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.

No One Saw a Thing by Andrea Mara

As I am a real fan of thrillers I had to pick the April book club pick from ‘The Book Taster’ a little early. I was just too excited not to read it.

This is a fantastic thriller, especially as it is something that does not read as complete fiction but has an element of possibility to it that it makes it all the more brilliant to read. As someone who used to travel a lot on the underground as a child with my mum, and always used to worry about boarding that train without her, I could feel all the emotions in this book.

This book is a fast-paced read, as you live through the moments and hours that follow Sive’s daughter not getting off the underground train, but you also find out about the past of the group of friends that led up to the moment in London. There are so many secrets and lies that have taken place between these friends, nobody is quite sure who is telling the truth and, as the story progresses, it appears that nobody is above suspicion.

I could not put this book down because it appeared that every chapter revealed something else about one of the friends and nobody seemed to be quite who they had been saying they were. Even Sive, who is a bit of an outsider amongst the group, has a secret that you would not quite expect. The twists in the tale are excellent.

My only slight niggle as I read this book was that some of the ‘clues’ were really pointed out to the reader. Although this did not happen all the way through the book, so it did not take away from the enjoyment of reading it – it is still a well-constructed thriller which will satisfy fans of the genre.

The Match by Harlan Coben

When I spotted that there was a bargain book by Harlan Coben on offer, I knew I had to read it. It actually turns out that this is the second book by Coben to feature his character Wilde, however this does not stop you from enjoying this book. (It just means that I have to make sure I read ‘The Boy from the Woods’ too – which I am sure I will).

As I am starting to realise, Coben knows how to write a page-turner, because that was exactly what this was. As always, I try to keep my reviews spoiler free, which may make reviewing this book a little difficult, but I will give it a good go. Wilde is searching for his past, which he knows nothing about, and comes across some matches on a DNA website. This draws him into more than one mystery: not just the mystery of where he came from, but also the mystery of the disappearing reality star – who he may or may not be related to. This leads Wilde on quite the adventure as he gets more entangled in a web of lies and secrets, that go far deeper than he can ever have realised.

This was a cleverly constructed mystery, that was not just about working out who the villain was but also what connects all the individual stories of characters together. Wilde is an interesting character, as he is a man of mystery, creating his own chosen family from those who have helped him throughout his life but still having a desire to know exactly where his roots are. Even though this leads him into something darker than he could have imagined.

I am certainly now a fan of Harlan Coben and his books, and I am sure I will be picking up more of his titles – but there is the usual problem of so many books and so little time.

The Excitements by C J Wray

‘The Excitements’ by C J Wray was one of the book recommendations from Matt Cain when ‘The Book Taster’ treated us to a little bonus social last month. This book just sounded like a bundle of fun, and that is exactly what it is.

Our lead characters, Penny and Josephine, are two elderly sisters who love to have a bit of ‘excitement’ in their day. And it is often down to their dear nephew to ensure that something of the kind is planned for them. Little does he know that these two wonderfully colourful characters have had their fair share of excitement over the years…and still continue to do so, even if it can occasionally be a little risky.

Our adventure with them takes place in Paris, where they are to be honoured for their work during World War Two. And, as a rather dramatic set of events unfolds in Paris, we are also sent back to the past through Penny and Josephine’s memories to see what exactly has brought them to this moment – and it is certainly a life of excitement, love, loss, danger and heroism.

I found this book a true joy to read, for a number of reasons. There is humour amongst the pages of this book as the ladies really do enjoy life, and have a little bit of a cheeky side to them – but, also, we are given some fantastically creative characters who bring humour to the page, even in some of the darker moments. It is always nice to see older characters represented as being full of life, and liberal, and having appreciated their past adventures. And the historical fiction element of the book keeps you reading as you want to know all the secrets about all the characters.

This is a story that will be a hug in a book if you are a fan of the characters and stories of Richard Osman and A J Pearce. I think this will be a great read for the summer when you want a real piece of escapism with a bit of adventure thrown in. I would probably not have found this book without the recommendation from Matt Haig, so I am so glad that I took the plunge and gave it a read on a whim, because it is a treat that I would not have wanted to miss out on.

The Secret Adversary by Agatha Christie

I am a month behind on my Read Christie 2024, so mid-March means I have picked up the February pick. This was my introduction to Tommy and Tuppence in the written form (I have listened to them as an audio book) and I was very pleasantly surprised as they did not leave much of a mark on me as an audio book.

This, despite having some dark undertones as you would imagine from Christie, is a more light-hearted novel. I think because our characters are younger, with more optimisim and hope as they have come out of World War One. They are also a fantastic pair, bringing the best out of each other as only very dear friends (or more) can do. I found myself having a little smile on my face as I read some of the lines, because Tommy and Tuppence just seem to bring such joy to the story. Even in their darkest moments.

This is a brilliant story of espionage and politics. The world has come out of World War One but there are still threats on the horizon, with an unstable Europe and distrust between the nations. Tommy and Tuppence get drawn into this world, almost accidentally, and embark on a life as private investigators: can they find the missing Jane Finn and the documents she was given to take good care of? They certainly give it a jolly good go, meeting a whole host of suspicious characters along the way, and finding themselves in a number of dangerous situations.

There are some twists and turns along the way, but this is not Christie’s most complicated tale. In fact, you may work some of the plot out, but that does not spoil the reading experience as the fun of reading this story is being on the adventure with Tommy and Tuppence, and rooting for them at every moment.

I am not sure they will replace Poirot in my affections but this is a slightly different reading experience. I certainly won’t be avoiding reading more of Tommy and Tuppence, which I think I have been up until this point, as I like to read Poirot and Miss Marple for comfort reads, which means I have been missing out on some of Christie’s other stories.

The Murder after the Night Before by Katy Brent

Book and Pudding Club Knowle picked ‘The Murder after the Night Before’ by Katy Brent as the March pick. This is a book that I have seen around recently, with the most amazing neon pink cover, so I was quite intrigued when it got picked. This is also described as a bit of a black comedy, which is probably a genre I do not usually read – my thriller choices tend to be quite traditional and, well, dark.

Molly Monroe wakes up from a rather heavy night to find out that she has a rather x-rated video that has gone viral and she can not remember a thing about – but, to beat that, she also finds out that her best friend has been murdered (or so Molly thinks) in the bathroom of their flat. I mean, as next mornings of regret and confusion go, this is actually the thing of nightmares. However, Molly is a determined young lady and she is determined to find out the truth about her best friend Posey’s final moments – and who this too-good-to-be-true young man, Jack, is, as he has appeared at possibly the worst moment of Molly’s life.

This was an engaging read from the start and it definitely has all the traditional ingredients of a murder mystery. I am not sure it was a true thriller, as I am not sure tension was always built up throughout the narrative, as I think it was fairly clear that there would be a ‘happy ending’. I did work out one of the twists of the main story, but I did not work out the secret we find out about Molly’s family. Molly is a fantastically strong female character, as I am not sure that many of us could recover from what she is experiencing at the start of the story.

I think this is a light-hearted read, but I am not sure I found the humour in it. It deals with some quite heavy topics and creates some great characters, but I am not sure I saw it as witty and humorous, just a rather well-written novel by a clearly talented female author who can create a book for a feminist age. I am sure that I will read more books by Katy Brent, as I was definitely hooked and needed to know all the secrets of the story.

Dog Days by Ericka Waller

This book has been on my shelf for quite some time, since it was kindly sent to me by a lovely Bookstagram buddy. However, as soon as I saw that Ericka Waller is one of the guests at the next ‘Book Taster Live’, I knew I had to make it a priority on the tbr pile.

This book is an emotional rollercoaster of a read, but is also a true love letter to our canine friends. We meet three very different characters: George, a rather grumpy old man who has just lost his wife of 50 years; Dan, who has spent a lot of his time as a counsellor helping others, but has not always helped himself, and Lizzie, who appears to have left an abusive relationship to protect herself and her son. They are three very different characters, with their own struggles in life, but they all know the love a good dog provides – that constant companion that is alway by their side, whatever life throws at them.

I really enjoyed this book because, despite tackling some very difficult topics such as grief and mental health, it is done with care from the first page. The characters are so beautifully created that you feel like you are on their journeys with them, and that they are real people – and the dogs are all just as important characters, as they offer the emotional support to our three lead characters. There are some surprises along the way as you discover why George, Dan and Lizzie are quite as they are and you follow them as they get to where they need to be. It is like three stories in one, even though the characters are a little more connected than they may realise.

I could not put this down; I was always invested in finding out more about George, Dan and Lizzie – and hoping that each would find their happy ending. Or, at least, would find what they needed to be able to, to reach a happy ending or find closure on something that they need to leave in the past and move forward.

This is such a clever concept of a book, as there is so much amongst its pages about what it is to be human, to love, to lose and to have a constant and loyal companion (even if George does not even know that is exactly what he needs). I will be sharing this book with others, as I think it is a book that will mean something different to each reader. And I am now really looking forward to the chance to meet Ericka Waller at the next Book Taster Live event.

Becoming Ted by Matt Cain

Last month, The Book Taster treated book club members to a little online social with Matt Cain. This was an absolute treat as, last year (almost exactly to the year), I read ‘The Secret Life of Albert Entwistle‘ and had absolutely adored it, and Matt Cain was a joy to listen to and share some of his recommendations.

After the event, I knew that ‘Becoming Ted’ had to be my next read, because I was pretty sure it would bring me pure joy. Ted is shocked by the announcement from his husband Giles that their marriage is over and he has met someone else. This forces Ted to face up to the truth about his marriage: maybe it had not been quite as perfect as he thought it was, and maybe it had been holding him back from his dreams all this time. As Ted has to restart his life, he starts to become a little more himself than he had been for quite some time; facing up to his past, looking at his present and working to create his bright future – as a drag queen.

‘Becoming Ted’ is such a heartwarming story, proving that it is never too late to follow your dreams, but also that you should never let anyone else stop you from being who you really are. It is a story of love, of all kinds. And a story of friendship and family, both things that may not always follow a smooth path but can also be the most valuable thing in our lives.

This book made me laugh out loud and it also caused me to shed a tear or two – there is one moment with Oskar and his search for his father that had me in floods of tears, on a train which is (of course) never awkward. The characters are all so beautifully created that you feel like you know each one of them personally (or that you would definitely like to hang out with them if you could), which is what adds so much emotion to this book, too.

I will be recommending this book regularly to people when they ask me what to read next, especially when they are looking for an uplifting read that can probably teach us a lesson or two along the way. And Matt Cain is certainly now added to my list of go-to authors (‘Madonna of Bolton’ is already on the tbr pile), especially when I am looking for a book that will ensure a real joy of reading for the time that I am in its company.

Girl on Fire by Tony Parsons

A friend of mine passed ‘Girl on Fire’ on to me recently so, as I was in a bit of a crime and thriller mood, I decided I would sneak it in before the end of February. I mean, as we are in a leap year and there is an extra day, I may as well use some of it reading.

‘Girl on Fire’ introduced me to DC Max Wolfe (although not his first case), and I was quite taken with this character. A single parent who loves his dog, his job and follows his moral compass, even when the odds may be stacked against him or his case.

Max Wolfe is caught up in the events of a terrorist attack on a local shopping centre, and becomes involved in trying to draw out those who were responsible but also those who believe that they have a right to carry out vigilante justice. There appears to be danger around every corner, from many different sources but Max Wolfe always keeps his sense of fair justice, which makes him a fascinating character to read about as he faces so many troubles and dangers in his work.

I actually found this quite a thought-provoking read, as there was a study of character along the way as it considered what influences people to carry out some of the actions that they do. And how different people view right and wrong, justice and injustice – how do we form our morals and values?

My only tiny frustration with this book with the punctuation of the flow occasionally to explain a piece of police jargon or abbreviation. Although I appreciate as readers we may not have fully understood these things without that little explanation, I just occasionally felt that it interrupted my flow when I was fully immersed in a moment in the story. But I think that was probably just my personal preference when I read rather than a criticism.

I think I would like to read more about Max Wolfe and will be keeping an eye out for more books which feature him in the lead, because I am keen to see where his character came from and where his character is going. Only six more books to read – so many books, so little time.