December Book Picnic Recommendations

On the first Wednesday of every month, GWL team members share what we’ve read recently at our Book Picnic. In the current climate, our Book Picnic takes place remotely, giving all of us some valuable social interaction and providing us with many excellent book suggestions…

  • Excellent Women by Barbara Pym

    Recommended by Gaby, this book was first published in 1952 and is described as a “comedy of manners”. It centers on Mildred Lathbury, a mild-mannered clergyman’s daughter. She is an “excellent woman”, a phrase used condescendingly by men in reference to the kind of women who perform menial duties in the service of voluntary organizations and churches. When her new neighbors (anthropologist Helena and her husband Rocky) move in, it begins to shake up Mildred’s quiet life. Gaby described the book as “Jane Austen-esque” and stated that she really enjoyed Mildred as a character. Anna had also previously read the book, and described it as “subtle and funny”. This book stimulated a very interesting conversation about “out of date” concepts in older books, and whether to look at them through a modern lens or take them as they are.

  • Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

    Currently being read by Wendy, this timely novel tells the stories of two fictional families, 150 years apart, linked by the same house. In the 21st century, Willa Knox lives in a historic inherited house in Vineland, New Jersey. Unfortunately the house, and her family, are falling apart. In parallel is the story of a previous resident, Thatcher Greenwood, a 19th century science teacher fighting to be allowed to teach Darwin’s Theory of Natural Selection to his students. By weaving together the 2016 presidential election and the religious outrage over Darwin’s Theory of Evolution, this book provides a reminder that social and political upheaval is not a new trend. Wendy said that she is “completely gripped” by the book, and although she’s not sure yet where the story is going to go, she’s very much looking forward to reading more.

  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

    Recommended by Annie, Homegoing follows the descendants of an Asante woman in Ghana over the course of 300 years. It begins with her daughters, two half-sisters born into different villages. One daughter, Effia, is married off to an Englishman and lives in relative comfort while her sister Esi, unbeknownst to her, is sold into the slave trade and shipped to America. The story then follows the two branches of the family up until present day, providing an incredible and horrific look at history, colonialism and slavery. Annie described this breathtaking and emotional book as “enormously searing”.

  • Miss Austen by Gill Hornby

    Recommended by Pauline, this thoroughly researched work of historical fiction imagines the lost letters of Jane Austen and the reasons why her sister Cassandra Austen destroyed them. Providing a moving and entirely believable portrait of Cassandra, as well as a fresh perspective on the relationship of the Austen sisters and their wider family, this is a must read for any Austen fan. Pauline said she really enjoyed reading it and found it to be “a bit of light relief, and a satisfying read”.

  • A More Perfect Union by Tammye Huf

    Recommended by Elaine who said she “didn’t want to stop reading it”, this novel features an epic love story between an Irish immigrant and a black slave. The fictional story was inspired by the author’s great-great grandparents and is set in pre-Civil War Virginia, when inter-racial marriage was illegal. This is a gripping forbidden love story, with rich and nuanced characters.

  • Conundrum by Jan Morris

    Recommended by Ren, this memoir tells the story of recently passed travel writer and transgender woman, Jan Morris. An insightful book that covers her transition in the 60’s and 70’s, and the parallels and polarities of being a man in society and being a woman in society. Over time this memoir has become a landmark in trans literature. However, some aspects of the book did show its age. Ren found that parts of the story were uncomfortable to read and contained some offensive racism, which they “found difficult because they got so much out of her thoughts on gender” and her experiences in travel writing. Ultimately Ren felt that this was “one of the best books [they have] read this year” and although it was a difficult read in some ways, it is valuable in a historical perspective.

  • The Panopticon by Jenni Fagan

    Recommended by Anna, this unsettling novel offers a stark look at the experience of a teen failed by a broken system, headed to the Panopticon, a home for chronic young offenders. Not for the faint of heart, and not an easy book to read, it features a believable and soul searingly honest voice in main character Anais, who has been in and out of the Scottish welfare system since birth. Anna found she was “struggling with the vernacular and writing” a bit, but, after watching a video of author Jenni Fagan speaking, had decided to “reread the book again with the authors voice in mind”. Although brutal and horrifying, this book provides a voice and tells a truth that needs to be told.


If you’re looking to pick up some interesting reads for yourself, GWL is delighted to offer our ‘Select and Collect’ service.

Request up to 6 books in advance, and we’ll have them ready for you to pick up. Or, if you’re not sure where to start, we can select some titles or make up a “book bundle” for you. Click here to find out more!

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