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12 Months of Clemo Club: 2023

Our little book club has been reading together for 2 years! 24 books, countless hours of reading, too many pages to count, 24 meet ups – plus a few trips to the cinema together. It’s been so wholesome to see this book club grow in members and explore fiction, essay collections, translations and one sci-fi that we couldn’t quite grasp.


Each month I try to recap our thoughts in the monthly Clemo Books enews and at the end of the year I wrap them up in a post. Read on to find out what we thought of 2023’s Clemo Club picks.


Vladimir by Julia May Jonas

A provocative, razor-sharp, and timely debut novel about a beloved English professor facing a slew of accusations against her professor husband by former students - a situation that becomes more complicated when she herself develops an obsession of her own . . . This was a strong start to the year! A campus novel following our narrator as she discovers her husband’s infidelities and her own lust for a colleague. It was gripping, intelligent and explored ego and the complex themes we experience in interpersonal relationships.  (Don’t let the paperback cover design put you off!)


The Mountain in the Sea by Ray Nayler

When pioneering marine biologist Dr. Ha Nguyen is offered the chance to travel to the remote Con Dao Archipelago to investigate a highly intelligent, dangerous octopus species, she doesn't pause long enough to look at the fine print. This sci-fi looked at harnessing the intelligence of jellyfish and flicked through continents and time. We try to read a range of genres in Clemo Club to expand our reading tastes but this one turned our brains to little jellyfishes.


Wandering Souls Cecile Pin

One night, not long after the last American troops leave Vietnam, siblings Anh, Thanh and Minh flee their village and embark on a perilous journey in hope of a new life. Everyone agreed this was a beautifully researched book inspired by stories of refugees fleeing their homes. Pin’s writing was wonderful and the development of the characters as they moved continents and grew up was incredible. We thought the book could have been longer and we wanted to see more of the siblings’ story which is an important one to tell but perhaps editorially it was too clipped and polished… It was her debut so we can’t wait to see what else is to come!


Cursed Bread by Sophie Mackintosh

Spring, 1951. Four people meet in a small French town: the baker and his wife; the ambassador and his wife. Two belong to the town, two are outsiders. Some time later, strange things start happening. Horses drop dead in the fields. Children grow wild and unbiddable. Ghosts are sighted after dark. Someone is playing a dangerous game of cat and mouse – but who is the predator and who their prey? We discussed how this story was loosely based on true events and it is brave of any author to try and communicate real people and places histories – especially a story as crazy as this. Bookseller Jaimie didn’t grasp that it was set in France and assumed that there was a very cosmopolitan village somewhere in 50’s England serving croissants each morning; rather embarrassing!


Arthur and Teddy are Coming Out 

No one in the family is prepared when 79-year-old Arthur Edwards drops a bombshell: he's gay, and after a lifetime in the closet, he's finally ready to come out. Arthur's 21-year-old grandson, Teddy, has the same secret. But Teddy doesn't feel ready to come out yet – especially when Arthur’s announcement causes shockwaves in the family. Some members didn’t read past chapter 1 and they were surprised to learn of the wing walking! Perhaps this book should have been classed as YA as it would be a wonderful read for younger audiences.


Big Swiss by Jen Beagin

Greta liked knowing people's secrets. That wasn't a problem. Until she met Big Swiss. Big Swiss. That's Greta's nickname for her - she is tall, and she is from Switzerland. Well that's how Greta imagines her; they haven't actually met in person. Nor has Greta actually ever been to Switzerland. What Greta doesn't know is that she's about to bump into Big Swiss in the local dog park. A new - and not entirely honest - relationship is going to be born. We love love love Big Swiss! Funny and unpredictable this novel had it all and the majority of book club loved it. There was a big discussion over how cringey we found Om, but equally we grew to enjoy the therapist connecting all of the characters within the book and how the decrepit house was a character in itself. We can’t wait for the adaptation starring Jodie Comer too.


Yellowface by Rebecca F Kuang

Athena Liu is a literary darling and June Hayward is literally nobody. When Athena dies in a freak accident, June steals her unpublished manuscript and publishes it as her own under the ambiguous name Juniper Song. It’s fun to talk about a book when the writer wants you to hate the main character. June Hayward was an interesting one to discuss, a few members felt sympathy for her however most couldn’t reckon with the fact she just never redeemed herself! We thought perhaps the book was the author’s learnings after a few years in the publishing industry after her TikTok hit Babel – however in an interview she had said this isn’t the case. The ending wrapped up quicker than we had hoped but a great book to discuss with friends.


Open Throat by Henry Hoke

A queer and dangerously hungry mountain lion narrates this fever dream of a novel, carrying us on a universal journey through a wondrous and menacing modern day L.A. I've never eaten a person but today I might... A short but treasured read for Clemo Club. Based on the real big cat that prowled the foothills of the Hollywood sign we got a sense of the location and the morals of the people who hiked there. This little epic read like a movie and the ending was straight out of a major motion picture.


Second Best by David Foenkinos

A magical imagining of the fate of a fictional boy whose life is shaped forever when he loses out on the role of Harry Potter. Inspired by the underdog and what happened following his rejection from the Harry Potter casting in London 1999 this book was quite ridiculous. Some members enjoyed that aspect whilst other book clubbers ‘finished it out of spite.’ We felt sympathy for the protagonist but there is only so far you can take avoiding the Potter phenomenon – the ending was also hilarious.


Rouge by Mona Awad

From the critically acclaimed author of Bunny comes a horror-tinted, gothic fairy tale about a lonely dress shop clerk whose mother’s unexpected death sends her down a treacherous path in pursuit of youth and beauty. This was a strange one! A few members couldn’t quite get into Rouge by Mona Awad and didn’t finish it however one member was on hand to regale the tale, even giving voices to the jellyfish involved in the story. A few members have read Bunny, Awad’s previous book, and although completely mad we do recommend.


Welcome to the Hyunam-Dong Bookshop by Hwang Bo-Reum

Yeongju did everything she was supposed to, go to university, marry a decent man, get a respectable job. Then it all fell apart. Burned out, Yeongju abandons her old life, quits her high-flying career, and follows her dream. She opens a bookshop. Some of the members found this book a little slow as not much happens in it narrative wise, however others found this to be a meditative and cosy aspect of the book which is what they needed as we adjusted to the dark nights of November. It was good to hear from some members who were knowledgeable on the customs and culture of South Korea which explained some of the storylines of characters working or frequenting The Hyunam-Dong Bookshop. For bookseller Jaimie it was perfectly timed as reading this coincided with the renovation and opening of Clemo Books bookshop!


The Hurricane Blonde by Halle Sutton

Salma Lowe understands better than anyone how Hollywood chews up and spits out starlets. She is the offspring of Hollywood royalty, a former child-star turned guide on a true crime bus tour and sister to Tawney, dubbed the ‘Hurricane Blonde’, who was murdered in the mid-’90s. Lots of members who made the meet up liked the crime aspect of the book and the flawed characters made for good relationships to read about, but we thought perhaps Salma, or Salmon, as she is known by her family could have had a better story arc. The book touched on quite heavy themes including addiction, grief, violence against women and child abuse and perhaps the book could have given the author an opportunity to raise awareness of these themes (or for the characters to come to some sort of justice/conclusion) – however if the book is purely for entertainment was that the author’s aim? One member made the observation that we should always be suspicious of a book that includes prompts for book clubs to discuss!

Thank you to all the Clemo Club members for being such a joy to read with, I look forward to our meet ups every month. I can’t wait to see what books 2024 will bring!


If you’re resolution is to read more books joining Clemo Club could be a fun way to make it happen – and meet some lovely book worms too! Sign ups are open now to start with us in February. Read more on the Clemo Club page.

Happy reading, Jaimie x

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