Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell

I am doing really well at picking up books that have been on my unread shelf. This is, of course, thanks to ‘The Unread Shelf Project, 2021’, which is really encouraging me to improve my reading habits and pick up the books I already own.

So, this encouraged me to finally pick up ‘Hamnet’ – a book I had seen so muhc hype about in 2020. Again, I was not sure how I would find this book, as historical literary fiction is a genre I often struggle with. However, this book is so beautifully written I was enthralled from the first page. I was not sure about the backwards and forwards nature of the narrative, but once I was used to it I actually enjoyed the voyage of discovery it took us on about the family ‘Shakespeare’. I also found it fascinating that it is never really stated that this is the family we are looking in on, as this is Agnes’ and Hamnet’s story – a fascinating focus and imagining of their tale.

I am not sure this has converted me to historical literary fiction. It is a stunning book which has made me more open to novels of the genre, rather than assume I won’t enjoy it.

This is a beautiful read and Maggie O’Farrell clearly has her own beautiful writing style. In fact, I am keen to read other books she has written, as I was so engaged in her unique style.

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Wow! End of post!

Oh, maybe I can’t stop there, but I am not sure I am going to say anything that has not been said before about this absolutely stunning book.

I realise I am, again, late to the party with this book. I will be honest: I was not sure that it was a story I would enjoy – however, it well and truly proved me wrong.

This, in one instance, is a coming-of-age tale that evolves into a really fascinating and engaging crime story, all set within the marshes, and all its stunning and fascinating nature. However, it does not stop there as it tackles prejudices – of many different kinds – as well as social hierarchy and privilege.

It is such a beautifully written book that I genuinely could not put it down. In fact, it really had me reading past my bedtime, as I had to know how the book ended. And, like any good murder mystery novel, it had me guessing until the very end – or at least reflecting on the impressions I had formed as I read the book.

This is also a book full of fascinating characters, especially Kya (the Marsh Girl), who are brought to life with the wonderful words of Delia Owens.

I realise I have not given much away about the plot, but I feel this is a book that you really need to pick up yourself, rather than have the story spoiled by the words of another.

A Love Story for Bewildered Girls by Emma Morgan

The Tasting Notes Book Club choice this month was ‘A Love Story for Bewildered Girls’ by Emma Morgan. I absolutely love the cover to the book – it is so eye catching and fun. Although, I am not sure it gives much away about the books itself.

The novel follows three modern women as they attempt to find their way in the romantic world. Grace and Annie are looking for their ‘one’. Grace finds the woman she thinks it may be. However, she actually re-evaluates everything she thought she wanted. And Annie has always been told what she wants according to her mother. However, that is not what she really wants, as she is her own independent woman. Meanwhile, Violet, Annie’s best friend, needs to understand her place in the world, but will she let herself find out?

All these women’s lives become entwined, even if they never realise it.

This is a story that is very character driven, rather than action. You follow each woman on their journey of self-discovery and see how each event and encounter influences their choices.

This book reads as a series of episodes – and it did take me a couple of ‘episodes’ to get into the story, but it grew on me. I became quite involved in the lives of each of these women. And, well, the ‘villains’ of the story may have seemed obvious but, also, unfortunately are probably ‘characters’ that many may have had an encounter with.

I would consider this a modern love story, but it probably has quite a number of life lessons amongst its pages too. Especially the very important reminder that, first and foremost, you should love yourself – and not change for anybody.

The Cousins by Karen M McManus

Around this time last year, I was going to go to an author event with Karen M McManus and Holly Jackson – and then a global pandemic struck. However, that does not stop us enjoying the books these fabulous authors write, so I was excited when ‘The Cousins’ hit the bookshops.

‘The Cousins’ is another great piece of YA fiction. In fact, I feel I have enjoyed this one the most, and I have loved them all. This has all the ingredients you expect from a great thriller – secrets, lies, unknown dark figures and a family mystery. And all this creates a brilliant page-turner (in fact, like all dedicated bookworms, I read past my bedtime because I had to know what happened).

As I always say, I don’t want to give away too much about the book, as it is a thriller. What I will say is that if you have enjoyed the other books from Karen M McManus then you will enjoy this one. I could say so much more but I don’t trust myself not to spoil it. But, please, if you love a YA thriller, go on the adventure with the cousins Aubrey, Milly and Jonah Story.

The Switch by Beth O’Leary

Dare I say it? I preferred this to ‘The Flatshare’. Don’t get me wrong, I loved ‘The Flatshare’, but I loved ‘The Switch’ even more. I think possibly because, as a story, it was a little more relatable. This was full of situations and scenarios that many of us may have found ourselves in or at least could relate to from our own experiences.

Also, not only is this a book of strong female characters, but Eileen is an amazing older character. I loved that this book was willing to explore the lives of women of a variety of ages, and wasn’t willing to shy away from romance for the older lady. But, also, it made it clear that age is only a number – Leena certainly benefits from the friendships she develops with her Grandma’s friends when they switch lives – and Eileen is definitely a tour de force for Leena’s friends in London.

This book is just a wonderful, optimisitic read full of hope – especially at the moment. You can imagine hanging out with these characters and being part of their journey of self-discovery – and that goes for all the characters. Amazing how some seemingly small changes can have quite an impact on your life and the path it takes.

I am really looking forward to the other stories Beth O’Leary has to bring us, because they really are an enjoyable piece of escapism.

Thursday Thoughts: For the Love of Bookmarks

How many bookmarks is too many bookmarks? Obviously, asking for a friend…haha!

Bookmarks bring me almost as much joy as books – a bold statement, I know, but I have collected bookmarks for almost as long as I can remember.

I have really vivid memories of a Paddington Bear bookmark that I bought at a school book fair, and it soon becoming a treasured possession. Whenever I rediscover that bookmark, it brings back memories.

Then, bookmarks – especially leather ones – became the souvenir of choice on family days out (along with badges), as my mum always seemed to consider a bookmark a useful memento. It must have been because, even then, I was always reading and always had a book with me.

Yet, as I have got older, my love of bookmarks has continued. And there are so many wonderful small businesses out there creating such beautiful and happy bookmarks that just add to the joy of reading. Of course, some bookmarks are better for hardbacks and some are better for paperbacks – but they all keep your page safe for when you are ready to return to your book. Which is, of course, the most important point of all.

So, I feel the outcome of this random post is that bookmarks are just as valid a collection for bookworms as the books themselves.

The War of the Worlds by H G Wells

I am not a fan of sci-fi; in fact, I am very vocal that I am not a sci-fi fan. However, I may have been proved wrong by the classic ‘The War of the Worlds’.

I was inspired to pick this book up after seeing the most recent BBC adaptation, but it then did sit on the shelf for a while. But now it has been read and, like with so many books on the shelf, I wonder why it has taken me so long to read it.

What struck me as I was reading this book is that it is literally timeless. It could have been written for pretty much any time period since its original publication.

‘The War of the Worlds’ is told like a long report of events after the arrival of the Martians. Very matter of fact in its narrative, yet still so engaging as you see how England deals with such an unknown. And, there are those who do not think that the situation applies to them. However, as the terror builds, it is quite a study of humans and their reactions. I can imagine that it created fear on publication.

Reading this in lockdown, it really does resonate as we face an invisible enemy. Our reactions may not have been quite the same, but there are certainly some parallels.

I may have also found a whole new collection of titles to read from the pen of H G Wells because, so far, I am impressed with his storytelling and observations of the world.

Becoming by Michelle Obama

This is a book I am ashamed to say has been on my shelf for quite some time. I had meant to pick it up for ages, but I just never got the chance. However, 2021 was the year – and what a fantastic read it was.

Michelle Obama is a woman who I have admired for a long time. She has always just seemed to present herself in such a calm, professional but determined manner. Someone who appears as truly supportive of her husband and, of course, loves her family. I am so pleased that, as I read this memoir, that is exactly who Michelle Obama is.

This book tells us about Michelle Obama’s childhood in Chicago and the determination she had to go to university and gain a career for herself. It is clear how her early life influenced her values and attitudes as she met her future husband and started a family of her own.

We learn about her life as First Lady, as her husband Barack Obama takes the role of American President for two terms. It is clear that she keeps her values at the front of everything she does and always works to contribute as positively as she can to a country she loves.

As a teacher, it really struck me how highly Michelle Obama regards education of all kinds, but especially education of girls all around the world, to ensure that they reach their full potential.

This book is a really inspirational read. Michelle Obama writes in an engaging manner with warmth, emotion and charm. I really don’t know why I waited so long to read this book – so, if you have ‘Becoming’ on your shelves, pick it up because it really will be a highlight.

Thursday Thoughts: Why I blog about books

Yesterday, my little book blog was four years old. I should really have posted yesterday, but I got a little caught up in the Inauguration.

So, why did I start my book blog? That is a very simple answer: I absolutely love books. Ever since I was a child, collecting books was one of my favourite hobbies. I just loved reading and having bookshelves full of pretty books. One of my favourite places to visit was pretty much any bookshop – especially if I was lucky enough to have a book token to spend, too.

And, as I have got older, not a lot – well, let’s be honest – absolutely nothing has changed. I love books, and I simply want to share my love of books with others. I don’t claim to be an expert blogger, or a particularly good book reviewer. However, if I can share a book that others might be inspired to read, then that is a win.

I do also make a decision to only share books I have enjoyed, and that is because if I do not enjoy a book, I probably ‘do not finish’ it.

If you have something that you are passionate about, why not share your thoughts with others? You never know – you may inspire someone to try something new.

I Give It A Year by Helen Whitaker

This month’s choice from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ was ‘I Give It A Year’ by Helen Whitaker.

This was a beautiful read in January. Iris has discovered that her husband has been having an affair and, as a result, they decided that they will give the relationship a year before making any final decisions. Now, I realise that may sound like a strange concept to be a perfect January read; however, it really is. As Iris works her way through the year, she goes on a real journey of self-discovery. She finds out a lot about who she has become and how her different realtionships have developed – even though she may have missed it or did not realise it. After Iris’ challenging year, she comes out with a new-found confidence but also a better understanding of the world around her and the people she shares it with.

It is quite an emotional read at points, and I think it will be a different emotional read for each reader, as it tackles quite a range of subjects. For me, personally, I found the dementia stroyline a real tear-jerker. However, for others, it may be one of the different relationship threads.

Yet, this is a really enjoyable book that presents a wonderful study of relationships and character, with a wonderfully strong female lead. It has been a joy to discover a new author at the start of a new year – and can not wait until book club.