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!

Circe by Madeline Miller

So, as encouraged by my buddy read of ‘Song of Achilles’, I took ‘Circe’ off the to-be-read pile. It was well overdue that I entered Circe’s world.

To begin with, this book did not grab me as immediately as ‘The Song of Achilles’. However, I think that this is simply because of my knowledge of Circe and her tale was a little weak. As the book progressed, I did get sucked into the world and the story. It was fascinating how her story became entwined with the stories of so many other key Greek mythological figures.

Circe, considered a witch, is banished by her family – rejected by those who should love her Circe builds her own life on her isolated island and possibly becomes an even greater character than if she had stayed with her family.

This is quite a slow-paced book, but beautifully written. It is also quite an eye opener as to the treatment of women in Ancient Greece. Circe certainly breaks the mould as she manages to create her own destiny and stands up to many of those who tackle her.

Just like ‘The Song of Achilles’, this book has made me want to find out even more about the great figures of Greek myth. Although, sometimes I have to admit I am unsure why some of these men (mainly) were regarded as heroes when they were really quite questionable chracters.

Still Life by Val McDermid

This was my first novel by Val McDermid (other than her retelling of ‘Northanger Abbey’) and I am very thankful to have been gifted a copy to read and discuss.

Immediately, I was sucked in, because I absolutely love a good crime novel. The book was atmospheric from the start, and I needed to know what was going to happen next and where this whole tale was going.

McDermid also creates excellent characters. I was a big fan of DCI Pirie. Do no get me wrong, she has character flaws as all good fictional detectives do. But she is someone that you can imagine sitting down with to have a G&T and a chat. McDermid’s villains in this tale are fabulous, too, as you could easily believe that they could commit the crimes of the story.

Yet, the thing I really like about this book is so simple – the title. There is so much meaning about the phrase ‘Still Life’. Not only could it point to the theme of art and a styl, but it points to the ideas of life ending – and the idea that life returns and continues. There is, in fact, so much of the book in that two-word title.

Val McDermid’s writing is charming and creates a real page-turner. I am really keen to read more of her work. Especially to find out more Karen Pirie’s earlier life.

Thursday Thoughts: Should I take part in buddy reads?

Book clubs always seem like such a fabulous idea. However, I have never quite made it to one. Terrible excuses like ‘I don’t have time’ or ‘I am shy’ or ‘I don’t think I can talk about books in a sophisticated way’.

However, the beautiful bookstagram community has given a great solution to this – ‘Buddy Reads’! I have mentioned these a few times in posts, as they have got me involved in reading all sorts of books. A buddy read is a relaxed way to read books along with friends. There is no pressure, no set questions and no judgement. A few buddies simply read the same book at the same time, but at their own pace. And, as they go they share their thoughts and ideas in a group chat.

I have really enjoyed all the ones that I have taken part in with my fantastic bookstagram buddies. It has helped clear my tbr pile a little, but has also has me reading books that I may never have picked up without the little support groups. It also builds friendships with brilliant bookworms.

A buddy read removes all those excuses you may have for being part of a real book club. So, if you have always meant to pick up that book, put a little shout out and you will find bookworms more than happy to read along with you.

Thursday Thoughts: How do you make time to read?

So many of my friends look at my bookshelves and say:

‘Wow, have you read all of those?’

‘You have a lot of books.’

‘Nobody can say I have too many books again.’

Or, fairly reguarly:

‘How do you have time to read?’

This is a question that I have been thinking a lot about recently. Especially as a lockdown highlight for me has been all the books I have managed to read and enjoy. As a sense of my ‘normal’ is starting to return in September, I am trying to decide if I can keep this up. And the answer is, yes I can but possibly not in quite the same way or pace.

I have always read – all the time – since I was a child. The two places or time I always read are on any trian journey and before bed. So, as I return to my commute by train, I have made the decision to ensure I read both ways, As, at the end of the day, it can be easy to let social media take over rather than returning to my book for relaxation. That will make time for reading.

I will also – and this is a promise to myself – ensure I read every night. Even those nights I am very sleepy, I will for my own wellbeing, carve out times to read some pages, as this always improves my quality of sleep.

Just these two little things give me time to read, and I am grateful. Also, my new little reading space should be complete by mid-September, which I am sure means I will snatch some more reading moments.

However, I do always think it is not the amount you read or the pace you read at, but ensuring you enjoy reading. Life is not a competition and reading is there to be enjoyed, not to compete over.

So, allow yourself some reading time – and make sure you enjoy it!

The Mystery of Edwin Drood by Charles Dickens

August was a mont for the fabulous Victorian Sensation Book Club. This is always a highlight of the buddy reads as we enjoy some of the classics together. This month, the ‘unfinished’ novel of choice came from the pen of Charles Dickens – ‘The Mystery of Edwin Drood’.

This is quite a strange novel to read, as at the back of your mind all the time is the fact that Dickens never finished it. However, this story has all the elements of a Dickens tale – creatively named characters, excellent atmospheric setting and beautiful writing. However, for me, this was an interesting but slightly difficult novel to read. For quite a long time, and possibly until the end, it is not entirely clear where the story is going. It was obviously supposed to be a longer book. Yet, there was a great sense of mystery surronding many of the characters. Mr Jasper, choir master, was brilliantly complex and, even with what Dickens left us, we still do not really know if he is good, bad or completely misunderstood.

You can really feel that this is a sensation novel. You can recognise that there was a mentor and student relationship between Wilkie Collins and Dickens. However, I really wish that this had been completed because, for me, it is a confused book that doesn’t quite find its way.

Although, I am now going to read and research all the ideas that different scholars and literary critics have about how this may have endedm and see if it connects with any of my own ideas.

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and found itself right at the top of the tbr pile as soon as it arrived. And it was just as expected, brilliant.

Nora Seed is not really enjoying life and makes the decision that she does not really want to carry on. However, this takes her to the Midnight Library, which offers her the chance to see other paths her life could have taken if she had made slightly different choices. This gives Nora the chance to reflect on life in a way that she never thought possible.

What I love about this book (very similar to ‘How to Stop Time’) is that it feels like possible fantasy. Could there really be an opportunity for us all to reflect on the choices we have made through life? Or, maybe, this book is a lesson to us all to consider how we make our decisions and the path that our lives are taking.

There is a little piece of Nora in all of us. We have all wondered about some of the choices we have made and the life we have been living. However, when we have the time to reflect, life can be the greatest gift we have been given.

Matt Haig’s writing is beautiful. His characters are engaging, and, the tale is thought-provoking and may even lead you to make some changes. Or appreciate what you have a lot more.

Thursday Thoughts: Are you afraid of the classics?

So, I have decided to start sharing my Thursday thoughts. It is a little random idea I had to share some of my other bookish thoughts.

My first set of thoughts are about the classics. There is, of course, a whole genre of classic literature, which covers so many other genres. Some you may have read and loved; some you may have read and hated (or DNF), and some you may have read because you had to. Or, maybe you have not read any of them, and that is fine too. I am not writing this because I want to preach about the classics or because I want to judge anyone’s reading preferences. I am writing this because I just want to share my own thoughts (and fears) of the classics.

I love classics adpated for TV. However, I have not always read them and, let’s be honest, that absolutely okay. Yet, the reason for this has occasionally been the fear of the classics. But, thanks to the great bookstagram community, I have started tackling all sorts of classics with the support of amazing buddy reads (which have also been a great lockdown highlight): non-judgemental spaces to read and discuss books with other brilliant bookworms.

This has led me to read books that I never thought I would have the nerve to tackle due to the classic fear. Vanity Fair, a book I always considered a brick, has been read and enjoyed. Great Expectations has become a favourite of mine. And, currently, Les Miserables (a real brick) is being read and I absolutely adore it. Hugo’s writing is just beautiful.

So, I guess, what my rambling is trying to say is that maybe you can pick up that classic, you may enjoy it. And, if you don’t it does not matter at all. After all, if we all liked the same thing, the world would be a dull place.

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

Oh Wow!

Why have I left it so long to pick up a book by Mike Gayle?

I decided that I would have a go at taking part in the ‘The Book Taster – Book Club‘ this month, and the chosen book was ‘All the Lonely People’ by Mike Gayle.

This is a book with a great collection of characters but, most importantly, a really key message about our society – past and present. I am not sure I have ever read a book that has hit me in the heart from the moment I started.

Hubert Bird is a wonderful character; he reminded me of my own grandparents, but sadly he is lonely, even if he does not realise it. Yet, as we follow Hubert’s journey, past and present, he begins with those he encounters along the way to tackle loneliness – and not just his own. However, this is not the only topic tackled in this book. It really addresses major social issues that we may wish were in the past, such as racism and the Windrush Scandal, but that we know we should address and tackle every day. Also, just as you think Mike Gayle can not throw another emotinal curve-ball at you, he does – happy or sad.

This is probably one of my books of the year. Although, at points, I was reading it through tears because of some personal experiences, it was still a great read.

Mike Gayle writes beautifully and all his characters are so engaging. I feel that I have some catching up to do on his previous books. This was an excellent choice for the first month of ‘The Book Taster – Book Club’.

Nick and Charlie by Alice Oseman

I am a huge fan of Alice Oseman’s graphic novels ‘Heartstopper’. So, when I knew that a novella about our heroes Nick and Charlie had been released, I knew I had to read it.

This is set after ‘Heartstopper: Volume 3’, but you could easily read it as a standalone story. Nick and Charlie are in love but approaching different times of their lives. Nick is about to head off to university and Charlie will be left behind in sixth form. They have agreed to carry on a long-distance relationship, but Charlie starts to struggle with the idea of the changes ahead.

This novella centres on Nick and Charlie having to deal with their emotions about lies ahead. It really highlights the need for couples to communicate and talk about feelings. However, that is something that males often find harder. Yet it certainly becomes harder for them, as they fail to talk about things. Although, maybe love will win.

These books are always lovely to read and really highlight issues that shoulf be brought to the attention of readers. YA readers are lucky to have the books of Alice Oseman as they tackle those teenage years.