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.

Summer Fever by Kate Riordan

The June book pick for The Book Taster’s ‘The Tasting Notes Bookclub’ was ‘Summer Fever’ by Kate Riordan. And, what a perfectly titled book for the current heatwave (the name of Kate Riordan’s first book) many of us are suffering/enjoying, depending on your point of view.

All the summer fever occurs in Italy for this book and I adored all the sense of scene that was created through the writing, as Italy is one of my favourite places in the world, and it certainly felt like you were there. I was not disappointed at the descriptions of the area, food and drink – as they are some of my favourite things. And I am sure we have all had a bit of a fantasy of getting away from it all and finding some adventure in a beautiful villa.

However, this does not become quite the adventure or new start that Nick and Laura are expecting, even if the villa’s name, Luna Rossa, sounds perfectly idyllic. Their attempt to establish a guesthouse for those also looking for a chance to get away, in fact, highlights the cracks in their marriage – especially when their first guests arrive, who may not be quite as much strangers as you may expect. Will this become a summer that everyone wants to forget?

I think that some of this story was not a surprise in points, and it followed the expected tropes of its genre. But, if you are looking for something to read by the pool, in the sunshine, with a glass of wine or your favourite summer beverage, it could be the book for you.

Girl Forgotten by Karin Slaughter

I was kindly invited to take part in the Tandem Collective Global Readalong of Karin Slaughter’s latest book, ‘Girl Forgotten’, and gifted a copy of the book. I was incredibly excited about this, as Karin Slaughter is an author who has been on the list to try for quite some time, so this was the perfect opportunity to be introduced to her books.

Now, ‘Girl Forgotten’ is at times not an easy read, and I would say that it carries an awful lot of trigger warnings as this is a crime novel – but definitely not cosy crime. So, please keep this in mind if you decide to pick this book up after reading this blog post.

I was engaged from the very first page and, as crime is one of my favourite genres, I do expect to be hooked from the first word otherwise it is likely to be DNF for me. However, there was no risk of that with this book. Told with dual time lines, we have a cold case of the girl forgotten (Emily – although will she ever be forgotten?), and we have Andrea, a new US Marshal on her first case protecting Judge Vaughan (mother of Emily), but also seeking the truth of what happened to Emily 30 years earlier.

Now, I am not going to reveal any spoilers in this post, so it may be rather short and sweet. All I can say is that you will certainly be invested in finding out the truth about Emily, and seeing how the repercussions of such a tragic event can haunt a town for so long and really impact the path taken by those who are touched by it.

Throughout this book, there is also a clever examination of relationships and power. That almost becomes as central to the story as the crimes that take hold of the narrative – and that study of human nature is fascinating.

So, if you are yet to try the books of Karin Slaughter, I would highly recommend ‘Girl Forgotten’ – please remember to check the themes first, but it is a must for crime fans.

The Visitors by Caroline Scott

I was kindly gifted a copy of ‘The Visitors’ by Caroline Scott as part of a Tandem Collective UK readalong. Before I even talk about the book, I have to talk about the amazing gift box we were all kindly sent, containing one of the greatest treats of all time – a cream tea, which was delicious. And, before anyone asks, my answer is cream before jam because then it acts like the butter. (Sorry not sorry – it is the Devon method for me, which is only fair as that is where some of my family have lived.)

Now, let us get back to the important stuff, the lovely read that is ‘The Visitors’. This is a beautiful book, set in Cornwall (sorry Cornwall, I know I make the incorrect Cream Tea choice) after World War One. We literally travel there with Esme as she visits Cornwall, as it was the childhood home of her late husband – and maybe it will make her feel close to him after all this time. However, she finds out far more than she would ever have imagined about Alec.

One of the best things about this book is the characters and how well they are brought to life: Esme spends her time in Cornwall staying with Gilbert (the brother of a former employer) and the men he had spent his time with in World War One. They are quite an eccentric and fascinating bunch, each dealing with the aftermath of war and their experiences on the Western Front. But each of these men are beautifully brought to life and the terrible consequences of war are treated so sensitively that you feel for every one of these men and what they, and so many others, will have been through. The friendships created between Esme and these men probably helps them all more than they realised.

I enjoyed this book and can imagine reading it on a holiday to the south of England. It does have a slightly slow start, scene-setting, which I was a little unsure about to begin with, and is usually the concern I have with historical fiction. However, once the pace picks up, you really feel that you are on the same journey as Esme and her new friends.

And, like all good books, the title ‘The Visitors’ has so many different meanings throughout the story that you will find yourself reflecting on as you progress through the story.

So, thank you Tandem Collective UK and Caroline Scott for sending me to Cornwall for a few days on the pages of this book – it was a lovely trip.