Weirdo by Sara Pascoe

The July choice for ‘The Book Taster Book Club’ was ‘Weirdo’ by Sara Pascoe. This was a book that I had my eye on for some time, so it was a perfect excuse to pick it up and read it.

I can see why this book may be a Marmite book – and I definitely do not think that it is a book that will be for everyone, but I rather enjoyed it.

This story is told as a stream of consciousness, like we are living in the head of our main character, Sophie. And, for some, this may be a little jarring, but I rather enjoyed this as a reader. We all live in our heads sometimes, like Sophie, and we often have thoughts that may trigger other thoughts and cause us to jump around in our own heads. For me, this was really interesting, as little moments can often cause another memory or idea to be sparked – and this is what happens throughout the story. Sophie unpacks her past as she lives in her present, which takes her on a journey of self-discovery, as she realises that maybe there is not such a thing as perfection. But she also begins to understand why her present may have been impacted by her past…

Sophie also has a whole host of difficult and dysfunctional relationships to address in her life. These have certainly impacted the Sophie that she has become and need a bit of shaking off if she is going to move forward with her life.

So, as much as I appreciate that this book will not be everyone’s cup of tea, I think that there were a number of features that are probably quite relatable to many young women. The overthinking is definitely something that I could relate to, as was the way we jump around with our thoughts. This is especially true if we are feeling isolated or alone, which is how Sophie is feeling in this stage of her life. And I think there is an important lesson to us all that we should never let anyone dull our shine, or tell us that we are not worth being exactly what we want to be.

You Are Here by David Nicholls

Like so much of the book world, I was over the moon when I knew we were getting a new book from the pen of David Nicholls. I am an original fan of ‘One Day’, ‘Starter for Ten’ and ‘Us’ (‘Sweet Sorrow’ is on my shelf waiting to be read, and ‘The Understudy’ is on the wishlist) and, like so many, had my heart broken all over again by the recent Netflix adaptation of ‘One Day’. I was confident that ‘You Are Here’ would not disappoint, especially after hearing David Nicholls speak at the recent Stratford Literary Festival.

So, I was even more over the moon when ‘The Book Taster’ announced that this would be our June book pick, because that meant I had a whole host of lovely book buddies to read this book with and the chance to meet, discuss it and hear David Nicholls speak again.

‘You Are Here’ is just brilliant. I could end my review there, as this book is going to be up there as one of my top reads of the year (I never manage to have just one). This is a story that contains everything that you expect from the books of David Nicholls. Marnie and Michael are two beautiful characters who are incredibly easy to relate to (as my day job is a leading a humanities department, I can confirm that Michael is very much a geography teacher, with a geography teacher’s sense of humour). I would love to bump into these two and have a drink and a catch-up with them, especially as Marnie is a fan of ‘Wuthering Heights’. The plot is delightful, with humour and romance to satisfy us all; it is definitely a cosy read – none of that is a spoiler because, if you are a fan of David Nicholls, these things will not be a surprise.

But the thing I loved the most about this book was the beautiful, descriptive writing. I shared a wonderful paragraph about Euston Station with other readers because it was just so brilliantly written, and I think may well be one of my favourite pieces of writing in a book (and I never thought anything involving Euston Station would be my favourite…).

You feel you are there with Michael and Marnie at every moment throughout this book. There is a humour in the writing that is a joy to read; you smile as you read this book, and you feel like you are an old friend – and I may even have shed a little tear at one moment, too, which is also probably no surprise.

In a world that is far from ideal at the moment, where we all need a little escapism, this is a book that can give you exactly what you need – a hug in book form, and a pure moment of joy.

How to Build a Boat by Elaine Feeney

The May Book Club from ‘The Book Taster’ was ‘How to Build a Boat’ by Elaine Feeney. This is a book that I had half an eye on, so it being the monthly pick for book club meant that I would definitely have to read it. I also love the paperback cover, as it is very similar to a watercolour painting and, as my Grandad was a watercolour artist, it added an extra appeal.

‘How to Build a Boat’ is a slow burn of a book, but it is certainly worth it, and that adds to the beauty of the story. (Warning: there is a lack of speech marks, but this does not bother me as it does some other readers). Jamie’s mother died when he was born and he has been brought up by his father and his grandmother. As he has got older, he is becoming worried that maybe he is forgetting her and he wants a connection to her that will stop that from happening at the same time that he is dealing with starting a new school.

This leads him to forming a connection to his teachers, Tess and Tadhg, both of whom are also feeling a little lost, for different reasons. Together, with some help from others, they build a boat – and this project and the new friendships and relationships formed along the way take them all on some journeys of self-discovery. In fact, they may end up on their greatest adventure.

This book reminded me of ‘The Colony‘, which we read at book club last year. A beautifully constructed story, very well written, that touches on so many important topics and stays with you a long time after you have finished reading the book. I am still thinking about Jamie O’Neill and his friends, and hoping that they are still forging their paths to happiness, after some struggles along the way.

I am not always interested in books which make longlists or shortlists, but this is deserving of its place on ‘The Booker Longlist 2023’, as it is a special book. It was also one that was chosen by ‘Between the Covers’ on BBC Two, and I hope that also brought it to a wider audience, because it is a book that deserves to be read by everyone.

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 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.

Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell

With a lovely bunch og bookstagrammers who form ‘The Big Classics Book Club’, I have just finished ‘Gone with the Wind’. Confession number one: I have never seen the film. Confession number two: I would never have read the book without my lovely book club pals.

‘Gone with the Wind’ is a wonderful story. I realise that some of the attitudes and language may be questionable in our more enlightened times, however, you read it with modern eyes and historical context. The writing is delightful; I was drawn in from page one. The characters are so vividly created, you have images of each in your head as you read. And the drama – I am not sure I have ever read anything so melodramatic (and addictive).

Also, there are some surprises and, for me, that was the strong female leads. Scarlett, although a little Marmite at times, is a fantastic character; an incredibly strong and determined young woman, even in the darkest of times. And Melly, her most loyal friend, has a quiet strength that eventually shines in the story.

In fact, the men are often the foolish characters. Although, Rhett Butler, with all his faults, is quite a romantic hero.

I was honestly blown away by this book. My love of history wants to research all the events and my love of reading adored the escapism and the drama.

So, please, don’t be put off by those big classics – find a buddy and read them. They honestly can be quite surprising.

All the Lonely People by Mike Gayle

Oh Wow!

Why have I left it so long to pick up a book by Mike Gayle?

I decided that I would have a go at taking part in the ‘The Book Taster – Book Club‘ this month, and the chosen book was ‘All the Lonely People’ by Mike Gayle.

This is a book with a great collection of characters but, most importantly, a really key message about our society – past and present. I am not sure I have ever read a book that has hit me in the heart from the moment I started.

Hubert Bird is a wonderful character; he reminded me of my own grandparents, but sadly he is lonely, even if he does not realise it. Yet, as we follow Hubert’s journey, past and present, he begins with those he encounters along the way to tackle loneliness – and not just his own. However, this is not the only topic tackled in this book. It really addresses major social issues that we may wish were in the past, such as racism and the Windrush Scandal, but that we know we should address and tackle every day. Also, just as you think Mike Gayle can not throw another emotinal curve-ball at you, he does – happy or sad.

This is probably one of my books of the year. Although, at points, I was reading it through tears because of some personal experiences, it was still a great read.

Mike Gayle writes beautifully and all his characters are so engaging. I feel that I have some catching up to do on his previous books. This was an excellent choice for the first month of ‘The Book Taster – Book Club’.