Playing Under the Piano by Hugh Bonneville

I saw a review on a book-related app which stated that this book was ‘too actory’. I have to admit that this made me giggle, as I am not sure what you would expect from the memoir of a British actor.

However, I did not find anything about this book a negative reading experience. In fact, I agree with the quote on the front from Celia Imrie (another National Treasure) that this book is ‘deliciously witty’. It is, in fact, an absolute joy to read, especially for anyone who has an interest in British theatre, TV and film, and those who have graced each of these areas.

Hugh takes us through his journey to becoming an actor, from his childhood to his life on the stage and his time in some of our nation’s favourites, such as Downton Abbey. He shares stories from his family as well as from his professional experience and, at moments, I found myself crying (rather awkard, as at one moment I was reading this book on the train on the way to work) as he shares the loss of his mother, brother and father. Hugh Bonneville writes with such charm, passion and emotion that this memoir is very difficult to put down.

I am not sure it is possible to fangirl as you read a book, but I loved reading about his encounters with some of my favourite actors such as Dame Judi Dench, Jim Broadbent and Iain Glen (to name but a few). And, as someone who enjoys seeing as many Royal Shakespeare Company productions as possible, Hugh Bonneville’s time with this company was something that I found particularly interesting.

If you have an interest in British theatre, actors, films (and a little bit of TV), and what really happens behind the scenes, then this is the book for you. It may be ‘actory’, but that is exactly what you need it to be – and it is a gem of a memoir that I will return to read little snippets of, because there are so many delightful anecdotes amongst its pages.

The Retreat by Sarah Pearse

The thriller fascination just seems to be carrying on this summer. I was lucky enough to be gifted ‘The Retreat’ as a birthday gift from a fantastic friend, so I picked it up pretty quick.

I had an interesting conversation with someone who suggested that the previous book, ‘The Sanitorium’, was a little far-fetched as a thriller, with some actions from the characters being questionable and probably thrown in to add more to the story. Now, I cannot comment as I have not read that book, but it was a surprise to me as I felt that this was not the case with ‘The Retreat’.

‘The Retreat’ reminded me of the classic crime stories of the locked room. A destination, rather claustrophobic, with a set number of characters, but murders are being committed (or very suspicious accidents). Sometimes, it seems that these crimes should be simple to solve but, of course, they always seem to be the most complex.

This is a very atmospheric novel – and the island is as much a character of this book as the people are. There is also a current and an historic crime that become part of the investigation, which adds another dimension to the story.

There may be a couple of actions by Elin Warner that some may consider questionable, but also I feel that they fit into the personality of the character that has been created. And do any of us know what someone may do in some situations.

I would be interested to read ‘The Sanitorium’, as the concept intrigues me and I wonder if the author’s writing has been honed – but, let us be honest, both books have been a big hit, so as we always say, one of the joys of books is that we all have different opinions and thoughts about them.

Just Another Missing Person by Gillian McAllister

Since discovering the books of Gillian McAllister at the Tasting Notes Live Event of 2022, I have become a huge fan. So, when there was the chance to hear her speak again with Steve Cavanagh, I jumped at the chance (and, this time, actually took the chance to meet her as I had a book to be signed – I have to confess, I had not read any before the Tasting Notes Live event).

Gillian has brought us another fantastic thriller in ‘Just Another Missing Person’. I could not put this book down. Gillian creates twisty thrillers that really tap into human relationships – especially those of the family. The big question in this novel is ‘how far would you go for your child?’ – and this question is a constant theme throughout the book from start to finish, for every single character that we encounter. And that is a great thing about Gillian’s books; she always asks and tackles questions that thread throughout the story, and allows you to understand some of the actions of the characters, even if you do not agree with them.

The main twist in this book is one that will make you gasp (probably), but I would highly recommend you read the acknowledgements to bring even more to that very twist, and make you appreciate it even more. Although, let’s be honest, all the twists are pretty fantastic.

One joy for me is that I still have some of Gillian McAllister’s backlist to catch up on (and there is one on my shelf), but one sadness for me is that we have to wait until next year for another book.

And a little additional comment, I think Steve Cavanagh and Gillian McAllister being in conversation with each other about their books and their writing processes has been one of the highlights of the summer for me. (It has also added to my book wishlist, as they mentioned titles that they enjoyed, too.)

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

Do you read graphic novels? I often wish that I read more of them, as they are such a joy and there is such a range of them out there, it does seem a waste to not pick up more. Although one of my favourite reads was ‘When Stars are Scattered‘, also co-authored by Victoria Jamieson.

A very lovely bookstagram buddy gave me a copy of ‘Roller Girl’ and what an absolute beauty this book is. This is a book that so many should read who sometimes are not sure about their place in the world. (And I cannot promise you won’t want to consider donning your roller skates or roller blades after reading this).

Astrid is twelve years old and is used to doing everything with her best friend Nicole, even enduring her mum’s attempts to educate her and get her interested in culture. However, when she thinks she has found her thing in Roller Derby Camp, she assumes that Nicole will be willing to do exactly the same thing as she always seems to have done. Astrid has to learn to forge her own path and deal with the changing experience of growing up.

This is such a charming and heartwarming read and the illustrations are beautiful. I would love this to be on the shelves of so many young people as they navigate growing up and the path of self-discovery – there is something for everyone, as the story of Astrid and Nicole will be the story of so many.

Victoria Jamieson seems to know how to write stories that will support young people but also educate them in some of those tricky topics of the world. This is a book that I will be recommending, especially to some younger reluctant readers – I think this could be a gateway book to get them to read (along with ‘When Stars are Scattered’, of course).

Kill for Me Kill for You by Steve Cavanagh

I was lucky enough to hear Steve Cavanagh and Gillian McAllister talk about their latest books at my local Waterstones recently. So, of course, that means I have to start reading them (and pause for a moment on shopping my shelves).

‘Kill for Me Kill for You’ is a standalone novel from the pen of Steve Cavanagh (do not worry, Eddie Flynn is returning), inspired by the novel ‘Strangers on a Train’ (yes, I have ordered a copy of that book too). It is a page-turning thriller full of twists and turns, and quite some suspense. It is a study of what may lead someone to agree to kill another person – and if an agreement means that someone can actually go through the act.

It is always hard to review thrillers, as there are no spoilers here – however, this book is simply brilliant. I could not put it down; I read past my bedtime and chores were definitely left undone as I needed to know what was going to happen next. Especially each time something new was revealed that you may not have been expecting.

It is a very well-constructed narrative, with the clever use of timelines and characters’ narratives building all the thrilling tension.

Steve Cavanagh is a particularly talented thriller writer, and I cannot wait to read more of the Eddie Flynn books.

The Love of my Life by Rosie Walsh

Honest post, I was not a huge fan of ‘The Man Who Didn’t Call’, which I know is a slightly unpopular opinion. But, as I always say, one of the great things about books is that we all like different things and form opinions that spark great discussions – and that is, of course, why book clubs are such a fantastic thing, too.

‘The Love of my Life’ has been picked as ‘The Book Taster’ book club pick for this month. And, to begin with, I was not sure if I would enjoy it based on the previous book; however, I was hooked from the moment I picked it up. This book was brilliant and very readable. I would consider it a mysterious and dramatic read, rather than a thriller (although some may see it is a domestic thriller) but, however you wish to categorise it, I could not stop reading it.

Emma and Leo appear to have a rather wonderful life; they have had some struggles (Emma’s ill health needs a bit of a TW here) but overall, things are good. Until Leo starts to realise that maybe he does not know as much about his wife Emma as he thinks. However, as Leo starts to jump to conclusions from his investigations, the truth is not quite what he expected.

There are a number of twists and turns along the way that make this story compusively readable. I am so glad that I did not judge this on the previous book, as for me this was so much better – a well-constructed drama from start to finish.

Beach Read by Emily Henry

I have seen books by Emily Henry all over the place and, as I am trying to shop my shelves, I thought it was probably time that I picked up ‘Beach Read’ as it has been on my shelf for quite some time. If I am honest, I had been put off reading this book, as ‘romance’ is not my usual choice of book. And something that made me laugh and really think as I read this book is the way it discusses the slightly snobby attitude people hold towards romance novels versus the idea of women’s literature – I mean, why are romance novels frowned upon as being a piece of good literature? It is not really a question I can answer (and as I have heard authors say, it is a real skill to write a good romance novel, just as it is to write any novel).

‘Beach Read’ is actually a very clever book – which tackles a number of key issues. Not just the will-they-won’t-they that is established between the main characters. It really looks at family relationships and their impact on individuals, the work that authors have to really go to to write their novels and the impact that secrets and lies can have on people. There is also an interesting investiagtion into cults as part of the storyline, which will make sense if you read the book – but we all know I do not like to reveal spoilers.

I enjoyed reading this book – it was a well-constructed story that was so much more than its cover and possible genre label suggests (I know we do not judge books by their cover – but I also do not read blurbs, I select books on my gut feeling about it). I can see why there are so many who really love the books of Emily Henry as they are great escapism. However, for me, they are not something that I would continue to rush to read again; I mean, let’s be honest, there are so many books and so little time. This does not mean I am saying never, I could well read another but for me, currently, I am glad that I have tried an Emily Henry book, I can understand the love for them, but it is just not my usual genre and not going to become an auto-read for me.

The Honeymoon by Kate Gray

This is definitely a case of ‘Bookstagram made me do it’ – I had seen ‘The Honeymoon’ by Kate Gray all over bookstagram and I was getting a severe case of FOMO. Especially after a fantastic post by a lovely friend actually reading ‘The Honeymoon’ on honeymoon. Also, as we have established that I am in a real thriller mood, I could not really let this book pass me by.

When I spotted it at a bargain price, I knew I had to pick up a copy and break my self-imposed shopping my shelves challenge. And I was disappointed by my decision.

‘The Honeymoon’ was an absolutely fantastic thriller which I could not put down from the moment that I started it. There was so much suspense and intrigue amongst the pages that I kept needing to know what was going to happen next. Told between the perspectives of two newly weds, Erin (who has recently married Jamie) and Sophia (who has recently married Mark), we meet them on their honeymoon in Bali as they meet each other. However, after a tragic death on the final night of the honeymoon, the couples remain in each other’s lives on their return to England, where nothing is quite as it seems.

This is such a clever novel full of twists and turns that will lead you to struggle to put this book down. One brilliant part of this book is that you are never sure if the narrators are reliable or not (I am still wondering about one of them now, even after finishing the book) – and you are literally left surprised until the very last chapter of the book. Even the twist I thought I saw coming was not exactly as I imagined, which is definitely a sign of a great thriller – when the reader is constantly surprised or left guessing.

I think that Kate Gray could be a name we will see in the thriller genre for some time to come, and I hope we see more from her very soon because I, for one, would be keen to read whatever might come next.

The Stephen King Thing

Stephen King is a name known by all bookworms – it does not mean you have to have read his books, but you have probably seen a film based on one of his stories, even if you have not realised it. This man is a legend in the book world, probably most famed for his horror novels, but he has books in all sorts of different genres (Mr BookwormandTheatreMouse is a huge fan of the Dark Tower novels) and you cannot escape seeing his books in bookshops, pretty much wherever you are.

However, you may be like me and had never really picked up a Stephen King novel (well, I made a small attempt at reading ‘The Stand’, but it was a little on the large side for me), but after a friend mentioned that someone they knew had suddenly become a huge Stephen King fan, I thought I should probably give his books a go again.

‘Misery’ had been sitting on my shelves for quite some time. It is a book that is on my ‘100 Books to Read Before You Die’ poster, so I knew I needed to read it at some point. It is also one that I have seen the film adaptation of (quite some time ago), so I knew the plot and thought I could probably handle this one.

As I read this book, I had one question on my mind: why on earth had I left it so long to pick this book up? Why had I avoided Stephen King for so long (other than the fact I was convinced his books would terrify me)?

‘Misery’ is an absolutely stunning book – a fantastic masterclass in how a book can create suspense and tension without a whole lot of bells and whistles, but through very skillful writing and chracterisation. A story of pretty much only two characters for the majority of the book is one of the most atmospheric tales I have ever read – and gives us one of the most terrifying villains. I cannot spoil this book for anyone who has not read it (if there is anyone out there who has not read it) – but I urge anyone who likes the idea of a noir thriller with an edge to pick this book up.

I think it is safe to say that I have now been bitten by the bug to read more Stephen King novels – I am still not sure I am ready for ‘The Stand’ or some of the real horror, but I am definitely ready to read some more of his backlist and I have a few ideas about what I might pick up (thanks to excellent recommendations from friends).

Do you have a favourite Stephen King book that I should be adding to the tbr pile?

Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

‘Half A World Away’ had been on the shelf far too long, and as I am making an effort to shop my shelves, I thought it was about time it was read. Especially as Mike Gayle has quite a backlist for me to catch up on.

Let us start with a key piece of information: just like all the other books I have read from the pen of Mike Gayle, this book made me cry. I mean, I had been warned by various bookstagrammers that this was a book that really tugged at those heart strings, but I do not think even I was prepared for quite how much this one was going to full-on yank on those heart strings. (Part 4 – oh, my word.)

Noah and Kerry are siblings, but they have been separated for many years after they were taken into care and their lives took very different roads. Noah was adopted by a loving family – Kerry was left in the system but she never forgot her younger brother and makes the decison to get in touch with him. Together, they embark on a journey of self-discovery as they are reunited and navigate their chance to rediscover family.

You fall in love with these characters, and their families (well, most of the members of their families) and you really enjoy being on their journey with them. You live their happiness and heartbreak – expect tears, sometimes of sadness and sometimes of joy. But your heart will be full when you finish this book, and you may have a little bit of a book hangover.

Do you have a favourite Mike Gayle book? If so, which do I need to read next?