Dear Mrs Bird by A.J Pearce

What an absolute joy of a book – a cosy historical read set during the events of World War Two in London. This book was like a hug in a book and is full of characters who you feel like you are ready to make friends with as they come to life on the page.

I was lucky enough to meet A.J Pearce and hear her talk about her book, ‘Dear Mrs Bird’, and her new book, ‘Yours Faithfully’, and I think that led to me to loving this story even more. However, one thing that she told us was that she uses photos to help her visualise her characters and, for me, this came as no surprise, as they are so vividly created for you on the page. I absolutely adored every character – even the ‘baddies’ had something appealing about them, in the way that they do in a cosy read.

So, Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and, when she lands a job with a magazine, she believes her dreams may well come true. But having not quite read the job description carefully, she actually becomes the typist for Mrs Bird – an agony aunt – and finds herself with the desire to help the women who are writing in for the answers to their burning questions as they deal with life in 1940s Britain. Of course, as you expect, Emmy’s helping leads to events and adventures that she had not quite expected. There are moments in this story that will make you laugh, and moments that may well make you cry but, overall, you will be left with that warm, cosy feeling of a great, uplifting read. (And you have to make sure you appreciate Clarence when he makes his appearences.)

I really recommend this book for any time you are looking for a book that will give you a little pick-me-up and help you escape from the real world. Just wonderful.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

A bit of a flashback Friday book review from me today, as I have had a hectic few weeks and have just not managed to review ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’. I picked up this book so I could join in with a Tandem Collective Voices readalong with a number of other book lovers. It was also a chance for me to read something I would not neccessarily have picked up before – and to read a piece of translated fiction.

As soon as I started reading this book, I was fully invested in the life of Kim Jiyoung and her experiences growing up South Korea through the 1980s and the 1990s. This is a powerful piece of fiction that is clearly established in the reality of growing up in this nation. For many of us, it may read like an outdated story but, sadly, it is the reality for many of the women growing up in some of these countries at the time.

As I read it, I became frustrated with the outdated ideas towards women and the role that women were expected to play. But it also had me closely reflecting on the freedom and chances that I have had growing up – my destiny almost defined by geography as much as by my family. And, despite no society being completely without sexism and women still fighting for true equality, there are definitely more advantages for some rather than others.

This is a book that I think all men and women should read. It is certainly enlightening and educational – as it raises questions about the influence of a strongly patriarchal society on the experiences of women, even from the moment they are born.

I really recommend this book.

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.

Like A Charm by Elle McNicoll

I was a huge fan of a ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll, so when I knew that ‘Like a Charm’ had been published, I knew that I had to read it. (Especially as, again, the cover was absolutely beautiful and just makes you want to read it).

This is another brilliant read, a wonderful journey into fantasy rooted in the city of Edinburgh. Ramya Knox is drawn into this fantastical world as she discovers that her family have a few hidden secrets which connect them to that world. In fact, she soon becomes a symbol of hope for the Hidden Folk as they have to protect themselves from the Sirens, especially as Ramya appears to be resistant to their ‘charm’.

This is another story that celebrates difference, as Ramya discovers that the thing that makes her different is also the thing that makes her as special as she is. That, in fact allows her to help the Hidden Folk and find her special place in the world – and in her family.

I was gripped by this book and I am excited that Ramya’s tale will be continued for us all. It is wonderful that Elle McNicoll writes stories for young people with neurodivergent characters, as representation in literature is becoming ever-more important. We live in a wonderful world of difference, and we all need to be able to celebrate and understand these differences, and great stories are one way to support us all in being able to do that. And, when we see people in books that also help us understand ourselves or our experiences, then they become even more special to us – and that is what Elle McNicoll has done for so many young people with her books.

Anatomy of a Scandal – Readalong and Watchalong

Tandem Collective UK not only kindly allowed me to read ‘Reputation‘ by Sarah Vaughan, but also gifted me a copy of ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’, which has also been adapted into a Netflix Limited Series.

So, let us start with the book – this is really a book for our time as the reputation of a leading politician is on the line as he is caught out for an affair with a junior aide. However, things become far worse for Mr Whitehouse, as he is to stand trial for the rape of the same woman.

This is not an easy read – and would carry some trigger warnings – yet it sensitively tackles the issue of consent and what really constitutes consent. But it also raises all those issues surrounding the ‘old boys club’ mentality of the corridors of power, and how gender and social equality is still not as it should be in those very same corridors. This is a novel of twists and turns which has you turning every page keen to see what may be revealed next – some of the secrets may seem to be clear, but I do think that the conclusion leaves some additional questions for the reader; is it really all tied up at the end?

As I read this, I did consider that it would make a great television courtroom thriller. I could even see some of the characters portrayed by certain actors. So, I was excited to start watching the series when it was released on Netflix. As TV adaptations go, it is pretty accurate to the story (maybe a couple of liberties) and the characterisation, overall, is excellent, just how I saw it as I read the book.

It is definitely a bingeable series with the same important messages that are carried through the book (carrying the same trigger warnings). In fact, as we watched, Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse muttered the words ‘and this is who we have running the country’, which is a key reason that I think that this is a novel for our time, as it reflects so many of the concerns we have with those who are in power.

Sarah Vaughan’s careful observation of the world around us and the issues that are constantly being raised in our society is bringing some brilliant books to the public. Books that will leave you reflecting on the world we are in, and possibly even reflecting on your own moral ideals. She has definitely become an author that I will always be keen to read more from – especially as she continues to create some fantastically strong female leads.

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.

Sabriel by Garth Nix

My lovely friend Mrs S has been trying to get me to read more fantasy books for a long time now. So, we agreed to buddy read ‘Sabriel’ by Garth Nix, which is a title that Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse has been trying to get me to read for a long time.

And, as usual, I was pleasantly surprised by this book. I, in fact, have to admit that I really enjoyed it. I was worried as I started it that it may be a bit slow and just a lot of scene-setting (over-description is something that has often put me off fantasy as a genre) but once the action picked up, I was hooked. Sabriel is a fantastic lead character, I mean who does not love a strong female character who can use magic and fight dark magic? I do think I may have to return to the book to fully grasp everything that went on, but it was a brilliant read – and according to Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse my regular summaries were correct. Interestingly, for a book that is nearly 30 years old, it did feel like modern fantasy and does not appear to have aged (although, I am not an expert).

I will definitely be reading the next book, in a buddy read again, as I have to know what else goes on. This does mean that I seem to be gradually becoming more and more accepting of fantasy books – which is something that I never thought would have happened, as I have always been very anti-fantasy. But it seems to me that Mrs S may be getting her way and turning me into some kind of fantasy fan – well, YA fantasy; I am not sure I can go much more serious than that right now.

Has anyone managed to convince you to start to change your reading habits?

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.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

I was lucky enough to be sent an advanced copy of ‘Lessons in Chemistry’ by Bonnie Garmus, and I was over the moon, as this is a book that I have seen all over bookstagram and was very keen to read. Oh, and Bonnie Garmus will be at the April ‘Tasting Notes Live’ from the Book Taster so I was even more excited to get stuck in.

This book is such a joy to read and brilliantly tackles social issues of the 1960s. Set in California, Elizabeth is a brilliant chemist with a passion for science, but her gender is holding her back, as those around her do not believe that women should be in science and academia – and that includes some of the women around her. As Elizabeth deals with the fact that she wants to break those social stereotypes, she falls in love, loses her love and discovers that she is pregnant, making her a unmarried single mother in a world where these things are just not done. However, her destiny takes another path as Elizabeth unashamedly continues to be just herself, inspiring many around her to do exactly the same.

This is not all that is in this book: there is also an element of mystery as Elizabeth’s daughter decides to try and find out about her father’s past. Oh, and ‘Half Past Six’ the dog has a voice too – which is not quite as strange as it sounds. In fact, it is perfection.

I am not sure I can do this book justice. I do have to confess that it was a little bit of a slow burn for me but, once it hooked me in, I could not put it down. I just wanted to make sure that Elizabeth, her family and friends got the stories they deserved. It will definitely have you cursing the constraints on women in the past and make you realise that we have come some way – but maybe not quite as far as we all hope we have.

So, if you want to read something with brilliant characters, a lovely story and an important message, then I really recommend that you pick up a copy of the lovely ‘Lessons in Chemistry’.

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’.