The Book Share by Phaedra Patrick

This month’s pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ was ‘The Book Share’ by Phaedra Patrick. And what a perfect book for these times: something light-hearted and hopeful, to allow you to engage in some fun escapism.

Bookworm Liv has been working as a cleaner for her favourite author, Essie Starling, and is regularly in the background as Essie is working away on her popular novels. One day, Essie dies unexpectedly and leaves Liv with what seems like an impossible task – to finish her final novel. This allows Liv to follow one of her dreams: to write the sort of story she loves to read – but will it also have Liv rewriting her own life story and future? Is there, in fact, more to Liv’s life than she has been experiencing? And is her past not quite as it seemed?

Although this book seemed to have a slightly slow start (though that could have been my levels of concentration, rather than the book…), as the story developed I was so engaged with Liv and her story, I could not wait to see how it would turn out. Phaedra creates wonderful characters in her writing; you really will love the characters she wants you to love, but you will be less keen on those who may be a little less favourable. (Poor Jake – when you know you know.)

This book is certainly one that I enjoyed, and it was lovely to discuss it at book club. I have definitely found another author that I would like to read more from – I think these are going to be some lovely, feel-good books when you need that pure escapism from the stresses of the world around us.

All My Mothers by Joanna Glen

The book for March from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ was ‘All my Mothers’ by Joanna Glen. This was a book that I knew nothing about, other than that it had a stunning cover – which does reflect what a truly beautiful and heartbreaking book this is.

Eva is not sure that her Cherie is really her mother. She does not feel entirely like she belongs in London – and definitely feels more closely linked to her father’s Spanish roots. Her ‘pink’ mother just does not seem to be like other mothers – and their relationship does not quite seem to be as Eva imagines a mother and daughter relationship should be.

As she grows up, she starts to find out family secrets and embarks on a journey of self-discovery, looking for who she really is. Eva forms friendships and relationships that teach her so much along the way and, although it is not an easy journey to find her roots, it is an important one.

I do not want to give any spoilers in this review. However, I will confirm that it is beautifully written and its use of short, sharp chapters makes it very engaging as it breaks down Eva’s experiences. She is a wonderful lead character and you do feel very privileged to be part of her story.

I would probably not have read ‘All My Mothers’ without the brilliant ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’, because it just would not be my usual kind of pick; however, I would certainly have missed out, which does encourage me again to start to read a little more out of my comfort zone. And Joanna Glen is certainly an author that I would love to read more from.

Love Life by Nancy Peach

The February pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ from The Book Taster was ‘Love Life’ by Nancy Peach. And this was a perfect book for the month of romance, especially if you are fan of a good old-fashioned love story – although with a little bit of a twist.

The setting of the story is a hospice, which may not be your usual setting for a romantic tale, but this is where Tess, a pallative care doctor, is reintroduced to Edward, the son of a patient and the one, you may say, who got away. As they both navigate the trials and tribulations of life and death, they are thrown together and may have a chance to rekindle a romance that never quite took off many years before.

Although this is a romance, it is also more than that. It tackles the ideas of grief (I may have shed a tear), identity and relationships, between friends and family as well as in a romantic sense. It is an enjoyable read – although the inner voices of Tess are a little ‘marmite’, so you may have to make your own mind up about them. And I bet you read one of them in the voice of a certain daytime TV host.

So, if you fancy a bit of escapism with a heart, grab a cuppa and a treat, and pick up ‘Love Life’.

I Know What You’ve Done by Dorothy Koomson

This month’s book pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ was ‘I Know What You’ve Done’; the first thriller for book club, so I think it will spark quite some discussion.

This is my first Dorothy Koomson thriller – I have read ‘My Best Friend’s Girl’ which, like so many, I loved – and this is certainly quite a different style of story.

Thrillers are always harder to review because I absolutely do not want to risk any spoilers. However, this is an interesting study of life at Acacia Villas and how relationships between characters develop, and the effort many go to ‘to keep up appearances’. After all, what do all of these characters really know about each other?

Although, it also becomes quite clear how simple it can be to misinterpret information and create alternative truths about events.

The question is – exactly what did Priscilla know, and about who, to lead to her attack?

We are kept guessing until the very end, as we should be by any good thriller. I’m looking forward to finding out if my fellow readers solved it or if everyone was left guessing until the end.

The Call of the Penguins by Hazel Prior

The December book club pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ from ‘The Book Taster’ was ‘The Call of the Penguins’ by Hazel Prior.

This was a perfect read for this time of year – quite a cosy novel, but with a bit more about it. And, certainly, not a book you should judge by its cover – as, although it is beautiful, it doesn’t quite do the book the justice it deserves.

This is a book about penguins and how these wonderful creatures have brought together a bit of an unusual mix of characters. But they have more in common than you would realise, and a lot to learn from each other. And also, great themes are covered, such as environmental issues, relationships, identity and mental health. And, of course you are never too old for an adventure, which Granny McCreedy definitely teaches us.

So, if you are looking for a cosy read with a heart, this is the book for you – whatever time of year, because penguins are not just for cold places.

How to Belong by Sarah Franklin

The November pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ was ‘How to Belong’ by Sarah Franklin. Set in the Forest of Dean, this is a story of ordinary folk trying to find their way through life and all of its challenges.

Jo has returned from London to her quiet rural roots. She hopes she can save the family butcher’s shop, but is this really where she belongs?

Tessa has returned, too, because she thinks she can’t face the future. But is the past, and her own fear, holding her back from belonging?

As their two tales collide, can they help each other find their place in the world? Is this a friendship they did not know they needed?

This is quite an interesting read as Sarah Franklin leaves some of it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions. Although it does leave you with questions too, but it does mean that you ponder the book beyond the final page.

This is a cosy read for these winter months, and an easy read, so do not be put off by the cover and give it a go.

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.