The Flat Share by Beth O’Leary

Oh wow – I am LATE to the party with this novel. Every single bookstagrammer and bookblogger in the world seemed to have read this book – so, I finally gave in. Well, I am glad that I did decide to give it a go.

This is not just a tale of romance with two charming central characters, but it dares to tackle some harder topics. The control of Tiff’s ex comes under real scrutiny. It is interesting that the book tackles something that really should be discussed more; great that it brings it to a wider audience.

However, the real charm of this book is, of course, the developing relationship between Leon and Tiff. How two complete strangers , yet also two flatmates, manage to help each other discover the life they really should be living. Of course, there is the odd bump in the road (a risk of social media), and, a few false starts, but love always seems to find a way. Even for the lovely Mr Prior, which was one of my favourite plots in the book.

I can understand why this books has such a loyal band of followers. It is a charming story with a lovely collection of characters. The perfect comfort read for these strange times – a clear reason why reading is a perfect piece of escapism.

The Last by Hanna Jameson

Well, when I saw that this novel was written after the last American Presidential election – I was not surprised and mildly amused. Some may think that a dystopian novel is a little bit of a strange choice in these times, but I really enjoyed it. Dystopian fiction is not my usual choice, but it has snuck in a little more over the last few years.

20 guests are stuck in a hotel after he start of a nuclear war. They are in a ‘bubble’ as they strive to survive and have no contact with the outside world. However, the longer this goes on, the more that relationships become strained and the experience becomes more and more difficult, and boundaries seem to become more unclear.

All of this with the mystery of what happened to the girl in the water tank and why did these people in particular end up together? Is everything as it seems?

I did also find fascinating the view of the outside world rebuilding itself – the need for everyone to have a use (as you start again) and the real significance of rules.

I feel that this is a novel that can be interpreted in a number of different ways. There are elements of crime fiction, elements of the supernatural and, of course, the dystopian element – which all together make for a thrilling read.

So, if you fancy some fiction that will keep you thinking, this is the book for you.

Toffee by Sarah Crossan

Miss W loves Sarah Crossan’s novels and, not that long ago (although maybe it was quite a while ago), she lent me ‘One’. That was an incredible book but then somehow, I paused on reading any more. However, that changed when I saw the amount of love for ‘Toffee’ everywhere.

Sarah Crossan writes in a wonderful prose style, short chapters that even laid out in the book to represent the narrative. It is always difficult to put Sarah Crossan’s work (that I have read) into words. What impresses me the most is that she tackles some really interesting topics. In ‘Toffee’ there was so much discussion about relationships (good and bad), dementia and youth. They come together in this beautifully emotive novel.

I think it is so important to bring some of these issues to the attention of the YA audience because life can be strange (as we are all currently discovering) and young people do not always have the chance to discover the stories of others. This book can start conversations and even, possibly, encourage people to find help and support.

Toffee is a book that I would suggest everyone should read, because it is simply beautiful and will make so many reflect on their lives and experience.

The Whip

As the world appears to be a strange place at the moment, we took the chance to indulge in some escapism at the RSC. We went to see ‘The Whip’, a period piece set in 1833. It tackles the abolition of slavery, and the politics around it, but also the issue of the conditions in the Northern cotton mills.

I do not think I can do this play justice. It was a brilliant piece of theatre. Thought-provoking, emotional, humorous and entertaining. It really demonstrates how complex some of these issues were and how money was the fuel to so much of what took place. Attempting to achieve any kind of reform was difficult; even those who were really motivated to had struggles to overcome or prevent them from achieving their real aim.

The acting from the company was outstanding. The music framed and supported the narrative perfectly. The play itself was beautifully written with engaging dialogue. As well as the clever title, ‘The Whip’ – a reference to so much throughout the play.

As a History teacher, I have walked away with so much to think about and so much more I want to follow up. Unfortunately, there is only one week of this play left (this was written before the recent announcements) to go, but I hope it tours or gets another season, because I would encourage people to go and see it – and I would love to see it again.

Perfect Crime by Helen Fields

This book was sent to me as part of a Secret Santa bookswap at the end of last year. I am, always, willing to give a good crime novel a go and discover new authors, so was intrigued to see what was in store for me.

The setting for this novel is Edinburgh – such an atmospheric city and one that does seem to inspire some wonderful crime novels. Our detectives, DI Callanach and DCI Ava Turner, are called in to investigate the death of a man who only a week before had been talked out of committing suicide – so maybe this is not suspicious, this time he actually went through with it? Until there are a number of other deaths – clearly murders – of people who have been known to consider taking their own lives.

Alongside this, the handsome-but-troubled Callanach is dealing with his own demons – and could even find himself a suspect in a murder investigation.

I really enjoyed this novel as a good piece of crime fiction. I did work out the culprit for one of the mysteries (possibly due to my love of crime novels), but was completely in the dark for the other.

This has all the ingredients of a good modern thriller: secrets, well-crafted characters, pace and complex romance.

I have read this as a standalone novel, although it is a series and this is not the first book, but I am keen to read the others. Another set of titles for the ever-growing to-be-read pile.

Yes No Maybe So by Becky Albertalli and Aisha Saeed

Earlier this month, I was lucky enough to go to an event at Birmingham Waterstones with Becky Albertalli and Aishs Saeed. Two American YA authors who have co-written the wonderful ‘Yes No Maybe So’.

This is such an appropriate novel for the current age, and was inspired by the experiences of Becky and Aisha when they decided to canvass for their local Democratic candidate – as they are not huge fans of the current political situation. It is so wonderful to come across two people who are so passionate about playing their part – and writing a novel which will hopefully so the same for their fans.

Jamie (written by Becky Albertalli) and Maya (written by Aishs Saeed) are reunited when they are both encouraged to canvass for their local Democratic candidate in a special election. Neither of them is old enough to vote but both have families who are keen for a bit of political change and think you are never too young to become involved with some political campaigning. However, as a young Jew and a young Muslim this was of passing the summer becomes something so much more. They both have personal reasons to want to see change and learn so much about themselves and their friendship along the way.

This book is one that tackles so many relevant issues to create a story that is relatable and entertaining. Audiences will be left reflecting on their involvement in politics – are we doing enough to ensure change – and considering some of those injustices and prejudices that people sometimes turn a blind eye to, or just don’t seem to care about.

I thought this book was brilliant. Such a great read for the current time – and, sadly, possibly for some time to come.

Theatre Club 2020 – Waitress

Theatre Club 2020 has started on a high. This year, I chose Waitress as the show to celebrate my friend’s birthday – the hype has dragged me in, no point denying it. And, wow, it is not over-hyped, but totally deserves all the hype.

We did not know the story at all before the performance, so everything was a wonderful surprise. Jenna knows life is not quite as she dreamed it would be. She is a waitress with an amazing talent for baking pies with a story – she also has great friends. However, when she realises she is pregnant and meets her new doctor – her life starts to change…

The really special thing about this show for me was that it is a tale of female empowerment. About having the confidence to know you don’t have to be what people think you should be – you have the potential to be whatever you want to be.

The music and songs are wonderful throughout. There is humour and warmth – and a great collection of characters. Sara Bareilles has the most wonderful voice and, as composer of Waitress, is a real treat in the lead role. However, this is another show that is not about a star but about an ensemble of great actors who bring the story to life for the audience.

I have also never been to a show before that has quite so much applauding at the end of each song. The fan dedication to this musical is amazing and I am now also ‘Team Waitress’. So, if you can’t catch it in London, there is always the tour – just try to see it, as it is a beauty.

Murder Most Unladylike by Robin Stevens

Before I start my ‘review’, or humble opinion, of this book, I have a little anecdote. I was reading this book on the train and it sparked a conversation. A lady told me that her friend was the author of the book – and, in fact, she was the author Helen Moss (Adventure Island Series, among others). We had a lovely chat, with another lady also, about books, encouraging reading and a reading scheme in prisons. A brief but great chat.

So, back to ‘Murder Most Unladylike’, I am clearly not the target audience, but these books had been catching my eye for a while and I was lucky enough to receive one in a bookswap. This is the first in a series, and I will be reading more, of crime capers involving the pupils of Deepdean School for Girls. Daisy and Hazel set up a secret detective agency, but there have not been many real crimes to investigate – until Hazel stumbles across the body of Miss Bell. Well, she is convinced she did but, apparently, Miss Bell has just resigned… Daist and Hazel know that this can not be true, but how do they prove it?

This book is such good fun. It has all the magic of the classic boarding school stories, such as the Chalet School, and the classic crime ingredients of the greats, such as Agatha Christie.

Beautfully written. it is engaging for all readers; you want to know ‘whodunnit’. Although Daisy is clearly a little bit of a dominant character, Hazel has the classic crime-solving skills. Together, they complement each other – a little like Holmes and Watson.

So, if you, or a reader you know, enjoys a good crime puzzle, then pick up ‘Murder Most Unladylike’ and start a whole new set of adventures.

The Man Who Didn’t Call by Rosie Walsh

This was a book that I found a little bit frustrating. It was almost a Black Sheep read for me; I was clost to giving up at about 20% of the way through, but I powered on. I am glad that I did , as by the end it was gripping page-turner. Just a bit of a shame it took a while to get there.

I am not going to share any spoilers. The idea of the novel is excellent – if a man does not call in this day and age, could it lead you to become obsessed with other ways of contacting them? Could that lead to you feeling as though you see them everywhere?

However, the really clever thing about this book is how Rosie Walsh leads the reader on some great false paths. As the tale unfolds, she reveals some real surprises and so many things are not quite as they seem. This is what made me appreciate that I had not given up on the book.

For me, there were just a few chapters which were not essentila to the take and caused my attention to wobble a little. Especially as this was my read on the commute, which means I really need my attention held at all times.

Have you read ‘The Man Who Didn’t Call’? What were your thoughts?

A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder by Holly Jackson

Crime fiction has often been my genre of choice in February. I am not sure why, but it just seems to have been the theme.

‘A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder’ has been on my tbr pile for a little while but, as it has been nominated for the ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2020’, I thought it was about time I picked it up.

This is a great piece of crime fiction – that all readers can enjoy, it does not need to be defined by YA.

Pip decides to tackle a cold case as part of a college project. She is convinced that Sal was not responsible for the disappearance of Andie. As Pip investigates the case, with the help of Ravi, Sal’s brother, she uncovers far more secrets and mysteries that she was expecting.

Although, I solved a small part of it as I read the book (too many crime novels and TV shows in my formative years), there was plenty I did not work out; plot twists galore.

Pip is a great lead character. A strong-minded, determined young lady – who values education and is loyal to those that matter to her. It is great to see another strong female lead in a novel who can be an inspiration, although of course I would not expect us all to go off and investigate cold cases.

I really enjoyed this book and wish it lots of luck in the ‘Waterstones Children’s Book Prize’. I, also, can not wait for the release of ‘Good Girl, Bad Blood’ later in the year to join Pip on her next escapade, and enjoy more of Holly Jackson’s writing.