Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow by Gabrielle Zevin

This is a book that, let’s be honest, has been everywhere in the book world in 2023. The cover is absolutely stunning, so it has definitely been hard to miss in the bookshops. I won a beautiful copy of the paperback over on Instagram and decided that I would select this book as the story for the October prompt of ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2023’ – Influence.

This novel is beautifully written; the characters are so well crafted that you are immersed in this world as a reader. I mean, computer games are not my first love, but reading this book you can see why they can mean so much to so many, and the passion that they can incite in people. This is a tale of love, but that love does not have to be romantic – it is the kind of love people find with those who have a passion and experience that bonds them in a way with which they may not be connected with anyone else.

This is a slow-burn story, following the lives of Sam and Sadie, thrown together and kept together, via some bumps in the road, by their love of computer games. There is some tragedy along the way – and moments that test their friendship and their love, but there always seems to be something that can draw them back together. Even when their lives seem to take completely different paths.

I am pleased I read this book and I can see why it is a favourite for so many. However, for me, it was a little long; when I had to take a little break from reading it I did not miss it, although I absolutely knew that I wanted to finish it. The ending was also perfection – the sort of ending that leaves you make some of your own choices about the future of the characters and allows you to create what you will from what you know.

The Night of the Flood by Zoe Somerville

I am ashamed to say that ‘The Night of the Flood’ has been on my tbr pile for well over a year. This was a book I picked up after the 2022 ‘Tasting Notes Live’ event where I heard Zoe Somerville speak. I finally picked it up in August from ‘The Unread Shelf Project’ prompt of ‘Immerse’, as I felt this book would be a rather atmospheric read that would transport me back to the Norfolk of the early 1950s.

This book was inspired by the real floods which hit the Norfolk coastline in 1953 – and they become the setting for a fantastic slow-burn thriller. However, the thing that really drew me into this story was the backdrop of the Cold War. It was so interesting that this was a book about civilians (rather than a pure spy story) during the time and how much of an influence this unknown quantity of what was happening actually created such an atmosphere of fear and paranoia. It is always in the background of this story, haunting the characters and making Jack such an enigma of a character (I am still not sure if I warmed to him or not as I read this story). This is, of course, combined with the hangover from the Second World War – the idea that life is precious and can be sadly cut short – emphasised, again, by the tragedy of the floods.

There is also a great study of the taboos of British society at the time. And that some of these taboos, combined with the fear generated by the Cold War, were adding to the anxiety felt by many as they attempted to live their lives – the way they were expected to, even if it was not the way they truly wanted to.

I became truly hooked on this book once I was immersed amongst its pages. I found the characters and their experiences fascinating – against such a historic background. Zoe Somerville creates so much atmosphere with her writing that you can almost imagine being there and really witnessing what is taking place, which made it a perfect choice to the prompt of ‘Immerse’.

I will definitely be looking out for ‘The Marsh House’ and adding that to my tbr pile.

The People on Platform 5 by Clare Pooley

I was lucky enough to win a dedicated copy of ‘The People on Platform 5’ by Clare Pooley and I was so incredibly excited. Although I had been late to the party with ‘The Authenticity Project‘, only having read it about a year ago, I knew I could not leave ‘The People on Platform 5’ on my shelf for quite so long. So, I chose it for the prompt of ‘Joy’ from ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2023’.

And this book did bring me so much joy. As someone who commutes on the train everyday, I loved the idea that people on the train may not be afraid to speak to each other, and even form friendships. Clare Pooley creates a wonderful collection of characters who are thrown together by catching the same train every day. They may not seem like the usual people you would put together to make friends, but they help each other in different ways – and probably each needed the others even if they did not realise it.

Iona, almost the matriarch of the story, is one of the greatest characters to grace the pages of a book. She is definitely someone who proves that growing older does not mean that you have to give up on life. And she proves that to so many around her, with a little bit of help from her friends. (I quite like her rules for the commute too; I may have to employ some of them in my routine). There are so many fantastic people that Iona manages to bring together and support in realising how important or special they are in their own way. You will certainly enjoy finding out more about them, just as Iona does.

This is a fantastically uplifting read, leaving you feeling full of joy as you finish the final line. Just like ‘The Authenticity Project’, it is going to become a book that I recommend to so many people, because I want everyone to be able to be reminded that there is a lot of good in the world. And that it is never too late to aim for what you really want, or to make the change that will make you happy.

Maybe I Don’t Belong Here by David Harewood

In 2019, I watched the David Harewood documentary ‘Pyschosis and Me’. I was incredibly moved by his honesty and bravery to share his experience with such a wide audience; it can not have been an easy thing to do. That prompted me to pick up the book ‘Maybe I Don’t Belong Here’, in which David shares his story in a little more detail, revealing how his experiences with his mental health struggles impacted him and the career he went on to forge in theatre, TV and film.

This book is stunning – and such an important read. This is not a simple actor’s memoir; this is an honest reflection of David Harewood’s experience, right from growing up in Birmingham with his family, together with the struggles they faced, sadly, as ‘outsiders’ in the community. David charts how his experiences could have influenced his struggles with his mental health as a young man, and the path he chose to follow when forging his career.

It may not be easy to accept that the UK is not the liberal place we all hope it is – and that there are people in our community who are forced to feel that they do not belong. Which is why we have to strive to make this country a better place. To hold people around us accountable for their actions, especially if we are not happy with those actions and if they harm those in our society.

‘Maybe I Don’t Belong’ may not always be a comfortable read, but it is an education. David Harewood has worn his heart on his sleeve as he shares this very personal story, and it is a story that we can all learn from – and one that I hope will remove that stigma about mental health and teach people to make everyone in this country welcome, without judgement.

Wahala by Nikki May

In preparation for the up and coming ‘Tasting Notes Live‘ I am starting to make sure that I have read the books by the incredible authors who will be appearing at the event. And one of those incredible authors is Nikki May. I am also still shopping my shelves, as this was a little treat to myself earlier this year after a visit to one of my favourite independent bookshops – Warwick Books.

‘Wahala’ is Nikki May’s debut novel and – wow – what a read it is. I was attracted to stunning cover of the paperback and thought I was letting myself in for a bit of a cosy read about female friendships. But this book is about so much more.

I mean, do not get me wrong, female friendships are a strong central theme – and a fascinating study of them it is too. But (and this is why I love not reading the blurb) this was a bit of a thriller too, which, if you judge the book by its cover, you would not expect. Why exactly is so much ‘wahala’ occurring and causing strain for three best friends who have always been rock solid?

I think this book has one of the best villains that I have met amongst the pages of a book. A true character that you love to hate. And that really added to the enjoyment of reading this book, especially as it is not exactly who you expect it to be.

There is so much in this book and I do not want to spoil it for anyone else if they hope to pick it up, but I will add that if you decide to read this then you will not be disappointed. This is a sophisticated story about friendships, relationships, family dynamics and self-discovery, with the edge of a thriller. It will keep you turning the pages and just wanting to find out more about these three women and their lives.

I am even more excited about the next live event now I have read this book, and about having the chance to hear Nikki May talk about her fantastic debut novel.

The Seven Moons of Maali Almeida by Shehan Karunatilaka

Who am I? Reading a Booker Prize-winning book, when usually the idea of doing that would be something I would usually avoid. As a sort of reverse book snob, I always think that these books are probably a bit beyond me. However, the cover of this book was so beautiful that I could not leave it in the shop; I was not sure it was a book I would necessarily ever get round to reading, but I have picked it up, read it and enjoyed it.

However, once I started this book, and got the hang of how this story was being told, I could not put it down. This is such a fascinating book: a mystery and a whodunnit, but with so much social and political commentary about Sri Lanka at a time of civil war. Maali Almeida has died and appears to be in a waiting room before his full final fate is decided; however, he has seven moons to try and get a message to the two people he loves the most and hopes they can use what he can pass on to them to rock Sri Lanka to the core.

It is so beautifully written that it became an automatic page-turner for me. I could not put this book down as I was absorbed in the story of Maali Almeida, his relationships, his actions, his stories and the world that he was experiencing. There is so much amongst the pages of this book that I am not sure I can do it justice – and I also do not want to spoil the story for anyone else who may pick it up and want to find out more.

It has taught me that I should not judge a book by the prizes that it wins, but by the stories that it may have to tell. I may be surprised by the worlds that I can enter and things that I can learn.

Must I Go by Yiyun Li

This book has been on my TBR list for over a year, it was one of the titles I selected as part of my Rare Birds Bookshop advent calendar, Christmas 2021, and I finally managed to pluck it off the shelves with the help of my TBR Pile Tarot Cards.

I think, despite the beautiful cover, I have avoided this book as I felt that it would be a very serious read that would require a large amount of concentration. However, I need to not let impressions like that put me off reading a book – as, in fact, this was a wonderful read, and one that I will be recommending to people.

‘Must I Go’ introduces us to Lilia Liska who has reached the grand old age of 81, and lived what may seem like a fairly ordinary life surrounded by family. However, there is a slightly different narrative to her life that she has not shared quite as readily with the world, and decides now is the time as she begins to reflect on her past. There was once a man, Roland Bauley, who held her heart and she carried as a secret – and now she is annotating his diaries with the alternative history of her past to leave for one of her granddaughters, and one of her great-granddaughters, to help them understand the truth of the past.

I was so drawn into this story because it is so beautifully told and Lilia seems such an ordinary elderly lady at the start of the story, but as we are shown the secrets of of Ronald Bauley’s diary, she becomes such a fascinating character. And I just had to keep finding out more once I had started reading.

If you like a beautifully written story about love, family and hidden pasts, then this is the book for you. You will find yourself eager to find out what happens next, and even wondering how the story may have continued once that annotated diary is read by those who it was intended for. And that, to me, is a sign of a good book.

The No-Show by Beth O’Leary

2023 is the year that I shop my shelves. I am on a book-buying ban and I will be successful (fingers crossed), and I am determined that I get through some of those titles read on my tbr pile, shelf, trolley and the various other places where I have piles of books.

So, I have kicked the year off by grabbing ‘The No-Show’ from my shelf because, to be honest, it has been sat there for far too long, and it was time that I read it. (I mean, it has been there since ‘The Book Taster Live’ event, so really quite some time). It was also my first choice for ‘The Unread Shelf Project 2023’, as I hoped it would tick the box of a ‘Comfort’ read.

And it was a great way to kick off 2023.

‘The No-Show’ was a return, for me, to everything I love about Beth O’Leary: great characters, a clever plot and a feeling of a joy as you reach the end of the book – but not afraid to tackle some tough subjects. I am absolutely not going to spoil it for anyone, because this is a book that I think you have to read to understand what a well-crafted storyline it is. I did work elements of it out as I read the book, but that actually added to the enjoyment, as I was seeing if I was proved correct as I went.

This is a book that is quite difficult to review, as I want to share everything that I think about the book, but I just know I need to allow others to read it for themselves and make their own decisions. In fact, I would love to know if anybody has read ‘The No-Show’, and what they thought about it, because it is potentially on par with my favourite, ‘The Switch’.

So, shopping my shelves has started well; will the year of reading continue this successfully?