Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare

I was kindly gifted a proof of ‘Miss Aldridge Regrets’ by Louise Hare, and what a beauty it is. A book with a cover this glamorous is surely going to be a great read – and it was!

‘Miss Aldridge Regrets’ is a brilliant piece of historical fiction set on the Queen Mary as it sails to New York in early 1936. Lena Aldridge is one of its passengers, as she has been promised a new life in New York which will make her a star – or so she believes. However, as the ship’s journey progresses, she is drawn into the lives of the rather wealthy Parker family – but not everything is quite as it seems. And, once murder takes place, Lena is thrown into a dangerous game.

This is a great piece of cosy crime fiction, and fans of Agatha Christie will be fans of this book. In fact, the Queen of Crime herself gets a mention in the novel. However, it is also a little more than just a classic ‘locked room’ crime story; there is clear commentary on the society at the time and its issues. Lack of gender and race equality is a theme throughout the book, and plays a part as a catalyst for some of the events that subsequently take place. I found that as fascinating as the tale itself.

This is a well-constructed story, and I really enjoyed the way it was told, from the current events on the ship, previous events which had taken place before Lena left London, and odd notes from the murderer to punctuate the tale. I worked out one part of the mystery, but did not work it all out, so the reveal did bring with it some insteresting surprises. For all you crime fans out there, I would certainly recommend this book – especially if you are a fan of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ or ‘Death on the Nile’.

Anatomy of a Scandal – Readalong and Watchalong

Tandem Collective UK not only kindly allowed me to read ‘Reputation‘ by Sarah Vaughan, but also gifted me a copy of ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’, which has also been adapted into a Netflix Limited Series.

So, let us start with the book – this is really a book for our time as the reputation of a leading politician is on the line as he is caught out for an affair with a junior aide. However, things become far worse for Mr Whitehouse, as he is to stand trial for the rape of the same woman.

This is not an easy read – and would carry some trigger warnings – yet it sensitively tackles the issue of consent and what really constitutes consent. But it also raises all those issues surrounding the ‘old boys club’ mentality of the corridors of power, and how gender and social equality is still not as it should be in those very same corridors. This is a novel of twists and turns which has you turning every page keen to see what may be revealed next – some of the secrets may seem to be clear, but I do think that the conclusion leaves some additional questions for the reader; is it really all tied up at the end?

As I read this, I did consider that it would make a great television courtroom thriller. I could even see some of the characters portrayed by certain actors. So, I was excited to start watching the series when it was released on Netflix. As TV adaptations go, it is pretty accurate to the story (maybe a couple of liberties) and the characterisation, overall, is excellent, just how I saw it as I read the book.

It is definitely a bingeable series with the same important messages that are carried through the book (carrying the same trigger warnings). In fact, as we watched, Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse muttered the words ‘and this is who we have running the country’, which is a key reason that I think that this is a novel for our time, as it reflects so many of the concerns we have with those who are in power.

Sarah Vaughan’s careful observation of the world around us and the issues that are constantly being raised in our society is bringing some brilliant books to the public. Books that will leave you reflecting on the world we are in, and possibly even reflecting on your own moral ideals. She has definitely become an author that I will always be keen to read more from – especially as she continues to create some fantastically strong female leads.

All My Mothers by Joanna Glen

The book for March from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ was ‘All my Mothers’ by Joanna Glen. This was a book that I knew nothing about, other than that it had a stunning cover – which does reflect what a truly beautiful and heartbreaking book this is.

Eva is not sure that her Cherie is really her mother. She does not feel entirely like she belongs in London – and definitely feels more closely linked to her father’s Spanish roots. Her ‘pink’ mother just does not seem to be like other mothers – and their relationship does not quite seem to be as Eva imagines a mother and daughter relationship should be.

As she grows up, she starts to find out family secrets and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, looking for who she really is. Eva forms friendships and relationships that teach her so much along the way and, although it is not an easy journey to find her roots, it is an important one.

I do not want to give any spoilers in this review. However, I will confirm that it is beautifully written and its use of short, sharp chapters makes it very engaging as it breaks down Eva’s experiences. She is a wonderful lead character and you do feel very privileged to be part of her story.

I would probably not have read ‘All My Mothers’ without the brilliant ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’, because it just would not be my usual kind of pick; however, I would certainly have missed out, which does encourage me again to start to read a little more out of my comfort zone. And Joanna Glen is certainly an author that I would love to read more from.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

My lovely friend Mrs S has been trying to get me to read more fantasy books for a long time now. So, we agreed to buddy read ‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix, which is a title that Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse has been trying to get me to read for a long time.

And, as usual, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I, in fact, have to admit that I really enjoyed it. I was worried as I started it that it may be a bit slow and just a lot of scene-setting (over-description is something that has often put me off fantasy as a genre) but once the action picked up, I was hooked. Sabriel is a fantastic lead character, I mean who does not love a strong female character who can use magic and fight dark magic? I do think I may have to return to the book to fully grasp everything that went on, but it was a brilliant read – and according to Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse my regular summaries were correct. Interestingly, for a book that is nearly 30 years old, it did feel like modern fantasy and does not appear to have aged (although, I am not an expert).

I will definitely be reading the next book, in a buddy read again, as I have to know what else goes on. This does mean that I seem to be gradually becoming more and more accepting of fantasy books – which is something that I never thought would have happened, as I have always been very anti-fantasy. But it seems to me that Mrs S may be getting her way and turning me into some kind of fantasy fan – well, YA fantasy; I am not sure I can go much more serious than that right now.

Has anyone managed to convince you to start to change your reading habits?

Reputation by Sarah Vaughan

I was lucky enough to be selected for a readalong of ‘Reputation’, the new book from Sarah Vaughan, with a great collection of bookstagrammers. Tandem Collective UK kindly gifted me a copy of the book too, and what a great read it is.

Sarah Vaughan has brought us a chilling thriller for our time – in fact, rarely does a story feel quite as relevant as this one did as I was reading it. Emma is an MP, fighting for women’s rights and against the terrible treatment some women face at the hands of some men. However, once she appears on the cover of the Guardian magazine, it appears to give keyboard warriors the chance to tear into Emma and her reputation. And, that becomes just the start of the issues for Emma and her family…

This thriller is difficult to put down, especially as it sadly reflects so much we have seen in the news in recent years and months. Sarah Vaughan creates an incredible atmosphere in her writing which makes you feel you are with Emma, experiencing what she she is experiencing. You understand Flora’s fears and stresses, and a young teenager dealing with relationships – and navigating the world of social media. And you will be left thinking about your own actions – and the real importance of reputation, and the difference the simple act of kindness can make.

I have to admit that I read ‘Little Disasters‘ about a year ago, which was a reasonable story, but ‘Reputation’ is an incredible read. One that really will make you reflect on the society that we live in and actually if we can make a difference by showing some support to those around us every day – and remembering that everyone has feelings, even if you do not agree on everything.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus, and I was over the moon, as this is a book that I have seen all over bookstagram and was very keen to read. Oh, and Bonnie Garmus will be at the April ‘Tasting Notes Live’ from the Book Taster so I was even more excited to get stuck in.

This book is such a joy to read and brilliantly tackles social issues of the 1960s. Set in California, Elizabeth is a brilliant chemist with a passion for science, but her gender is holding her back, as those around her do not believe that women should be in science and academia – and that includes some of the women around her. As Elizabeth deals with the fact that she wants to break those social stereotypes, she falls in love, loses her love and discovers that she is pregnant, making her a unmarried single mother in a world where these things are just not done. However, her destiny takes another path as Elizabeth unashamedly continues to be just herself, inspiring many around her to do exactly the same.

This is not all that is in this book: there is also an element of mystery as Elizabeth’s daughter decides to try and find out about her father’s past. Oh, and ‘Half Past Six’ the dog has a voice too – which is not quite as strange as it sounds. In fact, it is perfection.

I am not sure I can do this book justice. I do have to confess that it was a little bit of a slow burn for me but, once it hooked me in, I could not put it down. I just wanted to make sure that Elizabeth, her family and friends got the stories they deserved. It will definitely have you cursing the constraints on women in the past and make you realise that we have come some way – but maybe not quite as far as we all hope we have.

So, if you want to read something with brilliant characters, a lovely story and an important message, then I really recommend that you pick up a copy of the lovely ‘Lessons in Chemistry’.

Love Life by Nancy Peach

The February pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ from The Book Taster was ‘Love Life’ by Nancy Peach. And this was a perfect book for the month of romance, especially if you are fan of a good old-fashioned love story – although with a little bit of a twist.

The setting of the story is a hospice, which may not be your usual setting for a romantic tale, but this is where Tess, a pallative care doctor, is reintroduced to Edward, the son of a patient and the one, you may say, who got away. As they both navigate the trials and tribulations of life and death, they are thrown together and may have a chance to rekindle a romance that never quite took off many years before.

Although this is a romance, it is also more than that. It tackles the ideas of grief (I may have shed a tear), identity and relationships, between friends and family as well as in a romantic sense. It is an enjoyable read – although the inner voices of Tess are a little ‘marmite’, so you may have to make your own mind up about them. And I bet you read one of them in the voice of a certain daytime TV host.

So, if you fancy a bit of escapism with a heart, grab a cuppa and a treat, and pick up ‘Love Life’.

Katharine Parr by Alison Weir

I was lucky enough to be gifted the ‘Six Tudor Queens’ collection as part of the readalong from Tandem Collective UK. The final book of the collection, ‘Katharine Parr’, was the subject of the readalong – and what a wonderful read it was.

Now, I am always very cautious about historical fiction – it is a great genre but sometimes not everyone remembers the ‘fiction’ part, and history is easily rewritten. However, it is clear that Alison Weir takes the reasearch seriously, as shown with the ‘Author’s Note’ at the end.

Katharine Parr is often known simply as the last of ‘The Six’, but this book shows she is much more than that. And maybe she, in fact, deserves a little more space in the history books.

This book takes you from Katharine’s childhood, through her first two marriages (and the religious unrest), her meeting Henry VIII, becoming his last queen, and her life once he dies It is amazing how much Katharine lived through and the interest she had in the world, and in religious reform in England. But, also, how seriously she took her role as stepmother to the future monarchs of England. I would love to have known what she would have thought of the life each of them went on to have.

This book has inspired me to ensure that I find out more about Katharine Parr, because I do not feel that she has the fame she truly deserves for the life she led.

Thursday Thoughts – Audiobooks

Until recently, I was not counting audiobooks in my reading stats; in fact, I was not really listening to audiobooks. A full cast radio dramatisation has always been something I enjoyed. However, audiobooks I often switched off (which is odd because, as kids we had lots – Asterix and Just William being particular favourites). Yet, since I was on a listenalong, with Tandem Collective UK, of ‘The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo’ by Taylor Jenkins Reid, I have become hooked again. In fact I am on my third Taylore Jenkins Reid audiobook in two months. So, clearly, these books have brought me back to audiobooks.

I think I have realised that audiobooks just mean I can enjoy even more stories – even if I do not feel that I actually have time. It makes tales more accessible wherever I happen to be. Although, I guess I do not need to possibly try some different authors.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H Lawrence

I have just read ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ as a buddy read with a brilliant bunch of book lovers. And it was not quite the book I was expecting it to be. Of course, I am aware of all the scandal that surronded this book on its publication. For its time, I can see it would have raised a few eyebrows – and maybe it being a banned book added to its classic status – after all, isn’t the phrase ‘there is no such thing as bad publicity’? However, it is not a classic in the way I view even a modern classic.

I did not feel that this was a book of likeable characters – I did not root for them. There is no romantic hero in Mellors – in fact, I think I liked him the least. However, I still enjoyed the read because, for me, this was a fascinating study of society. This was a book about relationships; not of romantic ones, but of relationships across class and society. And a book about the world of the interwar years, when men had returned damaged in so many different ways from World War One – not just them struggling to return to the world that they had left behind. There is a clash of ideas as new and old collide – Connie, appears to be a modern woman, but does she just want to follow the traditional role of a woman, and her struggle with this leads her down the path she takes?

I am so glad I have read this book – and I do think I will return to it one day, because I think you probably find something different each time.