The Heatwave by Kate Riordan

This month’s ‘Tasting Notes Book Club‘ pick was ‘The Heatwave’. This was not what I was expecting, and was a prime example of not judging a book by its cover.

By looking at this book, I thought it was going to be a ‘summer read’. Something easy and gentle to enjoy as the summer draws to an end. However, this book is so much more. This is a sophisticated and stylish thriller – you will be hooked as soon as you start, because the mysterious atmosphere is generated almost immediately.

Set during a heatwave in France, Sylvie returns to a family house in the south. She is keen to sell the house and, with it, hopefully leave painful memories in the past. The question is – what exactly did happen to Elodie? What is the past that Sylvie is trying to forget?

Told between the past and the story’s present, there is an excellent slow pace to the tale that builds suspense and mystery. In fact, you feel as though you are in the south of France enjoying the slower pace of life in the summer. Although, it feels there is always an element of threat hanging over the tale in its present and its past.

I think this is a book that I could have easily overlooked if I had not been part of the ‘Tasting Notes Book Club’ – so, that is another reason why book clubs are such a fantastic idea. If you are looking for an atmospheric thriller as summer fades, this is the book for you!

The Midnight Library by Matt Haig

This was one of my most anticipated reads of the year and found itself right at the top of the tbr pile as soon as it arrived. And it was just as expected, brilliant.

Nora Seed is not really enjoying life and makes the decision that she does not really want to carry on. However, this takes her to the Midnight Library, which offers her the chance to see other paths her life could have taken if she had made slightly different choices. This gives Nora the chance to reflect on life in a way that she never thought possible.

What I love about this book (very similar to ‘How to Stop Time’) is that it feels like possible fantasy. Could there really be an opportunity for us all to reflect on the choices we have made through life? Or, maybe, this book is a lesson to us all to consider how we make our decisions and the path that our lives are taking.

There is a little piece of Nora in all of us. We have all wondered about some of the choices we have made and the life we have been living. However, when we have the time to reflect, life can be the greatest gift we have been given.

Matt Haig’s writing is beautiful. His characters are engaging, and, the tale is thought-provoking and may even lead you to make some changes. Or appreciate what you have a lot more.

Why Visit America by Matthew Baker

What a BOOK! I could end my post there – summarising how I felt about this collection of stories in one sweeping statement, but I feel there is even more I could say to make you pick up this book.

I was lucky enough to be gifted this book as part of a Tandem Collective readalong on Instagram. This is a book that I would have been very unlikely to have picked up in the real world – dystopian short stories would not have been my usual choice (I am not a short story fan). However, I would have missed out on the most fascinating collection of tales which are eerily likely with the path that this strange world is taking. Baker tackles all sorts of ethical issues in his stories, including how the over-population of the planet may be handled – and the ever-present issues of immigration. Every story is incredibly thought-provoking and just when you think he cannot surprise you any more, you read the next tale.

The stories are rooted in the United States, but you could transfer them to any of the rich nations of the world. And they almost make you more concious of the countries and people who do not have the same wealth. You will certainly look at yourself and the kind of person you are.

Yet, what struck me the most was how much I could relate it to the history of America and how the nation was established. It is telling that the cover has a buffalo on it. I could see so many parallels to the attempts by settlers to destroy a culture and establish a new one in their own vision – blinkered to the ideas of ‘outsiders’ despite being the ‘invaders’. Although, maybe that is just my own take.

This could well be one of my books of the year. A fantastic and engaging collection of stories that can spark debate and reflection. I think the hardest job is picking your favourite, and not recommending it to every single person you meet.

Lost You by Haylen Beck

A new thriller to me this summer is ‘Lost You’ but Haylen Beck. To begin with, well from the title, I thought it may be the usual tale of relationships within a family. However, I was a little wrong. This was a clever and slick tale which did not at all follow the path I was entirely expecting. In fact, it raises quite some moral questions.

I do not wish to spoil the plots and twists of this book – always an issue when you come to review/share thoughts on a thriller. However, this is certainly not your usual missing child thriller – it is far more complex that that. All the moral questions are raised around the ideas of surrogacy – and potential power games and manipulation of vulnerable people (for many different reasons).

As the tale develops, I am not sure that the twists are a surprise, however it is still a well constructed narrative and a page-turner. Quite a study of people’s psychology and the impact events can have.

A book for fans of modern thrillers, especially with a very modern theme.

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

I have rejoined reading along with ‘Maidens of Murder’. I only took a break as I had only just read the June choice. However, July’s choice is ‘Appointment with Death’, a story with my favourite Christie character Poirot.

This was a classic Poirot, for me. I really enjoyed reading this book from the moment I started. This was a fabulous read, as it has the Queen of Crime’s best signature ingredients. There is the exotic setting of the red cliffs of Petra; there is the really rather villianous Mrs Boynton; a colourful collection of other travellers and, of course, a murder.

This was a page-turner for me as it reminded me of my favourite, ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. A murder takes place and there is quite a psychological study of the characters along the way. However, a theme that everyone involved seems to return to is the idea of sacrifice for the greater good. Does the death of the victim create a much better life for many of the other characters? Christie creates quite a philosophical question within the novel – just as she does with ‘Murder on the Orient Express’.

If this is a Poirot you have not yet read, then I would highly recommend it. You will not be disappointed if you love a classic Poirot murder mystery.

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware

A creepy house in the highlands of Scotland, slightly strange children and a poison garden – what a recipe for a novel.

‘The Turn of the Key’ is an excellent thriller, clearly inspired by the chilling 19th-century ghost stories – a well-crafted, serious page-turner. Ruth Ware has managed to bring thrilling, chilling stories bang up to date.

A dream job very quickly becomes a nightmare. Rowan answers an advert for an idyllic-sounding nannying job in Scotland. However, the family’s state-of-the-art house does not make the job easy. There are many unexplained goings-on and the children are not accepting Rowan the way she hoped. However, there is far worse to come…

This book, told as a reflective letter, is a compelling read. I found myself keen to know what was going to happen. In fact, I did not see any of the twists coming. On reflection, there were hints of one or two, but the biggest twist was the excellent reveal.

This is a great book for anyone who enjoys thrillers and mysteries. A really enjoyable and well-written read. I am glad, again, to have discovered a new author. My only regret is that i did not read it during Autumn, as it would be perfect foe those darker, stormier nights.

Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evarista

I am not usually one to pick up a book if it is award-winning. I don’t avoid them; I just don’t seek them out. However, as it is pride month, and there is so much support (as there always should be) for diversity of all kinds in fiction, this book seemed like a great choice. It was also a chance for me to discover a new author.

This book is engaging from the word go and really difficult to put down. It is a really clever tale about 12 women who have stories that interlink, even if ther are not aware of it. However, it is not just their stories that absorbing, but all the themes that are explored throughout this book. There is the exploration of gender and what it means to be a woman – is there a set rule? There is an exploration of racial and heritage identity which was probably the most fascinating to me. It is such a complex issue, which we are fully aware has been thrust to the forefront of all our minds at the moment.

I do not feel that I can give this book the justice it deserves. Especially without spoiling it for others who may like to read it. Yet, it is true that it is a book that will stay with you. It will make you think about the world around you. And you will certainly be reflecting on your relationships, friends, family, acquaintances and lovers. Do you really ‘know’ everyone?

I really do not think I can express how utterly stunning this book is, other than to urge you to read it if you haven’t. I will certainly be seeking out more of Bernadine Evaristo’s books…hearing amazing things about ‘Mr Loverman’.

Noah Could Never by Simon James Green

Now, it is not often I read a sequel so quickly, but as I am reading with pride this month, I had to find out what happened next to Noah Grimes.

I enjoyed this title even more that the first one. I mean, poor Noah’s awkward adventures do feel like they only happen to him, but – just like the first – I think we all remember how everything seems like such a big deal when you are young. Especially, in this case, if you took part in a school exchange (mine was to Italy).

However, what is really important in this book is the development of Noah and Harry’s relationship. There is such a minefield to teenage relationships and the insecurities that come with it. I felt it was handled really well in Green’s novel, He makes it clear, through Noah and Harry, that there is no ‘normal’; all relationships are individual. By the end, I think Noah learns a very important lesson about love.

There really are a lovely light-hearted read, especially in these strange times. I mean, who can’t help getting the giggles at the thought of a goose swallowing the diamonds (although I did wonder if this was a nod to ‘The Adventures of the Blue Carbuncle’ by the wonderful Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). And, if you are a fan of pretty much any detective novel, you will relate to Noah’s rather over-active imagination.

There books are simply a delight, with a colourful cast of characters finding their way in the world (and that is not just the teenagers) and through relationships.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

I would like to thank my lovely bookstagram friend Mrs D for encouraging me to have a ‘Great Expectations Buddy Read’. This is a book that I remember having a go at about 10 years ago, but I didn’t get very far. I think Dickens has always seemed daunting, so I needed a bit of a push to give it a go.

‘Great Expectations’ is a story that I am sure so many of us think we know. It is certainly a tale I thought I knew from various film and television adaptations. However, there is so much more to the book that I think you would ever be able to transfer to the screen. It also struck me that this always seems to follow set ideas when it is adapted. Pip always seems to be played as an innocent, Miss Havisham as so old and odd, and Estella as simply cold-hearted. That is, of course, part of their characters but not the be all and end all. Dickens has such a creative way of crafting his characters that they are never so simple.

The story of Pip and his coming of age is a great adventure but also highlights some real flaws in human nature. Especially some of the expectations we and society place place on ourselves and, sometime, there expectations are also our undoing. However, there is also the ease with which some people are manipulated or moulded into a certain way of being and thinking about themselves or others.

Dickens’ writing style brings every single moment of this story to life. You really feel you are on the marshes and in London – and especially when you are in the walls of ‘Satis House’, that famous home of Miss Havisham. The settings are as much part of the story as the characters and the action.

Reading this has certainly given me the bug to read more Dickens. Although, I cannot deny that I am still a little intimidated by some of his larger books.

Do you have a favourite Dickens novel?

Hideous Beauty by William Hussey

This book was in that I chose to read as June is Pride Month. It is a book that, again, I have discovered thanks to the Bookstagram community.

‘Hideous Beauty’ is quite a book. There is so much amongst its pages to think about – this is certainly not just a story. This is a book that tackles some really complex issues – well, to be honest it should not be complex but sadly for some people it is and it is reality.

This book is clever. It has within its pages a mystery that needs solving – what are the secrets that Ellis has been keeping from Dylan? However, is it just about Ellis’ secrets? This is quie an investigation of relationships. Relationships of all kinds – romantic, family, friendships – all are tackled in this book and, in parts, quite closely examined. Sometime with surprising outcomes and, sometimes, with really tragic outcomes. (There will be tears).

However, as William Hussey says himseflf in a letter to his readers, he has tackled some of the ugly reality faced by members of the LGBTQ+ community. For some, that may make for uncomfortable reading, but if it makes for people think and causes them to take responsibility for their education, or re-education that can only be a good thing.

I feel I can do this book justice. It needs to be a book that is read to be fully appreciated. It is a real emotional page-turner that will stay with you for a long time. If you are going to pick this novel up, know that it does contain a trigger warning for some of the issues it tackles.