Goodbye Birdie Greenwing by Ericka Waller

As we all know, I loved ‘Dog Days‘, which I read earlier in the year in preparation for ‘The Book Taster Live’, so I was very excited to meet Birdie Greenwing and see what adavntures we would go on next.

This book was absolutely beautiful. I fell in love with all the characters and their stories. To me, this is a book about friendship, community and fantastic, strong female characters (even if they do not always realise it). Sadly, Birdie has terminal cancer and she knows her life is coming to an end, but that does not mean she cannot make the most of the time that she has left, even if she does not realise it. Enter Jane and Frankie (and Min), Birdie’s new neighbours, and Ada, Birdie’s doctor, who keeps a little bit of an eye on Birdie from a distance and learns more from her relationship with Birdie than she can ever realise.

These women’s lives become entwined and, together, they each learn a little bit more about who they really are, and learn to maybe let go of some of the baggage that they have been carrying around with them, that might just need sharing with a friend – and how they can each make a little more of life, rather than just going through the motions.

This book is written with so much warmth and humour that it is difficult to put it down; I took it everywhere with me for a week just in case I could sneak a few extra moments with Birdie and her friends in. And, because I just needed to know what mug each character was going to get next from the WRVS cafe in the hospital – these moments of humour are scattered throughout the pages and will certainly make you smile.

I also admire how Ericka does not shy away from some topics that maybe are a little taboo, or that people bury their heads in the sand about. There was a really strong theme of loneliness in this book, and not just loneliness for the older generation (which is something that I think is not talked about enough) but how loneliness can maybe creep up on so many, as they just carry on with their lives and other things take over or seem more important. But, it is also showed how easy it can be to reverse such situations by showing a little kindness or finding relationships in the most surprising of places.

This book deserves all the love that it is getting in the book world as it is just a joy, and will probably teach us all to be a little more kind and check in with those around us – especially our neighbours or those in our community who may seem a little isolated.

Conviction by Jack Jordan

I have again had it proved to me that it is worth giving an author another go. ‘Conviction’ by Jack Jordan was a thrilling page-turner and I am so glad that I did not let it pass me by after ‘Do No Harm‘.

I have wondered why I found ‘Conviction’ a better read for me, and I think it is because I felt that we were thrown into a thrilling situation that could well be happening as we speak. Do not get me wrong, there is of course the extraordinary drama added to make the read as thrilling as possible, but there is a level of possibility throughout the pages that keeps you hooked.

The moral dilemma in this book is all around the justice system: can a lawyer misrepresent their client in order to keep their own dark secret? Moral dilemmas make for such a fantastic read, because, I like to think, we assume that everyone woud make the right choice – but do we really ever know if they will? This book hooked me in from the moment I started reading, and I really could not put it down. I found myself picking it up at every spare moment, because I had to see how the story was going to turn out.

And a book that makes you gasp at a couple of twists is a well-constructed thriller. The last sentence of the last page was not something that I was expecting, and I am still thinking about it now.

So, this again proves that you should not read an author once and form all your judgements, because sometimes they have another story to tell that might be the story that you need to read. Or sometimes, their story might be needed a different time. This is a lesson I have certainly learnt recently; I am going to make sure that I keep my mind open, especially when it is authors from my favourite genres. And this does mean I am definitely going to be keeping an eye out for Jack Jordan’s next book, which seems to be already making a splash on social media.

A Love Letter to The Book Taster

In 2020, when the world seemed a very different place, I took the plunge and joined an online book club – as a total introvert, this was not easy for me, but as we had all been shut away for quite some time, we all craved some normality. That online book club was created by Jenna, who owns The Book Taster – and that moment (this may sound a little dramatic) changed my bookish life.

Fast forward to 2024 and Saturday 11th May was the fourth annual ‘The Book Taster Live’, which has genuinely become a highlight of my year – and this year was no different. From the moment you arrive, you know you are amongst friends, many of whom started as friends in the little squares of Instagram or Zoom, and you know you are going to have a great day.

This year, we started off with the fantastic Kate Sawyer, author of ‘The Stranding‘ (which I have gifted to so many since reading it) and ‘This Family’ (which is on the tbr pile – I am sure nobody is surprised). Kate spoke to us about her journey to becoming an author, what inspired the fantastic ‘The Stranding’, and her newest publication, ‘This Family’. A very different theme to ‘This Family’ but it is true that relationships between people can be absolutely fascinating and it is always interesting to think what brought people to this moment that they are now living in. It was a joy to hear her speak about her varied careers and inspirations that had brought her to this moment.

Following hot on her heels we heard from Susan Fletcher as she spoke about her new book ‘The Night in Question’, which has been on my wishlist for quite some time. I absolutely cannot wait to pick this up and read it, but I have also ended up with another title on the wishlist, as I was not aware of the book ‘Let Me Tell You About the Man I Knew’. This is a book inspired by Van Gogh and one of the women he painted. As a huge fan of the art of Van Gogh and fascinated by the man himself, this sounded like a book I would really enjoy. And it reminded me of another joy of The Book Taster Live, that you discover books you may never have come across without this great event.

Ericka Waller followed next, and I would just love to sit and chat with her all over again (and if I could possibly be taught crochet, that would be great, too). Listening to her talk about the reasons she writes, the experiences of her life and the inspirations for her characters (George will always be a favourite character of mine) and stories was just beautiful. This woman is an inspiration and a truly beautiful soul. I am pretty sure that she had the whole audience in fits of giggles and tears and back again within seconds – and it was just a highlight of the event for me. Also, I love the idea of rescuing books from car boot sales and charity shops – that must be why I have so many, haha!

Now, I am often surprised by how long ago I have read a book, so when I picked up my copy of ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ that I realised how long I had been a fan of the books of Kiran Millwood Hargrave (the sticker on the front of the book referenced 2017). It will be no surprise that it was an absolute pleasure to hear her speak about what inspires her to write, as she has such a varied collection of titles to share with us all. The most recent, ‘In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen’ is (yes, you have guessed it) on my tbr pile, but I am certainly bumping it up after having heard Kiran talk about it – I mean, who knew there had been a rainforest in Wales; I certainly did not.

Fifth, we heard from the man who had brought us all togther as the OG Book Taster fans four years ago – Mike Gayle (‘All the Lonely People‘ was the first ever book we read as the book club). Mike summed up the importance of the event and community that Jenna has brought together from the moment he stepped on the stage – simply by saying how brilliant the whole event is. Mike talked about his new book ‘A Song of Me and You’ (which I have two copies of, as I could not miss out on the stunning paperback copy, too) and his writing career as a whole – and I can certainly assure him that he definitely makes his readers feel when they are reading his books (Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse can identify when I am reading a Mike Gayle by the tears).

Daisy Buchanan came next. A journalist, public speaker and author, it was brilliant to hear how she made the decision to write the books that she wanted to read, and that is what sparked her career as an author. But, also how important reading and books are to her, how they are a chance to bond with family and friends, and I love the idea that we can read ourselves happy, as books are a very special thing that can be enjoyed by so many. Daisy was so correct when she said that many of us bookworms are introverts who can become extroverts around the bookish community, as we all know that books bring us togther. This is a concept that has really stuck with me since the event.

And, finally, Matt Coyne, author of ‘Frank and Red’, which has been on the wishlist for quite some time and I saved for the event. Matt spoke about his inspiration for Frank and Red, which just sounds a joy (I can not wait to pick it up) and the transition he made from writing non-fiction as a ‘Dad blogger’ to writing fiction. There was so much humour and warmth as Matt spoke about his career and his family that he had the audience in stitches – and I am pretty sure I am going to be a big fan of both Frank and Red when I read the book. And, also, hearing him talk about his friendship with fellow author Sarah Turner (which does mean I now have another book on my tbr pile) was just lovely.

In fact, that is one of the best things about the event; Jenna is definitely the hostess with the mostess, and the conversations that take place on stage are so natural (and not always about books – pants and Cardi B were definitely not topics anyone was expecting – haha) that you feel like you are listening to two friends having a chat over coffee and cake. And, we would all like to sit and have coffee and cake with all of these authors.

But, you do not have to just sit and listen to these authors speak, you can meet each one, too, and have your books signed. And, as someone who is painfully shy,this can sometimes be something that I overthink and make myself nervous about, but each and every one made you feel welcome and had time for a chat, a photo – and even a hug (thank you Ericka). Because, let’s be honest, we are all a community of book lovers who just want to share the love of books at every opportunity.

So, this is a massive thank you to The Book Taster for creating such an incredible event and community (and for all the treats in the fantastic goody bags, which could be a whole other post). And this is a thank you to each and every author over the last four years who have been to speak to us and share their love of books – and thank you to each bookish buddy that I have made along the way. I have definitely found my tribe.

Queen Macbeth by Val McDermid

As part of Stratford Literary Festival (which is officially one of my favourite events of the calendar), I went to listen to Val McDermid talk about her new book, ‘Queen Macbeth’. And we were lucky enough to hear this talk in Holy Trinity Church – right next to the grave of the Bard himself, Shakespeare. Val McDermid offered a great talk about her writing process and how she constructs her crime stories, for which she is probably most famous, but also shared her writing process for her new novel – and how Shakespeare got it wrong.

I found ‘Queen Macbeth’ a fantastic read. It is interesting to have a chance to try and understand some of the complex history of Scotland. It did take me a little while to understand which character was which (other than those who are famous or infamous). However, the storytelling itself was beautifully constructed and easy to understand once you got the thread. I enjoyed the fact that it was told through a dual timeline so we could see what had led to the moment we were reading about, which really added to the context of the story.

I am not going to give away any spoilers (other than that Shakespeare clearly constructed the story for his audience, which we all know is true; he wrote what he knew would be appreciated at the time), but I would really recommend reading this to give yourself some understanding of the actual Scottish history and who those important figures were. Plus, Queen Macbeth is a fantastically strong woman, and not the fanatic that we may have been introduced to before.

If you enjoy the writing of Val McDermid, then you will enjoy this book, and I would recommend you pick it up and try something a little different.

The List of Suspicious Things by Jennie Godfrey

This is definitely a book that seems to have picked up a fan base thanks to the Bookstagram community – and it was certainly them that persuaded me to pick up ‘The List of Suspicious Things’ (and it has a rather cool cover). As we know, I do not need blurbs, so all I knew about this one was that it was set at the time the Yorkshire Ripper was active, which did seem to me like an interesting time for a plot to be set.

But, wow, this book is so much more than a tale that has a link to the true crime story of the mid-1970s – this is a study of community, culture and people, and it was impossible to stop reading.

Miv is having a difficult time; her Mother has become distant and disengaged, her father is doing his bit and her overbearing Aunt has moved in. To give her some focus, her and her best friend, Sharon, decide to try and discover who the man is that appears to be bringing terror to streets of Yorkshire – and create a list of suspicious things.

This book is beautifully written and is a very astute commentary on the difficult divides that there were in communities, the ‘behind closed doors’ attitudes that were keeping dark secrets and influence that the far-right was having on the streets in a time that was difficult for many. My heart was breaking at moments when men were not supposed to cry and members of the community were not safe in their own homes because ‘they were not from around here’. Yet, there are moments of humour and constant reminders that the bad apples are actually few and far between.

I absolutely can not share any spoilers, but reading this book was quite an emotional rollercoaster at times – you could be crying and smiling within lines of the same page. But for me it was actually a celebration of strength of character, and that you should always have the confidence to be yourself. Miv, Sharon and Mr Bashir (among others) will all steal a piece of your heart and will stay with you long after you have read the final line.

This book is a stunning debut and I really hope that there is more to come from Jennie Godfrey, because I would certainly be keen to read it.

The Light in Everything by Katya Balen

This book is proof that you do not always need to judge an author by one book. I read ‘October October‘ a couple of years ago, and did not have quite the same love for it as so many others did. However, recently I picked up ‘The Light in Everything’ and absolutely loved it – although I admit I had been putting it off for a little bit based on the previous book.

Tom and Zofia are thrown together as their parents begin a relationship and have a baby on the way. Neither of them is too sure about this idea or having to share their parent based on previous experiences; they quite like the world as it is. Zofia is not keen to share her Dad after they have built their life following the death of her mother. Zofia is headstrong, confident and determined, and is not great at hiding her emotions, especially towards these two people who have entered her life. Tom is still dealing with the trauma of his abusive father, who has now been locked away. He does not like the dark, he is jumpy about new people and his confidence is rock bottom – he is not ready to share his Mum with anyone, as he wants to protect her, as he could not before. However, Zofia and Tom have no choice but to try and get used to this blended family and the tests that they are about to face.

This is a story of new beginnings, trust, friendship and love. And it is a story about how, although sometimes life is a little messy and does not quite follow the path that we expect, sometimes that is not all bad. Maybe, like Zofia and Tom, we discover things about ourselves that we never knew and understand that, sometimes, change is not all bad.

I enjoyed that we are told the story with a dual perspective, we are privy to the thoughts of both Zofia and Tom as their lives change in ways that they were not expecting. We see them develop and grow, and we meet the community that comes together to support them both and their family.

This is a book that I will be recommending to middle grade readers and adults alike because I think there are lessons for us all in its story.

And, the important lesson for me is this: that just because one book may not be your cup of tea, it does not mean you should not attempt other books by the same author – you may be surprised.

We All Want Impossible Things by Catherine Newman

Sometimes, I surprise myself when I find books all around the house. This was a book that I found in the bedroom and have no recollection of adding to my book collection. But, as it is here, I definitely needed to read it as I have seen it on Bookstagram and it has Lemon Polenta Cake, on the front so I can use it for ‘The Book Taster Reading Challenge’.

This is a gem of a book: a short novel that packs a punch (you will need tissues to read this because you will be in bits). Edi is dying, and Ash, her best friend since childhood, is looking after her as she spends her last days in a hospice – away from home but close to so many who love her – the family of Ash. Ash throws herself into caring for Edi, even when other areas of her life may be slightly falling apart. However, the time she spends with Edi teaches her some lessons and helps her with her life.

This is a powerful book about female friendship, family, love and relationships. It is a powerful and beautifully written, emotional read that teaches you so much about a true friendship and the love that comes with that. Although the main plot point is incredibly tragic, there is so much hope when you read this book, and reflection on remembering the good times, not mourning what may not be. This is done with sensitivity and humour, which means this book is a very enjoyable read. And its study of relationships, both romantic and those within a family, are beautifully done, and ring true.

I am definitely keen to read anything else that Catherine Newman writes, as this is just a charming book with fantastically strong female characters who probably remind us all of someone we know, and they may be a little imperfect – but who is perfect after all? I am sure there is so much more to come from Catherine Newman.

A Song of Me and You by Mike Gayle

It is no secret that since ‘The Book Taster’ introduced me to the books of Mike Gayle in their very first online book club I have become a big fan of his books. And, as Mike Gayle is to be one of the speakers at ‘The Book Taster Live’, I knew that I had to read ‘A Song of Me and You’, which I had been saving for a perfect moment, which this weekend was.

‘A Song of Me and You’ tells the story of Helen and Ben who are reunited after Ben ‘runs away’ from his superstar lifestyle as the leader of the band Bluelight. This reunion comes at the most perfect time for our two central characters, as they are both at a bit of a cross roads in their life, and are trying to come to terms with where their lives have ended up. Together, they start to rediscover who they each are, and the friendship and relationship they had almost 30 years earlier. The question is, is this the right time for them to begin again?

As always, Mike Gayle bring his characters to life for the reader. They feel like real people you have just met, and you become fully invested in their story. Which also means that you experience all the emotions alongside the characters. So, let’s be honest, it is probably no surprise that Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse found me ugly crying as I read the closing section of this book. Yet you still come away from the book with a feeling that there is always hope, even in the toughest of times.

There are no spoilers from me, other than the fact that, if you are a Mike Gayle fan, you will not be disappointed by this book. And if ‘Half a World Away‘ is one of your favourites, you need to pick up ‘A Song of Me and You’, immediately. And, if you are yet to find the books of Mike Gayle, take this as your sign that it is time to, because you are missing a treat.

None of This is True by Lisa Jewell

This is a rollercoaster of a book – oh my word! This was recommended to me by a bookseller and, as I am apparently in my thriller era, this sounded like a great read (again, no blurb read, etc).

I am not sure how to put into words my thoughts about this book; I thought it was an outstanding thriller: so well written and so well constructed that you were swept away with the story from the moment you started reading. I really enjoyed the way the story was interspersed with moments from the true crime documentary that had been inspired by the story we were seeing unfold in this book.

Alix and Josie are birthday twins, Alix is a successful podcaster and thinks that ‘Birthday Twins’ could be an interesting new idea for the podcast. However, as Josie shares her story, it seems that maybe she has not been living her best life – but can Alix trust anything that Josie says?

This is a dark and moody thriller that has you second-guessing almost everything that you are reading. It really tackles the idea of trust – who and what can you really trust in the world? And what really makes people create a different narrative of their life? Does Josie really mean to create harm, or does she believe she is actually doing things for the right reasons?

I was absolutely sucked into this book and ended up reading way past my bedtime because I simply had to know what was going to happen next. Especially as Lisa Jewell manages to create a tale that you think you could really be seeing on a true crime documentary. I think this may have secured Lisa Jewell as an author that I would consider an automatic buy (or borrow from the local library). I have a couple of others sitting on the tbr pile, so I may reaching for them sooner rather than later.

So, the big question is – are you a Lisa Jewell fan?

One of Us is Back by Karen M McManus

I feel like I have been waiting f-o-r e-v-e-r for this book. I could not give in to the hardback as it would have not matched with my other books, and as every dedicated bookworm knows, books need to match. (Although, I did give in to the black cover special edition, rather than the traditional white cover, but I just loved it).

So, ‘One of Us is Back’ did not disappoint (thank goodness, imagine if it had – haha). I absolutely loved being back with the Bayview gang as they faced yet another challenge as it appears that someone thinks it is ‘Time for a new game, Bayview’. I am not providing any spoilers other than that you are back with the gang as they tackle another deadly game. And they do not seem as free of Simon just yet, as much as they hope they are.

I just love these books (and pretty much anything I have read by this author); McManus writes brilliant YA thrillers which I wish had been available to me when I was the target audience. Although, as we all know, it does not matter who books are aimed at; as long as you enjoy reading them, you can read what you want.

I think one of the best things about the books of Karen M McManus is that she creates fantastic characters who are relatable; we meet so many brilliantly strong female lead characters who know their minds, and have no fear but love dearly. Which means they face so much head on, that maybe some of us would avoid. I think one of my favourite characters will always be Bronwyn, she is just simply a legend.

So, if you are fan of the Bayview books so far, I recommend this one because it does not disappoint at all – it is a fantastic thriller which is a real page-turner. The question is, do I now need to go back to the beginning of the trilogy to enjoy it all over again?