The Miseducation of Evie Epworth by Matson Taylor

For ‘The Unread Sjelf Project 2021’, the August prompt is ‘A book from an independent bookstore’. so for me, that was ‘The Miseducation of Evie Epworth’. And what a joyful read this book is. I would love to have an Evie in my life.

This book felt like a hug – just a wonderful piece of escapism and a spot-on read for the summer months.

Evie Epworth is 16 years old, and it is the summer after her O Levels. She has dreasm of taking her education further. although her soon-to-be stepmother has other ideas. After all ‘girls don’t need an education’. However, Evie is not a fan of this scarlet woman who had he claws into her father, ‘Arthur’. So, with a little help from her friends (a great collection of characters), a plan is put in place that will hopefully prevent the gaining of the unwanted stepmother. And, maybe, Evie will find out a little more about her deceased mother too.

There is just so much humour and charm on every page of this book, that it was simply a joy. And I am not too proud to admit that I may have shed a couple of tears reading the final pages. I think we should all be a little more Evie.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett

The fourth title we have tackled from ‘The Women’s Prize for Fiction’ shortlist is ‘The Vanishing Half’, and I can’t believe I have left it on my shelf for so long. This book is beautiful and certainly deserves to be nominated.

I am not sure that I can do this book justice. It is so moving and complex, and handles the idea of race and prejudice brilliantly. Leaving the reader to really evaluate the impact that racial identities and all that comes with that can have on an individual.

Two twins who grow up in the same southern black community witness the tragic consequences of racial prejudice. At the age of 16, they both run away together; however, as time passes, their lives divide – one returning to their childhood home and the other living a ‘white’ life. However, their lives are reconnected – and will that allow Stella to keep her secret?

It may feel uncomfortable to think someone wants to hide their identity as much as Stella – but it is certainly thought-provoking, especially with recent events.

I just adored this book and hope everyone will read it, because it is quite an education. And, identity and prejudice is tackled with each and every character. Just stunning!

Grown Ups by Marian Keyes

Returning to a novel by Marian Keyes is like catching up with an old friend. So, I do ask myself why ‘Grown Ups’ was left unread on my shelf for so long – I now realise that was a mistake.

I devoured this book, all 656 pages of it, as I could not put it down. This is a book that does what Marian Keyes does best, and examines family relationships in all their complex glory.

Told back from one fateful family dinner and then showing us what happens next, we follow the chaotic Casey family. Each have their secrets and their own journey of self-discovery, which takes them to the dinner and beyond. The glamorous life presented to the outside world is certainly not always as it seems. And, as always, this is handled beautifully by Marian Keyes’ writing style and narrative. There is so much warmth and wit amongst the pages, and tough topics are handled sensitively and with care. And, on the very final page, I shed a tear, as I felt I had been on quite a journey with the Casey family, and for all of those who deserved a happy ending – that was certainly on the horizon.

To put it simply, I adored this book and was not disappointed by it at all. In fact, it has reminded me that there are still some of the novels of Marian Keyes that I am yet to read, and I really must change that soon.

The Glass-Blowers by Daphne Du Maurier

This was my pick for April for ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2021’. I have read ‘Rebecca’ and ‘Jamaica Inn’ as I am sure many of you have; however, ‘The Glass-Blowers’ was a book I was not familiar with.

This is actually a really fascinating read, as Daphne Du Maurier based it on her own family history. Based in France at the time of the French Revolution, this tells the story of a family of glass-blowers, the path the siblings take, and the choices they make based on their beliefs and ideals – creating divides and secrets in the family, some with tragic consequences.

At times, the story is truly heart-breaking as Sophie is at points torn between each of her siblings despite loving each of them dearly. Unfortunately Robert is quite a disagreeable character. Ideas above his station, and poor life choices, lead to him leaving quite a trail of destruction in his wake. Although, that is all part of the story, as many of the characters are also not his biggest fans.

This is a book that has reignited my interest in the events of the French Revolution. And, as you would expect from any work from the pen of Daphne Du Maurier, it is beautifully written and engaging. I really enjoyed this piece of historical fiction and, for me, it cements Daphne Du Maurier as a truly great novelist of many genres.

Death of an Expert Witness by P.D. James

For ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2021’ bonus prompt, you had to select a book from your fabourite genre, Now, that is quite a challenge for me as so many genres are my favourite – however, I made the decision that crime fiction is my favourite (right here, right now).

Therefore, ‘Death of an Expert Witness’ was plucked from my tbr pile. Dalgliesh is a detective that I have always meant to read about, as I have listened to radio adaptations and TV adaptations of the character.

I was not disappointed by my choice of book. I really enjoyed this style of detective story – it was very character-driven as Dalgliesh interviews all of those who could have been involved in the murder of Lorrimer at the lab. Although the pace is ‘slow’, it simply reflects Dalgliesh’s thoughtful and serious detective style.

P.D. James clearly took her time to compose the cleverly structured stories. And, despite the date of the book, researched the latest ideas about forensic science and the most up-to-date policing styles (of the time). At points, the book shows its age as we know the pace that science and technology move on. However, this never takes away from the story as an excellent piece of crime fiction.

Picking this book up has cleared a book from the tbr pile, but it does mean that I am now keen to read more of the stories of the poetry-writing Dalgliesh, which means that my wishlist will increase again.

The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli

I love the Simonverse and was so glad that this book took me back there as my March choice for ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2021’. Becky Albertalli books are beautiful pieces of YA fiction that I honestly believe can and should be enjoyed by readers of all ages. And ‘The Upside of Unrequited’ is certainly a book I wish I could have read as a teenager.

Molly was the perfect star of the novel for me. She has all the insecurities that I remember having as a teenager – and all the worries. But, through Albertalli’s great storytelling, we see how Molly tackles world – and this is something that I think so many readers could relate to and find comfort in. Especially about the complex world of relationships of all kinds.

As always, there is also a brilliant collection of characters. Diversity is celebrated, as it should be, through these fantastic characters. However, flaws and issues within society are also tackled. These books educate as well as entertain, which, to me, is a perfect read. And, of course, there is the fact that you want to become best friends with Molly and her gang.

If you are looking for a comfort read, then this is a book I really recommend as Becky Albertalli gives us another story full of joy.

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.

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.