A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll

I have had ‘A Kind of Spark’ on the tbr pile for quite some time. I am not sure why it took me so long to pick it up, but it becoming ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2021’ overall winner certainly prompted me to pick it up.

This nook is certainly a worthy prize winner, and is one that I will be encouraging people to read, whatever their age.

Addie is fascinated by the tales of witch trials that took place in her village and nearby Edinburgh. She wants these women to be remembered because nobody should be treated badly just because they are ‘different’ or ‘misunderstood’. And Addie knows what that experience can be like, as she is autistic – and not everybody is willing to understand that.

Like all good books, this is not just a story but is also an education. The powerful descriptions of what life is like for an autistic child and young adult will really have people thinking and hopefully with some understanding.

If you can pick up a copy of this book please do – you won’t regret it.

Mrs England by Stacey Halls

For ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ this month, the book is ‘Mrs England’ by Stacey Halls. Now, when this was revealed, there was a lot of excitment amongst the bookclubbers. I was excited too, as always, however I am late to the Stacey Halls party. And, it certainly, looks like I have been missing out.

I was utterly absorbed in this book. It reads like a modern classic and is so atmospheric. I mean, a lonely house, linked to a mill on the Yorkshire Dales, is atmospheric on its own – but throw in a family that needs a nanny and goodness knows how many secrets, and you have a page-turner.

I don’t like to give spoilers, so I will go too much into the story other than to say there is a wonderful mystery woven into the tale and things are not quite as they seem. We are also given some fantastically strong female leads, which is always a joy to read.

For me, ‘Mrs England’ reminds me of Du Maurier, and I would certainly be intrigued to try more novels from Stacey Halls.

The Dinner Guest by B P Walton

My lovely booksta buddy Philippa was kind enough to pass ‘The Dinner Guest’ to me. And what a thrilling read it is. (With a book club and a scene in Waterstones, of course book lovers would get hooked).

A murder takes place, Rachel confesses but it is all not as simple as it seems. Why would Rachel murder someone she has just met? And, if she didn’t, why would she confess to it?

I always enjoy a thriller that seems to be a little different. We seem to know who committed the crime, yet there is a whole book ahead of us. There are red herrings, and twists and turns as we move between the present and the past – and have the truth slowly revealed to us as we see story through the eyes of Rachel and Charlie.

This book is engaging and written in a way that makes it a page-turner. And, like so many books, it may be a part of the thriller genre, but is also tackles other key social issues and the impact that they have on human relationships.

So, if you fancy a thriller this summer, why not meet ‘The Dinner Guest’?

Boy Queen by George Lester

I absolutely loved this YA book and feel that I could stop there. This is honestly one of the most fabulous books I have ever read.

Robin is gay, has a great group of friends and absolutely loves to perform; in fact, in his eyes, his whole future happiness rests on getting into drama school. However, when life appears to be taking a different turn, he begins to enter the world of drag and starts on a real journey of self-discovery.

What makes this book so wonderful is not just Robin’s journey into becoming a drag artist, but also all the key issues it tackles. It takes a look at healthy and unhealthy relationships – between all sorts of people that enter into our lives, As well as what makes a positive relationship with yourself. And, the prejudice that sadly the LGBT+ community faces every day.

This book will make you laugh and cry but, most importantly, this book will teach you something. It really is a 5 star read.

A Thousand Ships by Natalie Haynes

One of my favourite radio programmes is ‘Natalie Haynes Stands up for the Classics’ – comedy and education is a perfect combination. So, of course, I had to read her retelling of the events surrounding the Trojan War. Especially as this was about the women of the tales – and the goddesses.

It takes a few chapters to get your head around the narrative. This is not told in a true chronologically narrative but is told from the viewpoints of the key female figures from the tales. However, once you have your head around this, it is a fairly easy-to-read retelling.

I really enjoyed the full female perspective. All the figures felt incredibly real and relatable – and probably presented so much if how we possibly view some of those male figures from the stories, in hindsight.

However, I think Penelope’s letters to Odysseus are the true highlight. So much sass, it was fantastic.

I would like to say thank you to my lovely book buddies who read this with me. It was an all-girl team, and this book sparked some great discussion.

So, if, like me, you are becoming fascinated by the Greek tales, this is well worth picking up.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

This book has been on the wishlist for quite some time. I was so excited when ‘The Book Taster‘ treated us to this as our June book club choice.

‘Small Pleasures’ is set in the 1950s and Clare Chambers evokes this beautifully through her writing. You are fully transported to the Britain of the 1950s as Jean meets Gretchen and her family. Their relationship forms as Jean invesitgates Gretchen’s claim that she had a virgin birth. However, their lives become entwined as the story unfolds, and friendships and relationships develop.

Although there are a couple of potential surprises for many of the characters, nothing will ever prepare you for the end of the story. Chambers leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions and, as out book club chat revealed, different readers did almost create their own ending – and that is the beauty of reading; it sparks discussion.

I enjoyed this book and feel it being left off the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist is a mistake. Have you read this book and if so, what do you think?

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

With a lovely bunch og bookstagrammers who form ‘The Big Classics Book Club’, I have just finished ‘Gone with the Wind’. Confession number one: I have never seen the film. Confession number two: I would never have read the book without my lovely book club pals.

‘Gone with the Wind’ is a wonderful story. I realise that some of the attitudes and language may be questionable in our more enlightened times, however, you read it with modern eyes and historical context. The writing is delightful; I was drawn in from page one. The characters are so vividly created, you have images of each in your head as you read. And the drama – I am not sure I have ever read anything so melodramatic (and addictive).

Also, there are some surprises and, for me, that was the strong female leads. Scarlett, although a little Marmite at times, is a fantastic character; an incredibly strong and determined young woman, even in the darkest of times. And Melly, her most loyal friend, has a quiet strength that eventually shines in the story.

In fact, the men are often the foolish characters. Although, Rhett Butler, with all his faults, is quite a romantic hero.

I was honestly blown away by this book. My love of history wants to research all the events and my love of reading adored the escapism and the drama.

So, please, don’t be put off by those big classics – find a buddy and read them. They honestly can be quite surprising.

Felix Ever After by Kacen Callender

This book has been all over bookstagram and I have had my eye on it for ages – so, this pride month I was so pleased to get a copy.

I can totally unerstand why there is so much love for Felix and his story. Felix is transgender, living in Brooklyn with his father and studying Art with a hope of getting into Browns. However, there is quite a journey ahead of Felix – as they are forced to explore his identity and relationships after being deadnamed and exposed by a troll in front of the whole school.

It is a really quite emotional read, as so many themes are explored throughout the story. However, most importantly it teaches that you have to be willing to accept yourself and focus on your happiness and remove those who risk that for you. Even if that can be incredibly hard.

This is a book that I will be recommending to readers because it is not just a story – it is an education. And, as Kacen Callender says in the ‘Author’s Note’, I hope it really helps young people and readers who may find themselves in a similare situation to Felix to feel supported and not invisible. A really beautiful book.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

My fifth read from ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction’ shortlist was ‘Piranesi’. So, let’s get this out of the way – ‘Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell’ was a DNF for me. I found it dull and the writing difficult to read. So, I was a little unsure as I started this (especially, as Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse loved it and we rarely agree).

However, my fears were dismissed within moments. I devoured this book in one day – I could not put it down and read past my bedtime to finish it, because I had to know what happened.

Told by Piranesi, through his journals we find out about his life in the House, where he has one friend in ‘The Other’ and has the company of statues. Piranesi believes that this is his world, however things begin to challenge this belief and his memories become fuzzy. Is what Piranesi believes to be true really the truth?

I loved that this book had so much mystery to it and challenged the idea of an individuals reality. What really forms our reality and identity?

This his a book that definitely deserves to be on the shortlist.

Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli

I absolutely love the books of Becky Albertalli. She writes the books I wish had existed when I was a teenager, And ‘Kate in Waiting’ did not disappoint.

I chose this to join in with ‘Pages of Pride’ over on Instagram, and it was a lovely way to start.

Kate and her best friend Andy always seem to have crushes on the same boy. And it has never been a problem, until Matt arrives in town.

This book does what Becky Albertalli does best and explores relationships of all kinds in a relatable way. You can often imagine knowing the characters or having a very similar experience to them.

Although Kate doesn’t replace Simon in my affections, she is a fantastic character and her story is a great read.