The Six Tales of Christmas by Anne Marie Ryan

The December choice for The Tasting Notes Book Club was ‘The Six Tales of Christmas’. And what a beautifully festive read it was. This is a book for book lovers.

It tells the story of Nora and Simon Walden, owners of The Stowford Bookshop, one Christmas time. Their little bookshop is not doing as well they would hope, but this does not stop them from thinking of ways to bring community spirit to their little village – after all, they believe in the magic of books.

As a random act of kindness, six books are delivered to six members of the community. This starts a series of events for so many that brings some Christmas magic and even changes lives.

This is simply one of those books that is a joy to read, especially at this time of year. It is hopeful and really reflects on the need for community, love and friendship. After all, we all need a helping hand sometimes.

Also, as the bookshop and books are so important to this tale, you will end up with more books to read – or at least the desire to revisit some classics.

We may be approaching the end of this festive season, but this is a book that would be a joy at any time of year. Or, you could mark it down as one to have ready for next year.

A Christmas Carol by In Camera The Old Vic

Theatre if one of the greatest joys for Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse and I during the festive season. However, of course, this year live theatre was not an option for us. But we wanted to support the Arts, so ‘A Christmas Carol‘ streamed by The Old Vic, seemed like a perfect opportunity.

It may not be exactly the same settling down in your own home to watch a play, however there was still some of the magic – dim the lights and create your own atmosphere.

This was a lovely adaptation of the tale – it goes at quite a pace that certainly holds the audience’s attention. This does not take away from the tale at all, but just means its focus slightly shifts. This adaptation for me, has more of a message about the saving of Ebenezer Scrooge – the man he can become and the help he can bring to so many. The message from this was perfect for 2020, and the strange year it has been.

Every member of the cast was excellent, but I did enjoy Andrew Lincoln as Scrooge. It was nice to think of Scrooge as a younger man who would have the chance to make a difference for many years to come.

If you have a chance to catch this production, please do – it is good fun and a tale that is so much part of the festive season.

This Winter by Alice Oseman

This little book is simply a gem.

A Solitaire novella from Alice Oseman, it takes you to Christmas with Charlie and Nick. However, the focus is mainly on the Spring family, as Oseman again does not shy away from difficult but incredibly important subjects.

Christmas seems even more challenging this year, as Tori is worried about her brother Charlie. He has suffered from an eating disorder and Tori worries that this will make Christmas hard for her brother.

This sensitively written book focuses on mental health, family and romantic relationships, and will make readers really evaluate what is important at Christmas time.

This may not be your traditional festive read, but it will definitely be enjoyed by fans of the work of Alice Oseman – her brilliant natural storytelling and great illustrations.

A great piece of YA fiction that will really make you think this festive season.

Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie

I was lucky enough to win this beautiful book in a lovely giveaway on bookstagram. And, I am not sure much else could be so perfect for this time of year as some ‘cosy’ crime.

This book is a collection of tales from the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. They are all stories that have been published in other collections of short stories; however, they have been brought together here because they all have a wintery or festive feel.

You meet all your favourite Christie detectives including, of course, Marple and Poirot. My favourite tale was the third in the collection, as it reminded me a little of ‘An Inspector Calls’ which is another favourite at this time of year.

This collection of tales is just a perfect piece of escapism: classic crime. You may solve some of the mysteries ot you may just wish to let it unfold around you.

Either way, grab your favourite festive treats and settle down with some Christie classics.

The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins

November (I know, a little late), ‘The Dead Secret’ was picked for the buddy read for all of us who love a sensation novel, in the Victorian Sensation Book Club.

I had not heard of this novel from the pen of Collins, but that is always the beauty of a readalong – you find new titles.

I really enjoyed this book and, if you are not used to classics, this would be a great place to start. It has all the ingredients of an engaging read – a colourful collection of characters, a secret and a big old house with closed rooms. Elements of a gothic setting along the way.

I found this a real page-turner because the mystery is in place almost immediately, as the death of the lady of the house, a letter and a lady’s maid that the rest of the staff find a little strange disappearing draws you into ‘The Dead Secret’. I enjoy the narrative style of Wilkie Collins and, despite working out small parts of the mystery slightly before they were revealed did not take away from the enjoyment of reading this book.

I also felt that this was a book where you could see the friendship between Collins and fellow author Charles Dickens. As I read, some of the characters such as Uncle Joseph had a vibe of Dickens about them. That, for me, just made the book even more fascinating, as I love the idea of great literary connections.

So, if you would like to have a go at a novel by Wilkie Collins, I would suggest that you start with this piece of esacapism.

The Wit and Wisdom of Hilda Ffinch by Juliet Warrington

Today is my stop on ’12 Days of Clink Street’ and I have had the joy of being gifted ‘The Wit and Wisdom of Hilda Ffinch’ – and it really is a joyous read.

1940, rural Yorkshire, and the villagers of Little Hope are doing their best to keep going despite the events of World War Two and mainland Europe. Hilda Ffinch decides her contribution is to become the agony aunt for the local newspaper. As lady of the manor, and completely unshockable, she tackles any problem the villagers throw at her, although often with very little tact.

This is a wonderfully comic novel. Told in a series of letters and replies full of clever use of language to create subtle humour throughout. And the advice is always wonderfully entertaining – you do wonder if anyone would be tempted to follow it.

I love the nostalgia in this book; it reminds me of all the great comedies hat could be found on the radio and TV during the fifties, sixties and seventies. Gentle humour to make you giggle and bring you cheer.

If you want to read a book that really demonstrates the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude as we reach the end of a very strange year – this hidden gem is for you.

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu

November’s pick of ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ from the fantastic ‘The Book Taster’, was ‘The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney’ by Okechukwu Nzelu. And I absolutely loved this book, reading it in one weekend.

This the the debut novel from the pen of Okechukwu Nzelu, and I thought it was such a fantastic story and so readable. This book has a range of characters whose lives are entwined as they are all on a voyage of discovery about themselves, their identity and their place in the world. Nnenna has never met her father, and as she is reaching her late teens and thinking about moving out into the world, away from home, she starts to think it is time to find out more about her heritage. This impacts many of the relationships around her and lets us find out about the past, as her mother tackles this changing relationship too.

However, this novel does not just tackle identity, but also so many other key issues, such as mental health and racism.

It is an absolutely fascinating book and really had me thinking about all of the things that shape us and our beliefs. And sometimes how that leads us to make some tough decisions.

Nzelu is a talented writer with clearly a lot that he wants to share with the world. I would love to read more from him, especially if it happend to be the story of Maurice or Jonathan (just an idea – haha!).

So, if you want to discover a new author with so much to share, this is the book for you.

Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert

As part of a ‘Collective Voices Readalong’ for Tandem Collective UK, I read ‘Take a Hint, Dani Brown’ by Talia Hibbert.

This is probably a book that I would never have picked up without that encouragement. It really is not a book that you should judge by its cover – that suggests a whimsical romance story; a hero and his girl. However, this book tackles so much more and so skilfully.

This is the tale of Dani Brown, who has convinced herself that romance and relationships are not for her – her ambition is enough, as long as she has a bit on the side. Zaf is a lover of romance novels and really likes Dani, if only she would notice, or at least see him as more than a friend. This may sound like a trope-filled romantic fiction novel, however underpinning all this are themes of identity, grief, mental health and healthy relationships. It becomes a real page-turner as you want to know more about Zaf, Dani and their stories. And, of course, if they will get their happy ending.

Nowm this quite a sexy book and, in some ways, it is quite liberating to read a book which is not afraid to be quite so liberal. However, it won’t be for everyone. Although, you could easily skip this without losing anything from the book.

I do now feel invested in the finding out more about the Brown sisters, so will be reading more of Talia Hibbert’s books. This a well-written, contemporary piece of fiction – with a sexy edge.

Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

This is a re-read for me, for a lovely group who ‘recapture the classics’.

This is a novel that really is a classic. And one that should not hold the fear that often comes with the classics, as it is a short, sharp, simple read. Do not get me wrong – this does not take away from what a wonderful story this is.

‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ is an excellent tale with a great gothic feel. I also think it is a fantastic commentary on the attitudes of society at the time. There is a clear reference to the ideas of morality and character, but also (I think) the fears of some of the changes of the era. Could man’s interest in science be moving us away from the good, moral path of tradition?

As I hate to spoil books for those who may wish to read them, I will not reveal much of the narrative. However, I will say that this story is beautifully written by Stevenson. It also contains all the ingredients of a thrilling read, with murder, mystery, dark settings and intriguing characters.

If you are not sure about the classics but love a good story ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’ would an excellent place to start. It really is a great and classic tale.

Dictators by Frank Dikotter

To continu with non-fiction November, I picked up ‘Dictators’ by Frank Dikotter. This was my choice because, as a history teacher, you always seem to be sharing knowledge of some of the famous dictators of history – how they get there always seems to make sense, but how they successfully stay there always seems to be harder to explain. I am always without a doubt asked why nobody stops them, and the obvious answer is always the fear many of them used to control. But also, as this makes clear, ‘ordinary’ people really did support them – however hard that is for some of us to believe.

This book is absolutely fascinating as it guides you through the history of eight 20th century dictators. And, it really explains how they managed to build up such a cult following which led to them having genuine support from their people. A ‘misguided’ idealism from each of the men led to them establishing their regimes. However, there was also a carefully crafted celebrity status created for each of these men, either by themselves or by those that surrounded them.

I found it interesting how similar at points the tales of these characters of history were. And that, in fact the biggest threat to any dictator and their regime is themselves.

This is a great book for any fans of moder history. A concise overview of some figures of history and a well-written and clear to follow guide to some of the 20th century’s most infamous figures.