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.

Dog Days by Ericka Waller

This book has been on my shelf for quite some time, since it was kindly sent to me by a lovely Bookstagram buddy. However, as soon as I saw that Ericka Waller is one of the guests at the next ‘Book Taster Live’, I knew I had to make it a priority on the tbr pile.

This book is an emotional rollercoaster of a read, but is also a true love letter to our canine friends. We meet three very different characters: George, a rather grumpy old man who has just lost his wife of 50 years; Dan, who has spent a lot of his time as a counsellor helping others, but has not always helped himself, and Lizzie, who appears to have left an abusive relationship to protect herself and her son. They are three very different characters, with their own struggles in life, but they all know the love a good dog provides – that constant companion that is alway by their side, whatever life throws at them.

I really enjoyed this book because, despite tackling some very difficult topics such as grief and mental health, it is done with care from the first page. The characters are so beautifully created that you feel like you are on their journeys with them, and that they are real people – and the dogs are all just as important characters, as they offer the emotional support to our three lead characters. There are some surprises along the way as you discover why George, Dan and Lizzie are quite as they are and you follow them as they get to where they need to be. It is like three stories in one, even though the characters are a little more connected than they may realise.

I could not put this down; I was always invested in finding out more about George, Dan and Lizzie – and hoping that each would find their happy ending. Or, at least, would find what they needed to be able to, to reach a happy ending or find closure on something that they need to leave in the past and move forward.

This is such a clever concept of a book, as there is so much amongst its pages about what it is to be human, to love, to lose and to have a constant and loyal companion (even if George does not even know that is exactly what he needs). I will be sharing this book with others, as I think it is a book that will mean something different to each reader. And I am now really looking forward to the chance to meet Ericka Waller at the next Book Taster Live event.