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 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.

Your Neighbour’s Wife by Tony Parsons

I have been lucky enough to be gifted a copy of ‘Your Neighbour’s Wife’ as part of a Tandem Collective UK readalong. What a gift it has been to read this novel at the start of a second very strange year.

One of my absolutely favourite novels is ‘Man and Boy’ by Tony Parsons, but I had never read any of his thrillers. And it is fair to say that I have been missing out, as Parsons can pen an excellent thriller.

As I always mention, writing about thriller novels can be difficult because I never want to risk letting any spoilers slip out. So, what I am going to say is that this is a real page-turner. I genuinely struggled to put this down, as it builds so many fascinating mysteries as the story unfolds. Secrets, lies and mysteries relating to every single character (other than the lovely and innocent Marlon and Buddy the dog) have you drawing all sorts of conclusions, rightly or wrongly. And you really are surprised as some of these are revealed to you.

Also, as Tony Parsons does so well, there is an interesting study of relationships throughout this book. Romantic relationships, family relationships and friendships all come under the microscopeas we follow the thrilling tale from start to finish.

So, in conclusion of you are looking for a new, tense thriller for 2021, then this is the book for you.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Unread Shelf Project 2021 has influenced my choices for my reads this year. The January prompt ‘A Book with High Expectations’, so I decided to take ‘The Nickel Boys’ from my shelf.

This is a book that I have seen around a lot and, obviously, is one that I had wanted to read. However, I did not expect it to be a book that could become one of my favourite reads, but part of the joy of ‘The Unread Shelf Project’.

With a book like this, I am not sure that I can do it justice in my blog posts. ‘The Nickel Boys’ is inspired by the story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Flroida – and the reality of the experience of those who had to attend. I was concerned that this would be a difficult read; however, Whitehead’s handling of this tale is sensitive and thought-provoking. It is shocking that events described in the book were ever allowed to take place and be a part of America’s social history, but Colson Whitehead wants you to learn from this tale. His wonderful narrative style makes this a page-turner. Especially, as it becomes all too clear the part twists of fate really do play on the path some people have to follow.

This is a book that carries very high expectations, it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and understandably so. Yet, it lives up to all of these expectations, as it is a truly fantastic novel and has been a great start to ‘The Unread Shelf Project, 2021’.

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.

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

October is my favourite time of year for thrilling reads. And ‘The Guest List’ is certainly that – in fact, I am even willing to go as far as to say it is better than ‘The Hunting Party‘.

This, as with all books with an element of suspense, is a hard book to offer a blog post on, as I do not wish to inadvertently issue any spoilers. However, I can tell you that this book had all the brilliant ingredients of a thrilling read. An isolated island, a whole host of characters carrying secrets, and twists and turns. Part of the reason I loved this book was that I managed to pick up some of the clues that were scattered throughout the story but I did not spot them all, so some of the reveals were a surprise.

I was not particularly a fan of the number of characters. Although, as the story is told, you do begin to change your view of many – sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse.

I think, overall, this tale seemed more slick than ‘The Hunting Party’. And, although it was still a tale of secrets and lies, this just seemed maybe a little more complex. Yet, I still enjoyed both and think Lucy Foley is a great modern thriller writer. I would definitely be willing to read more stories from her imagination.

The Heatwave by Kate Riordan

This month’s ‘Tasting Notes Book Club‘ pick was ‘The Heatwave’. This was not what I was expecting, and was a prime example of not judging a book by its cover.

By looking at this book, I thought it was going to be a ‘summer read’. Something easy and gentle to enjoy as the summer draws to an end. However, this book is so much more. This is a sophisticated and stylish thriller – you will be hooked as soon as you start, because the mysterious atmosphere is generated almost immediately.

Set during a heatwave in France, Sylvie returns to a family house in the south. She is keen to sell the house and, with it, hopefully leave painful memories in the past. The question is – what exactly did happen to Elodie? What is the past that Sylvie is trying to forget?

Told between the past and the story’s present, there is an excellent slow pace to the tale that builds suspense and mystery. In fact, you feel as though you are in the south of France enjoying the slower pace of life in the summer. Although, it feels there is always an element of threat hanging over the tale in its present and its past.

I think this is a book that I could have easily overlooked if I had not been part of the ‘Tasting Notes Book Club’ – so, that is another reason why book clubs are such a fantastic idea. If you are looking for an atmospheric thriller as summer fades, this is the book for you!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and found itself right at the top of the tbr pile as soon as it arrived. And it was just as expected, brilliant.

Nora Seed is not really enjoying life and makes the decision that she does not really want to carry on. However, this takes her to the Midnight Library, which offers her the chance to see other paths her life could have taken if she had made slightly different choices. This gives Nora the chance to reflect on life in a way that she never thought possible.

What I love about this book (very similar to ‘How to Stop Time’) is that it feels like possible fantasy. Could there really be an opportunity for us all to reflect on the choices we have made through life? Or, maybe, this book is a lesson to us all to consider how we make our decisions and the path that our lives are taking.

There is a little piece of Nora in all of us. We have all wondered about some of the choices we have made and the life we have been living. However, when we have the time to reflect, life can be the greatest gift we have been given.

Matt Haig’s writing is beautiful. His characters are engaging, and, the tale is thought-provoking and may even lead you to make some changes. Or appreciate what you have a lot more.