The Lost Bookshop by Evie Woods

I did a thing – I went to a real-life book club. I have not strayed too far from my comfort zone, as it is a ‘Book and Pudding Club’, which was the brainchild of the wonderful Jenna, who hosts the fantastic online book club I attend. But, for me, this was a big step, as throughout most of 2023 leaving my comfort zone has not been easy for many reasons – but this was something that I was determined to do, so I did.

The first book I have read for it (as I was unable to attend the second meeting) is ‘The Lost Bookshop’ by Evie Woods. This is not a book that I had heard of, so I was looking forward to picking it up. I mean which book lover does not like the sound of a book with the word ‘bookshop’ in its title? It simply tells you straight away that it is probably going to contain a story fit for a book lover.

This was a lovely book as, at its heart, it demonstrates the real comfort that a love of books can bring in some of the most difficult times. And, with its sprinkling of magical realism, it really took you on an adventure. Told from the viewpoint of each of our main characters with the narrative switching between them, Opaline’s voice comes from the past as we find out the importance books had in her life and how she has a connection to ‘The Lost Bookshop’ and in the present we have Martha and Henry who are thrown together by Henry’s desire to find a missing Bronte manuscript and find out more about ‘The Lost Bookshop’ and in turn finding out more about the connections to Opaline. Now, I absolutely cannot share spoilers to this book because it is just a fantastic read with a fair bit of mystery amongst its pages, so I do not want to spoil any of the reveals to anyone. But, I would really encourage book lovers to read this book because it simply brought me so much joy – and you will enjoy the mentions of some classics along the way. It certainly made me reflect on why it is I find books such a joy to read and the escapism they often offer me.

And, this is a thank you to book clubs, because one thing I have certainly learnt is that they bring me to books that I would otherwise have probably have missed – and this gem is one that I am pretty sure I would have missed without a bookish community.

So, this post is not just about books but it is also about book clubs and the community they can bring you to. I really encourage you to find a book club if it is something that you have always considered doing because it may bring joy – and we should all do things that bring us joy.

Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life by Helen Fisher

I was kindly invited to join the Tandem Collective Readalong for ‘Joe Nuthin’s Guide to Life’ by Helen Fisher. And, as a result, kindly gifted a copy of the book, too.

What a joy of a book this is. I could not put it down. Beautifully written, it introduces us to Joe, who is neurodiverse and is finding his way in the world with the help of his mother and ‘Hugo Boss’ at the ‘Compass’ store. Joe knows what he likes and he likes his life to be full of routine and order, but, when his Mum dies, he has to start finding his way in the world on his own – with a little help from his friends and the guides to life that his Mum has left to help him through. This book takes us with Joe as he navigates his way through life and finds out some of the realities of life that he may have been sheltered from before.

This story is just beautiful and the hashtag #bemorejoe could not be more apt. Joe is a fantastic character who teaches those around him as much as he learns from them. And I think it was quite a lesson in finding the joy in the simple things in life, and the importance of showing people kindness in all sorts of different situations. This is a book that I think will be an automatic recommendation from me. as I absolutely adored it – and I think it can teach the reader rather a lot, too.

It was a rather poignant read, too, as Joe’s favourite show, and pretty much the place he formed many of his views of the world, was ‘Friends’ – and, with the tragic death of Matthew Perry, I found this even more special and reflected on the comfort that our favourite things can bring us.

Helen Fisher has definitely become an author that I will be looking out for more books from over the next few years.

Jojo: Finally Home by Johannes Radebe

Any Strictly fan needs to pick this book up – right, that is my blog post done.

Of course I have more to say than that, but it is going to be very clear that I loved this book. I am a fan of Johannes Radebe, as a professional on Strictly he is one of my favourites. He always comes across as such a genuine and kind-hearted soul, who has broken down barriers on the show dancing as a same-sex couple with John Whaite in 2021, as well as having danced male partnerships in some of the professionals dances.

This book takes us from Johannes’ childhood right up to date. And it is like sitting down, listening to a friend and having a chat. Johannes grew up in South Africa, not always having an easy childhood, as he grew up in a society that was not as accepting and liberal as he deserved. Dance became a salvation for Johannes, something that he truly loved and allowed him to express himself. Something that took him away from the turbulent family life due to his father’s actions. As, Johannes grew up he worked hard and carved out a successful dancing career that first of all took him across South Africa, across the world and has landed him in London – a place that now feels like home.

There are moments that brought a little tear to my eye, but also moments that have you cheering Johannes and his supporters along. It is such an honest memoir of his life and career: seeing how Johannes blooms to become the figure that we will know and love from Strictly Come Dancing. And an icon and strong voice amongst the LGBTQ+ community.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy by Marie-Claire Amuah

The November pick for the online book club from ‘The Book Taster’ was ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’ by Marie-Claire Amuah. And I know we should not judge a book by its cover, but, oh my word, what an absolutely stunning cover this book has. If you have not seen it, check it out because it is just an absolute joy to look at. Although do not be fooled that this book is a light read; it is a fantastic story, but it tackles some tough topics, including domestic abuse and mental health issues.

We follow Stella from her troubled childhood into what appears to be a very successful career in law. She has a close group of friends and may even have found herself a wonderful man. But as the tale unfolds, is history just repeating itself? Is Stella in the same cycle she was in as a child, or is she repeating the experience that she witnessed her mother go through? Stella is forced to take a long-hard look at her present, her past and maybe re-evaluate the relationship she has with her brother. Is her view of him the correct one, or was his childhood also hard, but in a different way that Stella may have missed?

This is a beautifully written book that tackles difficult topics with sensitivity and, although moments may shock, it is all part of the narrative, and not just an attempt to make the read shocking. It will definitely be a book that is worth discussing with a book club. There are so many thought-provoking moments amongst its pages. However, I think the thing that really struck me was the importance of self-worth, and how the emotions we have towards ourselves can have so much of an impact on us and our decisions, even if we do not always realise it. As well as the importance of friendship, and in this case sisterhood, our friends are often the family we choose, and they are often some of the people who offer us more support than we may realise.

Bibliomaniac by Robin Ince

Sometimes, a book comes along that feels like one that you should always have read – and ‘Bibliomaniac’ by Robin Ince is one of those for me.

I popped this on my possibility pile for ‘Non-Fiction November’, as it has been sitting on the tbr pile since my bookish trip to Bath last year, where I found a lovely signed edition in Topping and Company Booksellers of Bath (which is one of the bookshops visited in the adventures of Robin Ince – so, it seems the perfect place to have picked it up from).

Robin Ince takes us along with him as he travels the country to attend book events at a number of independent bookshops and book events. In the process, ‘Bibliomaniac’ becomes a love letter to books, bookshops and booksellers.

If you are a book lover, you will feel a real connection to this book and the words of Robin Ince – he, as the title suggests, declares himself a ‘Bibliomaniac’, and I think that so many of us reading this would probably agree that we are the same – with the same idea that it is almost impossible to walk past a bookshop without going in, and sometimes it is even harder not to leave with a book.

There is a lot of talk of fantastic charity bookshops and how they often lead you to purchase books that you did not even know you needed, on the subject of all sorts of things that you did not even know that you are interested in – but, for me, that is often the beauty of bookshops and libraries, as they lead you to worlds that you may not have even realised are out there.

Robin Ince’s writing style is a joy to read. It is like reading (or listening to) a friend just share their love of books and their adventures. The book felt like it was offering company, putting into words how books make me feel and how important they can be in people’s lives. Especially as they offer such company and comfort to us at so many different times in our lives. This book will make you smile and make you laugh; it will add to your wish list and make you wonder if you have too many books – or question if there is any such thing as too many books…?

If you are reading this, you will already love books – and, so, I would suggest that you would love this book, too. So, if you are looking for something to read that may be a little different, this will be the book for you.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

The Big Classics Buddy Read for this latter part of 2023 has been ‘Jane Eyre’ by (of course) Charlotte Bronte. This is a book that I am pretty sure I should have read before now. I mean, I have seen enough adaptations, and listened to radio dramatisations of it. But, somehow, despite being on my shelf, I have never actually picked it up.

I do not think that this needs to be a post that discusses the plot of the story, as that is well-known by many of you. I am just going to share some thoughts.

I adored it. I could stop there, but that would make for a very short and not very exciting post. I do not find the start of the book to be the most engaging, but as soon as Jane’s life changes with her movement to school, I found the book just wonderful.

Jane Eyre is a very modern woman: headstrong, self-sufficient and nobody’s fool. And I love this about her. In fact, I think that Jane on the page is so much better than the Jane of any adaptation – I found I had some real respect for her as the story unfolds. It has been interesting as, in the buddy read, we have also discussed Mr Rochester; he always seems cast and discussed as a dark character, with little that redeems him. But, I have not read him like this; I seem to have sympathy for him as a character, and I think there is some humour there despite the dark gothic vibe of the story. I do not see this as a great romance, but I think there is respect there between Jane Eyre and Rochester that blossoms into a respectful love between the two.

There are some great gothic vibes within this story. The mysterious characters and events make it such a page-turner, and there always seems to be something else that you want to find out about the tale.

So, I am glad that I have taken Jane Eyre off the shelf and entered her world to find out a little more about her, rather than how other people have seen her and her story – and I think Jane and Rochester have both cemented a place in my heart, alongside Cathy and Heathcliffe.

Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

A seasonal read for me during this year’s spooky season was ‘Hallowe’en Party’ by Agatha Christie, which was, of course, recently filmed as ‘A Haunting in Venice’.

I have not managed many spooky reads this year, but I always am happy for any excuse to read a Poirot story – especially one that has a beautiful cover.

This is just everything that you want from a Poirot story, but with a little bit of a Halloween twist, which we can all get on board with once in a while. After a girl is murdered at a Halloween Party, Ariadne Oliver knows exactly who to call to help find the culprit – Hercule Poirot. It turns out that Poirot does not just have a current murder to solve but also, as it turns out, a historical case that nobody was quite sure was a murder.

As with all blog posts, there are no spoilers here; I think that, with Christie, much of the general plot is often already known, as her stories are just so famous, but I will keep the finer details from this post.

I found this story a real page-turner, because I just love seeing how Poirot works out his theories and reaches his succsessful conclusion. And I always enjoy Ariadne Oliver making an appearance, as she is always just one step behind Poirot and what he is coming up with, despite being a writer of detective stories. She brings a little humour to the tales.

I mean, it is fairly simple, but if you are a fan of the books of Agatha Christie then you will be a fan of Hallowe’en Party, and I guess you do not have to wait until next Halloween to read it.

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.