The Visitors by Caroline Scott

I was kindly gifted a copy of ‘The Visitors’ by Caroline Scott as part of a Tandem Collective UK readalong. Before I even talk about the book, I have to talk about the amazing gift box we were all kindly sent, containing one of the greatest treats of all time – a cream tea, which was delicious. And, before anyone asks, my answer is cream before jam because then it acts like the butter. (Sorry not sorry – it is the Devon method for me, which is only fair as that is where some of my family have lived.)

Now, let us get back to the important stuff, the lovely read that is ‘The Visitors’. This is a beautiful book, set in Cornwall (sorry Cornwall, I know I make the incorrect Cream Tea choice) after World War One. We literally travel there with Esme as she visits Cornwall, as it was the childhood home of her late husband – and maybe it will make her feel close to him after all this time. However, she finds out far more than she would ever have imagined about Alec.

One of the best things about this book is the characters and how well they are brought to life: Esme spends her time in Cornwall staying with Gilbert (the brother of a former employer) and the men he had spent his time with in World War One. They are quite an eccentric and fascinating bunch, each dealing with the aftermath of war and their experiences on the Western Front. But each of these men are beautifully brought to life and the terrible consequences of war are treated so sensitively that you feel for every one of these men and what they, and so many others, will have been through. The friendships created between Esme and these men probably helps them all more than they realised.

I enjoyed this book and can imagine reading it on a holiday to the south of England. It does have a slightly slow start, scene-setting, which I was a little unsure about to begin with, and is usually the concern I have with historical fiction. However, once the pace picks up, you really feel that you are on the same journey as Esme and her new friends.

And, like all good books, the title ‘The Visitors’ has so many different meanings throughout the story that you will find yourself reflecting on as you progress through the story.

So, thank you Tandem Collective UK and Caroline Scott for sending me to Cornwall for a few days on the pages of this book – it was a lovely trip.

When We Fell Apart by Soon Wiley

Trigger warning – this book deals with suicide.

Thank you Tandem Collective for gifting me a copy of ‘When We Fell Apart’ by Soon Wiley. I read this as part of a readalong, and I thought it was a great read.

A dual narrative tells us the story of young couple Yu-Jin and Min – they seem to be a great couple. However, Yu-Jin takes her own life, something which Min struggles to accept and believes that there must be more to the story, as Yu-Jin had a bright future ahead of her – so why would she do such a thing?

For me, this book is very much about identity: Min, a Korean-American, is not entirely sure of his place in the world. Is his place in Korea or America? As for Yu-Jin, does she really fit into the mould that her parents have placed her in – or does she need to break that mould in order to live the life that she knows she should be? And is that life one that will ever be accepted in Korea?

This is a fantastic piece of literature that does not fit perfectly into a genre. It is a contemporary piece of fiction but with elements of mystery and thriller.

If you enjoy a thoughtful and intriguing read – that stays with you even after the last page – then I really recommend this book.

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.

Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

I was lucky enough to get a place on Tandem Collective’s readalong for ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ by Melissa Fu. Now, this is probably a book I would not normally have read. In fact, as it is historical fiction, I would possibly have avoided it, as it is my least-favourite genre. However, this would have meant I would have missed out on one of my favourite reads of 2021 (especially as it is not even let out into the world yet).

Inspired by Melissa Fu’s own family story, this book takes us on a journey with Meilin and her son, Renshu. They are forced from their home during the second Sino-Japanese war and, from that moment, the are forced to move from place to place until they can find a place to settle and call home. Along the way, they encounter tragedy, friendship and the desire to survive – with Meilin doing all she can to protect her son and ensure he has the future opportunities she believes her deserves. And – then we explore the lasting impact these experiences have on all generations of the family.

It is an absolutely beautiful book. A true page-turner, and one that will leave you with a desire to find out more about China’s history, to bring the narrative to life even more.

And any bookworm will fall in love with the important role that stories play throughout the book – after all they can often bring us hope in the toughest times.

So, when ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ is released in 2022, please pick up a copy and find yourself in the company of Meilin and Renshu.

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.

100 Poems to Save the Earth edited by Zoe Bingley and Kristian Evans

I was part of the Tandem Collective UK readalong of ‘100 Poems to Save the Earth’, and was kindly gifted a copy to read.

I do not usually pick up poetry to read. No particular reason for this other than I just don’t think to chose it. However, this collection is one that can spark real debate about our planet. In fact throughout, I felt we were reminded that the planet is ours to take care of – now. As well as making me think about how lucky we are to have the Earth – but also the fine balancing act at times between looking after people and the planet. However, as you read, you will think about the things you can do to help beautiful planet earth.

This collection of poems definitely proved how powerful poetry can be and how the individual interpretation of poetry is one of the beauties of reading it. I hope that many readers can pick up a copy of these poems and that it may encourage them to make a small change that could have a big impact on our planet.

The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks

I was lucky enought to be selected for a global readalong of ‘The Notebook’ as part of ‘The Tandem Collective Global Readalong’, to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this book’s publication. (Yes, I know 25 years – what?)

I know ‘The Notebook’ from the film and, like so many others, I have sobbed. I was really intrigued if the book would be as emotional and if, maybe, the film would be better than the book. (I know I should hand in my bookworm card now, as that is a terrible thing to say).

‘The Notebook’ is a beautiful book. Told in the present through the reading of the notebook, we follow the romance of Allie and Noah – a truly lifelong romance. I do not want to spoil the tale in case there is one person out there who doesn’t know it. Other than to say this is a true love story between two people who are ideally suited, even if the society of the time is not so sure.

It has been a while since I have seen the film (and I have not yet braved a revisit), but I will say the book is better. Noah is a much more sympathetic character throughout compared to the film, certainly less gruff. Allie is an impressive lady who knows her own mind and, despite expectations, is willing to follow her head and her heart.

It is a really emotional and heartbreaking read. But it is also hopeful. I absolutely loved it and think I should probably read more of Nicholas Sparks’ novel (once I have recovered from this one).

The End of Where We Begin by Rosalind Russell

I was lucky enough to be gifted a copy of ‘The End of Where We Begin’ as part of a Tandem Collective readalong. I had no idea what this book was about, however it turned out to be one of the most powerful and engaging books I have ever read.

This book introduces us to the stories of refugees in South Sudan – a country ravaged by civil war. This is the story of Daniel, Veronica and Lilian – three people linked by their experience of having their lives turned upside-down by war.

Now, I am not sure I can do this book justice, and it is one that I highly recommend you all read, because it teaches you so much. Not only about Daniel, Veronica, Lilian and their fellow refugees – but about yourself, too.

This book really makes you realise that we should all have more awareness of what is going on in the world to our fellow humans. And that the bravery of so many goes unoticed, and that in the darkest times some of the most fantastic kindness can bring light.

There are some difficult passages to read, as a war brings out the darkest sides of some. However, it is all handled sensitively and is there to be factual, not to simply create a shock factor.

This is a book you will have an emotional reaction to. You cannot help yourself. It is a book, however, that will cause reflection and may make you think it is time to make some changes and help others.

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.

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.