Last One at the Party by Bethany Clift

This is a book that was chosen as Bookstagram made me do it. In fact, one of my good bookstabuddies had raved about it so much that I knew I had to pick it up.

This book really reminded me of ‘I Am Legend’: one person’s fight to survive in a world that has been destroyed, alone and scared. These are not the same book, and by no means is Bethany Clift trying to make it the same, but it was nice to read something that had some similar themes, but with a much higher chance of becoming reality – and that almost makes it a more terrifying read.

However, what is great about this book is that it is told from the point of a view of a woman and not a man in this dystopian world. Seeing how a woman finds the strength to survive alone in the destroyed world is brilliant. And, to be honest, I think she has more strength than I could manage. But I also loved how, throughout the book, there was the reflection on the life that came before and how, maybe, this horror is the making of her.

Yet, I think what really makes this book is the ending – this is a book that is left for you to draw your own conclusions (in fact, I noticed the other day that there are posts out there in the world offering explanations to the ending) which means this book is with you even after you have read the final word. You are left thinking about the ending and wondering if what you have read was really the truth of the protagonist or if it was their interpretation of events – maybe some of it the truth they have chosen to believe.

Or, maybe I am overthinking this ending…

This is a fantastically written novel, leaving you with so much to think about and possibly a little bit of fear about the world that we live in. I really recommend that you pick this book up, as I think it is story that everyone should be reading and discussing.

The Authenticity Project by Clare Pooley

I finally picked this book up off my shelf after one of my wonderful bookstagram buddies suggested that I would enjoy it. And like all good bookish buddies, they were not wrong – I absolutely loved it!

This book is just like a hug in book form, a colourful collection of characters, but it is not all ‘unicorns and rainbows’. This book tackles some really difficult themes along the way, but with care and attention that results in this book being the hug (and maybe the cathartic cry) we all need.

‘The Authenticity Project’ starts as a green notebook from Julian Jessop; he feels it is time to be authentic especially as he has been lonely for 15 years. He writes down his ‘truth’, hoping it will be read and inspire others to do the same. In fact, this innocent little notebook brings together a whole community of fantastic characters who all need to face up to their ‘truth’ and the path that their lives are taking. And this, in turn, becomes a truly wonderful book.

Clare Pooley’s writing is so fantastic, and there were a few moments that really struck a chord with me. For example, the description of the smell of Elnett hairspray and how emotive a scent can be reminded me of my Grandma, which gave me a few moments to remember her, and this really made me smile.

But, also, as I finished this book, I felt like I had left some friends and I needed to know what happened next;I mean, that was after I had finished crying, as the final pages are simply beautiful, if not a little sad but also in rather a happy way. (Wow, I suspect that makes no sense – but if you pick this book up and give it a read you will understand exactly what I mean.)

Yet, as I have finished this book, I am going to really think about asking for help if I need it and listening to those conversations I have – because maybe we all need to make sure we are a little more authentic.

Taste: My Life Through Food by Stanley Tucci

My reading of non-fiction has been a little behind this year. I think this is probably because I have been using reading as a real key to escapism for the last year with this slightly strange world that we have been living in.

However, I am a Stanley Tucci fan (I mean, who is not?) and, because of this, I thought I had to pick up ‘Taste’, his memoir created through his love of food, and, well, that felt like escapism to me. Especially as I had watched his TV series ‘Stanley Tucci: Searching for Italy’ and that had been some wonderful escapsim, so I thought his book probably would be too.

This book was brilliant. There is little more that I can say about it. Stanley Tucci has such a natural writing style that it reads like a friend is just chatting to you about their life and the important part that food has played in their life story. This book is in no way pretentious, it is just a memoir that happens to connect to Tucci’s love of food. I found that I just wanted to keep reading it all the time as I escaped to America and Europe through Stanley Tucci’s tales about his culinary adventures. I mean, the additional anecdotes about his career and the odd friend who may happen to be in the acting world is just an additional treat sprinkled occasionally through the book. (Do not read the Thank Yous first if you are prone to tears when you read – this is a mistake I made and just reinforced why I happen to be a fan of two TV and film stars I am sure we will all know.)

However, this book is also a bit of a love letter to food, especially when Tucci shares his experiences with oral cancer and, of course, how that impacted his relationship with food, but also all the positive experiences he used to have with food and how he had to rebuild that after his cancer.

This is definitely going to be one of the contenders for book of the year for me – well, it could even simply be my non-fiction book of the year right now. Now, I may just pop off and find the audiobook, as I hear that it is also rather wonderful.

That Night by Gillian McAllister

As my desire to read crime and thriller fiction continues through the summer months, I picked up my second book by Gillian McAllister for this year – ‘That Night’.

I have to say that I think Gillian McAllister is the queen of the plot twist – and ‘That Night’ was full of them. But, as before, this is not just a crime novel; it is, again, an interesting study of human nature and character.

This book is focused around one set of siblings who have always been very close: they work together and they even live in the same row of isolated cottages together. The question is: how close are they? Are they close enough to cover up a murder?

Again, it is so hard to review such a book as I do not want to spoil any of it for anyone. However, I will tell you that it is a page-turner from the moment you start reading, and there are at least two gasp-out-loud twists – one I even had to re-read to check that was really where the story was now going.

Gillian McAllister writes an incredibly intelligent thriller, and is definitely becoming one of my go-to authors for this genre – I am glad that I still have a few in her back catalogue to read, because they definitely satisfy that thriller reader side of me.

How To Kill Your Family by Bella Mackie

My third book of the summer is one that has been on the shelf since the January sales. ‘How To Kill Your Family’ by Bella Mackie has been everywhere (including my book shelf), so I appreciate I am very late to the party, which is why it had to be on my summer possibility pile.

However, now I have read it, I have had to take some time to process what I think about it. I cannot decide if I liked it or not, or if it was a book that was just a slow burn for me – and the more I read it the more I became invested in it. I almost felt like I needed to immediately speak to others who may have read it and find out if they enjoyed it or not, and try and get my thoughts organised.

I liked the idea of the book, but I do not think I liked Grace – I should have felt empathy for her, but I just found her a bit irritating, not as far-removed from the ‘distant’ family she was attempting to ‘deal’ with. But then, as I finished it, I wondered if in fact that was what I was supposed to think of Grace as the reader – because, no spoilers – the conclusion was clever. In fact, I thought the final quarter of the book was excellent and the twist (if that is what you can call it) was brilliant. In fact, once I approached the final quarter, I could not put the book down and I thought, well, actually perhaps I do like this book.

I understand that this is not a very helpful blog post – and I cannot give any spoilers – but I think this might just be the kind of book which will be a little bit marmite, and needs a bit of a debrief once it has been read. So, the big question is: have you read ‘How To Kill Your Family’? And what did you think? Because I still do not think I totally know what I think about it…

Fault Lines by Emily Itami

This month’s ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ pick is ‘Fault Lines’. A book which was shortlisted for ‘The Costa First Novel Award’. This, and I know I say it a lot, is not a book I would have picked up without the book club.

A piece of contemporary fiction, this tells the story of Mizuki, living in Tokyo with her family. With two young children and her hard-working husband, who does not seem to be around or present all too often, she is living the life of a housewife. A life that many may envy her for, as she has a nice city-centre apartment and appears to want for nothing. Yet, Mizuki does want something: she wants more; she wants to feel alive and thinks maybe there would be more to life if she had made different decisions along the way. And when she meets Kiyoshi, she gets a glimpse of another life, and events lead her to having to make some decisions about what exactly she wants in life.

I found this an easy read and well-written, nothing too taxing, but it is not a favourite read of mine. I did not feel attached to any of the characters and, rather than feeling involved as a reader, I simply felt like an observer of events. And, do not get me wrong, these events seemed perfectly feasible, but it just did not have me all the invested in what is happening – I was not too fussed which path Mizuki chose.

This does not mean that I would not read any other books by Emily Itami, as her writing style is lovely, and I would like to see where she went next with her books.

The Holiday by T.M.Logan

It seems very fitting that the first book I finish in my summer break is called ‘The Holiday’. I was not sure what I would think of this book, as sometimes a thriller that has had hype surrounding it can potentially be a let-down; however, ‘The Holiday’ definitely is not.

I found this book to be a thrilling page-turner. A slow burn, but not a slow-paced story (which I realise may sound like a contradiction), this idyllic-sounding holiday with friends soon becomes anything but. There are secrets, the weight of guilt and strange behaviours galore, as these supposedly best friends spend a summer in France.

I refuse to reveal any spoilers, but the ‘twist’, if that is what you can really call it at the end, had me; I fell right into its trap until the very final moment. There are so many great issues covered within the book too, especially the dangers of social media for the young. And it may leave you wondering how far you would be willing to go to protect those that are the most important to you.

This is a well-written and well-crafted crime thriller novel. I enjoyed the fact that we are mainly seeing the story from one perspective, but every now and then we are thrown into another, which may completely alter how you are seeing the story. It would make a perfect holiday read, although possibly not if you are off on a friends holiday to a villa in France…

So, if you want a thrilling read for this holiday season, pick up ‘The Holiday’ and see where it takes you.

Stranded by Sarah Goodwin

For some reason I am in a bit of a thriller-reads mood. So, I decided on ‘Stranded’ by Sarah Goodwin, which I managed to pick up at ‘The Tasting Notes Live’ in the Spring. Now, I know I say it every time, but it is difficult to write about some of these books without spoilers, so my post may be short but sweet.

‘Stranded’ reminded me ‘Lord of the Flies’: that great social experiment of what happens when you strand a group of people together on an island. Brought into the 21st century, a group of eight people are ‘stranded’ on an island, all in the name of reality TV. Something that will be a challenge of a lifetime, and the opportunity for them to build their own little community working together. Of course, nothing quite goes to plan and nobody seems to be quite as you expected.

This is a well-crafted, psychological thriller. And the characters are definitely brought to life on the page; I am not sure I would want to meet many of them in the real world. It is quite a study of people, their behaviour in extreme situations, and the importance of a clear structure to the society we live in.

A page-turner, and a thrilling and chilling read, it was certainly a book I enjoyed in my thriller mood. In fact, it made me pick up another thriller immediately – so I think that must be a sign of a good read that it has kept me wanting to read the same genre.

Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick

So, I have finally reached the end of the Carnegie Shortlist, ending with Tsunami Girl by Julian Sedgwick.

This is a lovely book, told in part prose and part manga; an emotional and powerful story about Yuki Hare Jones and her journey of self-discovery and identity. Caught in the 2011 Japan Earthquake and Tsunami, her life is changed forever: it forces her to re-evaluate her identity and her life, starting a new journey of self-discovery and finding an inner strength she believed she had lost. Oh, and there is an imaginary superhero along the way, created through her art, that supports her with the challenges ahead.

Beautifully written and illustrated throughout, you follow Yuki on her amazing adventure. You will admire her grit and determination, and the inner stength that her creativity and beliefs give her. And, again, it is great to have a strong female lead character, even if she has challenges that she has to overcome first. It will help many readers understand that they are not alone, and that everyone has something or someone that gives them strength. And, well, as a big fan of ‘The Little Prince’, I am always happy to find a book with a fox as a supporting or central character (all this will be revealed if you pick up this book – which I am sure you will).

So, the important final question is: which book was my winner?

When the Sky Falls by Phil Earle

If you are a fan of Michael Morpurgo’s historical fiction books or the classic ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’ by Michelle Magorian then you will one hundred percent be a fan of ‘When the Sky Falls’ by Phil Earle. I have read this as part of my challenge to read the Carnegie Book Prize shortlist (I did read this before the winner was announced) and I am glad I was introduced to this book.

Just like ‘Goodnight Mr Tom’, I felt this was an excellent story of two generations coming together in the most difficult of circumstances – and, in fact, becoming exacly what each other need. And, well throw a silverback gorilla into the mix and how can you not enjoy the story; after all, Adonis does become the thing that truly brings them together.

This is a slightly different story, as this is about life in the city during 1941, rather than those young people who are evacuated to the countryside. So, it brings to life the experiences for those who are dealing with the blitz and the dangers that were faced every day, but also the secrets that were often kept from people in order to save face in the community. Sometimes, all someone needs is a friend, even if that friendship is found in the most unexpected of places.

I do not want to reveal the real challenge that is faced in this book, as that may be considered a spoiler, but it is safe to say that I could not put this book down. And it even left me with a list of a few things that I want to research as a result, because a book that sparks your curiosity is always a winner in my eyes.