The Last Library by Freya Sampson

September’s pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ was ‘The Last Library’ by Freya Sampson. And this is a perfect book for a booklover; I mean it is a book about books.

The library is at the heart of the community of Chalcot. Quite a collection of characters congregate there everyday, for all sorts of reasons. June has known this community for most of her life and her mother was the librarian before her. However, now the library is under threat, are everybody’s lives about to be turned upside down?

This is another story that is like a hug in a book. You fall in love with all of the characters and find yourself really reflecting on the community areound you – do you really know everybody as well as you think you do?

It is another book that will probably leave you with a readling list. I certainly noted some titles but also absolutely can’t wait to read more books by Freya Sampson. And, yes, I shed some tears.

Small Pleasures by Clare Chambers

This book has been on the wishlist for quite some time. I was so excited when ‘The Book Taster‘ treated us to this as our June book club choice.

‘Small Pleasures’ is set in the 1950s and Clare Chambers evokes this beautifully through her writing. You are fully transported to the Britain of the 1950s as Jean meets Gretchen and her family. Their relationship forms as Jean invesitgates Gretchen’s claim that she had a virgin birth. However, their lives become entwined as the story unfolds, and friendships and relationships develop.

Although there are a couple of potential surprises for many of the characters, nothing will ever prepare you for the end of the story. Chambers leaves the reader to draw their own conclusions and, as out book club chat revealed, different readers did almost create their own ending – and that is the beauty of reading; it sparks discussion.

I enjoyed this book and feel it being left off the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist is a mistake. Have you read this book and if so, what do you think?

Florence Adler Swims Forever by Rachel Beanland

This month’s ‘Tasting notes Book Club‘ pick is ‘Florence Adler Swims Forever’. A really beautiful book, based on a true story and it is hard to believe it is a debut novel.

Florence Adler is determined to swim the Channel and be the best. However, when events take a tragic turn, Florence’s family are forced to face their relationships head on and secrets are revealed and characters are tested as their lives change forever. Set in the community of Atlanta City in the 1930s, it also tackles ideas of prejudice, especially towards the Jewish community, displaced people and the events unfolding in Europe at the time.

It is a beautiful read, as we follow each character as they deal with the events unfolding around them. Each of them with their own ‘secrets’, ideas and ways of handling what is happening. Esther is quiet the matriarch leading the way, but each character has their own way of ensuring that Florence Adler will swim forever.

I would really recommend this book as it is a well-woven narrative; a slow-paced, thoughtful read that will stay with you once you have finished the last page.

Miss Benson’s Beetle by Rachel Joyce

The pick for the month from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ was ‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’. Now, this caused quite some excitement, as this was the latest paperback release from Rachel Joyce, bestselling author of ‘The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry’. However, I have a confession – I have never read it – so this was my first Rachel Joyce novel.

First, I must talk about the cover of this book. It is just so inviting, with so many little touches that mean so much as you work your way through the book. I returned to the cover once I had finished the book and could not believe how perfectly it fully represented the story.

‘Miss Benson’s Beetle’ is a complete joy of a book. Set in the fifties, Margery Benson makes the rather dramatic decision to leave London and go on an expedition to find an almost mystical beetle. She advertises for an assistant, and this brings Enid Pretty almost crashing into her life. And the adventures do not stop from that moment onwards for this unlikely pair. One of the most remarkable and solid friendships blooms and both women end up on a journey of self-discovery as well as a journey to the other side of the world.

I was surprised by what an emotional read this book became. Each character so beautifully created and two such fascinating women at the centre of it all. It also had so many wonderful elements to it – there was mystery and intrigue as well as adventure. And, well, you just wanted to keep reading.

Rachel Joyce also kindly shares her inspiration for the bookat the end. And that is as fascinating as the book itself.

So, now I have inspired to pick up more books by Rachel Joyce, because I have clearly been missing out.

Asking for a Friend by Andi Osho

It is book club pick time and I have been so excited to read this month’s choice from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’. ‘Asking for a Friend’ is from the pen of comedian Andi Osho and it did not disappoint – in fact, I would say it is a perfect tonic for lockdown (although it did really make me miss London with my besties).

We join three friends Simi, Jemima and Meagan as they face the challenges of relationships and careers in good old London town. Three best friends, but three very different ladies when it comes to relationships – and what they are willing to admit is a ‘perfect’ MAN. So, they start taking on the dating game and picking each other’s dates. And, well, let’s be honest: it takes them on quite some journeys of self-discovery – as well as reflecting on other areas of their lives.

This is a book written with so much warmth and humour that it is quite a page-turner. You feel as though you become part of the gang – and although none of the ladies are perfect, they clearly balance each other out in a wonderful support unit.

This is a celebration of female friendships, even their ups and downs. And a real reflection of what healthy relationships of all kinds should look like. A fun read, especially in the current situation. Really looking forward to discussing this book with other readers!

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.

I Give It A Year by Helen Whitaker

This month’s choice from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ was ‘I Give It A Year’ by Helen Whitaker.

This was a beautiful read in January. Iris has discovered that her husband has been having an affair and, as a result, they decided that they will give the relationship a year before making any final decisions. Now, I realise that may sound like a strange concept to be a perfect January read; however, it really is. As Iris works her way through the year, she goes on a real journey of self-discovery. She finds out a lot about who she has become and how her different realtionships have developed – even though she may have missed it or did not realise it. After Iris’ challenging year, she comes out with a new-found confidence but also a better understanding of the world around her and the people she shares it with.

It is quite an emotional read at points, and I think it will be a different emotional read for each reader, as it tackles quite a range of subjects. For me, personally, I found the dementia stroyline a real tear-jerker. However, for others, it may be one of the different relationship threads.

Yet, this is a really enjoyable book that presents a wonderful study of relationships and character, with a wonderfully strong female lead. It has been a joy to discover a new author at the start of a new year – and can not wait until book club.

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu

November’s pick of ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ from the fantastic ‘The Book Taster’, was ‘The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney’ by Okechukwu Nzelu. And I absolutely loved this book, reading it in one weekend.

This the the debut novel from the pen of Okechukwu Nzelu, and I thought it was such a fantastic story and so readable. This book has a range of characters whose lives are entwined as they are all on a voyage of discovery about themselves, their identity and their place in the world. Nnenna has never met her father, and as she is reaching her late teens and thinking about moving out into the world, away from home, she starts to think it is time to find out more about her heritage. This impacts many of the relationships around her and lets us find out about the past, as her mother tackles this changing relationship too.

However, this novel does not just tackle identity, but also so many other key issues, such as mental health and racism.

It is an absolutely fascinating book and really had me thinking about all of the things that shape us and our beliefs. And sometimes how that leads us to make some tough decisions.

Nzelu is a talented writer with clearly a lot that he wants to share with the world. I would love to read more from him, especially if it happend to be the story of Maurice or Jonathan (just an idea – haha!).

So, if you want to discover a new author with so much to share, this is the book for you.

Thursday Thoughts: Should I Join a Book Club?

So, I always thought I would become a sophisticated member of a book club. However, life so easily takes over and it just never seemed to happen. Until I joined the bookstagram community…

In the book-loving social media world, there are an amazing number of book clubs you can be part of. You have a choice of lovely themed ones such as ‘Maidens of Murder’. This is a community of crime fiction fans who read a different novel by Agatha Christie each month. You have a chance to discuss and share your thoughts on a post at the end of the month. I am not always great at sharing my thoughts, but I have really enjoyed the chance to read more Christie books that I may not have picked up.

Another favourite that I am part of is the ‘Victorian Sensation Book Club’. This is a great community of fellow book lovers who enjoy reading Victorian classics, especially those of the sensation genre. We read a section at a time and share our thoughts as we go. This has been brilliant for getting me to read books I would never have picked up before. And, of course, talk about books.

However, these two lovely book club opportunities are still a little safe, because you chat on a post or in a chat group. So, my bravest step was taking part in the ‘Tasting Notes Book Club’ from ‘The Book Taster‘.

This is a brilliant subscription book club and you receive a box of goodies with your book, which makes it a fabulous treat. Yet, this involves an online book club meeting which, for me, was a brave step. However, I am not sure what I was worried about, because it is an amazing safe space to discuss the book with fellow bookworms. And you can, of course, say as much or as little as you like. The two meetings I have attended so far have also involved us hearing the wonderful authors, which has been such a treat.

So, I may not have managed to attend or join a physical book club, but I have found so many fabulous book communities out there to be part of.

Why not have a look what is out there if you have fancied giving a book club a go?

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!