Maybe Next Time by Cesca Major

‘Maybe Next Time’ is the February book choice of The Book Taster Book Club. I was excited that I managed to pick my copy up in New York when I visited in January – I absolutely love the cover of the US edition and, of course, it is a Reese’s Book Club pick, too.

This is an interesting concept of a book. Emma lives the same day, Monday 3rd December, her dateversary with her husband Dan, and it always has the same tragic ending. It does not seem to matter what Emma does, she lives a very similar ending. However, she goes through a whole host of emotions and experiences on the same day, repeatedly. This leads Emma to make some reflections about the life she has been leading, the relationships she has formed, and the decisions that she makes. And, the final page…well…

I think it takes some skill that Cesca Major has written a book that always happens on the same day but keeps us reading. The study she makes of Emma and the experiences that Emma goes through makes it a book that you keep reading. It is a fascinating journey that you go on with Emma, hoping as she does that the outcome may become different.

This is a good read – just possibly a little long. I loved the character development and the relationship between Emma and Dan (the letters Dan writes Emma are wonderful) but I could just have skimmed a couple of pages off the end – but that is probably a me issue rather than the book. I can, however, understand why for many readers this has been a great read and I definitely have some fellow readers in mind who I will be recommending this book too.

Two for Tuesday – Novels-in-verse

I was lucky enough to hear Louise Reid speak at one of The Book Taster’s live events and this led me to her books. However, I am ashamed to say that ‘Wrecked’ and ‘Gloves Off’ sat on my shelves for a little while before I picked them up (although you can find my post about ‘The Poet’ on my blog). However, I picked ‘Wrecked’ up and that immediately made me pick ‘Gloves Off’ to follow.

‘Wrecked’ is a heartbreaking YA novel-in-verse. I have actually thought about it every day since I finished it, and once I finished it, I needed a few minutes to just absorb it all. This novel takes the story of boyfriend and girlfriend, Joe and Imogen, and we meet them after they have been involved in a fatal car accident, which appears to be Joe’s fault. We follow Joe as he faces his trial for dangerous driving; the story moves between the present and the past as we discover the events that led to that fatal night.

The emotions in this book are intense, as the relationship between Imogen and Joes is slowly unpicked. Is it really love’s young dream, as Joe believes it is? Or are there cracks that could wreck not just Joe’s life, but those of his family and friends, too? I really do not want to reveal too much about this book, as I do not feel that I can do it justice. However, I will say that it is an emotional rollercoaster presented in verse, beautifully constructed with clever presentation on the page that reflects some of the events and emotions that are being presented. You are really invested in this book from the moment you start reading, and I could not put it down – and it will stay with me for a long time.

And this took me straight to ‘Gloves Off’…

Louisa Reid is not afraid to tackle some tough subjects in her books, and ‘Gloves Off’ is no exception. Again, verse is used in this book to tell to the story of Lily and her family. Lily is badly bullied at school and her safe place is with her family at home, although her mum, Bernadette, has her own struggles and worries that she is to blame for what is happening to Lily. However, simultaneously, mother and daughter begin a journey to transform from who they are into better versions of themselves.

After a particularly nasty incident, Lily’s dad introduces her to boxing to support her in being able to fight back. And that does not mean physically, necessarily, but to allow her to have the confidence to fight back. At the same time, Bernadette begins to fight back against the thing that has held her back, dealing with the shame from comments made to her about her appearance. Both journeys that the characters go on allow them to see life as something that is beautiful, and gives them both a second chance to show the bullies that they are not going to be held back any longer.

This was another page-turner for me that I could not put down, as it was just so stunningly constructed, and I want to support Lily in her fight against those who were holding her back.

I cannot praise these books enough, especially if you are a fan of novels-in-verse and powerful stories that will steal a piece of your heart. Do not get me wrong, there are some tough topics tackled, and it is not always an easy read, but I think each book is an important read with some important lessons among the pages. So, if you have not picked up a book by Louisa Reid, I really suggest you do, as you will be in for a treat.

The Girls Who Disappeared by Claire Douglas

After the Book Taster introduced us to the books of Claire Douglas, I had made a decision that I need to read her backlist. So, one of my reads in February was ‘The Girls who Disappeared’ (as I found it at a little bit of a bargain price).

This was another great twisty thriller, with atmosphere built from the first page, and a fantastic strong female lead in the form of the journalist Jenna Halliday.

This is a small-town mystery. Twenty years earlier, Olivia Rutherford was in a car accident with her friends, but when she wakes up, the other girls have gone. For twenty years, there has been no explanation for what happened that night, but as the anniversary approaches, Jenna Halliday wants to do a true crime podcast in an attempt to see if it exposes any new information. However, it seems that some people in this small town will go to extreme measures to ensure that nothing new is exposed – or to ensure that any other secrets are exposed.

The small-town setting adds to the claustrophobic atmosphere, as does the forest and the road where the accident happened. Claire Douglas is excellent at using the setting to add to the tension of the story that is being told.

As it is a thriller, it is quite hard to say too much about the plot of the book, other than you are left feeling that everyone has a secret that they are trying to keep hidden, and you never really know who is genuine as a character. It is a quite a ride from start to finish – with a fantastic reveal when we reach the conclusion.

Past Caring by Robert Goddard

When I was at my IRL book club in January, one of the lovely members recommended the books of Robert Goddard to me – thrillers with a link to history sounded like a great read to me. And one that involves the Suffragettes sounded even better. So on my return from book club, I looked up ‘Past Caring’ by Robert Goddard and thought I would give it a go. Especially as I am trying to read books recommended to me a little more, and a little more timely (rather than waiting for months).

This book was fantastic. Considering (as I have said many times) I do not read the blurb, I was not entirely sure what I was expecting other than the words used when it was recommended to me. This is a historical mystery: why did Cabinet minister Edwin Strafford resign when his career seemed to be on the up? That is what Martin Radford is asked to find out. And it takes him on quite an adventure – and one that becomes a little more dangerous and thrilling than he could ever expect.

Edwin Strafford introduces us to his story through the pages of his memoir; Martin Radford’s job is to find out if Strafford is a reliable narrator or not. This leads Martin into a web of lies formed by the new family of Strafford’s former fiancee’s family – a family that Martin is closer to than he realises. Although there was one secret or twist I worked out as I read the book, this did not spoil the story. In fact, I was so invested in Strafford’s story and how he had been treated that solving that one mystery felt like an achievement (and made me dislike the villain of the piece even more).

This was so well plotted, with so much history entwined with the fiction of the thriller, that I found that I always wanted to know what was going to happen next. Dual timelines enriched the thriller as there were actually multiple mysteries that needed solving. I can see why Robert Goddard is a popular author and I have added yet another author to my must-read-the-backlist list. There are just so many good books and so little time…

The Fury by Alex Michaelides

Last year, one of my favourite thrillers was the dark academia novel ‘The Maidens’ from Alex Michaelides. So, when I saw that ‘The Fury’ was out, I knew I had to grab a copy, because I could not wait to see what Alex Michaelides was treating us to next.

This book did what Alex Michaelides does well, it had a fantastic narrator who you suspect is unreliable from the first page but draws you straight into the story. You just have to know what is going to happen next and what exactly the narrator’s motive is. This is a story of obsession, power and secrets, interwoven with the myths of the Greek islands. All of which results in a number of twists and turns that take the reader on quite an adventure.

Although I did work out one of the twists (I am not sure it is particuarly hidden), the joy of the story is finding out what led to that twist or that decision. The book is fascinating as the motive behind every characters actions is what keeps you reading. How much does each character know about the other, who is really working together, and what is the fact and what is the fiction?

The setting of a Greek island becomes as much part of the story too. It is a great setting as the heat of the island adds to the tense atmosphere of our collection of shady characters. An isolated, private island always seems to be a great setting for a thriller after all (‘And Then There Were None’ by Agatha Christie has to be one of the best examples of that, if you have not read it – you should, when you have read ‘The Fury’, of course).

All of this has not stopped ‘The Maidens’ from being my favourite by Alex Michaelides, but this was another great read that had me hooked. And I enjoyed the references made to some of the other novels.

This is going to be a great read for those who enjoy a thriller as we enter the warmer months, if you can wait that long to pick it up.

Someone Else’s Shoes by Jojo Moyes

As I am tackling my tbr pile, I decided to pick up ‘Someone Else’s Shoes’, especially as I had seen one of my best book buddies pick it up, too. This has been on the shelf for about a year which, for me, is not too long, haha!

I love the concept of this story: how a twist of fate can lead you to walk in someone else’s shoes. And how this, in turn, leads you down a path that you may have never imagined, but also reflect on the past, present and what the future may hold. This book tackles a whole host of topics, including relationships, mental health and identity, but it does all this with charm, wit and sensitivity.

Although to start with, I did not fall in love with our two main characters, Sam and Nisha, as the story progresses and, little by little, you learn more about them, you do start to root for them and hope that they will find the happiness that they are both looking for. And I have to say, the moment where Nisha achieves her revenge on her unpleasant ex-husband is quite a moment.

However, for me, this book was a little too long. It is a fantastically well-constructed story and there is so much among the pages, but I did find the length of the chapters a little long at points. There were odd moments where I found myself skim-reading, while still keeping the thread of the story.

Yet, please do not let that put you off as this is a classic Jojo Moyes with fantastically strong female characters (even if they do not realise it at the time), and warmth and humour that makes the reading experience a joy. I am always keen to see what Jojo Moyes will write, and I do need to make sure that I go back through some of her backlist.

The Foundling by Stacey Halls

It has been far too long since I read ‘Mrs England‘ – in fact it has been over two years – which means that ‘The Foundling’ has probably been on the tbr pile for almost as long. (I really do need to get it under control.)

But, after seeing one of my Bookstagram buddies having a real Stacey Halls phase, I thought it was about time I picked ‘The Foundling’ up. And what a lovely read it is. I think I had been putting it off, as historical fiction is not always my top choice of genre, but that attitude has slowly been changing over the last couple of years, as it is a genre that seems to be getting so much better.

‘The Foundling’ focuses on the Foundling Hospital in London and the experiences of those who were forced to leave children there, and those who adpoted children from there. This is a fascinating study of relationships: those between families and those between different social classes. And, of course, how wealth can bring freedom to many, and poverty can bring restrictions to so many others.

You are swept away to London in 1754 from the moment you start reading this book; it has been 6 years since Clara left her daughter at the Foundling Hospital, and now she is returning to collect her after saving what she believes is the fee to buy her daughter’s freedom. In a cruel twist of fate, Clara’s daughter has gone, apparently taken by Clara herself just days after she left her there. So where is Clara’s daughter now, and how will she ever see her again?

After this, I will definitely be returning to the books of Stacey Hall very soon. This is historical fiction that is well-researched, well-plotted and does not rely solely on lots of description to create an atmosphere of the time. It feels a little like time travel in a book, and I really enjoy that.

Divine Rivals by Rebecca Ross

This is a case of bookstagram made me do it. Fantasy or magical realism is not my usual go-to genre, but this book seemed to be getting so much love that I felt I needed to give it a go. Especially as it was a bargain price on Kindle (yes, I have one, no it is not substitute for a real book, and yes I am pretty sure I will still be buying just as many physical books).

This was just a fantastic story. Two rival journalists who seem to wind each other up, Iris and Kitt, both have the ambition to be the best at what they do, yet neither is satisfied with the current hand that they have been dealt. However, they have both been finding solace in the letters that they have been writing to ‘strangers’, thanks to their magic typewriters. Kitt is expected to make a match arranged by his father. And Iris has recently lost her brother to the war (is he still alive?) and her mother to an accident. So, both make the decision to become war reporters, and report on the war raging between the gods – bringing them closer together and forcing them both to re-evaluate their relationship.

Kitt and Iris are fantastic characters, and this is a wonderful story – I can see why it has become quite the success it has. This is not heavy fantasy, and it is as much about the relationship between Kitt and Iris as it is the fantastical world in which they live, and, of course, the war between the gods. This is a book that will appeal to those who like a good story as much as those who like a good fantasy. It has definitely left me keen to read the second book of the duology, and I can be a nightmare for remembering to do that (I have still only read 2 of the 3 ‘Shadow and Bone’ stories – and I really enjoyed those, so I have no idea why number 3 is still sitting on my shelf).

Do not fear the hype; give ‘Divine Rivals’ a go – especially if you want to dip your toe into the world of fantasy – this could be a great place to start.

One Last Secret by Adele Parks

Book and Pudding Club’s pick for January was ‘One Last Secret’ by Adele Parks. This was the first book that I had read by this author.

This was quite an intense thriller, and was certainly not quite what I expected (as someone who does not read blurbs) – Dora has been working as a high-class escort in London; a career path she chose after the birth of her child, Dottie. But now Dora has met Evan and it is time for her to make a change: she is engaged and there is no need for her to work any more. However, she is asked to do one last job: fly to a Chateau in France and pretend, just one more time, to be the girlfriend of one of her clients. What sounds like an idyllic weekend away soon becomes a nightmare for Dora – and, slowly, secrets are revealed and everything starts to unravel.

This is quite a claustrophobic read (and does need to carry a few trigger warnings), and it all adds to the intense atmosphere of the story. I am not sure that it is a book I would have picked up without book club, but I did find it a compulsive read – and it would certainly make a fantastic TV series.

As a book club discussion, we realised how invested we actually all became in the story, as we wanted a prequel and a sequel to the story, and we think there is so much more we could find out about Dora and some of the truths that came out in this book. So, this is certainly a book that makes a great discussion point – even if you are not a huge fan of the story, it creates so many points that are worth discussing.

I am not sure that I would necessarily read more books by Adele Parks, as, although I did enjoy this one, I would not have picked it up without book club – and, with so many books to read, I am not sure they will ever necessarily be at the top of the wishlist. Sometimes it is good to end on a high.

The Woman Who Lied by Claire Douglas

The Book Taster got us off to a thrilling start for 2024 with the January pick of ‘The Woman Who Lied’ by Claire Douglas. This is my first book by Claire Douglas and I am pretty sure that it will not be my last.

This was a fantastic page-turning thriller (yes, I have used that cliche phrase) and a great concept for a thriller too. Emilia Ward is an author of detective fiction and she is about to publish her final book with her famous chracter, Detective Miranda Moody. However, this does not quite become the celebration it should, as she suddenly seems to be living the story she created in her book. Was this story really from her imagination? Where did the inspiration for her final Detective Moody story really come from? And is Emilia’s perfect life about to come crashing down around her?

I found this a very well-plotted thriller. There are some fantastic red herrings woven into the plot. You are led down all sorts of paths, just like Emilia, only to find that you are completely off course. And, for me, that is the sign of a fantastic thriller. I did not reach the correct conclusion, and actually really enjoyed how this book ended, as I had not seen it coming. Although I admit that I do not read these to attempt to solve them, I read them to be able to have some complete escapism from the real world, and that is exactly what this book was for me.

I am looking forward to hearing Claire Douglas talk about her writing and her books at our book club meeting. And I will definitely be reading some of the backlist, because I always enjoy a good thriller.