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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

One for Sorrow, Two for Joy by Marie-Claire Amuah

The November pick for the online book club from ‘The Book Taster’ was ‘One for Sorrow, Two for Joy’ by Marie-Claire Amuah. And I know we should not judge a book by its cover, but, oh my word, what an absolutely stunning cover this book has. If you have not seen it, check it out because it is just an absolute joy to look at. Although do not be fooled that this book is a light read; it is a fantastic story, but it tackles some tough topics, including domestic abuse and mental health issues.

We follow Stella from her troubled childhood into what appears to be a very successful career in law. She has a close group of friends and may even have found herself a wonderful man. But as the tale unfolds, is history just repeating itself? Is Stella in the same cycle she was in as a child, or is she repeating the experience that she witnessed her mother go through? Stella is forced to take a long-hard look at her present, her past and maybe re-evaluate the relationship she has with her brother. Is her view of him the correct one, or was his childhood also hard, but in a different way that Stella may have missed?

This is a beautifully written book that tackles difficult topics with sensitivity and, although moments may shock, it is all part of the narrative, and not just an attempt to make the read shocking. It will definitely be a book that is worth discussing with a book club. There are so many thought-provoking moments amongst its pages. However, I think the thing that really struck me was the importance of self-worth, and how the emotions we have towards ourselves can have so much of an impact on us and our decisions, even if we do not always realise it. As well as the importance of friendship, and in this case sisterhood, our friends are often the family we choose, and they are often some of the people who offer us more support than we may realise.

Tell Me How This Ends by Jo Leevers

The October pick for ‘The Book Taster Online Book Club‘ is ‘Tell Me How This Ends’ by Jo Leevers. This was not a book I had heard of, but it has been a BBC Radio 2 Book Club pick and the cover is beautiful, so I was intrigued to pick it up and get started.

I loved this book; I found it so difficult to put it down, and every evening I was desperate to settle down and carry on reading because I just had to know – well – how it was going to end. Henrietta and Annie are thrown together as Henrietta gets a job recording and writing people’s life stories, and she is given the task of helping Annie record her story. This experience blossoms into a friendship as they both (without realising it) support each other in coming to terms with their past, and some of the ghosts and mysteries that haunt them. Although the idea is that Henrietta is writing the stories of those who are aware that they are facing the end of their lives, this is not a sad story. In fact, it is a clear story of hope and friendship. Even in the toughest of times, there can be a light, as both characters are freed from those who have not allowed them to shine as they should.

I am not sure I can do this book justice without giving too much away. But I found it so engaging, and I was rooting for Annie and Henrietta throughout – just pleased that they had found friendship with each other. It is a friendship that crosses the generations and these are some of the best friendships in fiction. It reminded me a little of the friendship in ‘Lenny and Margot’, although the gap is not quite as large. And I considered the new friendship that was found again at the end of the book an absolute joy.

Please be aware that this book does tackle the subject of cancer and grief, but this is handled so beautifully and, throughout the book, you know that these characters have been able to bring so much to each others’ lives. But, if you are a fan of ‘Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine‘ or ‘A Tidy Ending‘, I think you may enjoy this book, too.

The Love of my Life by Rosie Walsh

Honest post, I was not a huge fan of ‘The Man Who Didn’t Call’, which I know is a slightly unpopular opinion. But, as I always say, one of the great things about books is that we all like different things and form opinions that spark great discussions – and that is, of course, why book clubs are such a fantastic thing, too.

‘The Love of my Life’ has been picked as ‘The Book Taster’ book club pick for this month. And, to begin with, I was not sure if I would enjoy it based on the previous book; however, I was hooked from the moment I picked it up. This book was brilliant and very readable. I would consider it a mysterious and dramatic read, rather than a thriller (although some may see it is a domestic thriller) but, however you wish to categorise it, I could not stop reading it.

Emma and Leo appear to have a rather wonderful life; they have had some struggles (Emma’s ill health needs a bit of a TW here) but overall, things are good. Until Leo starts to realise that maybe he does not know as much about his wife Emma as he thinks. However, as Leo starts to jump to conclusions from his investigations, the truth is not quite what he expected.

There are a number of twists and turns along the way that make this story compusively readable. I am so glad that I did not judge this on the previous book, as for me this was so much better – a well-constructed drama from start to finish.

The Family Retreat by Bev Thomas

This month’s Tasting Notes Book Club title is ‘The Family Retreat’ by Bev Thomas.

I was not sure what to expect from this book as, I am sure you have gathered by now, I do not read blurbs – so the only idea had about it was that it may be considered a psychological thriller. Although, if you judged a book by its cover, I am not sure if that is the category that you would place it into as a reader.

However, having now read the book, I am not sure that I would consider it a psychological thriller. In fact, I am not even sure it is a thriller. It seems more like a piece of contemporary fiction, but it certainly evokes an atmosphere of the long English summer.

This book is told from the point of view of Jess, an overworked GP who is taking some time away from London with her family. We soon learn that this may not just be a simple family holiday, but that there is more to her decision to take this break. She meets a number of different characters during her time away, who all seem to have their own struggles, which Jess appears to get drawn into. The timeline of this tale is not always strictly chronological; there are moments when Jess reflects on events in the past, which for me did cause a little confusion in the story, and I am not sure they always really added to the narrative.

There are a large number of issues covered in this book, such as mental health issues and unhealthy, controlling relationships. I understand that it is important that such issues are covered in books, but I did feel that in this book there were a number of issues covered and maybe this led to them feeling like they had been touched on rather than fully tackled. They did not neccessarily add to the narrative of the story, although it can not be denied that it could and should start conversations about some of these issues.

This is certainly a book that will be worth discussing by book clubs and book groups – I think it will create a whole range of different opinions.