“Secret Santa” 2014 – part one!

Belper Book Chat has a tradition of exchanging “Secret Santa” presents at our December meeting. Being a book club, those presents are, of course, all books. We also only exchange books that we have read and enjoyed ourselves. Sometimes the books come from our own shelves, although of course that means that you have to think of a book that you love enough for someone to read, but not so much that you can’t bear to let it go! So readers often buy a new copy (or an extra second-hand copy) to pass on.

Many of us find the task of selecting the “ideal” Secret Santa to be one of the toughest tasks of the year… how to choose the book that another is sure to like, yet is one that they haven’t read already? Is it best to play it safe, going for a nice short, easy to read book that’s fun and uplifting, or is it better to offer something a bit more thought provoking?

To raise the stakes yet higher, we went on to discuss last December’s Secret Santas at our January 2015 meeting, when we had great fun trying to guess who had given what (and more often than not, getting it wrong)! This was a popular meeting, with 12 people turning up despite the threat of snow.

So what books do our members choose to read and recommend to others? Because we had so many books to talk about, the answer has been divided into two posts. Here’s the first half…


Jill received We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler. She thought this was brilliant and “unputtdownable” and recommended it highly. Her only warning was not to read any reviews or the blurb on the back first! Jill had already lent the book on to Sallie, who had also enjoyed the book.

Jill’s score: 9/10.


Jill’s book had been given by Evan, and he had received Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet. Evan explained that this was a difficult book to talk about, then proved himself wrong! It’s an experimental book where the narrative is presented out of sequence and the reader has to work hard to piece together the story. He described it as brilliant and very original but unlikely to be everyone’s cup of tea. Alan had provided this book: he commented that as it is a short novel, it won’t be too offputting for anyone wanting to give it a go.

Evan’s score: 9/10.

SS_ColourOfMilkAlan had read The Colour of Milk by Nell Leyshon. This is written in the form of an autobiography of a farm girl of the 1830’s and tells the story of a year in the life of her family. As she is only partially literate, the prose is limited, which is appropriate but might annoy some readers. Alan thought the plot a bit predictable but that the book still represented a “not bad” read. Helen had gifted The Colour of Milk – she felt that it was an easy read with a sad ending.

Alan’s score: 7/10 (Helen considered a score this high from Alan was “a result”)!

SS_NeverLetMeGoHelen’s own present  was Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro. This is a book with a real twist, which was discussed at the meeting but won’t be revealed here. Suffice it to say that the story revolves around three people at what appears to be a rather strange boarding school, but which develops into a much darker and thought-provoking piece of science fiction. Several other members had read the book; Hilary described it as “horrible but marvellous fiction”. Helen enjoyed it although she felt that the book did meander a bit. Malcolm had provided this book – he felt that it was an example of a novel driven entirely by one great idea.

Helen’s score: 7.5/10

SS_SummersLeaseMalcolm read Summer’s Lease by John Mortimer. He described this as a mixture of a comic novel about an English family abroad, crossed with an intrigue concerning missing people and two mysterious deaths. He felt that some of the characters were rather cliched and that he wasn’t quite sure what to make of the book as it couldn’t make its own mind up. It would make an easy holiday read. Summer’s Lease was provided by Margaret, who couldn’t make the meeting but has described the novel as “combining detective work on an illegal supply chain, family problems and a fantastic art trail in Italy in an  easy read with wit and well-drawn characters”.

Malcolm’s score: 5/10


Margaret received Norwegian Wood by Haruki Murakami but reports that she has not yet been able to read the book. We are looking forward to Margaret’s update!


Hilary had provided Margaret’s book, whilst she herself read Falstaff by Robert Nye. This is the fictional autobiography of Shakespeare’s knight. Hilary said that it was “lewd, bawdy and bacchanalian” and that she had never read anything like it before. Clever but very sexually graphic and sometimes distasteful.

Hilary’s score: 6/10

And Falstaff, of course, had been given by Jill.

Carry on reading part two by clicking here!

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