Weirdo by Sara Pascoe

The July choice for ‘The Book Taster Book Club’ was ‘Weirdo’ by Sara Pascoe. This was a book that I had my eye on for some time, so it was a perfect excuse to pick it up and read it.

I can see why this book may be a Marmite book – and I definitely do not think that it is a book that will be for everyone, but I rather enjoyed it.

This story is told as a stream of consciousness, like we are living in the head of our main character, Sophie. And, for some, this may be a little jarring, but I rather enjoyed this as a reader. We all live in our heads sometimes, like Sophie, and we often have thoughts that may trigger other thoughts and cause us to jump around in our own heads. For me, this was really interesting, as little moments can often cause another memory or idea to be sparked – and this is what happens throughout the story. Sophie unpacks her past as she lives in her present, which takes her on a journey of self-discovery, as she realises that maybe there is not such a thing as perfection. But she also begins to understand why her present may have been impacted by her past…

Sophie also has a whole host of difficult and dysfunctional relationships to address in her life. These have certainly impacted the Sophie that she has become and need a bit of shaking off if she is going to move forward with her life.

So, as much as I appreciate that this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think that there were a number of features that are probably quite relatable to many young women. The overthinking is definitely something that I could relate to, as was the way we jump around with our thoughts. This is especially true if we are feeling isolated or alone, which is how Sophie is feeling in this stage of her life. And I think there is an important lesson to us all that we should never let anyone dull our shine, or tell us that we are not worth being exactly what we want to be.

Thirteen by Steve Cavanagh

I think one of my reading red flags is that I do not always read some long-standing series in the correct order, and it would appear that is the stance that I have taken with the Eddie Flynn novels by Steve Cavanagh. And it has not impacted by enjoyment of these books – so, I guess it is not the end of the world.

I decided to pick up ‘Thirteen’ as I was in quite a thriller mood after some very busy work weeks, and I was certain that this book would not disappoint. And I was correct – this book did not disappoint and it was a joy to be back in the company of Eddie Flynn.

I absolutely cannot give any of this tale away, so all I am going to say is that Joshua Kane is very keen to make it on to the jury for the trial of a Hollywood star. A hero of the silver screen is charged with murder and Kane is keen to ensure he is found guilty. But, as Eddie Flynn is the defence lawyer, it may not all go to plan for Kane – so, how far will he go to ensure that his plan is a success?

This is such a brilliantly constructed thriller. You are on the edge of your seat at moments throughout this book. The dual perspective of the story, the antics of Kane and the experiences of Flynn definitely combine to inspire you to be an armchair detective – but the twists and turns of the narrative won’t guarantee that you get it right. Especially as it is a twisty page-turner of a novel, and it has reminded me that I need to make sure that I read even more about Eddie Flynn’s adventures.

In fact, I have another on my shelf – so, maybe I will have to pick it up sooner rather than later, especially as there is a new Eddie Flynn story out very soon…

The Good Samaritan by John Marrs

I have been told several times that I should try to read a John Marrs novel. So, when I spotted that ‘The Good Samaritan’ was a bargain on Kindle, I decided it was time to take the advice.

And, what I learned immediately is that John Marrs can clearly write a chilling novel. I found the start of this novel rather unsettling (in a good thriller way) and knew that I would be reading all of this book, because I just had to know more. We have a fantastic, unreliable narrator in our lead character, Laura, who works for the charity helpline ‘End of the Line’ – we seem to be presented with a ‘Good Samaritan’ but, as the story unfolds, we doubt so much of what we have learned.

The majority of this story is told from two key perspectives: that of Laura and Ryan. Ryan, particularly, experiences intense grief when his wife commits suicide, apparently with the help of someone else. We follow him as he seeks his revenge – after all, an ‘eye for an eye’ – but that just results in him destroying his life even further as he takes matters into his own hands.

It is actually quite hard to review this book, as there is no way I can reveal spoilers. But I can tell you that this book has all the ingredients of an intense thriller. You have, as previously mentioned, your unreliable narrator; you have your complex characters, you have your secrets, your lies, and your twists and turns. I am not sure at any point you are actually sure what is going to happen next – and, just as you think you are not going to be shocked, something else takes your breath away. It is a truly addictive read.

I am not sure what else I can say about this book without giving too much away, but I will suggest you read it if you are a thriller fan, although please be clear that there are some difficult topics amongst its pages, so you may want to check those out first.

And now I am off to seek out my next John Marrs novel, because one of the best treats about stumbling across a new author is that it means you have a whole back-list of books to catch up on, which is always a treat.

Fair Rosaline by Natasha Solomons

I am (as I am sure you have noticed) a fan of Shakespeare. And I am definitely a fan of people having a go at retelling or exploring other possible narratives of his plays. So, when ‘Fair Rosaline’ was published last year, I knew I had to read it. Now, I appreciate that it then sat on my shelf for quite some time, but it was selected for me as my June pick for my Twelve Days of Bookmas, and I am glad that I have finally read it.

Rosaline is the cousin of fair Juliet. We meet her only in words in the play, and this story is the idea of life before Juliet meets Romeo – a time when Rosaline met Romeo. This is a fabulous premise for a story, and this is a beautifully written story. However, for me, there was a little something jarring about this book.

Natasha Solomon has told a great story, and she has a magical way with words, but the story felt a little like an agenda. A very feminist telling of the lives in ‘fair Verona’ – which is fine, but does not need to be so forced on the reader. I totally understand that, as modern audiences, we have some issues with the idea of age and relationships (rightly so); however, these issues were not the same in the historical context. It felt, all the way through, that we were constantly being told that the age gap in relationships was a problem, rather than it being implied to the reader. And Romeo is categorised incredibly negatively, which, again, may be how the author sees him, but may not be how all the readers see him, and they are not left to form any kind of independent judgement of his character.

It was wonderful to meet Rosaline and give her a voice, and I liked the reimagining of the ending. But, if this was not a story of before Juliet, it could be a fantastic, independent story with no connection to Shakespeare – and I would have enjoyed it so much more if this was just a story about a strong, independent woman called Rosaline, trying to stand up to the expectations placed on her by society. Especially as Rosaline is a character I admired: her character and her determination, and her belief in loyalty to those who deserved and earn it.

So, I am interested, have you read this one? I would love to know people’s thoughts, because I think I recommend this as a beautifully written book – but without the attachment to Shakespeare.

You Are Here by David Nicholls

Like so much of the book world, I was over the moon when I knew we were getting a new book from the pen of David Nicholls. I am an original fan of ‘One Day’, ‘Starter for Ten’ and ‘Us’ (‘Sweet Sorrow’ is on my shelf waiting to be read, and ‘The Understudy’ is on the wishlist) and, like so many, had my heart broken all over again by the recent Netflix adaptation of ‘One Day’. I was confident that ‘You Are Here’ would not disappoint, especially after hearing David Nicholls speak at the recent Stratford Literary Festival.

So, I was even more over the moon when ‘The Book Taster’ announced that this would be our June book pick, because that meant I had a whole host of lovely book buddies to read this book with and the chance to meet, discuss it and hear David Nicholls speak again.

‘You Are Here’ is just brilliant. I could end my review there, as this book is going to be up there as one of my top reads of the year (I never manage to have just one). This is a story that contains everything that you expect from the books of David Nicholls. Marnie and Michael are two beautiful characters who are incredibly easy to relate to (as my day job is a leading a humanities department, I can confirm that Michael is very much a geography teacher, with a geography teacher’s sense of humour). I would love to bump into these two and have a drink and a catch-up with them, especially as Marnie is a fan of ‘Wuthering Heights’. The plot is delightful, with humour and romance to satisfy us all; it is definitely a cosy read – none of that is a spoiler because, if you are a fan of David Nicholls, these things will not be a surprise.

But the thing I loved the most about this book was the beautiful, descriptive writing. I shared a wonderful paragraph about Euston Station with other readers because it was just so brilliantly written, and I think may well be one of my favourite pieces of writing in a book (and I never thought anything involving Euston Station would be my favourite…).

You feel you are there with Michael and Marnie at every moment throughout this book. There is a humour in the writing that is a joy to read; you smile as you read this book, and you feel like you are an old friend – and I may even have shed a little tear at one moment, too, which is also probably no surprise.

In a world that is far from ideal at the moment, where we all need a little escapism, this is a book that can give you exactly what you need – a hug in book form, and a pure moment of joy.

Burial Rites by Hannah Kent

My IRL book club has chosen ‘Burial Rites’ by Hannah Kent for the month of June. The choices were all based on the ‘Women’s Prize for Fiction’ back list but it was ‘Burial Rites’ that won the book club vote.

‘Burial Rites’ is a a truly brilliant read. I was hooked from the moment that I picked it up. It is haunting and beautifully written, based on a true story, a tale of the last execution to take place in 1830. And that execution was that of a woman, Agnes Magnusdottir (apologies: the spelling is missing some of the symbols needed on the letters). Now, this is no spoiler, as you can imagine her crime must be one of the worst if the punishment is execution – and it is; she is charged with being complicit in the murder of Natan, a man she has been in love with, and who she believed, or maybe hoped, loved her too.

This book is a fictionalised exploration of Agnes’ exprience as she awaits her execution, and the people who are responsible for her care, spiritually and physically, until that final moment. It also slowly reveals what had happened on that fateful night, and leaves us considering the morality of the execution.

I felt fully immersed in this world. I could feel the cold of 1830 in Iceland, and the isolation that Agnes felt in those final days. It evoked anger as I read about the moment that led to the crime with which she is charged, and the inequality of society as nobody appears to relate to Agnes and what happened because of her social background and her gender. She is labelled by her ‘guilt’ until others start to see past that, as they spend time together, and the sense of injustice starts to build.

The final pages are some of the best that I have read: I cannot share more than that as I do not want to spoil it for readers. But I almost felt like I was there in the final moments of the story, feeling all the emotions as the story drew to a close.

I am not sure I can do this book justice because I do not want to spoil the experience for other readers but this is a book that is going to become one of my auto recommendations when people ask for something to read. It will satisfy those who enjoy historical fiction; it will satisfy those who like a great story with fantastic writing, and it will satisfy those who enjoy crime fiction. To be honest, it will be a satisfying read to anybody who admires a well-constructed story with fascinating characters – whatever your usual genre taste is.

Doing the Double with Lisa Jewell

It is not often that I will read the first book in a duology, trilogy or series and then instantly pick up the next, but Lisa Jewell made me do exactly that. I bought ‘The Family Remains’ last summer but had not picked it up, as someone told me it was actually a sequel to ‘The Family Upstairs’, so I, of course, had to find a copy of that first. And, as usual, my favourite charity bookshop saved the day, not just having a copy of ‘The Family Upstairs’, but having a lovely hardback edition.

So, at the start of this month, I decided it was time to read ‘The Family Upstairs’, as I was pretty certain a thriller by Lisa Jewell was not going to disappoint and was going to be exactly what I needed, as my brain was in the thriller mood. My goodness, it did not take me long to get through this book, as I basically was reading at every opportunity, including staying in the car as Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse did the weekly shop, as I had to know what was going to happen next. This thriller had everything that I love about this genre. There was a dual timeline, as those in the present were trying to find out the mysteries of the past and the history of the house on the Thames and the mysterious family (and their ‘friends’) that had lived there. There is an unreliable narrator, in amongst all the other characters, who is so cleverly constructed that even when you know the truth, you are still not sure it really is the truth. And, of course, there are a number of mysteries and fascinating characters that just leave you wanting more all the time.

In fact, I think it is safe to say that this book is a masterclass in thriller writing. As all the readers want is more, this was certainly proved by the fact that for the first time I was willing to immediately pick up the next book – which, of course, I did.

‘The Family Remains’ mainly focuses on searching for one of the characters that we do not meet in the previous book, although we know that they are out there somewhere in the world. Phinn/Finn is missing but Birdie has been discovered (I cannot say more than that, as we know my feeling on spoilers appearing in blog posts). So, in this book, we find out more about the characters that we met in the first book and we are on a knife edge throughout, as we do not know if the darkest secrets of all will be revealed.

For the reader, this book holds more of a moral dilemma, as it does for some of the characters. Are the worst possible actions ever acceptable in the name of survival or protection? And, this follows you all through the book, and probably stays with you even after you have read the last line – and it is quite a last line! It would be interesting to see if a reader responds differently to ‘The Family Remains’ if they have not read ‘The Family Upstairs’. Would they have the same connections to the characters? Would they have the same responses to some of their actions? In fact, it would make such a brilliant book club discussion if both books were read – there is so much to unpick and work out.

If these books have been on your wishlist or your tbr pile a little too long, then I recommend that you pick them up as soon as you can, because they are a truly brilliant read, and so worth reading together.

The Last Paper Crane by Kerry Drewery

Miss W (who we all know I share books with on a regular basis) offered me the chance to borrow ‘The Last Paper Crane’, which I jumped at as I have seen so many people love this book. And, Oh My Word, I can see why so many people love and treasure this book. In fact, it is a book that I am going to be encouraging everybody to read because I think there are so many lessons that can be learnt from this book, about the past, the present and the future.

I was also told that I would read this book quickly and that prediction was not wrong as I could not put this book down from the moment I started it. If it was not for the fact that sleep is fairly essential I think I would have read it in one sitting. And, it is not just the story that keeps you reading, it is the fact that this book is so beautifully illustrated and written that you become drawn in from the moment you start reading.

This book is about the tragic events in 1945 in Japan, when the USA dropped the two atomic bombs. This book is about the people and the places that were damaged and harmed after this terrible act of warfare and violence. But, this is most importantly a book about survival and hope.

Mizuki is worried about her grandfather, his wife has recently died and he seems to be struggling as she was the one person that he shared his hardest memory with from his past. Mizuki soon finds out that her grandfather is a survivor of the attack on Hirsohima, but that he lost so much in that attack and feels that he let down his friend Hiro because he did not save his friend’s younger sister, Keiko. Mizuki’s grandfather recounts his tale and how, when he gradually recovered from the attack he kept searching for Keiko, leaving paper cranes with his contact details anywhere he thought Keiko may be. Mizuki is inspired to try and help he grandfather ease the survivour’s guilt he has carried around him for so many years and help him understand that he has always done all he could.

This book is one of the most moving pieces of historical fiction I have ever read, and is a very special book that I would encourage young people and adults to read as it is a really special book. It is a book that readers will treasure for a long time and often return to. This is a book full of lessons for us all and one that I will be thinking about for a long time to come.

How Much of These Hills is Gold by C Pam Zhang

I think this book has been on my shelf for about 3 years – which is terrible. However, it was picked as my May read for the ‘Twelve Days of Bookmas’ – and I am rather glad that it was.

I am not sure why it has taken me so long to pick up this book, but I think it may be because it was a book that slightly intimidated me. The title, the cover and the fact that it is historical fiction made me avoid it when it was sitting on the shelf, because I think I thought it would be something that I would find hard-going. However, I was wrong.

This book is incredibly readable as it immerses you in the world of the American West (a theme of a couple of my book choices this month, I wonder if I am missing teaching the topic – haha) but from a very different perspective to the usual tales. This is told from the point of view of a Chinese migrant family to the West – and this is something that really makes this book stand out – but it also sets up what you believe to be one story: the story of an ambitious but possibly slightly foolish man who believes that his fortune will be made in the American West, and that the next job, plot of land, or big gambling win will be the one. Yet, this is not the full story for this family and it may not have been Ba who had made all the choices after all, and established the situation that Lucy and Sam now find themselves in.

Lucy and Sam are orphaned and forced to embark on quite the journey, so that they can find the perfect place to bury Ba and work out how they will survive now that they are alone in the world. This journey becomes quite the adventure, and it becomes clear that, as the siblings try to find their new normal, they have different ideas about the past, and the memories that have formed who they are and how they see the world.

This book is beautifully written. The characters, and the wilderness and towns, are so vividly brought to life that you feel immersed in the world of the American West – and you can feel all the emotions that the characters are experiencing as they embark on their path of self-discovery. There are also some twists to the tale that keep you reading on – a couple of moments caused me to read past my bedtime, as I just had to find out more about the characters and the events of the past and present.

So, if this is a book that you have been considering, then take this as your sign to pick it up. And if it is a book that is new to you, I suggest you take a chance on it, because it is really quite an epic piece of historical fiction.

A Game of Lies by Clare Mackintosh

When I spotted that ‘A Game of Lies’ was a bargain price on the Kindle, I knew that I had to read it. I discovered the books of Clare Mackintosh last year when I read ‘The Last Party‘ And as ‘A Game of Lies’ is the second book featuring Ffion Morgan, I thought it would be an excellent read to satisfy my thriller/crime fiction genre need.

‘A Game of Lies’ did not disappoint. I absolutley loved the concept of the Exposure reality TV show which eventually revealed the contestants’ deepest secrets and how horrendous this would be if it was a real show. But it fed beautifully into the backdrop of the murder mystery that was about to unfold on the pages. The contestants create quite a rogues’ gallery of potential perpetrators of the crime, and potential victims. But are they victims of a crime, or their own vanity and desire to have their fifteen minutes of fame?

I absolutely cannot reveal any spoilers as it is a thriler, but I can assure you that Ffion Morgan is still a fantastic lead female figure for this book. And her relationship with Leo is still something as a reader you are fully invested in until the very last page. This is as much part of the twists and turns as the mystery unfolding at the foot of the Welsh mountains.

This is a well-constructed, thrilling read; I did not solve it until Ffion Morgan and her team did, and I am okay with that, because I do not read these books to solve the crime – I read these books for the escapism from the real world. And if you want the chance to do the same, then pick this book up. I hope that we are going to meet her and Leo again, because they are a rather fantastic crime-fighting duo.