A Tidy Ending by Joanna Cannon

Jenna, host of The Tasting Notes Book Club, selected ‘A Tidy Ending’ by Joanna Cannon for May: a book I knew nothing about and an author that I have not read before, so I was really looking forward to diving in and seeing what the book was all about.

Well, dive in I did. In fact, I sped through this novel, as from the moment I started reading, I had to find out more. Told through two timelines, we meet Linda, now and then: a woman who seems to be ‘invisible’, who does not really seem to fit in, and who struggles to make friends as people seem to avoid her. Married to Terry, she appears to be living a fairly uneventful life – until a series of murders happens in the local area. From that moment, life starts to change – even more so when Linda makes a new friend in Rebecca, the woman who had lived in her house before Linda and Terry purchased it.

I have to keep this review spoiler-free, as there are twists and turns throughout this book that will keep you guessing and sending you off down different paths of thought. It is a book that probably crosses genres; a thriller in some ways, contemporary fiction in other ways, and a bit of an old-fashioned murder mystery in other ways. All of these ingredients, combined, do make it a great read – Joanna Cannon does constantly leave you wanting to find out more, never revealing too much too soon, and keeping you guessing. But that final page will really stay with you!

This is a cleverly constructed story that I would probably have missed if I was not a member of the fantastic Tasting Notes Book Club – it definitely reminds me why book clubs are such a great thing for all book lovers to belong to.

The Crossing by Manjeet Mann

Second from The Yoto Carnegie Shortlist is ‘The Crossing’ by Manjeet Mann. This is a wonderful free verse novel told from dual viewpoints that are cleverly linked together throughout the book.

I am not sure I can do this book the real justice that it deserves. It is a truly inspirational and heartbreaking piece of literature.

Natalie and Sammy’s stories are cleverly entwined through the free verse narrative, as the story of one leads to the story of the other all the way through the book. Both of these young people are feeling lost – Natalie after the death of her mother and her brother becoming lost to the world of far-right gangs, and Sammy, as he has fled his home in Eritrea for a better life in Europe. But his journey is set to be incredibly dangerous. They both face ‘the crossing’ of the channel: Natalie to feel she can achieve something her mother had always wanted by swimming the channel, and Sammy desperate for a better life. A twist of fate brings them together, but will they both find a way to mend their broken world?

I read this book from cover to cover one Saturday morning, as I felt so incredibly invested in their stories. I needed to know how the story would end – rooting for them both – and hoping that everyone who reads this book will understand the need for a better world and education that helps us all understand each other.

If this and ‘Cane Warriors‘ are examples of the calibre of book on this year’s shortlist, I do not know how the judges will make any kind of decision, because both of these books have been special in their own way – and carry an important message for all readers.

Cane Warriors by Alex Wheatle

This year, I seem to be really enjoying a shortlist challenge and, this time, it is the Yoto Carnegie Medal Shortlist.

Miss W sent me a copy of ‘Cane Warriors’, so I knew it had to be the first book that I chose to read from the shortlist. And, of course, with the day job being all about history, I guess it was an obvious place to start.

I absolutely devoured this book and hope that so many young adults will read it. There are so many lessons amongst its pages – and not just the history lessons.

Moa is fourteen years old, and all he has ever known is life on the plantation; a life that has consumed him, his mother, his father, his friends and, soon, his younger sister, too. However, he understands that this is not the only way that life has to be and, maybe, there is a way to fight for their freedom and their rights. This leads to Moa becoming a Cane Warrior, fighting for the freedom of the enslaved people on the island of Jamaica – however difficult the challenges he will face will be.

This novel follows the true story of Tacky’s War in Jamaica in 1760, and really brings the events to life for the reader. Especially from the point of view of a young adult character.

This is a book that I really hope so many people will pick up and read, because it’s a really significant story for all readers, and will certainly leave you with a desire to find out more about such significant events.

Dear Mrs Bird by A.J Pearce

What an absolute joy of a book – a cosy historical read set during the events of World War Two in London. This book was like a hug in a book and is full of characters who you feel like you are ready to make friends with as they come to life on the page.

I was lucky enough to meet A.J Pearce and hear her talk about her book, ‘Dear Mrs Bird’, and her new book, ‘Yours Faithfully’, and I think that led to me to loving this story even more. However, one thing that she told us was that she uses photos to help her visualise her characters and, for me, this came as no surprise, as they are so vividly created for you on the page. I absolutely adored every character – even the ‘baddies’ had something appealing about them, in the way that they do in a cosy read.

So, Emmeline Lake dreams of becoming a Lady War Correspondent and, when she lands a job with a magazine, she believes her dreams may well come true. But having not quite read the job description carefully, she actually becomes the typist for Mrs Bird – an agony aunt – and finds herself with the desire to help the women who are writing in for the answers to their burning questions as they deal with life in 1940s Britain. Of course, as you expect, Emmy’s helping leads to events and adventures that she had not quite expected. There are moments in this story that will make you laugh, and moments that may well make you cry but, overall, you will be left with that warm, cosy feeling of a great, uplifting read. (And you have to make sure you appreciate Clarence when he makes his appearences.)

I really recommend this book for any time you are looking for a book that will give you a little pick-me-up and help you escape from the real world. Just wonderful.

Wrong Place Wrong Time by Gillian McAllister

Believe the hype – end of post!

No, in all serious, this book is worth the hype. I picked it up as a result of attending ‘The Tasting Notes Live’ event, and I do not regret it one bit. In fact, I even read past my bedtime as I could not leave it not knowing how the book ended. As with all thriller books, it is so hard to review, as I refuse to spoil it for others. However, I will try and help you understand exactly why you should pick this book up.

This book made me audibly gasp at least three times (page 159 was the loudest – and that moment still sticks with me), had me trying to play detective alongside Jen, and it got my heart racing at points as the tension grew.

It may seem strange that this novel so easily uses time travel (not a spoiler) as a realistic concept to help Jen find the answers that she is looking for – but it works. You do not feel like you are reading any kind of fantasy or unrealistic story; you are drawn into Jen’s adventures as she unpicks the story of her and her family, which she thought she always knew.

You will be hooked from the moment you start reading; you think the most shocking thing that can happen is in those first few pages, but how wrong you will be. Gillian McAllister is a very talented writer.

This book has secured all her other books a place on my tbr pile, and I absolutely can not wait to read more from her, as I know so many bookworms who love her work.

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982 by Cho Nam-Joo

A bit of a flashback Friday book review from me today, as I have had a hectic few weeks and have just not managed to review ‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’. I picked up this book so I could join in with a Tandem Collective Voices readalong with a number of other book lovers. It was also a chance for me to read something I would not neccessarily have picked up before – and to read a piece of translated fiction.

As soon as I started reading this book, I was fully invested in the life of Kim Jiyoung and her experiences growing up South Korea through the 1980s and the 1990s. This is a powerful piece of fiction that is clearly established in the reality of growing up in this nation. For many of us, it may read like an outdated story but, sadly, it is the reality for many of the women growing up in some of these countries at the time.

As I read it, I became frustrated with the outdated ideas towards women and the role that women were expected to play. But it also had me closely reflecting on the freedom and chances that I have had growing up – my destiny almost defined by geography as much as by my family. And, despite no society being completely without sexism and women still fighting for true equality, there are definitely more advantages for some rather than others.

This is a book that I think all men and women should read. It is certainly enlightening and educational – as it raises questions about the influence of a strongly patriarchal society on the experiences of women, even from the moment they are born.

I really recommend this book.

The Book Share by Phaedra Patrick

This month’s pick for ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ was ‘The Book Share’ by Phaedra Patrick. And what a perfect book for these times: something light-hearted and hopeful, to allow you to engage in some fun escapism.

Bookworm Liv has been working as a cleaner for her favourite author, Essie Starling, and is regularly in the background as Essie is working away on her popular novels. One day, Essie dies unexpectedly and leaves Liv with what seems like an impossible task – to finish her final novel. This allows Liv to follow one of her dreams: to write the sort of story she loves to read – but will it also have Liv rewriting her own life story and future? Is there, in fact, more to Liv’s life than she has been experiencing? And is her past not quite as it seemed?

Although this book seemed to have a slightly slow start (though that could have been my levels of concentration, rather than the book…), as the story developed I was so engaged with Liv and her story, I could not wait to see how it would turn out. Phaedra creates wonderful characters in her writing; you really will love the characters she wants you to love, but you will be less keen on those who may be a little less favourable. (Poor Jake – when you know you know.)

This book is certainly one that I enjoyed, and it was lovely to discuss it at book club. I have definitely found another author that I would like to read more from – I think these are going to be some lovely, feel-good books when you need that pure escapism from the stresses of the world around us.

Like A Charm by Elle McNicoll

I was a huge fan of a ‘A Kind of Spark’ by Elle McNicoll, so when I knew that ‘Like a Charm’ had been published, I knew that I had to read it. (Especially as, again, the cover was absolutely beautiful and just makes you want to read it).

This is another brilliant read, a wonderful journey into fantasy rooted in the city of Edinburgh. Ramya Knox is drawn into this fantastical world as she discovers that her family have a few hidden secrets which connect them to that world. In fact, she soon becomes a symbol of hope for the Hidden Folk as they have to protect themselves from the Sirens, especially as Ramya appears to be resistant to their ‘charm’.

This is another story that celebrates difference, as Ramya discovers that the thing that makes her different is also the thing that makes her as special as she is. That, in fact allows her to help the Hidden Folk and find her special place in the world – and in her family.

I was gripped by this book and I am excited that Ramya’s tale will be continued for us all. It is wonderful that Elle McNicoll writes stories for young people with neurodivergent characters, as representation in literature is becoming ever-more important. We live in a wonderful world of difference, and we all need to be able to celebrate and understand these differences, and great stories are one way to support us all in being able to do that. And, when we see people in books that also help us understand ourselves or our experiences, then they become even more special to us – and that is what Elle McNicoll has done for so many young people with her books.

Miss Aldridge Regrets by Louise Hare

I was kindly gifted a proof of ‘Miss Aldridge Regrets’ by Louise Hare, and what a beauty it is. A book with a cover this glamorous is surely going to be a great read – and it was!

‘Miss Aldridge Regrets’ is a brilliant piece of historical fiction set on the Queen Mary as it sails to New York in early 1936. Lena Aldridge is one of its passengers, as she has been promised a new life in New York which will make her a star – or so she believes. However, as the ship’s journey progresses, she is drawn into the lives of the rather wealthy Parker family – but not everything is quite as it seems. And, once murder takes place, Lena is thrown into a dangerous game.

This is a great piece of cosy crime fiction, and fans of Agatha Christie will be fans of this book. In fact, the Queen of Crime herself gets a mention in the novel. However, it is also a little more than just a classic ‘locked room’ crime story; there is clear commentary on the society at the time and its issues. Lack of gender and race equality is a theme throughout the book, and plays a part as a catalyst for some of the events that subsequently take place. I found that as fascinating as the tale itself.

This is a well-constructed story, and I really enjoyed the way it was told, from the current events on the ship, previous events which had taken place before Lena left London, and odd notes from the murderer to punctuate the tale. I worked out one part of the mystery, but did not work it all out, so the reveal did bring with it some insteresting surprises. For all you crime fans out there, I would certainly recommend this book – especially if you are a fan of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ or ‘Death on the Nile’.

Anatomy of a Scandal – Readalong and Watchalong

Tandem Collective UK not only kindly allowed me to read ‘Reputation‘ by Sarah Vaughan, but also gifted me a copy of ‘Anatomy of a Scandal’, which has also been adapted into a Netflix Limited Series.

So, let us start with the book – this is really a book for our time as the reputation of a leading politician is on the line as he is caught out for an affair with a junior aide. However, things become far worse for Mr Whitehouse, as he is to stand trial for the rape of the same woman.

This is not an easy read – and would carry some trigger warnings – yet it sensitively tackles the issue of consent and what really constitutes consent. But it also raises all those issues surrounding the ‘old boys club’ mentality of the corridors of power, and how gender and social equality is still not as it should be in those very same corridors. This is a novel of twists and turns which has you turning every page keen to see what may be revealed next – some of the secrets may seem to be clear, but I do think that the conclusion leaves some additional questions for the reader; is it really all tied up at the end?

As I read this, I did consider that it would make a great television courtroom thriller. I could even see some of the characters portrayed by certain actors. So, I was excited to start watching the series when it was released on Netflix. As TV adaptations go, it is pretty accurate to the story (maybe a couple of liberties) and the characterisation, overall, is excellent, just how I saw it as I read the book.

It is definitely a bingeable series with the same important messages that are carried through the book (carrying the same trigger warnings). In fact, as we watched, Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse muttered the words ‘and this is who we have running the country’, which is a key reason that I think that this is a novel for our time, as it reflects so many of the concerns we have with those who are in power.

Sarah Vaughan’s careful observation of the world around us and the issues that are constantly being raised in our society is bringing some brilliant books to the public. Books that will leave you reflecting on the world we are in, and possibly even reflecting on your own moral ideals. She has definitely become an author that I will always be keen to read more from – especially as she continues to create some fantastically strong female leads.