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The Reading Group    by Elizabeth Noble order for
Reading Group
by Elizabeth Noble
Order:  USA  Can
Perennial, 2005 (2005)

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* * *   Reviewed by Melissa Parcel

Five women come together to form a book group. Some were friends before, others are new acquaintances. Over the course of a year, these women meet monthly to discuss books, and eventually become part of each other's lives. One warning: their discussions include spoilers, so if you're planning to read any of the novels they cover (which include I Capture the Castle, The Woman Who Walked into Doors, Eden Close, and My Antonia), do so before starting this one.

Harriet and Nicole are young mothers who have been friends a long time. Harriet mourns the fact that she let her college sweetheart get away. Although she has a dream husband and family, she can't help but think that her life would be better if she'd chosen a different path. Nicole is married to a serial philanderer. Though she's accomplished and beautiful, that doesn't keep her husband at home. Nicole knows she'll never leave him, she's too much in love. Polly and Susan have also been friends for many years. Polly, a single mom with older kids, has finally met a man, with whom she thinks she can settle down. Complicating matters is the fact that her college age daughter has just discovered she's pregnant. Susan's marriage is wonderful, but she's got an aging mother who increasingly needs care.

Finally, there's Clare, a midwife who has been having a difficult time staying pregnant. Many miscarriages have caused severe stress and grief, and her marriage is faltering. Her mother works with Susan, and thinks the book group may be just what Clare needs to change her focus. Discussing fiction, the women form bonds that go beyond the borders of the group, and true friendships are formed. These connections carry them through the tragedies and triumphs of a tumultuous year. As one who adores books and reading, this novel almost felt like a guilty pleasure. Following a year in the lives of these five women made them seem so real that they could have been my best friends. I loved the fact that the books they chose are ones that I had either read or at least had heard of, so their discussions about themes made sense to me.

The group doesn't like all of the books they cover, and their reasons are well articulated. The characters are well-delineated and the reader gets a true sense of their motivations. Though it's difficult at first to keep individuals sorted out, a handy chart at the beginning helps keep names and relationships straight. And a few clichéd storylines don't detract from the personalities and thoughtfulness. The Reading Group, which shows how women support each other and solve their problems by talking them out, is the type of comfort read that book lovers will adore.

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