A Song of Me and You by Mike Gayle

It is no secret that since ‘The Book Taster’ introduced me to the books of Mike Gayle in their very first online book club I have become a big fan of his books. And, as Mike Gayle is to be one of the speakers at ‘The Book Taster Live’, I knew that I had to read ‘A Song of Me and You’, which I had been saving for a perfect moment, which this weekend was.

‘A Song of Me and You’ tells the story of Helen and Ben who are reunited after Ben ‘runs away’ from his superstar lifestyle as the leader of the band Bluelight. This reunion comes at the most perfect time for our two central characters, as they are both at a bit of a cross roads in their life, and are trying to come to terms with where their lives have ended up. Together, they start to rediscover who they each are, and the friendship and relationship they had almost 30 years earlier. The question is, is this the right time for them to begin again?

As always, Mike Gayle bring his characters to life for the reader. They feel like real people you have just met, and you become fully invested in their story. Which also means that you experience all the emotions alongside the characters. So, let’s be honest, it is probably no surprise that Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse found me ugly crying as I read the closing section of this book. Yet you still come away from the book with a feeling that there is always hope, even in the toughest of times.

There are no spoilers from me, other than the fact that, if you are a Mike Gayle fan, you will not be disappointed by this book. And if ‘Half a World Away‘ is one of your favourites, you need to pick up ‘A Song of Me and You’, immediately. And, if you are yet to find the books of Mike Gayle, take this as your sign that it is time to, because you are missing a treat.

None of This is True by Lisa Jewell

This is a rollercoaster of a book – oh my word! This was recommended to me by a bookseller and, as I am apparently in my thriller era, this sounded like a great read (again, no blurb read, etc).

I am not sure how to put into words my thoughts about this book; I thought it was an outstanding thriller: so well written and so well constructed that you were swept away with the story from the moment you started reading. I really enjoyed the way the story was interspersed with moments from the true crime documentary that had been inspired by the story we were seeing unfold in this book.

Alix and Josie are birthday twins, Alix is a successful podcaster and thinks that ‘Birthday Twins’ could be an interesting new idea for the podcast. However, as Josie shares her story, it seems that maybe she has not been living her best life – but can Alix trust anything that Josie says?

This is a dark and moody thriller that has you second-guessing almost everything that you are reading. It really tackles the idea of trust – who and what can you really trust in the world? And what really makes people create a different narrative of their life? Does Josie really mean to create harm, or does she believe she is actually doing things for the right reasons?

I was absolutely sucked into this book and ended up reading way past my bedtime because I simply had to know what was going to happen next. Especially as Lisa Jewell manages to create a tale that you think you could really be seeing on a true crime documentary. I think this may have secured Lisa Jewell as an author that I would consider an automatic buy (or borrow from the local library). I have a couple of others sitting on the tbr pile, so I may reaching for them sooner rather than later.

So, the big question is – are you a Lisa Jewell fan?

One of Us is Back by Karen M McManus

I feel like I have been waiting f-o-r e-v-e-r for this book. I could not give in to the hardback as it would have not matched with my other books, and as every dedicated bookworm knows, books need to match. (Although, I did give in to the black cover special edition, rather than the traditional white cover, but I just loved it).

So, ‘One of Us is Back’ did not disappoint (thank goodness, imagine if it had – haha). I absolutely loved being back with the Bayview gang as they faced yet another challenge as it appears that someone thinks it is ‘Time for a new game, Bayview’. I am not providing any spoilers other than that you are back with the gang as they tackle another deadly game. And they do not seem as free of Simon just yet, as much as they hope they are.

I just love these books (and pretty much anything I have read by this author); McManus writes brilliant YA thrillers which I wish had been available to me when I was the target audience. Although, as we all know, it does not matter who books are aimed at; as long as you enjoy reading them, you can read what you want.

I think one of the best things about the books of Karen M McManus is that she creates fantastic characters who are relatable; we meet so many brilliantly strong female lead characters who know their minds, and have no fear but love dearly. Which means they face so much head on, that maybe some of us would avoid. I think one of my favourite characters will always be Bronwyn, she is just simply a legend.

So, if you are fan of the Bayview books so far, I recommend this one because it does not disappoint at all – it is a fantastic thriller which is a real page-turner. The question is, do I now need to go back to the beginning of the trilogy to enjoy it all over again?

Small Hours by Bobby Palmer

I was lucky enough to hear Bobby Palmer speak at last year’s The Book Taster Live (after having read ‘Isaac and the Egg’), so I have been really looking forward to reading ‘Small Hours’, as I was sure it was going to be another good read…and it was.

‘Small Hours’ is the story of a father and son, and their rather dysfunctional relationship. Jack returns home after a call stating that his mother seems to have disappeared, but his father Gerry does not seem to be worried. However, Gerry seems even more distant than he has ever been before, being more of a fan of animals, and something is not quite right. Yet, Jack has saved a Fox who now seems keen to try and save Jack’s relationship with his father.

This is a beautiful book, which I could not put down. It explores a father and son relationship, the importance of communication to allow for understanding and how a little bit of faith can get you a long way. We visit the past and the present in this book to allow us to understand why the relationship may be as it is, and could all of this be a little bit of a misunderstanding between the two of how the past has led to this present – did they both need to take some time to understand each other?

I am finding it quite hard to write about this book, as I think it is a story that is going to have to be read to be fully appreciated. However, I loved the fox as it reminded me of the fox in ‘The Little Prince’: there to provide some guidance to someone who may be a little lost. And we all need a little guidance sometimes, and sometimes it comes from the most surprising place.

I think it is safe to say that Bobby Palmer has achieved that second novel – this is an excellent book to follow his debut novel of ‘Isaac and the Egg’. A beautifully constructed story, full of emotion, humour and charm that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow and Joe Todd-Stanton

This book was a gem (and now has me wanting to read ‘Skellig’ – have you read it?). This book had been recommended to me a number of times by a number of different people so on a recent book buying day out I picked up a copy.

This is a book that will be relatable to so many readers, young and old alike, as we have all faced that final year of Primary School before the move to bigger school and all the emotions and experiences that come with that. Nate is starting Year 6 and he know that it is all going to be OK as he will have his best friend by his side. However, as events unfold, his best friend seems to have a new best friend and Nate has to navigate the school year in a way he never expected. But that is not the only shock for Nate as circumstances at home are not the easiest either.

However, Nate finds some comfort in the book that his teacher is reading to the class, ‘Skellig’. It seems to give him strength and confidence to face the world each day – alongside the support from his teacher, friends and family. Which just proves the power books can have over their readers.

This book is told in free verse, which always seems to add something a little bit extra to a story. And this is accompanied by some stunning illustrations that also bring the book to life – and bring the emotions too.

‘The Final Year’ is a very special book which I will be recommending to everyone, because not only is it beautifully written and illustrated, but it is a book that will remind some of what it is like to be young, some of what may be to come, and some of the importance of believing in yourself and your own strength. And I am sure that this is a book I will come back to when I need a hug in a book to bring me some comfort.

No One Saw a Thing by Andrea Mara

As I am a real fan of thrillers I had to pick the April book club pick from ‘The Book Taster’ a little early. I was just too excited not to read it.

This is a fantastic thriller, especially as it is something that does not read as complete fiction but has an element of possibility to it that it makes it all the more brilliant to read. As someone who used to travel a lot on the underground as a child with my mum, and always used to worry about boarding that train without her, I could feel all the emotions in this book.

This book is a fast-paced read, as you live through the moments and hours that follow Sive’s daughter not getting off the underground train, but you also find out about the past of the group of friends that led up to the moment in London. There are so many secrets and lies that have taken place between these friends, nobody is quite sure who is telling the truth and, as the story progresses, it appears that nobody is above suspicion.

I could not put this book down because it appeared that every chapter revealed something else about one of the friends and nobody seemed to be quite who they had been saying they were. Even Sive, who is a bit of an outsider amongst the group, has a secret that you would not quite expect. The twists in the tale are excellent.

My only slight niggle as I read this book was that some of the ‘clues’ were really pointed out to the reader. Although this did not happen all the way through the book, so it did not take away from the enjoyment of reading it – it is still a well-constructed thriller which will satisfy fans of the genre.

The Match by Harlan Coben

When I spotted that there was a bargain book by Harlan Coben on offer, I knew I had to read it. It actually turns out that this is the second book by Coben to feature his character Wilde, however this does not stop you from enjoying this book. (It just means that I have to make sure I read ‘The Boy from the Woods’ too – which I am sure I will).

As I am starting to realise, Coben knows how to write a page-turner, because that was exactly what this was. As always, I try to keep my reviews spoiler free, which may make reviewing this book a little difficult, but I will give it a good go. Wilde is searching for his past, which he knows nothing about, and comes across some matches on a DNA website. This draws him into more than one mystery: not just the mystery of where he came from, but also the mystery of the disappearing reality star – who he may or may not be related to. This leads Wilde on quite the adventure as he gets more entangled in a web of lies and secrets, that go far deeper than he can ever have realised.

This was a cleverly constructed mystery, that was not just about working out who the villain was but also what connects all the individual stories of characters together. Wilde is an interesting character, as he is a man of mystery, creating his own chosen family from those who have helped him throughout his life but still having a desire to know exactly where his roots are. Even though this leads him into something darker than he could have imagined.

I am certainly now a fan of Harlan Coben and his books, and I am sure I will be picking up more of his titles – but there is the usual problem of so many books and so little time.

The Excitements by C J Wray

‘The Excitements’ by C J Wray was one of the book recommendations from Matt Cain when ‘The Book Taster’ treated us to a little bonus social last month. This book just sounded like a bundle of fun, and that is exactly what it is.

Our lead characters, Penny and Josephine, are two elderly sisters who love to have a bit of ‘excitement’ in their day. And it is often down to their dear nephew to ensure that something of the kind is planned for them. Little does he know that these two wonderfully colourful characters have had their fair share of excitement over the years…and still continue to do so, even if it can occasionally be a little risky.

Our adventure with them takes place in Paris, where they are to be honoured for their work during World War Two. And, as a rather dramatic set of events unfolds in Paris, we are also sent back to the past through Penny and Josephine’s memories to see what exactly has brought them to this moment – and it is certainly a life of excitement, love, loss, danger and heroism.

I found this book a true joy to read, for a number of reasons. There is humour amongst the pages of this book as the ladies really do enjoy life, and have a little bit of a cheeky side to them – but, also, we are given some fantastically creative characters who bring humour to the page, even in some of the darker moments. It is always nice to see older characters represented as being full of life, and liberal, and having appreciated their past adventures. And the historical fiction element of the book keeps you reading as you want to know all the secrets about all the characters.

This is a story that will be a hug in a book if you are a fan of the characters and stories of Richard Osman and A J Pearce. I think this will be a great read for the summer when you want a real piece of escapism with a bit of adventure thrown in. I would probably not have found this book without the recommendation from Matt Haig, so I am so glad that I took the plunge and gave it a read on a whim, because it is a treat that I would not have wanted to miss out on.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

I am a month behind on my Read Christie 2024, so mid-March means I have picked up the February pick. This was my introduction to Tommy and Tuppence in the written form (I have listened to them as an audio book) and I was very pleasantly surprised as they did not leave much of a mark on me as an audio book.

This, despite having some dark undertones as you would imagine from Christie, is a more light-hearted novel. I think because our characters are younger, with more optimisim and hope as they have come out of World War One. They are also a fantastic pair, bringing the best out of each other as only very dear friends (or more) can do. I found myself having a little smile on my face as I read some of the lines, because Tommy and Tuppence just seem to bring such joy to the story. Even in their darkest moments.

This is a brilliant story of espionage and politics. The world has come out of World War One but there are still threats on the horizon, with an unstable Europe and distrust between the nations. Tommy and Tuppence get drawn into this world, almost accidentally, and embark on a life as private investigators: can they find the missing Jane Finn and the documents she was given to take good care of? They certainly give it a jolly good go, meeting a whole host of suspicious characters along the way, and finding themselves in a number of dangerous situations.

There are some twists and turns along the way, but this is not Christie’s most complicated tale. In fact, you may work some of the plot out, but that does not spoil the reading experience as the fun of reading this story is being on the adventure with Tommy and Tuppence, and rooting for them at every moment.

I am not sure they will replace Poirot in my affections but this is a slightly different reading experience. I certainly won’t be avoiding reading more of Tommy and Tuppence, which I think I have been up until this point, as I like to read Poirot and Miss Marple for comfort reads, which means I have been missing out on some of Christie’s other stories.

The Murder after the Night Before by Katy Brent

Book and Pudding Club Knowle picked ‘The Murder after the Night Before’ by Katy Brent as the March pick. This is a book that I have seen around recently, with the most amazing neon pink cover, so I was quite intrigued when it got picked. This is also described as a bit of a black comedy, which is probably a genre I do not usually read – my thriller choices tend to be quite traditional and, well, dark.

Molly Monroe wakes up from a rather heavy night to find out that she has a rather x-rated video that has gone viral and she can not remember a thing about – but, to beat that, she also finds out that her best friend has been murdered (or so Molly thinks) in the bathroom of their flat. I mean, as next mornings of regret and confusion go, this is actually the thing of nightmares. However, Molly is a determined young lady and she is determined to find out the truth about her best friend Posey’s final moments – and who this too-good-to-be-true young man, Jack, is, as he has appeared at possibly the worst moment of Molly’s life.

This was an engaging read from the start and it definitely has all the traditional ingredients of a murder mystery. I am not sure it was a true thriller, as I am not sure tension was always built up throughout the narrative, as I think it was fairly clear that there would be a ‘happy ending’. I did work out one of the twists of the main story, but I did not work out the secret we find out about Molly’s family. Molly is a fantastically strong female character, as I am not sure that many of us could recover from what she is experiencing at the start of the story.

I think this is a light-hearted read, but I am not sure I found the humour in it. It deals with some quite heavy topics and creates some great characters, but I am not sure I saw it as witty and humorous, just a rather well-written novel by a clearly talented female author who can create a book for a feminist age. I am sure that I will read more books by Katy Brent, as I was definitely hooked and needed to know all the secrets of the story.