Fifty Fifty by Steve Cavanagh

The second book second book of 2021 was one that caught my attention on that lovely bookish TV show ‘Between the Covers’. It just sounded like a fascinating crime thriller. And it was!

To begin with, I thought this tale was a little slow. Two sisters, each blaming the other for the murder of their father – and each having called 911. Yet, as the tale progressed, the pace and tension picked up dramatically as Eddie Flynn and his team investigate their defense of Sofia Avellino and new kid on the block Kate investigates her defense of Alexandra Avellino. I really can not talk much about the story, as I do not want to give away any spoilers, other than to say it’s a very well-crafted thriller that becomes a real page-turner. There is quite a collection of characters who you do become quite invested in. And Cavanagh really does manage to manipulate your beliefs about some of the key characters – even if you do not realise it.

Steve Cavanagh has become an author who I would like to read more from. I did not realise that there had been a number of adventures for Eddie Flynn before this one. I guess that is always the joy of reading – you can always make new discoveries of new stories.

This also allowed me to tick off a little bonus prompt from ‘The Unread Shelf Project’, as ‘the unread book most recently acquired’.

The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead

The Unread Shelf Project 2021 has influenced my choices for my reads this year. The January prompt ‘A Book with High Expectations’, so I decided to take ‘The Nickel Boys’ from my shelf.

This is a book that I have seen around a lot and, obviously, is one that I had wanted to read. However, I did not expect it to be a book that could become one of my favourite reads, but part of the joy of ‘The Unread Shelf Project’.

With a book like this, I am not sure that I can do it justice in my blog posts. ‘The Nickel Boys’ is inspired by the story of the Dozier School, a reform school in Flroida – and the reality of the experience of those who had to attend. I was concerned that this would be a difficult read; however, Whitehead’s handling of this tale is sensitive and thought-provoking. It is shocking that events described in the book were ever allowed to take place and be a part of America’s social history, but Colson Whitehead wants you to learn from this tale. His wonderful narrative style makes this a page-turner. Especially, as it becomes all too clear the part twists of fate really do play on the path some people have to follow.

This is a book that carries very high expectations, it is a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, and understandably so. Yet, it lives up to all of these expectations, as it is a truly fantastic novel and has been a great start to ‘The Unread Shelf Project, 2021’.

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

‘The Thursday Murder Club’ was my last read of 2020 – and one I had been really looking forward to – it was a joy to find under the Christmas tree.

There is always a fear that, when a book has been surronded by hype, it may not be what you expect. However, this fear was not realised with this book. ‘The Thursday Murder Club’ is a perfect piece of cosy crime fiction from start to finish. A joy to read and quite a page-turner.

You may have heard Richard Osman speak about a retirement village would be the place to find ‘The Thursday Murder Club’, as there is such a variety of skills and people in the place. Ande that is certainly true of his four key characters: Ibriham, Ron, Joyce and Elizabeth. Possibly not a quartet who would usually spend time together, but their love of cold case crime solving leads them to become quite the powerhouse when there are not one but two murders on their door step.

I found this such a joy to read. You feel as though you are on an adventure with the characters. The style of writing is like a soothing voice to bring that cosy crime genre to life.

This novel is a wonderful piece of escapism – and could well the equivalent of a warm hug in the form of a book.

Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

Possibly my proudest moment of 2020 reading, or possibly of my reading ever, is the fact that I have read ‘Les Miserables’ (along with a lovely group of bookstagrammers).

This is a story that I am sure so many of us think we know thanks to the wonderful musical, or maybe more recently the BBC dramatisation. I certainly thought that I knew and loved the story. However, I was wrong. For obvious reasons (mainly the length of the book), the musical is an adaptation of the tale and excludes parts of the story. There is, of course, nothing wrong with that but I would now certainly recommend that you take the chance to read the book to enrich your understanding of the tale.

This book holds a beautiful story; a chance Victor Hugo has taken to pass comment on the France he was exiled from and the society it was becoming. There are some chunks of history used to contextualise some of the characters and events – however, if they are not for you, it is possible to skim-read those sections. Yet, for me they were part of the rich tapestry of the book.

Jean Valjean has become one of my favourite characters in literature. Quite a complex character but demonstrating some of the best characteristics of human nature, yet he is considered (by true identity) to be one of the worst members of society. Overall, I found him a hero who Hugo seems to think is a victim of the society he has the unfortunate luck to be part of.

All the characters Hugo creates are so alive on every page. They have so much about them – they are all fascinating characters.

This book is simply beautiful. Please do not be put off because it is rather large. It is a story that we can all enjoy and possibly learn a little about ourselves from. So, if you can, pick up ‘Les Miserables’, because it could well become one of your favourite reads – as it has for me.

Thursday Thoughts: Reading Goals for 2021

I have not always been one for reading goals. I have set myself targets of how many books I may like read, but it has never been my sole purpose of focus as I read. Just a chance for me to keep a bit of a record and see how I do.

However, this coming year, I have decided that I will set a target but also take part in The Unread Shelf Project: and exciting little project that aims to support all of us who love books to shift some of those unread books which may have been on our shelves for some time. There is a prompt each month to help select the books you can clear from your shelves (and some bonus prompts if you would like to shift a few more). I have made some selections of books I would like to try to clear from the shelves, and I am keen to see what unread treasures I find.

Alongside this, I also hope that I read some more titles from my ‘100 Books Bucket List’ poster. I am hoping to have five additional books crossed off from that by the end of 2021.

But, most importantly, my reading goal for 2021 is to enjoy the time I have to read. There is no guilt if a book is not for you – the time spent reading should be time that is enjoyed.

Have you got any goals for 2021?

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas by Agatha Christie

I will be completely honest that the cover of the beautiul hardback edition is what caught my eye. However, I do also love cosy crime and Agatha Christie is the queen of that exact genre.

Hercule Poirot’s Christmas is just a wonderful piece of classic crime fiction for the festive season. Set over the Christmas period Poirot ends up investigating the murder of Mr Simeon Lee. A locked room mysterym with a household of motives and suspects, and – well – many who are not exactly what they seem.

This novel is a brilliant piece of cosy crime, which has all the ingredients of a classic Christie. Especially that wonderful reveal, as Poirot offers us all his solution to the problem.

I really enjoyed this book this festive season, and it may well become one I regularly revisit to spend some time in the company of the great Hercule Poirot.

The Six Tales of Christmas by Anne Marie Ryan

The December choice for The Tasting Notes Book Club was ‘The Six Tales of Christmas’. And what a beautifully festive read it was. This is a book for book lovers.

It tells the story of Nora and Simon Walden, owners of The Stowford Bookshop, one Christmas time. Their little bookshop is not doing as well they would hope, but this does not stop them from thinking of ways to bring community spirit to their little village – after all, they believe in the magic of books.

As a random act of kindness, six books are delivered to six members of the community. This starts a series of events for so many that brings some Christmas magic and even changes lives.

This is simply one of those books that is a joy to read, especially at this time of year. It is hopeful and really reflects on the need for community, love and friendship. After all, we all need a helping hand sometimes.

Also, as the bookshop and books are so important to this tale, you will end up with more books to read – or at least the desire to revisit some classics.

We may be approaching the end of this festive season, but this is a book that would be a joy at any time of year. Or, you could mark it down as one to have ready for next year.

This Winter by Alice Oseman

This little book is simply a gem.

A Solitaire novella from Alice Oseman, it takes you to Christmas with Charlie and Nick. However, the focus is mainly on the Spring family, as Oseman again does not shy away from difficult but incredibly important subjects.

Christmas seems even more challenging this year, as Tori is worried about her brother Charlie. He has suffered from an eating disorder and Tori worries that this will make Christmas hard for her brother.

This sensitively written book focuses on mental health, family and romantic relationships, and will make readers really evaluate what is important at Christmas time.

This may not be your traditional festive read, but it will definitely be enjoyed by fans of the work of Alice Oseman – her brilliant natural storytelling and great illustrations.

A great piece of YA fiction that will really make you think this festive season.

Midwinter Murders by Agatha Christie

I was lucky enough to win this beautiful book in a lovely giveaway on bookstagram. And, I am not sure much else could be so perfect for this time of year as some ‘cosy’ crime.

This book is a collection of tales from the Queen of Crime, Agatha Christie. They are all stories that have been published in other collections of short stories; however, they have been brought together here because they all have a wintery or festive feel.

You meet all your favourite Christie detectives including, of course, Marple and Poirot. My favourite tale was the third in the collection, as it reminded me a little of ‘An Inspector Calls’ which is another favourite at this time of year.

This collection of tales is just a perfect piece of escapism: classic crime. You may solve some of the mysteries ot you may just wish to let it unfold around you.

Either way, grab your favourite festive treats and settle down with some Christie classics.

The Dead Secret by Wilkie Collins

November (I know, a little late), ‘The Dead Secret’ was picked for the buddy read for all of us who love a sensation novel, in the Victorian Sensation Book Club.

I had not heard of this novel from the pen of Collins, but that is always the beauty of a readalong – you find new titles.

I really enjoyed this book and, if you are not used to classics, this would be a great place to start. It has all the ingredients of an engaging read – a colourful collection of characters, a secret and a big old house with closed rooms. Elements of a gothic setting along the way.

I found this a real page-turner because the mystery is in place almost immediately, as the death of the lady of the house, a letter and a lady’s maid that the rest of the staff find a little strange disappearing draws you into ‘The Dead Secret’. I enjoy the narrative style of Wilkie Collins and, despite working out small parts of the mystery slightly before they were revealed did not take away from the enjoyment of reading this book.

I also felt that this was a book where you could see the friendship between Collins and fellow author Charles Dickens. As I read, some of the characters such as Uncle Joseph had a vibe of Dickens about them. That, for me, just made the book even more fascinating, as I love the idea of great literary connections.

So, if you would like to have a go at a novel by Wilkie Collins, I would suggest that you start with this piece of esacapism.