’s a popular choice.

The book made me think and I recalled situations when I worked for and with a local council. They began schemes for people struggling to make a living but then government and agencies moved in and their policies and attitudes “frightened” the users away. I was puzzled that after 2 plus years in the Firestation turning his life around he wrote that he was suddenly, again, homeless but there was no explanation given for this. I admire him for putting his thoughts and findings into print but I did not find his style of writing helpful.


 Ice by Ulla-Lena Lundberg 23rd July

I read this book after reading “Snow falling on Cedars” which we looked at a few months ago. This is now the second timeI have read it and I have enjoyed it even more. There are several stories here, the Pastor, the doctor, Mona, the grand-parents, even the children have a story to tell. The doctor reminded me very much of someone at GBH! I could see the community and the landscape in my mind’s eye very clearly. It may have been a bit God-ly for some readers. The book is very well written and translated although I still prefer “plonk” to “plunk” when describing placing the child on their potty!

This book was a lovely change after our last few books. However I found it incredibly slow and I plodded through it. I think I would have quite liked the priest. I really liked the doctor’s character and I liked the wife and I understood her reaction to the grief. I think it is an extremely well written book, I could see the village, the people, the boats and the scenery.

Somehow the book hooked me. I found it hard to put down. It immersed the reader in the world there on the islands. However the pace was boring and repetitive at times. The prayers, hymns and religion did not impose on one. The drowning bit was difficult for me.

I wrote down the characters to keep track of them. I was intrigued by the difference between the pastor and his wife. She worked so hard. I understood her way of life. They complimented each other beautifully. I liked Irina very much. I liked the relationships the pastor built up with the church officers, particularly Adele. The author is very good at drawing her characters. The winter ice is problematic but has its benefits. The depiction of refugees drowning is happening now in our time. There is also the poignant story of the doctor having to leave her child. Mona’s illness was oan interesting aspect of the story. The pastor drowning brings a change of pace to the telling. The book was a slow read but it grabbed me. The grief as described was stressful but look at what else was happening for the family… a house move, a new pastor and his wife sharing their space. Lundberg is skilful in creating identities. She took us into every part of the community and there are some similarities with Shetland.

 I found it interesting but tedious.

 I echo that, I found it tedious but I will try to finish it.

 Not what I expected but a very good read although slow.


Miss Garnett’s Angel by Salley Vickers 27th August

This was a best seller when it first came out, mostly by word of mouth. It was her first novel. Julia is a feisty lady and brave. She is on a quest for her own soul and of course there is her angel. She follows the psychic and emotional development of the people she meets and learns from the mistakes she makes. In a lot of ways it is similar to “Pilgrim’s progress”. Julia didn’t stay in her comfort zone and for this she was richly rewarded. Tobias and the angel’s story shows us peoples’ eyes being opened mentally and emotionally by their experiences. This is what this book is about, opening your eyes physically and emotionally.

At first I didn’t appreciate the book. But then it taught me about myself. My life was a burden and then got easier and then changed again. This book took me there. I thought it multi-layered and it had an original style of writing. The 2 stories could have been a bit daunting. Sexuality was alluded to very well which was refreshing. The change in the character of Julia seemed unlikely to me though. This book has been important to me and I intend to read it again.

I found it annoying and irritating. I couldn’t be bothered with it. I tried reading it again but it was still the same. In the end I just read the last chapter.

It was quite the opposite for me. I thought I wouldn’t like it but the more I read it the more I enjoyed it. It’s well written and thought provoking. The environment Julia found herself in influenced her thinking. There was respect for others’ opinions. When I started the part written in italics I couldn’t quite understand why it had been done that way and felt it detracted from Julia’s story but then I realised it was apochryphal and saw what it was about.

I struggled with the book to start with. It got better as it went on. I liked the description of Venice and I liked the characters. However the fact that Julia changed so totally was unbelievable. She was transformed when she moved to Venice but I don’t think she would have changed that much. The Will at the end was interesting and tidied things up. On balance I enjoyed it but won’t read it again.

I was the complete opposite! I would have liked more action. Julia was a very plucky lady and I liked the beginning but I got bored and fed up by the ending. Those twins didn’t ring true and anyone could see through Carlo. I got tired of the angels and why the inheritance? Did I miss something? I loved her descriptions and Vickers’ writing was very good. I must say though I didn’t like the twins and was not keen on the Americans.

I love this book. I have more of her books. I love the style and the language she used. Vickers was a psychotherapist which interested me. I enjoyed the book and I love Venice although I wouldn’t go back there because of all the tourism. I will be recommending this book to the West Side Book Group.

I am glad I read this book. It was such a change from some of the more recent selections. I liked the characters and I loved the descriptions of Venice. I haven’t been lucky enough to go there but I could almost hear the water lapping against the walls of the paths where Julia walked. Julia is “Miss Garnett” for quite a while in the book but when this changes with Nicco being allowed to call her by her first name we start to see other changes in her life. There’s a mystery to follow too, involving Carlo, Toby and Sarah and the tale of Azarias, Tobias and the dog was fascinating. Here is a gentle story which was thought provoking and uplifting.


Murder of a lady by Anthony Wynne -  24 September

This was written in the Thirties and the author was well known for “Closed door mysteries”. I felt the book was set further back than then though. It was nice to be able to read something light and also preposterous. It was interesting how books were written at that time. The ending was preposterous but it was a nice light read..

I thought originally that I would like it. There were too many opinions on how women behaved then. It was a good story to begin with but then deteriorated and the ending was awful. It was spoiled by too much waffling. My audio book is a puzzle as to how to get back and re-read a passage. I missed bits out I ‘m afraid.

Didn’t Agatha Christie write something similar?

I felt it was a plodding book. I had to push myself to continue.It appeared the doctor took snuff many times. I was surprised by this. There were several descriptions which built up a really nice picture which made up for the plodding at the beginning. I got a bit bored. It was full of misogyny. I enjoyed the beautiful simple ending.

I was loath to start it. I thought it was a tame, simple murder. It was a very gentile murder. I had to plod through it. There were good descriptions and I enjoyed the autumn colours. Miss Gregor’s domination is what carries the book along. I did enjoy it eventually but it was a bit dull and plodding in places.

I didn’t know there was a genre of “locked room” crimes. I got bogged down and then I got pedantic about it. The descriptions were sometimes lyrical but the medical stuff really irritated me. I thought it was earlier than the Thirties. I was not convinced by the characters but felt that Dr McDonald merited more sympathy. Although I really enjoyed it I may not be reading any of his other books.

I read it ages ago. There are good descriptions. The ending made me laugh out loud.

It was a “Wet” story, forgive the pun. It was laboured. So many characters caused some confusion and I ended up writing them all down to sort them out. I cannot say I enjoyed the book as a whole but there were some wonderful descriptions. I shall not read it again.

I did not enjoy the book and it took a lot of goodwill to read it through to the end. It was very wooden in style and Agatha Christie it isn’t! There were several dead bodies though to keep some of us happy and it seemed to me that when the plot flags he just arranges for a policeman to be killed. I think when I found the word “today” hyphenated on Page 24 I began to lose heart. The dialogue was patterned with lots of nodding of the head and hesitations. A minute is a long time to wait for a reply from someone. And why all the Latin quotes? It was interesting to note the habit of taking snuff and smoking pipes in those times. Why the boat trip? What did that achieve? It was a disappointing ending but I suppose the final chapter’s title “The End” gave the game away. For me the cover was the best thing about this book. An illustration by an artist whose work I really admire.





















| Logo : The Scottish Government | | Logo : Leader Plus | Logo : Project part financed by the european union| Logo : Voluntary Action Shetland| Logo : Shetland Charitable Trust|