The Duchess by Wendy Holden

I was lucky enough to be selected to take part in ‘The Duchess Readalong’ with Tandem Collective UK, and they kindly gifted me a copy of the book by Wendy Holden too.

I am always a little cautious of historical fiction, as I have known people to read it and take it as fact. However, ‘The Duchess’ had me hooked, especially as I do have quite a fascination with Wallis Simpson and her impact on the royal family.

This is a beautifully written book. Totally absorbing. And fascinating as this is really about Mrs Simpson before she became ‘the woman who stole our king’. If she ever actually was – the story will certainly have you questioning that popular culture view of her. This novel presents a very sympathetic view of Wallis Simpson, and I think that is what keeps you reading as you realise what a complex character she actually was.

You can also not read this book without falling down a ‘royal rabbit hole’. I was keen to find out more about so many of the figures of this book. And, as I was doing this, it was convincing me that Wendy Holden had certainly done her research to write this book – and the narrative throughout this novel also supports this, as this is not written to over-dramatise any of the events.

I reallt enjoyed this book and feel very lucky to have had the chance to read it. I am certainly keen now to read ‘The Governess’, as – let’s be honest – the British royal family is an institution that is full of stories.

Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness by Bill Bailey

I was so excited when I was gifted a copy of ‘Bill Bailey’s Remarkable Guide to Happiness’ as part of a readalong with the other brilliant bookworms of Tandem Collective UK.

I cannot think of anyone better than Bill Bailey to share ideas about those simple things that bring happiness. This is an ideal book for the current situation, as it really makes you reflect on those little things things that can bring a sprinkle of happiness to everyday life.

Told in short, sharp chapters, it guides you, with warmth and humour, through steps that can bring happiness; some of them so simple that they are probably already part of what you do, but you may not appreciate or realise it. As I read this, I really started thinking about the real happiness of a fresh cup of coffee or sitting down to write a letter (yes, I still do that).

I get the impression that the current situation had quite an influence on Bill Bailey as he wrote this book. And that almost makes the book more enjoyable, as you realise how we have all probably re-evaluated our lives and the things that bring us happiness.

I am pretty sure that I had a smile on my face as I read every page of this book. Bill Bailey’s combination of anecdotes and data from studies make for an incredibly enjoyable read and may even have you want to try something new.

This really is a remarkable guide to happiness.

The Courage to Care by Christie Watson

Wow – this book could be one of my books of the year. I could not put this brilliant book down. Tandem Collective gifted me a copy of ‘The Courage to Care’ and it really is a book everyone should read, especially in the current situation.

Watson shares incredible anecdotes about what it is to be a nurse and have the courage to care. We all know that nursing is not a simple job, but this really highlights all the different roles and positions, not only within the NHS and hospitals, but for patients and their families a nurse takes on. I read this book, sometimes crying, realising that all of those people who take on a caring role are very special.

However, this book also has Christie Watson reflecting on her own experiences of adopting a little boy. There was a whole lot of courage in making the decision that she and her partner can care for a little boy who needs a new start in life.

And, as Covid-19 struck, so many NHS staff were left on the front line not only supporting their usual patients, but offering to help so many more.

This book does tackle some really difficult subjects surronding physical health, mental health and difficult experiences that may be a trigger for some. It is all handled sensitively, but it may mean some readers would rather approach the book with caution.

Yet, for me this is a beautiful book that can teach us so much about those who got to work every day to care for others. And it will have you reflecting on your life, priorities and the courage you have to care – especially when it can really make a difference.

Still Life by Val McDermid

This was my first novel by Val McDermid (other than her retelling of ‘Northanger Abbey’) and I am very thankful to have been gifted a copy to read and discuss.

Immediately, I was sucked in, because I absolutely love a good crime novel. The book was atmospheric from the start, and I needed to know what was going to happen next and where this whole tale was going.

McDermid also creates excellent characters. I was a big fan of DCI Pirie. Do no get me wrong, she has character flaws as all good fictional detectives do. But she is someone that you can imagine sitting down with to have a G&T and a chat. McDermid’s villains in this tale are fabulous, too, as you could easily believe that they could commit the crimes of the story.

Yet, the thing I really like about this book is so simple – the title. There is so much meaning about the phrase ‘Still Life’. Not only could it point to the theme of art and a styl, but it points to the ideas of life ending – and the idea that life returns and continues. There is, in fact, so much of the book in that two-word title.

Val McDermid’s writing is charming and creates a real page-turner. I am really keen to read more of her work. Especially to find out more Karen Pirie’s earlier life.

Fearless by Dr Pippa Grange

A non-fiction read for me, which is about something other than history or interesting figures, is really quite unlikely. However, I was gifted ‘Fearless’ by the lovely Tandem Collective for a readalong, so, of course, I gave it a go.

Fearless is a bit of a self-help guide to help readers find ways to live a life without fear. To begin with, you may think you are not the target audience of this book, and think that fear has no impact on your life (I did a little). However, Dr Pippa Grange explains how fear is often in the background, having an influence on decisions we make. For me, it is definitely the fear of failure that follows me around a little on a day-to-day basis. Yet, this book makes you realise that it does not have to control you and, in fact you can make it work for you and not against you. There are many times these experiences can be made into a positive.

What I liked about this book (and usually the reason I would avoid such books) is that it is not patronising and it is not preachy. It is practical and to the point (although there are a lot of sport examples). Every now and then it may be a little awkward to read, especially if you recognise yourself, but just give yourself a little reminder that it will allow for change.

(Please remember that this is not a definitive guide – there is a lot of support out there if you need it).