West by Carys Davies

I have recently discovered BBC Radio 4’s ‘A Good Read’, in fact I am not sure how I have not listened to it before as I am a big fan of radio and books, so this show is ideal. However, it is dangerous for my tbr pile. And the first book I have picked up since listening to the programme is ‘West’ by Carys Davies – which has also been recommended by the author Bobby Palmer.

This book is brilliant, a short but beautifully crafted novel, that I have recently discovered was Carys Davies’ debut novel, where not a moment on the page is wasted for the reader. A story of a desire for adventure, but at the cost of a father-daughter relationship. Cy Bellman heads off on an adventure, very possibly to avoid the grief of having lost his wife, but leaves his daughter at home, despite the fact that she asks him not to leave. And this is not the only odd decision made by Cy; there is also the purchase of a certain hat.

However, Cy Bellman is not the only person journeying to and through the West. He meets different characters along the way, including a Mountain Man and Native Americans – their lives, of course, impacted by the arrival of the Europeans as they continue to spread their influence from the East Coast of America to the West. However, some very important relationships are made along the way, and one which will save Cy’s daughter, Bess, when she least expects it.

There is warmth and humour in this book, which sits side-by-side with some of the more difficut topics that Carys tackles on the pages. For me, I was questioning the ease with which Cy walked away from his daughter and left her to the mercy of the men of the town – although he provides the saviour she needs without even knowing it.

I can see exactly why this is a book that is recommended by so many. And it is one that I will be recommending too. This is a lesson in writing a small but perfectly formed novel. It is a book that I will read again, as this is a part of America’s history that I find both fascinating and incredibly sad as Europeans made their way across the country. This is a story that can start discussions, and hopefully encourage people to learn a little bit more about American history.

As this is a Carys Davies’ debut novel, from 2018, that means that I have some more books to catch up on to bring me up to date to her latest release, ‘Clear’.

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.

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?

Small Hours by Bobby Palmer

I was lucky enough to hear Bobby Palmer speak at last year’s The Book Taster Live (after having read ‘Isaac and the Egg’), so I have been really looking forward to reading ‘Small Hours’, as I was sure it was going to be another good read…and it was.

‘Small Hours’ is the story of a father and son, and their rather dysfunctional relationship. Jack returns home after a call stating that his mother seems to have disappeared, but his father Gerry does not seem to be worried. However, Gerry seems even more distant than he has ever been before, being more of a fan of animals, and something is not quite right. Yet, Jack has saved a Fox who now seems keen to try and save Jack’s relationship with his father.

This is a beautiful book, which I could not put down. It explores a father and son relationship, the importance of communication to allow for understanding and how a little bit of faith can get you a long way. We visit the past and the present in this book to allow us to understand why the relationship may be as it is, and could all of this be a little bit of a misunderstanding between the two of how the past has led to this present – did they both need to take some time to understand each other?

I am finding it quite hard to write about this book, as I think it is a story that is going to have to be read to be fully appreciated. However, I loved the fox as it reminded me of the fox in ‘The Little Prince’: there to provide some guidance to someone who may be a little lost. And we all need a little guidance sometimes, and sometimes it comes from the most surprising place.

I think it is safe to say that Bobby Palmer has achieved that second novel – this is an excellent book to follow his debut novel of ‘Isaac and the Egg’. A beautifully constructed story, full of emotion, humour and charm that will stay with you long after you finish reading.

The Final Year by Matt Goodfellow and Joe Todd-Stanton

This book was a gem (and now has me wanting to read ‘Skellig’ – have you read it?). This book had been recommended to me a number of times by a number of different people so on a recent book buying day out I picked up a copy.

This is a book that will be relatable to so many readers, young and old alike, as we have all faced that final year of Primary School before the move to bigger school and all the emotions and experiences that come with that. Nate is starting Year 6 and he know that it is all going to be OK as he will have his best friend by his side. However, as events unfold, his best friend seems to have a new best friend and Nate has to navigate the school year in a way he never expected. But that is not the only shock for Nate as circumstances at home are not the easiest either.

However, Nate finds some comfort in the book that his teacher is reading to the class, ‘Skellig’. It seems to give him strength and confidence to face the world each day – alongside the support from his teacher, friends and family. Which just proves the power books can have over their readers.

This book is told in free verse, which always seems to add something a little bit extra to a story. And this is accompanied by some stunning illustrations that also bring the book to life – and bring the emotions too.

‘The Final Year’ is a very special book which I will be recommending to everyone, because not only is it beautifully written and illustrated, but it is a book that will remind some of what it is like to be young, some of what may be to come, and some of the importance of believing in yourself and your own strength. And I am sure that this is a book I will come back to when I need a hug in a book to bring me some comfort.