Becoming Ted by Matt Cain

Last month, The Book Taster treated book club members to a little online social with Matt Cain. This was an absolute treat as, last year (almost exactly to the year), I read ‘The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle‘ and had absolutely adored it, and Matt Cain was a joy to listen to and share some of his recommendations.

After the event, I knew that ‘Becoming Ted’ had to be my next read, because I was pretty sure it would bring me pure joy. Ted is shocked by the announcement from his husband Giles that their marriage is over and he has met someone else. This forces Ted to face up to the truth about his marriage: maybe it had not been quite as perfect as he thought it was, and maybe it had been holding him back from his dreams all this time. As Ted has to restart his life, he starts to become a little more himself than he had been for quite some time; facing up to his past, looking at his present and working to create his bright future – as a drag queen.

‘Becoming Ted’ is such a heartwarming story, proving that it is never too late to follow your dreams, but also that you should never let anyone else stop you from being who you really are. It is a story of love, of all kinds. And a story of friendship and family, both things that may not always follow a smooth path but can also be the most valuable thing in our lives.

This book made me laugh out loud and it also caused me to shed a tear or two – there is one moment with Oskar and his search for his father that had me in floods of tears, on a train which is (of course) never awkward. The characters are all so beautifully created that you feel like you know each one of them personally (or that you would definitely like to hang out with them if you could), which is what adds so much emotion to this book, too.

I will be recommending this book regularly to people when they ask me what to read next, especially when they are looking for an uplifting read that can probably teach us a lesson or two along the way. And Matt Cain is certainly now added to my list of go-to authors (‘Madonna of Bolton’ is already on the tbr pile), especially when I am looking for a book that will ensure a real joy of reading for the time that I am in its company.

Girl on Fire by Tony Parsons

A friend of mine passed ‘Girl on Fire’ on to me recently so, as I was in a bit of a crime and thriller mood, I decided I would sneak it in before the end of February. I mean, as we are in a leap year and there is an extra day, I may as well use some of it reading.

‘Girl on Fire’ introduced me to DC Max Wolfe (although not his first case), and I was quite taken with this character. A single parent who loves his dog, his job and follows his moral compass, even when the odds may be stacked against him or his case.

Max Wolfe is caught up in the events of a terrorist attack on a local shopping centre, and becomes involved in trying to draw out those who were responsible but also those who believe that they have a right to carry out vigilante justice. There appears to be danger around every corner, from many different sources but Max Wolfe always keeps his sense of fair justice, which makes him a fascinating character to read about as he faces so many troubles and dangers in his work.

I actually found this quite a thought-provoking read, as there was a study of character along the way as it considered what influences people to carry out some of the actions that they do. And how different people view right and wrong, justice and injustice – how do we form our morals and values?

My only tiny frustration with this book with the punctuation of the flow occasionally to explain a piece of police jargon or abbreviation. Although I appreciate as readers we may not have fully understood these things without that little explanation, I just occasionally felt that it interrupted my flow when I was fully immersed in a moment in the story. But I think that was probably just my personal preference when I read rather than a criticism.

I think I would like to read more about Max Wolfe and will be keeping an eye out for more books which feature him in the lead, because I am keen to see where his character came from and where his character is going. Only six more books to read – so many books, so little time.

Weyward by Emilia Hart

At a recent book club meeting we were asked to share our latest reads, and one of my lovely bookish buddies recommended ‘Weyward’ by Emilia Hart. Now, this is a book that I would not be reading without the recommendation; although the cover is absolutely beautiful, I just would not normally think that this is a book that would be my usual read.

However, spurred on by the recommendation, I decided that I would give it a go. Especially as it was a little bit of a bargain as an e-book, and I am trying to use that format to ensure that I try some books that I would maybe not normally read. And that is exactly what ‘Weyward’ was.

This is a fantastic mix of historical and contemporary fiction as we meet three women connected by their family history. In the present day, Kate is escaping a controlling partner. In 1942, Violet is struggling with her place in the world and her father’s expectations. And, in 1619, Altha is on trial for witchcraft. Yet, these women are all stronger than they realise and are not to be tamed, for they are ‘weyward’.

It is hard to discuss some books when you do not want to give away the plot, and this is a book that I think you need to read to fully appreciate. However, if you like a book with strong female leads and a little bit of mystery and intrigue as you read – then this is the book for you. This story really sucks you in, especially the story of Altha, who faces trial in Lancaster, a city close to my heart from my university days – and the stories of witches in Lancashire and surrounding areas are woven into the history of the city and the university.

I am not sure I can do this book justice, as I genuinely think to really appreciate it, then you have read it – which I totally recommend you do.

Maybe Next Time by Cesca Major

‘Maybe Next Time’ is the February book choice of The Book Taster Book Club. I was excited that I managed to pick my copy up in New York when I visited in January – I absolutely love the cover of the US edition and, of course, it is a Reese’s Book Club pick, too.

This is an interesting concept of a book. Emma lives the same day, Monday 3rd December, her dateversary with her husband Dan, and it always has the same tragic ending. It does not seem to matter what Emma does, she lives a very similar ending. However, she goes through a whole host of emotions and experiences on the same day, repeatedly. This leads Emma to make some reflections about the life she has been leading, the relationships she has formed, and the decisions that she makes. And, the final page…well…

I think it takes some skill that Cesca Major has written a book that always happens on the same day but keeps us reading. The study she makes of Emma and the experiences that Emma goes through makes it a book that you keep reading. It is a fascinating journey that you go on with Emma, hoping as she does that the outcome may become different.

This is a good read – just possibly a little long. I loved the character development and the relationship between Emma and Dan (the letters Dan writes Emma are wonderful) but I could just have skimmed a couple of pages off the end – but that is probably a me issue rather than the book. I can, however, understand why for many readers this has been a great read and I definitely have some fellow readers in mind who I will be recommending this book too.

Two for Tuesday – Novels-in-verse

I was lucky enough to hear Louise Reid speak at one of The Book Taster’s live events and this led me to her books. However, I am ashamed to say that ‘Wrecked’ and ‘Gloves Off’ sat on my shelves for a little while before I picked them up (although you can find my post about ‘The Poet’ on my blog). However, I picked ‘Wrecked’ up and that immediately made me pick ‘Gloves Off’ to follow.

‘Wrecked’ is a heartbreaking YA novel-in-verse. I have actually thought about it every day since I finished it, and once I finished it, I needed a few minutes to just absorb it all. This novel takes the story of boyfriend and girlfriend, Joe and Imogen, and we meet them after they have been involved in a fatal car accident, which appears to be Joe’s fault. We follow Joe as he faces his trial for dangerous driving; the story moves between the present and the past as we discover the events that led to that fatal night.

The emotions in this book are intense, as the relationship between Imogen and Joes is slowly unpicked. Is it really love’s young dream, as Joe believes it is? Or are there cracks that could wreck not just Joe’s life, but those of his family and friends, too? I really do not want to reveal too much about this book, as I do not feel that I can do it justice. However, I will say that it is an emotional rollercoaster presented in verse, beautifully constructed with clever presentation on the page that reflects some of the events and emotions that are being presented. You are really invested in this book from the moment you start reading, and I could not put it down – and it will stay with me for a long time.

And this took me straight to ‘Gloves Off’…

Louisa Reid is not afraid to tackle some tough subjects in her books, and ‘Gloves Off’ is no exception. Again, verse is used in this book to tell to the story of Lily and her family. Lily is badly bullied at school and her safe place is with her family at home, although her mum, Bernadette, has her own struggles and worries that she is to blame for what is happening to Lily. However, simultaneously, mother and daughter begin a journey to transform from who they are into better versions of themselves.

After a particularly nasty incident, Lily’s dad introduces her to boxing to support her in being able to fight back. And that does not mean physically, necessarily, but to allow her to have the confidence to fight back. At the same time, Bernadette begins to fight back against the thing that has held her back, dealing with the shame from comments made to her about her appearance. Both journeys that the characters go on allow them to see life as something that is beautiful, and gives them both a second chance to show the bullies that they are not going to be held back any longer.

This was another page-turner for me that I could not put down, as it was just so stunningly constructed, and I want to support Lily in her fight against those who were holding her back.

I cannot praise these books enough, especially if you are a fan of novels-in-verse and powerful stories that will steal a piece of your heart. Do not get me wrong, there are some tough topics tackled, and it is not always an easy read, but I think each book is an important read with some important lessons among the pages. So, if you have not picked up a book by Louisa Reid, I really suggest you do, as you will be in for a treat.

The Girls Who Disappeared by Claire Douglas

After the Book Taster introduced us to the books of Claire Douglas, I had made a decision that I need to read her backlist. So, one of my reads in February was ‘The Girls who Disappeared’ (as I found it at a little bit of a bargain price).

This was another great twisty thriller, with atmosphere built from the first page, and a fantastic strong female lead in the form of the journalist Jenna Halliday.

This is a small-town mystery. Twenty years earlier, Olivia Rutherford was in a car accident with her friends, but when she wakes up, the other girls have gone. For twenty years, there has been no explanation for what happened that night, but as the anniversary approaches, Jenna Halliday wants to do a true crime podcast in an attempt to see if it exposes any new information. However, it seems that some people in this small town will go to extreme measures to ensure that nothing new is exposed – or to ensure that any other secrets are exposed.

The small-town setting adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere, as does the forest and the road where the accident happened. Claire Douglas is excellent at using the setting to add to the tension of the story that is being told.

As it is a thriller, it is quite hard to say too much about the plot of the book, other than you are left feeling that everyone has a secret that they are trying to keep hidden, and you never really know who is genuine as a character. It is a quite a ride from start to finish – with a fantastic reveal when we reach the conclusion.

Past Caring by Robert Goddard

When I was at my IRL book club in January, one of the lovely members recommended the books of Robert Goddard to me – thrillers with a link to history sounded like a great read to me. And one that involves the Suffragettes sounded even better. So on my return from book club, I looked up ‘Past Caring’ by Robert Goddard and thought I would give it a go. Especially as I am trying to read books recommended to me a little more, and a little more timely (rather than waiting for months).

This book was fantastic. Considering (as I have said many times) I do not read the blurb, I was not entirely sure what I was expecting other than the words used when it was recommended to me. This is a historical mystery: why did Cabinet minister Edwin Strafford resign when his career seemed to be on the up? That is what Martin Radford is asked to find out. And it takes him on quite an adventure – and one that becomes a little more dangerous and thrilling than he could ever expect.

Edwin Strafford introduces us to his story through the pages of his memoir; Martin Radford’s job is to find out if Strafford is a reliable narrator or not. This leads Martin into a web of lies formed by the new family of Strafford’s former fiancee’s family – a family that Martin is closer to than he realises. Although there was one secret or twist I worked out as I read the book, this did not spoil the story. In fact, I was so invested in Strafford’s story and how he had been treated that solving that one mystery felt like an achievement (and made me dislike the villain of the piece even more).

This was so well plotted, with so much history entwined with the fiction of the thriller, that I found that I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. Dual timelines enriched the thriller as there were actually multiple mysteries that needed solving. I can see why Robert Goddard is a popular author and I have added yet another author to my must-read-the-backlist list. There are just so many good books and so little time…

The Fury by Alex Michaelides

Last year, one of my favourite thrillers was the dark academia novel ‘The Maidens’ from Alex Michaelides. So, when I saw that ‘The Fury’ was out, I knew I had to grab a copy, because I could not wait to see what Alex Michaelides was treating us to next.

This book did what Alex Michaelides does well, it had a fantastic narrator who you suspect is unreliable from the first page but draws you straight into the story. You just have to know what is going to happen next and what exactly the narrator’s motive is. This is a story of obsession, power and secrets, interwoven with the myths of the Greek islands. All of which results in a number of twists and turns that take the reader on quite an adventure.

Although I did work out one of the twists (I am not sure it is particuarly hidden), the joy of the story is finding out what led to that twist or that decision. The book is fascinating as the motive behind every characters actions is what keeps you reading. How much does each character know about the other, who is really working together, and what is the fact and what is the fiction?

The setting of a Greek island becomes as much part of the story too. It is a great setting as the heat of the island adds to the tense atmosphere of our collection of shady characters. An isolated, private island always seems to be a great setting for a thriller after all (‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie has to be one of the best examples of that, if you have not read it – you should, when you have read ‘The Fury’, of course).

All of this has not stopped ‘The Maidens’ from being my favourite by Alex Michaelides, but this was another great read that had me hooked. And I enjoyed the references made to some of the other novels.

This is going to be a great read for those who enjoy a thriller as we enter the warmer months, if you can wait that long to pick it up.

Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes

As I am tackling my tbr pile, I decided to pick up ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’, especially as I had seen one of my best book buddies pick it up, too. This has been on the shelf for about a year which, for me, is not too long, haha!

I love the concept of this story: how a twist of fate can lead you to walk in someone else’s shoes. And how this, in turn, leads you down a path that you may have never imagined, but also reflect on the past, present and what the future may hold. This book tackles a whole host of topics, including relationships, mental health and identity, but it does all this with charm, wit and sensitivity.

Although to start with, I did not fall in love with our two main characters, Sam and Nisha, as the story progresses and, little by little, you learn more about them, you do start to root for them and hope that they will find the happiness that they are both looking for. And I have to say, the moment where Nisha achieves her revenge on her unpleasant ex-husband is quite a moment.

However, for me, this book was a little too long. It is a fantastically well-constructed story and there is so much among the pages, but I did find the length of the chapters a little long at points. There were odd moments where I found myself skim-reading, while still keeping the thread of the story.

Yet, please do not let that put you off as this is a classic Jojo Moyes with fantastically strong female characters (even if they do not realise it at the time), and warmth and humour that makes the reading experience a joy. I am always keen to see what Jojo Moyes will write, and I do need to make sure that I go back through some of her backlist.

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

It has been far too long since I read ‘Mrs England‘ – in fact it has been over two years – which means that ‘The Foundling’ has probably been on the tbr pile for almost as long. (I really do need to get it under control.)

But, after seeing one of my Bookstagram buddies having a real Stacey Halls phase, I thought it was about time I picked ‘The Foundling’ up. And what a lovely read it is. I think I had been putting it off, as historical fiction is not always my top choice of genre, but that attitude has slowly been changing over the last couple of years, as it is a genre that seems to be getting so much better.

‘The Foundling’ focuses on the Foundling Hospital in London and the experiences of those who were forced to leave children there, and those who adpoted children from there. This is a fascinating study of relationships: those between families and those between different social classes. And, of course, how wealth can bring freedom to many, and poverty can bring restrictions to so many others.

You are swept away to London in 1754 from the moment you start reading this book; it has been 6 years since Clara left her daughter at the Foundling Hospital, and now she is returning to collect her after saving what she believes is the fee to buy her daughter’s freedom. In a cruel twist of fate, Clara’s daughter has gone, apparently taken by Clara herself just days after she left her there. So where is Clara’s daughter now, and how will she ever see her again?

After this, I will definitely be returning to the books of Stacey Hall very soon. This is historical fiction that is well-researched, well-plotted and does not rely solely on lots of description to create an atmosphere of the time. It feels a little like time travel in a book, and I really enjoy that.