A Love Letter to The Book Taster

In 2020, when the world seemed a very different place, I took the plunge and joined an online book club – as a total introvert, this was not easy for me, but as we had all been shut away for quite some time, we all craved some normality. That online book club was created by Jenna, who owns The Book Taster – and that moment (this may sound a little dramatic) changed my bookish life.

Fast forward to 2024 and Saturday 11th May was the fourth annual ‘The Book Taster Live’, which has genuinely become a highlight of my year – and this year was no different. From the moment you arrive, you know you are amongst friends, many of whom started as friends in the little squares of Instagram or Zoom, and you know you are going to have a great day.

This year, we started off with the fantastic Kate Sawyer, author of ‘The Stranding‘ (which I have gifted to so many since reading it) and ‘This Family’ (which is on the tbr pile – I am sure nobody is surprised). Kate spoke to us about her journey to becoming an author, what inspired the fantastic ‘The Stranding’, and her newest publication, ‘This Family’. A very different theme to ‘This Family’ but it is true that relationships between people can be absolutely fascinating and it is always interesting to think what brought people to this moment that they are now living in. It was a joy to hear her speak about her varied careers and inspirations that had brought her to this moment.

Following hot on her heels we heard from Susan Fletcher as she spoke about her new book ‘The Night in Question’, which has been on my wishlist for quite some time. I absolutely cannot wait to pick this up and read it, but I have also ended up with another title on the wishlist, as I was not aware of the book ‘Let Me Tell You About the Man I Knew’. This is a book inspired by Van Gogh and one of the women he painted. As a huge fan of the art of Van Gogh and fascinated by the man himself, this sounded like a book I would really enjoy. And it reminded me of another joy of The Book Taster Live, that you discover books you may never have come across without this great event.

Ericka Waller followed next, and I would just love to sit and chat with her all over again (and if I could possibly be taught crochet, that would be great, too). Listening to her talk about the reasons she writes, the experiences of her life and the inspirations for her characters (George will always be a favourite character of mine) and stories was just beautiful. This woman is an inspiration and a truly beautiful soul. I am pretty sure that she had the whole audience in fits of giggles and tears and back again within seconds – and it was just a highlight of the event for me. Also, I love the idea of rescuing books from car boot sales and charity shops – that must be why I have so many, haha!

Now, I am often surprised by how long ago I have read a book, so when I picked up my copy of ‘The Girl of Ink and Stars’ that I realised how long I had been a fan of the books of Kiran Millwood Hargrave (the sticker on the front of the book referenced 2017). It will be no surprise that it was an absolute pleasure to hear her speak about what inspires her to write, as she has such a varied collection of titles to share with us all. The most recent, ‘In the Shadow of the Wolf Queen’ is (yes, you have guessed it) on my tbr pile, but I am certainly bumping it up after having heard Kiran talk about it – I mean, who knew there had been a rainforest in Wales; I certainly did not.

Fifth, we heard from the man who had brought us all togther as the OG Book Taster fans four years ago – Mike Gayle (‘All the Lonely People‘ was the first ever book we read as the book club). Mike summed up the importance of the event and community that Jenna has brought together from the moment he stepped on the stage – simply by saying how brilliant the whole event is. Mike talked about his new book ‘A Song of Me and You’ (which I have two copies of, as I could not miss out on the stunning paperback copy, too) and his writing career as a whole – and I can certainly assure him that he definitely makes his readers feel when they are reading his books (Mr Bookwormandtheatremouse can identify when I am reading a Mike Gayle by the tears).

Daisy Buchanan came next. A journalist, public speaker and author, it was brilliant to hear how she made the decision to write the books that she wanted to read, and that is what sparked her career as an author. But, also how important reading and books are to her, how they are a chance to bond with family and friends, and I love the idea that we can read ourselves happy, as books are a very special thing that can be enjoyed by so many. Daisy was so correct when she said that many of us bookworms are introverts who can become extroverts around the bookish community, as we all know that books bring us togther. This is a concept that has really stuck with me since the event.

And, finally, Matt Coyne, author of ‘Frank and Red’, which has been on the wishlist for quite some time and I saved for the event. Matt spoke about his inspiration for Frank and Red, which just sounds a joy (I can not wait to pick it up) and the transition he made from writing non-fiction as a ‘Dad blogger’ to writing fiction. There was so much humour and warmth as Matt spoke about his career and his family that he had the audience in stitches – and I am pretty sure I am going to be a big fan of both Frank and Red when I read the book. And, also, hearing him talk about his friendship with fellow author Sarah Turner (which does mean I now have another book on my tbr pile) was just lovely.

In fact, that is one of the best things about the event; Jenna is definitely the hostess with the mostess, and the conversations that take place on stage are so natural (and not always about books – pants and Cardi B were definitely not topics anyone was expecting – haha) that you feel like you are listening to two friends having a chat over coffee and cake. And, we would all like to sit and have coffee and cake with all of these authors.

But, you do not have to just sit and listen to these authors speak, you can meet each one, too, and have your books signed. And, as someone who is painfully shy,this can sometimes be something that I overthink and make myself nervous about, but each and every one made you feel welcome and had time for a chat, a photo – and even a hug (thank you Ericka). Because, let’s be honest, we are all a community of book lovers who just want to share the love of books at every opportunity.

So, this is a massive thank you to The Book Taster for creating such an incredible event and community (and for all the treats in the fantastic goody bags, which could be a whole other post). And this is a thank you to each and every author over the last four years who have been to speak to us and share their love of books – and thank you to each bookish buddy that I have made along the way. I have definitely found my tribe.

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.

Half A World Away by Mike Gayle

‘Half A World Away’ had been on the shelf far too long, and as I am making an effort to shop my shelves, I thought it was about time it was read. Especially as Mike Gayle has quite a backlist for me to catch up on.

Let us start with a key piece of information: just like all the other books I have read from the pen of Mike Gayle, this book made me cry. I mean, I had been warned by various bookstagrammers that this was a book that really tugged at those heart strings, but I do not think even I was prepared for quite how much this one was going to full-on yank on those heart strings. (Part 4 – oh, my word.)

Noah and Kerry are siblings, but they have been separated for many years after they were taken into care and their lives took very different roads. Noah was adopted by a loving family – Kerry was left in the system but she never forgot her younger brother and makes the decison to get in touch with him. Together, they embark on a journey of self-discovery as they are reunited and navigate their chance to rediscover family.

You fall in love with these characters, and their families (well, most of the members of their families) and you really enjoy being on their journey with them. You live their happiness and heartbreak – expect tears, sometimes of sadness and sometimes of joy. But your heart will be full when you finish this book, and you may have a little bit of a book hangover.

Do you have a favourite Mike Gayle book? If so, which do I need to read next?

The Man I Think I Know by Mike Gayle

Shopping my shelves is going well, as I have discovered another hidden gem that has been sitting there waiting for me to read it. I picked this up as my ‘To Be Read Pile Tarot Cards’ from Don’t Judge Books suggested I pick up a book by a male author and that led me to ‘The Man I Think I Know’.

I have enjoyed Mike Gayle’s book before, and the joy of having discovered him a little later in his career is that there is a whole back catalogue of books to start enjoying, too.

This book was truly wonderful. I know that it is not unusual to have male characters in books or male authors. However, it does seem unusual to have male characters written with such sensitivity and tackling some more complex emotions and relationships.

James has been struggling to rebuild his life since ‘The Incident’ changed his life forever, and destroyed his hopes and dreams. Danny has made some poor choices in life as a result of a tragic event in his family that he has been carrying the guilt for. Both men used to be on such different paths, but a twist of fate brings them back together in a way neither of them expected and together they help each other face their pasts and rebuild their lives. And a wonderful friendship blossoms along the way.

I really enjoyed the fact that this book gives male characters a more sensitive treatment. It allows them to be vulnerable and support each other through difficult times – and yet present them both as strong without losing the integrity of their character. For me, Mike Gayle has created characters, again, that I would quite happily sit down with and get to know more about.

This book made me laugh and made me cry (sometimes even happy tears) but has also stayed with me since I read that final word. I will be recommending this book to so many people as it was just wonderful and incredibly thought-provoking.

I have one more Mike Gayle on my shelves that is standing unread, so I will be sure to pick it up very soon, as he has so many wonderful stories to tell, about so many wonderful characters.

The Museum of Ordinary People by Mike Gayle

For two years, I have been lucky enough to be part of ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’, hosted by the wonderful The Book Taster. A wonderful ‘virtual’ book club that is made up of so many amazing bookworms who all share a love of books, the chance to talk about books and hear from the authors who write the books. It has led me to make some wonderful bookish friends and opened my eyes to so many books that I may not have read usually, while also introducing me to some fantastic small businesses, too.

And that first time two years ago, we read ‘All the Lonely People‘ (did you just sing that title? If you did not, I know you are fibbing) by Mike Gayle and, to bring us to the 2nd birthday celebrations, we have read ‘The Museum of Ordinary People’ – and it was another very special book.

This was a story that I felt really resonated with me; as someone who loves history, loves museums and loves stories – especially those stories that are important to people – this book was perfect. Jess’ mum has just died, and she has the job of clearing the house of all those things that had been important to her mum, and that hold so many memories for her.

When she realises that she really cannot throw out that old collection of encyclopaedias that her mum had bought her, she finds out that there is a ‘museum’ that will take them and look after them for her. Little does she know that this decision will lead to her changing her life, taking on something that she has always dreamed of doing, and discovering that maybe things have not always been as they seemed – not only for herself, but for those that she encounters along the way.

Mike Gayle really brings these characters to life on the page, and you feel like you are really getting to know them, their story and what makes them tick. And he can really evoke emotions in his readers – there may have been some tears as I read this novel.

The epilogue to this book was also excellent, I do not want to spoil what it is, but I thought it was such a beautiful touch to bring the book to a close.

So, now that I have hopefully convinced you that you should read this book, I am off to think about what possessions I have that would deserve a place in ‘The Museum of Ordinary People’…

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’.