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.

Isaac and the Egg by Bobby Palmer

I feel I have been very lucky so far this year, as I have read some absolutely stunning books. And many of those have been thanks to recommendations. ‘Isaac and the Egg’ is exactly one of those books.

It will be no surprise to any of you that I did not read the blurb before picking this book up – I had just seen that so many bookstagrammers I admire had enjoyed it, so I needed to give it a go. Isaac is a man suffering in grief: his wife has died and he is struggling to come to terms with it (as any man would) – in fact, he is probably in the darkest place he could be when we meet him at the start of the book. However, he meets Egg (a bit like Elliot meets ET, in ‘ET’), and caring for Egg gives Isaac some purpose. Slowly, Issac tackles some of those things he has avoided, and seems to reconnect with those who care for him – but then Egg forces him to deal with the most important thing he has been avoiding.

I absolutely can not spoil this for anyone who may be considering reading it – you have to pick it up and immerse yourself in it, because I think, for different people, this book will mean different things. For me, it was a story about tackling grief, and understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with this.

Do not let this make you think that this is a book that is depressing to read – because it’s a story of hope, and of Isaac rediscovering love for himself and for those around him. I can’t promise you will not have your heartstrings well and truly pulled on by the final chapters, and that maybe the odd tear won’t be shed, if only for the happy ending.

For this to be Bobby Palmer’s debut novel, he has set himself a very high bar. I would expect this to come from the pen of a very experienced writer, well into their career. I absolutely can’t wait to see what Bobby Palmer does next, as he has definitely secured me as a fan.

The Club by Ellery Lloyd

The pick for May for The Tasting Notes Book Club is ‘The Club’ by Ellery Lloyd. This is clearly a popular pick for book clubs, as it has also been picked by Reese Witherspoon’s Book Club – and she has great taste in books.

‘The Club’ is a whodunnit – with some twists and turns. This is not quite as simple as one victim and looking for the culprit. We end up with multiple victims, multiple suspects, an isolated crime scene and all sorts of secrets and lies which creates misdirection at times.

Now, I have to be honest, I think as I read this after ‘The Last Party’ by Clare Mackintosh and some of the themes and ideas were similar this did not quite hit the mark for me. It started a little slow for me; I wanted to be gripped from the moment that I picked up the book, and I am not sure I was. However, once all the juicy details about the characters started to be revealed, I was definitely more invested and intrigued to see where the story would take us.

There were some great characters, and definitely a few villians that you loved to hate – I mean, sometimes it is not a surprise who may meet a tragic end. It does also have one of those fantastic slightly open-ended conclusions that leaves you to make your own decisions about what may have happened next as you read the last line.

I definitely think that this will be a book that will be enjoyed by crime fans, I think I just caught it at the wrong time and may need to re-read it to allow it to have its own judgement, without a similar book having left a shadow.

The Last Party by Clare Mackintosh

My latest library book (which I finished, sadly I did have a DNF too) was ‘The Last Party’ by Clare Mackintosh. This is one that I have seen around on Bookstagram and thought I had to try.

This was a brilliant piece of crime fiction with all the ingredients crime fans love in a book. We have a couple of slightly flawed detectives (who know more about each other than they possibly care to when they realise that they have to work together), who also have a nice bit of professional rivalry too. We have an exclusive community full of secrets and victim that nobody would appear to want to harm…to begin with.

As always, I will not be sharing any spoilers in my review, which may make it very short and sweet. However, I thought this was a fantastically constructed story, which kept me reading. I absolutely could not wait to find out more about what was going to happen next, and which secret we were going to be treated to next as we play armchair detective.

The characters are also brilliantly created. There are some who you just love to hate, those that you have a little sympathy for, and those that just deserve a little bit of happiness. And it is great to have DC Morgan as a strong female lead character, but who keeps it real with a little vulnerability (just every now and then) and attempts to tackle her own demons.

I absolutely cannot wait to meet DC Morgan again in another book some time soon, as I think she has many more crimes to solve and stories to tell. I also need to check out if the library has any more of Clare Mackintosh’s books, because I am always a fan of a good thriller/crime novel.

The Lido by Libby Page

Sometimes a book just leaves you wanting more – and stays with you long after you finish it – making it a very difficult job to pick up another read. I believe that this describes a ‘book hangover’ – and that was what ‘The Lido’ gave me.

‘The Lido’ has been sitting on my shelf since the start of the year, and I just had not picked it up, not for any particular reason, other than the fact that I am a mood reader. However, I should have realised that this book would actually have been a perfect read to boost my mood (until the ‘book hangover’ bit at the end).

I could really relate to Kate and the loneliness that she feels at the start of the book; it really reflected how I found some of my experience of living in Italy for a year. It was very easy once you were home to close a door and retreat back into your own company and avoid socialising. Until, for me, I met the family that treated me as though I had always been part of their family. And, for Kate, it is the moment that she meets Rosemary, an 86-year-old widow, who wants to save the lido in Brixton. For Rosemary, the lido is the place that keeps her connected to her husband George and, for Kate, the lido becomes the place that allows her to feel as though she belongs in her new home town. So, the unlikely pair, along with many other fantastic characters, campaign to save the lido and preserve it for future generations.

This is a fantastic, uplifting story that reminds you of the importance of friendship, and that friendship can be found anywhere – but it also reminds you of the importance of community spirit.

I really liked the way that memories of George held by Rosemary were seamlessly entwined into the narrative (and, trust me, they pull at your heartstrings). You move between past and present (for both Kate and Rosemary) without fully realising it’s happening and with no interruption to the story being told.

I honestly cannot rave about this book enough. I felt truly connected to the stories and the characters. I cannot fault anything, and I will be recommending it to everybody who feels that they need an uplifting and positive read – and to be reminded of the beautiful side of human nature.

So, if you only pick up one book I have reviewed this first half of 2023, then make it this one.