Peach Blossom Spring by Melissa Fu

I was lucky enough to get a place on Tandem Collective’s readalong for ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ by Melissa Fu. Now, this is probably a book I would not normally have read. In fact, as it is historical fiction, I would possibly have avoided it, as it is my least-favourite genre. However, this would have meant I would have missed out on one of my favourite reads of 2021 (especially as it is not even let out into the world yet).

Inspired by Melissa Fu’s own family story, this book takes us on a journey with Meilin and her son, Renshu. They are forced from their home during the second Sino-Japanese war and, from that moment, the are forced to move from place to place until they can find a place to settle and call home. Along the way, they encounter tragedy, friendship and the desire to survive – with Meilin doing all she can to protect her son and ensure he has the future opportunities she believes her deserves. And – then we explore the lasting impact these experiences have on all generations of the family.

It is an absolutely beautiful book. A true page-turner, and one that will leave you with a desire to find out more about China’s history, to bring the narrative to life even more.

And any bookworm will fall in love with the important role that stories play throughout the book – after all they can often bring us hope in the toughest times.

So, when ‘Peach Blossom Spring’ is released in 2022, please pick up a copy and find yourself in the company of Meilin and Renshu.

Bedknobs and Broomsticks: The Musicals

I am still not over the most magical musical that was ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks‘. As a child, there were two films we watched pretty much on repeat because our grandparents bought us the videos (yes, videos) – ‘Mary Poppins’ and ‘Bedknobs and Broomsticks’. So, as soon as the opportunity came around to see it at the theatre, I jumped at the chance. And, oh my goodness, it did not disappoint, in fact, this could have instantly become one of my favourite musicals of all time.

As soon as the first note was struck, you were whisked away to the London of the Blitz and journey with the children to the coast as they are evacuated. And the adventures do not stop for the whole magical production.

I loved the charm of the characters and the mix of the new music with the traditional songs of the film. However, what really took me back to the happy memories of my childhood was the magic and illusion of the production. The broomstick flew, the bed flew, and all the clothes came to life – with no obvious strings attached. As well as all the wonderful animated animals of ‘Nopeepo’ having exactly the same charm as they do in the film.

This was musical of nostalgia, with an audience full of those who have very happy memories of the film – and the excellent ensemble deserved the standing ovation, the cheers and applause – amazing performances, but for bringing so much happiness to so many.

The Ghost of Gosswater by Lucy Strange

This could be one of my favourite reads of 2021 – even if I had left it on my shelf for a while. A classic ghost story for middle-grade readers – well, let’s be honest, for all fans of ghost stories.

Set in the wonderfully atmospheric Lake District, we find a family with dark secrets and a fascinating collection of characters. Some of them rather disagreeable and some of them rather wonderful, and inspirational in their way. Especially our fantastically fiesty and independent lead character Agatha Asquith; despite it being set in the past, she is a perfect hero for the modern reader.

This beautifully written novel is one that I want to share with readers of all ages. For the younger reader, it is a perfectly exciting ghost story, and for us ‘older’ readers – well, it offers exactly the same, with a touch of nostalgia.

Lucy Strange is quickly becoming one of my favourite authors because she writes the sort of books I would have adored when I was younger. And have seen that she has a new title heading our way very soon – and I can’t wait!

They Both Die in the End by Adam Silvera

I feel a little late to the party with this YA masterpiece, although, as it is on the shortlist for the ‘Waterstones Book of the Year‘ I don’t feel quite as bad.

I was inspired to read this book after an online book event a few months ago. The concept of the book sounded absolutely fascinating and I was surprised, as a huge fan of YA, that I had missed out on reading it.

Mateo and Rufus become ‘Last Day Friends’ when they both receive the call that it is their last day of living. Together they embrace making the most of their last day and reflect on what has come before. It is quite a journey for both of them, but it certainly feels more dramatic for Mateo. And your heart breaks as the pair find love together, and you know that it will not be the complete happy ending you would wish for them both.

I did find this book powerful and it really is one that does not leave you for a long time. In fact, it made me think of the path my life has taken and if there are things I should seize the chance to do. A wonderful piece of YA fiction.

The Man who Died Twice by Richard Osman

‘The Man who Died Twice’ was one of the most anticipated reads of the year. Like so many others, I had absolutely loved meeting ‘the Thursday Murder Club‘ last year and could not wait to find out what their next adventure would be.

This book did not disappoint – in fact, it is probably the definition of cosy crime on these cold autumn nights. Our fabulous four from book one end up on another rather wild adventure as Elizabeth’s rather charming ex-husband shows up and gets them involved in quite the diamond-related crime.

Absolutely no spoilers being shared here, because I want everyone to be able to enjoy the charm of this page-turner. Other than to say this book is like returning to old friends, and I loved that about it.

There is also so much charm to Osman’s writing. It is warm and witty – making it such an enjoyable read from start to finish.

And, of course, I now cannot wait for book three to be released, because Ron, Ibrahim, Joyce and Elizabeth are like old friends you can’t wait to catch up with and have a cuppa (or a sneaky glass of wind if the kettle is otherwise occupied).

One by One by Ruth Ware

Thrilling reads continue in October with ‘One by One’ by Ruth Ware. Even the cover of this book says thrilling read ahead, with its grey tones and isolated chalet.

Told from the perspectives of Liz and Erin, we escape to the chalet for a skiing holiday, combined with a business trip with the team behind a new music app ‘Snoop’. However, there is nothing relaxing about this trip as, one by one, members of the group are killed or disappearing. But why is this happening? And who is responsible? Especially when there is no escape.

Although the pace was a little slow to begin with, once it picked up, this became a book where you just needed to read one more chapter to find out what was going to happen next.

Definitely a good pick for these autumn evenings.

The Woman in Black by Susan Hill

As we have hit Autumn, it is definitely time for spooky or thrilling reads. So, I decided to kick that off with ‘The Woman in Black’ by Susan Hill.

This book was a perfect October read. A really traditional ghost story with all the chills: a mysterious house, isolated on the moors, and a locked room – all the ingredients of a spooky set-up. Especially when you throw in the villagers that are not keen to talk about the house. You know there are going to be some thrills and chills ahead of you.

I do not want to present any spoilers for those who have not read it; however, the conclusion of the tale threw me, and that shows what a great read it is. I even stayed up past my bedtime to finish this book as I had to know the solution to the mystery – and then bam, the ending.

I will certainly be adding more Susan Hill books to my to-be-read pile, because she has started spooktober well for me.

Thursday Thoughts: The Tasting Notes Live

So, on the 2nd October I did something that I never, ever thought I would do – I attended a bookish event and I did not know anybody there. Well, other than from the little squares of book club or bookstagram. And, it was one of the best bookish days ever.

The brilliant Book Taster (Jenna) organised the most fantastic day at the beautiful Priory Theatre in Kenilworth. On arrival, we each received a perfectly bookish goodie bag (and I was so excited as I could fangirl over my ‘Evie’ badge – if you know, you know).

There were five fantastic authors speaking about their books (which, of course means that I have so many more books on my wishlist):

Matson Taylor

Marianne Cronin

Lucy Cuthrew

Katy Collins

Emma Cooper

Each was so entertaining to listen to, and engaged with the audience, even meeting the fans and signing books.

Jenna was a perfect host of the event. We had fun and games from the word go. There was also a fantastic bookish raffle with great prizes – from fantastic small businesses and great publishers. There was bookish merchandise and coffee, tea and treats to keep all our strength up.

It was real chance to feel part of a perfect bookish community. Spending a whole day with the bestest book buddies, I would love to do it all again. So, thank you Jenna, ‘The Book Taster’, for creating such a special event.

Blood Moon by Lucy Cuthrew

YA fiction is probably one of my favourite genres and ‘Blood Moon’ is an excellent example of this. And this is a book that is full of incredible messages and lessons for young people (and adults alike).

This book is written in blank verse and has a beautiful rythmn to it as you read it. But, this also makes the message clear and accessible.

‘Blood Moon’ is about period shame, the impact of social media on young people and sometimes not knowing how to handle a situation for the best. This is a book that should be read by all young people to support their understanding of growing up and some of its challenges. And many may think that this is a book only targeted at girls, but boys would find an education amongst these pages too.

Having been lucky enough to meet Lucy Cuthew at ‘The Tasting Notes Live’ event, I have more respect for this book an the positive motivation behind it. (And, Sara Pascoe loves it, which is pretty cool).

The Last Library by Freya Sampson

September’s pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club‘ was ‘The Last Library’ by Freya Sampson. And this is a perfect book for a booklover; I mean it is a book about books.

The library is at the heart of the community of Chalcot. Quite a collection of characters congregate there everyday, for all sorts of reasons. June has known this community for most of her life and her mother was the librarian before her. However, now the library is under threat, are everybody’s lives about to be turned upside down?

This is another story that is like a hug in a book. You fall in love with all of the characters and find yourself really reflecting on the community areound you – do you really know everybody as well as you think you do?

It is another book that will probably leave you with a readling list. I certainly noted some titles but also absolutely can’t wait to read more books by Freya Sampson. And, yes, I shed some tears.