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.

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.

Why Visit America by Matthew Baker

What a BOOK! I could end my post there – summarising how I felt about this collection of stories in one sweeping statement, but I feel there is even more I could say to make you pick up this book.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this book as part of a Tandem Collective readalong on Instagram. This is a book that I would have been very unlikely to have picked up in the real world – dystopian short stories would not have been my usual choice (I am not a short story fan). However, I would have missed out on the most fascinating collection of tales which are eerily likely with the path that this strange world is taking. Baker tackles all sorts of ethical issues in his stories, including how the over-population of the planet may be handled – and the ever-present issues of immigration. Every story is incredibly thought-provoking and just when you think he cannot surprise you any more, you read the next tale.

The stories are rooted in the United States, but you could transfer them to any of the rich nations of the world. And they almost make you more concious of the countries and people who do not have the same wealth. You will certainly look at yourself and the kind of person you are.

Yet, what struck me the most was how much I could relate it to the history of America and how the nation was established. It is telling that the cover has a buffalo on it. I could see so many parallels to the attempts by settlers to destroy a culture and establish a new one in their own vision – blinkered to the ideas of ‘outsiders’ despite being the ‘invaders’. Although, maybe that is just my own take.

This could well be one of my books of the year. A fantastic and engaging collection of stories that can spark debate and reflection. I think the hardest job is picking your favourite, and not recommending it to every single person you meet.

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).