The Doctor’s Wife by Mary Elizabeth Braddon

Never has a book wanted to make it so clear it is a sensation novel, and that just makes it wonderful.

For July’s pick for the Victorian sensation book club, we read ‘The Doctor’s Wife’ and it was a joy. Written as a ‘response’ to ‘Madame Bovary’, this is the tale of Isabel Gilbert and her unhappy marriage to Doctor Gilbert. Isabel is a romantic; she believes in love and the love of novels she has read, but her husband just doesn’t seem to understand her. Is there a man out there who will? Why did Isabel not wait to meet him?

This is a classic piece of literature. But, for me, Braddon had some fun with it too, ensuring it hit that sensation genre. With quite a comment on society and the experiences of women along the way.

If you are a fan of classic literature, you will enhou this novel.

How the One-Armed Sister Sweeps Her House by Cherie Jones

This is a book that certainly deserves its place on the shortlist for the ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’. There is so much that shines through in this book – even if it is a rather intense and difficult read at points. It will certainly take any reader some time to digest.

What struck me the most about this book was the use of the word ‘paradise’ and how, in fact, everything present in this book, for all the characters, is the complete antithesis of ‘paradise’.

Two women, Lala (a native of Barbados) and Mira (a wealthy holiday maker), are both living in ‘paradise’. However, their lives both take tragic turns at the hands of the same man. These women are not as different from each other as they would both think.

This is a story about the choices we make, the impact those have on the future, and the lengths people will go to – and the strength they have to survive.

This ia really well-written book, which is incredibly engaging. When books tackle tough topics, it is always difficult to think you ‘enjoy’ them, but this is a book I certainly appreciate.

Please be aware that there is quite a number of potentially triggering topics covered in this novel.

From Shetland, With Love by Erin Green

So, as you probably know if you drop by regularly, I am a fan of Erin Green (and I am lucky enough to call her a friend), so of course I had ‘From Shetland, With Love’ preordered. However, I am ashamed to say I only picked it up to read at the weekend. I feel I say this a lot, but why had I delayed reading this perfect summer read?

Erin Green brings us a beautiful tale from the allotments of Lerwick, Shetland – as newbies Jemima and Melissa join the community, Dottie takes them under her wing, and beautiful friendships begin to bloom. There is so much warmth and humour amongst the pages of this book that you feel like you are making a whole host of new friends too. However, what I loved most were the little life lessons being learnt by the characters of all ages – afterall, we are never too old to keep learning.

By the end of this book, you will want to improve your gardening skills, learn a new craft and book a holiday to Shetland.

Oooh, and the really good news is that we can revisit all these new friends for Christmas, when book two hits the shelves. And I, for one, cannot wait.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

When my lovely book buddy Charline suggested we had a buddy read of ‘The Underground Railroad’, I was up for it. We had both loved ‘The Nickel Boys‘, so agreed this needed reading.

‘The Underground Railroad’ is an absolutely stunning book. A powerful and emotional read from page one – and an education. Cora is enslaved in the American south – and then she meets Caesar, who encourgaes her to run away, telling her that the whispered-about underground railroad will take them to their ‘freedom’. Will Cora ever be free? There are Slave hunters, prejudice and ‘Manifest Destiny’ to tackled…

Colson Whitehead writes beautifully though-provoking books and starts conversations. This book has made me immediately want to be better educated about the experiences of different cultures in America. And really consider the dominance of white culture in a land that they took control of.

I hope that everyon will take time to read the works of Colson Whitehead, because he has so many important stories to tell.

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?