The Museum of Ordinary People by Mike Gayle

For two years, I have been lucky enough to be part of ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’, hosted by the wonderful The Book Taster. A wonderful ‘virtual’ book club that is made up of so many amazing bookworms who all share a love of books, the chance to talk about books and hear from the authors who write the books. It has led me to make some wonderful bookish friends and opened my eyes to so many books that I may not have read usually, while also introducing me to some fantastic small businesses, too.

And that first time two years ago, we read ‘All the Lonely People‘ (did you just sing that title? If you did not, I know you are fibbing) by Mike Gayle and, to bring us to the 2nd birthday celebrations, we have read ‘The Museum of Ordinary People’ – and it was another very special book.

This was a story that I felt really resonated with me; as someone who loves history, loves museums and loves stories – especially those stories that are important to people – this book was perfect. Jess’ mum has just died, and she has the job of clearing the house of all those things that had been important to her mum, and that hold so many memories for her.

When she realises that she really cannot throw out that old collection of encyclopaedias that her mum had bought her, she finds out that there is a ‘museum’ that will take them and look after them for her. Little does she know that this decision will lead to her changing her life, taking on something that she has always dreamed of doing, and discovering that maybe things have not always been as they seemed – not only for herself, but for those that she encounters along the way.

Mike Gayle really brings these characters to life on the page, and you feel like you are really getting to know them, their story and what makes them tick. And he can really evoke emotions in his readers – there may have been some tears as I read this novel.

The epilogue to this book was also excellent, I do not want to spoil what it is, but I thought it was such a beautiful touch to bring the book to a close.

So, now that I have hopefully convinced you that you should read this book, I am off to think about what possessions I have that would deserve a place in ‘The Museum of Ordinary People’…

The Survivors by Jane Harper

When I spotted ‘The Survivors’ on the bookstagram grid, I was not sure how I had missed it – as I really enjoy Jane Harper’s books. So, when I spotted it in my favourite charity bookshop, I knew I had to pick it up, especially as I am still in a bit of a thriller mood with my reading. And another title that has multiple meanings which I think is great: survivors means so much in so many different ways in this book.

I was not disappointed by this novel at all. Jane Harper is the queen of creating an atmosphere, and she did it again with ‘The Survivors’. Although, this time, it was not about the Australian outback but about a coastal community, so this almost felt like a darker threat in some ways – this was not about the heat and the remoteness, but about the stormy nature of the sea and how that is reflected in the community after the murder of a young lady shakes the tight-knit community. And this also raises questions about the disappearence of a young girl over a decade before.

What keeps you reading is what always keeps you reading: the skeletons in the closets of all the characters you meet as the story unfolds. As you think that you have worked it all out, there is something else that leaves you suspicious of the people you are meeting.

Yet again, this book did not disappoint. I had a little bit of an idea who was probably to blame by the end, but only an inkling, and only just before the reveal. If you are a fan of a slow-burn, atmospheric thriller, then you need to read this – or any of Jane Harper’s books, really.

All About Evie by Matson Taylor

A year ago, I met Evie in the wonderful ‘Miseducation of Evie Epworth‘ by the equally wonderful Matson Taylor. And I was so excited to be reintroduced to Evie in ‘All About Evie’ – set ten years later, as Evie has established and is continuing to establish her life in London in the Seventies.

Now, I cannot spoil this book for anybody who may want to read it, which does make it a little hard to write a blog post about it. However, I will tell you that the fantastic humour we all loved in the first book is back and makes this story just as joyous as the first. I mean, I dare you not to laugh out loud through the very first chapter: if it can happen, then it will definitely happen to Evie.

Evie does have another journey of self-discovery when life reaches a crossroads she had not quite intended on (reference the rather funny incident at the very start of the book). Along the way, she encounters a colourful collection of characters – some who we know as old friends from the first book and some who are new – who lead her on all sorts of adventures and mishaps. Many of these will make you laugh, some may leave you with a little tear in your eye, but all of them will make you very pleased that you picked up the book.

And, this time, despite what the title may suggest, it is not all entirely about Evie. We find out a little more about some of our original friends from the first book, especially Mrs Scott-Pym and her family. And this strand is wound perfectly throughout the story.

So, basically, I loved it – it is that simple. It is beautifully written, full of humour and perfectly heartwarming.

The Last Firefox by Lee Newbery

This book is great fun to read. A fantastic piece of Middle Grade fiction with a heart. I am clearly not the target audience for this story, but I really enjoyed it as a great adventure yarn for younger readers, and I may be gifting it to a few readers I know.

Charlie does not think he is very brave; he does not stand up to bullies and tries to avoid being noticed by peers. He wishes he could be braver, like his friend Lippy, and answer some of the bullies back, like his friend Roo – and as for Dad, who is a firefighter, well that is a strength and bravery he can only imagine.

Yet, one day he meets Cando, the Last Firefox, and this sets him on a path of adventure he was never expecting. And one that proves that he does indeed have that fire inside him to be as brave as all the people he admires.

I do not want to give any spoilers away, as it is great fun to read, but it is wonderful again to see a book for younger readers that is so inclusive. Charlie has been adopted by his Dad and Pa and, for me, that was one of the greatest things about this story, as it covers so many key social issues in a heartwarming manner. I wish there had been so many more books like this around when I was younger, and although it is still not perfect, at least that change is happening.

So, if you like a good adventure story with a heart, then this is a book for you, whatever your age.

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.