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.

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.

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.

Fault Lines by Emily Itami

This month’s ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ pick is ‘Fault Lines’. A book which was shortlisted for ‘The Costa First Novel Award’. This, and I know I say it a lot, is not a book I would have picked up without the book club.

A piece of contemporary fiction, this tells the story of Mizuki, living in Tokyo with her family. With two young children and her hard-working husband, who does not seem to be around or present all too often, she is living the life of a housewife. A life that many may envy her for, as she has a nice city-centre apartment and appears to want for nothing. Yet, Mizuki does want something: she wants more; she wants to feel alive and thinks maybe there would be more to life if she had made different decisions along the way. And when she meets Kiyoshi, she gets a glimpse of another life, and events lead her to having to make some decisions about what exactly she wants in life.

I found this an easy read and well-written, nothing too taxing, but it is not a favourite read of mine. I did not feel attached to any of the characters and, rather than feeling involved as a reader, I simply felt like an observer of events. And, do not get me wrong, these events seemed perfectly feasible, but it just did not have me all the invested in what is happening – I was not too fussed which path Mizuki chose.

This does not mean that I would not read any other books by Emily Itami, as her writing style is lovely, and I would like to see where she went next with her books.

I Give It A Year by Helen Whitaker

This month’s choice from ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ was ‘I Give It A Year’ by Helen Whitaker.

This was a beautiful read in January. Iris has discovered that her husband has been having an affair and, as a result, they decided that they will give the relationship a year before making any final decisions. Now, I realise that may sound like a strange concept to be a perfect January read; however, it really is. As Iris works her way through the year, she goes on a real journey of self-discovery. She finds out a lot about who she has become and how her different realtionships have developed – even though she may have missed it or did not realise it. After Iris’ challenging year, she comes out with a new-found confidence but also a better understanding of the world around her and the people she shares it with.

It is quite an emotional read at points, and I think it will be a different emotional read for each reader, as it tackles quite a range of subjects. For me, personally, I found the dementia stroyline a real tear-jerker. However, for others, it may be one of the different relationship threads.

Yet, this is a really enjoyable book that presents a wonderful study of relationships and character, with a wonderfully strong female lead. It has been a joy to discover a new author at the start of a new year – and can not wait until book club.

The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney by Okechukwu Nzelu

November’s pick of ‘The Tasting Notes Book Club’ from the fantastic ‘The Book Taster’, was ‘The Private Joys of Nnenna Maloney’ by Okechukwu Nzelu. And I absolutely loved this book, reading it in one weekend.

This the the debut novel from the pen of Okechukwu Nzelu, and I thought it was such a fantastic story and so readable. This book has a range of characters whose lives are entwined as they are all on a voyage of discovery about themselves, their identity and their place in the world. Nnenna has never met her father, and as she is reaching her late teens and thinking about moving out into the world, away from home, she starts to think it is time to find out more about her heritage. This impacts many of the relationships around her and lets us find out about the past, as her mother tackles this changing relationship too.

However, this novel does not just tackle identity, but also so many other key issues, such as mental health and racism.

It is an absolutely fascinating book and really had me thinking about all of the things that shape us and our beliefs. And sometimes how that leads us to make some tough decisions.

Nzelu is a talented writer with clearly a lot that he wants to share with the world. I would love to read more from him, especially if it happend to be the story of Maurice or Jonathan (just an idea – haha!).

So, if you want to discover a new author with so much to share, this is the book for you.

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!

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’.