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The first rules about book clubs

Bookworms, if you've thought about it, now's the time to opt for an online reading group explains Aine Toner

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Now is a good time to join an online book club

Now is a good time to join an online book club

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Now is a good time to join an online book club

We might not be sure if we're that good at them but within the last year, our proficiency on Zoom, Teams, Google Hangouts and the like has soared (especially if we like seeing the insides of our friends' and colleagues' homes).

Like many activities, in person book clubs have been suspended until restrictions are lifted but have you considered a virtual book club? If your friends are located around the world or even around the corner, an online book club can mean a chance to see friends and family and - briefly - not talk about everything we hear on the news. Online book clubs have flourished during the pandemic but for those dithering about whether to make a booking, why not give it a chance?

For anyone using this time to really invest in reading time - and lockdown has offered many the chance to reconnect with reading - an online club could be an opportunity to discover new genres/authors through recommendations.

If investigating the possibility of a book club, keep in mind that some virtual meeting options are limited in terms of numbers and timings - if you're especially invested in a read, you don't want to cut off mid-sentence.

Choosing a book

Finding something that either everyone is likely to have or is easily downloaded onto an e-reader can be difficult. More than likely, the members will have different literary tastes so we'd suggest everyone choosing a read and rotating. Yes, you'll probably read books outside your comfort zone but it can make for interesting conversation. Still can't find the 'perfect' book? Choose a classic (most are free downloads) or something on the bestseller list - or make it interactive with a social media poll to vote on what the next book will be.

Keep it casual

This is meant to be enjoyable, not a lesson, so embrace the time spent with like-minded friends who are all looking for a way to get through another lockdown together. By casual, we also mean, be gentle with the club members. Even though most of us are at home, it doesn't always mean there's adequate time or inclination to enjoy a solitary pastime, even if it's one someone would have previously adored. For all those who have had their love of reading reawakened, so too are there former readers who can't settle into reading. If someone hasn't finished the book, be forgiving. Everyone can still be involved in and contribute to the discussion. It's not a competition.

What do I say?

It won't be a surprise to anyone if the conversation starts earnestly about books and moves onto relationships, the good, bad and ugly of home schooling or what everyone had for dinner. This is natural and expected but what can happen is that the novelty of agreeing to talk about a specific read can cause what we call book club fright. Don't know where to start? A simple 'I liked it because…' or 'I didn't enjoy it because…' can be enough to open a conversation - but do qualify your view. It isn't necessary or expected for everyone to have the same opinion, nor are you looking for a synopsis of the book in forensic detail - particularly if there are members who haven't finished it - but it's enough that everyone gives an opinion on what they read.

To get you started

Everyone has given their view and now there's a lull in conversation.

You want to keep the momentum going so if you're stuck, here's some questions you could throw out to the group.

• Which scene stuck with you and why?

• Would you or have you read another book by this author?

• Did this book remind you of others you've read?

• What impact did reading this book have on your mood?

• Did your opinion of the book change as you were reading?

Celebrity book clubs

Some stars take their reading very seriously - here's who to follow:

Hello Sunshine by Reese Witherspoon

Each month, the Oscar winner chooses a book with a woman at the centre of the story.

She also suggests a Young Adult read, ideal if you've a budding or blooming bookworm at home.

Started in 2017, Reese, has chosen reads from Lucy Foley, Denise Mina and Jojo Moyes among others.

Richard and Judy Book Club

With regular picks from the worlds of historical fiction, romance, crime, non and literary fiction, the duo select books that mean something to them.

Simply buy/read one of the books they've recommended and visit the website to share your thoughts.

Our Shared Shelf

Her Harry Potter character Hermione loved reading and learning, so it's no surprise Emma Watson, created a book club out of leaving books on public transport and spaces around the world. Though the club's Goodreads page is now unmoderated, the actress still uses #oursharedshelf on Instagram to recommend reads.

Readers' corner:  What we recommend this week

Young Adult

The Island by C L Taylor, HQ, £7.99

Six teenage friends - some united more out of necessity than desire - are holidaying with their parents in Thailand. The six are to stay on an island for a week, a chance to enjoy themselves without their elders and for memories to be made. But within 24 hours, their tour guide has died, leaving the friends alone. But as they've grown up together, no one knows them better… However, one member of the party knows everyone's worst fear, which is a powerful hand to hold. One by one, these fears are manifesting. It's meant to be paradise but it's quickly turned into a nightmare. Can they figure out what's going on and who is responsible for all the strange goings-on?

Crime/thriller

Shiver by Allie Reynolds, Headline, £12.99

With a mix of elements from Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None located in a snowy setting, this is an unsettling read. Milla has been invited to a reunion in the French Alps, a place where she achieved the most of her snowboarding career so there's no question about attending. She has plenty of memories, good and bad, about the place and her friends who she hasn't seen for a decade. While there are some changes to their dynamic, they must trust each other when they realise they're isolated high up a mountain. It's the perfect time for secrets to come out as they piece together present events with what happened on the snow ten years before.

Gothic style

The Shape of Darkness by Laura Purcell, Raven Books, £12.99

Set in Victorian Bath, Agnes is a silhouette artist, collecting what money she can from an artform that is going out of fashion. She needs cash to look after her nephew Cedric and her ailing mother and while she has some help - in the form of her brother-in-law - things still aren't quite adding up. Which is the same that could be said for Agnes' life as her clients keep being murdered soon after they sit for their pictures. Wanting to know answers to questions she's afraid to ask, she visits a child spirit medium, Pearl, whose sister keeps a tight rein over her prize charge. Agnes wants Pearl to make contact with the dead, but Pearl's got something (or someone) she wants to see too.

Fairy tale reimagined

The Charmed Wife by Olga Grushin, Hodder & Stoughton, £17.99

We know the story: Cinderella meets Prince Charming and after a few twists and turns involving glass slippers and pumpkin carriages, they marry. But over a decade later and now a family of four, their relationship hasn't been afforded the happy ever after ending they expected. Her husband is arguably no longer Prince Charming material and marriage hasn't turned out to be wonderful. So, Cinderella has a plan to set her own path, and needs help from the Witch, someone who usually offers love potions to housewives.

Toxic friendship

My Best Friend's Murder by Polly Phillips, Simon & Schuster, £7.99

Bec and Izzy have been best friends through thick and thin - and while Izzy's life always seems to have come out on top, Bec's hasn't been as fortunate. Not everyone sees their friendship as being wonderful however, and when Izzy's body is discovered - after a series of incidents that have you questioning how friendly the two really are - Bec knows she could be viewed as the prime suspect. Don't the police always look at a victim's nearest and dearest before spreading the net further? This is a dark, at times uncomfortable tale about friendship and how easily it can be manipulated for another's gains.

Past hurts

The Survivors by Jane Harper, Little, Brown, £14.99

Kieran Elliott has returned home with his partner and their baby daughter but his community hasn't forgotten an event in his teenage years that changed their locality forever. It may be home, but it's not very welcoming. When the body of a young woman is discovered on the beach, old wounds are set to be opened. It's just that little bit too similar to what happened before… Kieran sets out to unravel the true story but will he like what he discovers?

A 2021 must-read

Girl A by Abigail Dean, HarperCollins, £14.99

Lex Gracie has a good reason as to why she hasn't any desire to think about her family. Not the parents who have supported her, but the House of Horrors in which she grew up with her siblings. Lex is Girl A, the eldest daughter of parents who did untold damage to her and her brothers and sisters in their home. Later split up, Lex went on to have a life that you'd expect a young woman to experience… until her biological mother dies in prison and leaves the home to her children. Lex, understandably, wants to turn this time of her life into something positive for others, but will her siblings agree? Does everyone share the same feelings and experiences with Lex? How have their lives been since that fateful day?

Readers' corner What we recommend this week

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