Short Stories Challenge – A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop

Published November 24, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s A Man and Two Women all about?:

A Man and Two Women tells the story of two married couples who are also great friends although the arrival of a baby on one side tips relationships and the friendship between the four to potential breaking point.

What did I think?:

I was delighted when I discovered that this short story collection, edited by Victoria Hislop had stories by Doris Lessing within. I’ve heard a lot about the author – awarded the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in British Literature, ranked fifth on The Times list of the “50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945,” and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007 to cap it all off. I have one of her best loved novels The Golden Notebook on my Kindle with no idea when I was going to get round to reading it so this story came just at the right time to give me a bit of an introduction to her work. Now I’m so glad that I have read something of hers, this story was engaging, beautifully written with the most perfect of endings and it has definitely inspired me to pick up The Golden Notebook a bit sooner then I perhaps would have.

The main focus of this narrative is a woman called Stella whom, along with her husband Philip have become very close friends with another couple, Dorothy and Jack Bradford. Both Dorothy and Jack are artists and Stella can identify with them both being an artist herself so when Philip is away at work for extended periods of time (which happens quite often due to him being a journalist) she takes the opportunity to meet up with her friends, revelling in the joy that both the couples have strong, loving relationships.

However, since Stella last visited, Dorothy and Jack have had a baby and as Jack meets her at the station, she can immediately sense something is amiss although Jack’s character will not allow him to admit this openly. On seeing Dorothy again she is surprised by how much her friend has changed. She is obviously in complete awe and adoration of her son and we get the sense that Jack has taken somewhat of a back seat in her affections, either consciously or sub-consciously. She is then more confused when Dorothy begins talking about infidelity – whether she thinks that Philip is unfaithful to her when he is away on business which upsets Stella greatly and confiding in her that Jack admitted he was unfaithful fairly recently. It isn’t his infidelity that bothers Dorothy though, it is the fact that she isn’t bothered in the slightest!

The author really mixes things up with what Dorothy goes on to suggest. Although the idea isn’t particularly repugnant to any of them it has Stella questioning anything and everything about her friends’ relationship which she thought she knew so well and, more importantly, her own feelings and desires. Stella’s own morals and strength of character are tested to the limits but perhaps it is only when put in a situation like this do things become infinitely clearer.

This short story is extremely readable and a great introduction I think for someone like me who had never read any of Doris Lessing’s work before. She clearly has a talent for hooking the reader quite quickly and making them intrigued and interested enough in the characters to want to read to the end, just to find out what the outcome would be. It is a brilliant observation of human relationships, friendships, infidelity, the longevity of marriage, sexual desire and temptation. I also loved the statement that I believe the author was making in that having a child does not make a woman lose her identity, her desires or make her less desirable to others. The next time this collection rolls round it will be another short story by Doris Lessing and I really can’t wait now to read more of her work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove


Doris Lessing at the Lit Cologne literary festival in 2006 (photograph from Wikipedia)


Author Interview – Alexia Casale on her new YA novel House Of Windows

Published November 23, 2015 by bibliobeth



Shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Longlisted for The Branford Boase Award. A Book of the Year 2013 for the Financial Times and Independent.

A British-American citizen of Italian heritage, Alexia is an author, editor and writing consultant. She also teaches English Literature and Writing.

After an MA in Social & Political Sciences (Psychology major) then MPhil in Educational Psychology & Technology, both at Cambridge University, she took a break from academia and moved to New York. There she worked on a Tony-award-winning Broadway show before returning to England to complete a PhD and teaching qualification. In between, she worked as a West End script-critic, box-office manager for a music festival and executive editor of a human rights journal.

She’s not sure which side of the family her dyslexia comes from, but is resigned to the fact that madness runs in both. She loves cats, collects glass animals and interesting knives, and has always wanted a dragon.

Alexia is represented by Claire Wilson of Rogers, Coleridge & White.

Her debut novel, The Bone Dragon, is published in English by Faber & Faber, and in German by Carlsen.

Click on the books to get to the link for GoodReads!


For my review of The Bone Dragon, click HERE.


For my review of House Of Windows, click HERE.

Interview with Alexia Casale

I’d like to welcome Alexia to bibliobeth today and thank her very much for her time in giving this interview.

1.) House of Windows is a very different book to your debut The Bone Dragon. Did you set out to write such a completely different story or was it an idea that developed over time?

I started working on a version of House of Windows when I was thirteen, long before I thought of the pieces of story that became The Bone Dragon. Returning to this ‘old’ project after The Bone Dragon allowed me to start as I mean to go on by showing that I plan to write all sorts of books, across all sorts of genres: it’s the story and characters that attract me to a book, not the genre or readership. But I love that Faber took such trouble over the look of House of Windows so there was a connection between the two, at least with appearances!

bibliobeth (“Both the covers are absolutely beautiful, designed by Helen Crawford-White.”)

2.) Our main character in this novel is Nick and his story reads like a “coming of age” epic. Is he based on anyone you know and was it hard to say goodbye to him at the end?

Nick, or a version of Nick, has been living in my head since my early teens so I doubt I’ll ever be rid of him. The thing that’s changed is that he’s no longer demanding that I write his story: he’s out there between the pages to meet other people, so he doesn’t take up my time creatively any more. But he’s not gone, just like Evie’s not gone. I guess it’s like former colleagues who’ve become friends: it’s all fun now, rather than mostly hard work!

Different bits of Nick are based on different people. There’s a certain amount of me in him, as there is with any protagonist, then there are bits of various people I went to University with, and bits and bobs of family members and family friends… The people we meet and know and love and hate are how we understand how people work. No matter what a writer says, that’s the resource we all draw on to create characters.

3.) You paint a beautiful picture of Cambridge in the novel, a city that you know well. Did most of your research for this novel involve having to re-visit and why in particular did you choose to set your story here?

Going back to Cambridge is always wonderful and it was fantastic to have an excuse to revisit some of my favourite places in the University and the town. Mostly I went to take photos in case I needed them for publicity or promotions stuff – I’m hoping to make a book trailer once YA Shot is over! Cambridge is so close to my heart that I didn’t need to re-visit. That’s why the book had to be set in here: I had all the passion and joy in the place that Nick needed and it was a lovely thing to share with him. I got to fall in love with Cambridge all over again through him, sharing all the little details of one of my favourite places in the world.

IMG_4704-001 (1)

King’s Chapel in Cambridge from The Backs (photograph provided by author)

As for the ‘character’ of the University, most people imagine Cambridge is posh and snotty and that it takes itself very seriously, but that’s only true of some aspects and some people. The thing I’ve tried to capture is how Cambridge is a world unto itself and everyone plays along because it’s fun… but we all get how daft it all is. Take the language: you have to learn it because everyone stops speaking English at the gates, but that’s not a hardship because it’s basically a very silly game you all get to bond over. So what most people probably see as a way of excluding the rest of the world is more about building a sense of community around fun and not taking yourself or the whole Cambridge life too seriously. I really hope that comes across. But the bottom line is that Cambridge is beautiful and fascinating: the key aspects of most compelling settings.

IMG_4756-001Trinity Hall, Jerwood Library from Clare Bridge, Cambridge (photograph provided by author)

4.) You touch on some emotional subjects in this novel, in particular the relationship between Nick and his father. Do you think that if their relationship had been better Nick would have been a different person as a result?

Definitely! Nick is emotionally unintelligent and maybe he always would have been, but a loving, healthy family dynamic would doubtless have mitigated his natural cluelessness: it’s hard for someone who doesn’t naturally ‘get’ people if there’s no one to help him figure those things out. If even one of his parents had helped him learn how to relate to other people, he’d have lived a very different life. He’d still be super-smart but maybe if he had been busy having a social life and doing something other than studying and more studying, he wouldn’t have gone to Cambridge at 15… Which is not to say that Nick isn’t responsible for his own choices, but he is still a kid. He gets a lot of stuff wrong but I appreciate how little help he’s had in getting it right. Nick isn’t written to be likeable, but I really hope people will grow to understand him. Even if they still think he’s spiky, difficult little smart arse, I hope they’ll also empathise with him by the end of the story.

5.) Are you working on anything now and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Many things! I’m writing a WWII adult historical novel. And a psychological thriller in a similar vein to The Bone Dragon. And also the first in a potential series.
But obviously the main thing is YA Shot until November!

bibliobeth: (“I actually cannot wait!!”)

IMG_4992-001The Bridge Of Sighs at St John’s, Cambridge (photograph provided by author)

Now for some quick fire questions!:

E book or real book?
Real book EVERY TIME. As a professional editor, ebooks are too much like work.

Series or stand alone?
Depends. Series for fantasy. Standalone for thrillers. Series for historical. Standalone for literary/contemporary. Series for crime. Sometimes. Oh, I don’t know. Just give me all the books and an eternity to read them.

Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction for pleasure every time. As a researcher, I’m hardly anti non-fiction, but getting the most out of non-fiction is always hard work. Books are sometimes just for fun.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?
Online at the moment because of time and energy issues! But I LOVE secondhand bookstores. Many of my happiest family holidays of a kid were spent in Hay-on-Wye (aka Bliss-on-Earth).

Bookmarking or dog-earing?
Bookmarks for reading. Dog-earring for permanently marking things I think are amazing. Dog earring for recipe books.

Once again, a HUGE thank you to the lovely Alexia Casale for her efforts in making this interview possible. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next and be assured, I will definitely be reading it.

House of Windows was published on 6th August 2015 by Faber Children’s Books and is available from all good book retailers now. I also highly recommend her debut novel The Bone Dragon which was short-listed for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.

House Of Windows – Alexia Casale

Published November 22, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

‘The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.’ Robert Louis Stevenson

Nick hates it when people call him a genius. Sure, he’s going to Cambridge University aged 15, but he says that’s just because he works hard. And, secretly, he only works hard to get some kind of attention from his workaholic father.

Not that his strategy is working.

When he arrives at Cambridge, he finds the work hard and socialising even harder. Until, that is, he starts to cox for the college rowing crew and all hell breaks loose…

What did I think?:

Alexia Casale first drew me into her magical little world with her first novel The Bone Dragon and her latest YA effort, House of Windows, cemented me completely as a loyal and admiring fan. I think I should mention that it’s a very different novel to The Bone Dragon but this is in no way a slight to the author’s writing. In fact, I was left in awe by her accomplished style and undeniable talent in making me feel so much for a fictional character that is, to be perfectly honest, not a particularly likeable person at the start of the novel.

The story centres around Nick, a young boy who is so intelligent that he is about to embark on university life at Cambridge, no less, at the tender age of fifteen. Unfortunately he does not endear himself to anyone at the beginning – outwardly, he’s a bit of a smart-arse and tends to show off about how intelligent he is which is an annoyance to everyone he meets. But as the story continues, we begin to realise that Nick is a sensitive, sweet soul that just wants a niche to fit in and friends he can call his own.

When we meet Nick’s father, Michael, we understand a lot more about his character. The reasons behind his social awkwardness, his difficulty with people in general and his tendency to shut away a lot of his feelings are laid down in black and white. Michael is a workaholic and often absent in his son’s life, leaving a lot of Nick’s upbringing to family friends and leaving him to navigate the scary world of university almost completely alone without the advice and support that he should be providing. I really connected personally to Nick’s problems with his father and found him both enraging and exasperating. In fact, I referred to him in my mind as his father, genetically speaking and nothing else.

Despite Nick’s issues with his father, he manages to find a place of sorts in the university with the help of characters like Tim, Ange (beautiful, crazy fairy lady) and Professor Goswin who I had a real soft spot for. For the first time, we see Nick managing to open up, admit he is vulnerable and accept help in the unlikeliest of places. In the end, I felt like even though we can’t change what is given to us biologically family-wise, we can make our own family by surrounding ourselves with people who love and care for us and accept the person we are. The quote by Robert Louis Stevenson in the synopsis is a perfect way to describe this book, a coming of age epic that teaches us that there is nothing wrong with being ourselves and asking for help if we need it. Alexia Casale has written a simply stunning novel which slowly builds up to a narrative that affected me more than she will ever know.

“You’re not listening. Like so many people, you think that the important moments in the story of a life are big and loud, where really they’re small and quiet. Someone on the outside would think these moments unworthy of note, but you must recognise the important moments of your own life when they happen. It is very important.”

Come back tomorrow for my interview with the lovely Alexia Casale!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge – Beachcombing by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Published November 17, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s Beachcombing all about?:

Beachcombing explores the relationship between a grandmother and her grandson, the former having lived in a cave by the sea for a while now and has no plans on leaving any time soon.

What did I think?:

I think I was expecting great things from this short story purely based on the others I have read in the collection. Lucy Wood’s beautiful way with language and characters combines stories of ordinary, mundane daily life with a little bit of magic to create prose that you can’t help but admire. The stories are often steeped in Cornish folklore/legends and I’m thoroughly enjoying learning about mythological creatures or superstitions that I was previously unaware of. In Beachcombing, the other-worldly creature(s) are the buccas, a spirit that roams coastal towns and becomes something akin to a hobgoblin during storms, wreaking havoc and causing mayhem.

The two main characters in this story are Oscar and his grandmother whose home is in a cave on a beach where she moved for reasons unknown at the beginning of this tale. Oscar and his grandmother have a very special relationship which was very touching and made me smile. At times, they drive each other crazy but they clearly have a great affection for each other and are always looking out for the others welfare. One of their favourite things to do is to roam the beach looking for treasures that the sea has brought up with the waves. It is apparent that Grandma seems to be always looking for something else, something she may have lost and Oscar is always keen to show her his daily findings. She is the one who first teaches him about the buccas and we learn that on a stormy night, it is crucial to appease them by leaving a fish on the shore, something that she forgot to do one particular night. There were consequences because of her lapse that led to her immediately packing up essential items and moving into a cave on the beach, despite the protests of Oscar’s mother and father who have a place for her to stay in their own “normal,” home.

The story is divided into a number of small sections that covers both Oscar’s relationship with his grandmother, their little rituals when he comes to stay and describes the findings on the beach that have particular importance to them. All apart from one that is, which Oscar tries desperately to hide. I was under the impression at first that he was hiding his treasure simply because he wanted to keep it to himself, in the way that some young children may do. It turns out that it was a form of protection because when Grandma’s curiosity gets the better of her and she raids his hiding place, she becomes very upset and this in turn upsets Oscar. I was also unsure what to make of the ending of this tale, as with previous stories in this collection it is ambiguous but funnily enough, on a second reading of Beachcombing, I found it quite bitter-sweet and, thinking about it in retrospect, it was the perfect ending for a story like this.

It was only on a second reading of this story that I began to appreciate what a little gem it really is. Strangely enough, it was only on the second time round that I understood the incident that caused Grandma to uproot and live in the cave and once I had realised that, all the other pieces seemed to slot into place. I loved both Grandma and Oscar as characters, their relationship felt so authentic and even though they would clash sometimes, they loved each other deeply which made it a beautiful partnership to read about. This is such a clever story that once understood makes you think deeply about love and loss. For me, the icing on the cake was the introduction of the buccas, intriguing and occasionally malevolent little beings which immediately made me want to go and read up everything I could find on them! Lucy Wood has a wonderful talent for combining a bit of legend with contemporary life and her stories are all the stronger for it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop


A bucca, also known as a knacker, knocker, bwca or tommyknocker in Welsh, Cornish and Devon folklore, the equivalent of Irish leprechauns and English/Scottish brownies.

Image from



Talking About The Ice Twins by S.K. Tremayne with Chrissi Reads

Published November 16, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

A year after one of their identical twin daughters, Lydia, dies in an accident, Angus and Sarah Moorcraft move to the tiny Scottish island Angus inherited from his grandmother, hoping to put together the pieces of their shattered lives.

But when their surviving daughter, Kirstie, claims they have mistaken her identity—that she, in fact, is Lydia—their world comes crashing down once again.

As winter encroaches, Angus is forced to travel away from the island for work, Sarah is feeling isolated, and Kirstie (or is it Lydia?) is growing more disturbed. When a violent storm leaves Sarah and her daughter stranded, Sarah finds herself tortured by the past—what really happened on that fateful day one of her daughters died?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book before beginning?

BETH: I was immediately intrigued by the synopsis! I love contemporary fiction with a bit of a psychological or thriller edge and this story seemed to tick all of the right boxes. I hadn’t read anything by the author before (I think!) and I really enjoy finding new people to add to my “must read in the future if they bring out another book” list. It’s a book that is on the Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club list here in the UK and as you know, we always try to read the books that they recommend so I always look forward to those and, to top it all off, this book is set on a remote island in Scotland! As a proud Scot, I get stupidly excited about books that are set in the beautiful parts of my country.

BETH: Discuss if you think the relationship between Sarah and Angus has any effect on Kirstie’s well-being.

CHRISSI: I do think the relationship had an effect on Kirstie’s well-being. From working with children, I know that the smallest (and biggest) effect them massively. I don’t think we realise how much children are drinking in at times, even when we they’re busy, they’re still soaking up so much information. With Sarah and Angus, their marriage was crumbling right from the start. It would take a strong marriage to not be affected by what they were going through.

CHRISSI: There is a terrible dilemma at the heart of this novel that leads to the question- what would you do?

BETH: Ooh, this is so hard! Okay, so the dilemma is that after the horrific death of Lydia, one of the twins, the surviving twin Kirstie suddenly turns round and tells her mother that they made a mistake and she is in fact Lydia. The twins are identical, even their DNA would match and the twin that died has been cremated so there is no way to check which twin is which in retrospect. I’m actually a scientist and I think if I was the twin’s mother I would have desperately tried to find a scientific way in which we could check which twin had died and which one survived! It’s not a nice situation to be in and I think Sarah does a good job with how she deals with the situation. It is obvious her first priorities are with the mental well-being of the child left behind.

BETH: Do you think the photographs in the novel contributed anything to the atmosphere of the story?

CHRISSI: I always think it’s interesting when author’s include photographs. It doesn’t always work, but I think it did with this particular story. I feel like photographs don’t always work because sometimes they’re not how we imagine things in our heads. However, with this story I certainly got a sense of loneliness from the photographs. They matched the story perfectly.

CHRISSI: Unless you have read about the author before, the reader isn’t aware if the author is male or female. Do you think this matters? I personally thought it was a woman!

BETH: As I mentioned before, I haven’t come across the author before and it’s always interesting when they choose to use the initials of their first and middle name to keep us guessing as to their gender. I found out the gender of the author before I read this novel quite by accident but if I had to guess at a gender from the writing I would probably guess that they were female too! I hate to presume these things but sometimes there seems to be a certain style associated with male and female authors – however, I love being surprised and proved wrong.

BETH: There is a suggestion of a supernatural element to this story – do you believe in ghosts?

CHRISSI: Ooh, interesting question. I definitely believe in all things supernatural, even though it scares me sometimes. Well… all the time. I don’t know whether I’ve just got an overactive imagination, but I definitely think there’s SOMETHING there, and the hint of supernatural in this story was fascinating and so well done!

CHRISSI: Discuss the ending of the novel without spoilers if you can! What do you think life holds for the characters?

BETH: Oh dear. The ending of the novel provides a resolution of sorts I guess but I have to say I was extremely surprised by the way in which the author took it. I wasn’t expecting it at all and it was a bit more interesting than the resolution you might expect from this sort of novel. As for what life holds for the characters, it really could go either way. There are still a lot of issues within the family and perhaps follow up issues to come as Kirstie/Lydia is still quite young. I would actually love a follow up to this story – please S.K. Tremayne?

BETH: Would you read another book from this author?

CHRISSI: I certainly would. I was really impressed by S.K. Tremayne’s writing and would love to read more, especially in the psychological thriller genre. I LOVE the genre!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s star rating (out of 5):


CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):


The Tale Of The Duelling Neurosurgeons: The History Of The Human Brain As Revealed By True Stories Of Trauma, Madness and Recovery – Sam Kean

Published November 15, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

From the author of the best-seller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.

Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike-strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidents-and see how the victim coped. In many cases survival was miraculous, and observers could only marvel at the transformations that took place afterward, altering victims’ personalities. An injury to one section can leave a person unable to recognize loved ones; some brain trauma can even make you a pathological gambler, paedophile, or liar. But a few scientists realized that these injuries were an opportunity for studying brain function at its extremes. With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Sam Kean explains the brain’s secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible.

What did I think?:

I couldn’t resist The Duelling Neurosurgeons when I saw it, it’s got everything I could possibly ask for from a popular science book. Firstly, it focuses on arguably the most exciting and mysterious organ in the human body – the brain, which has always fascinated me ever since I studied a module on neuroscience as part of my first degree. Secondly, it combines triumphs (and disasters) of neurosurgeons through history and provides case studies of “real,” patients, some of whom left me dumbfounded. For example, the blind man who travelled the world by using echolocation and textbook studies such as Phineas Gage who received such a traumatic brain injury that it ended up changing his entire personality. Finally (and perhaps one of the things that excited me the most), Sam Kean introduces each chapter by providing a little puzzle or “rebus” to illustrate what the content of that particular chapter might be about.


This was so much fun and I was quite strict with myself, not going on to read the chapter until I had figured out the rebus. This proved quite frustrating with some of the trickier images!

Why The Duelling Neurosurgeons? Well, it all starts in 1559 where King Henri II of France receives a traumatic injury to his brain after a jousting accident. The two most prominent brain doctors of the day, Paré and Vesalius (who also founded what we know now as modern anatomy) were called to his bedside and although some of their methods for treating the king were quite primitive, essentially they both led the way for further experimentation and brain surgery today. For example, Paré was quite keen on strange concoctions and compresses, one in particular consisted of egg yolk, turpentine, earthworms and dead puppies. Each to their own I guess?!… He also devised a strange experiment that allowed him to differentiate between fatty tissue and brain tissue in a frying pan where fat was seen to liquefy and brain would shrivel.

There is a wealth of interesting information from case studies put forward in this book but I’ll just mention a couple of my favourites. The section on phantom limbs, where someone who has recently had a limb amputated can still feel pain in the area that the limb used to be was fascinating but did you know that some women who have had complete hysterectomies can still have phantom menstrual pains? Or there are even such things as phantom teeth, phantom penises and phantom erections? The topics covered by the author are intriguing, informative and endlessly thought-provoking. In fact, I’ve never had so much fun before reading a popular science book. I have the author’s first two books to read on my Kindle – The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb and if they’re half as entertaining as this one was, I’m in for a treat. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about this surprising and brilliant organ.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



The Bees – Laline Paull

Published November 13, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.

What did I think?:

I was first attracted to this book in Foyles where the beautiful bright yellow cover immediately attracted my eye but it was not until I read the intriguing synopsis that I knew I had to read it. Told from the point of view of a bee, Flora 717 is an unlikely heroine in a world that demands uniformity and perfection with no deviation from the norm allowed. It’s been described as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games and I can easily understand the comparisons but I think it’s also similar to books such as 1984 and Brave New World as a fascinating look at how a society can be brain-washed into believing certain ideals for the greater good as they imagine it.

Flora 717 begins her life in the Hive as a sanitation bee, the lowest caste of all bees and nothing is expected of them except to make sure the Hive was clean at all times. However, it’s not long before the higher caste bees begin to realise that Flora is no ordinary bee. For a start, she can speak – a function not given to the lower castes as it is not usually required. She can also produce “flow,” the substance given to developing larvae and for a while Flora is put to work in the Hive nursery, feeding and taking care of the infants. She is then given the opportunity to become a forager i.e. searching outside the Hive for as much pollen as she can carry back and becomes rather good at it. Even her bumblebee dances which explain to the other foragers where to get the best pollen and warn of any potential dangers, are praised and looked forward to on a daily basis.

It is not long before Flora is admitted into the inner sanctum of the Hive, where the Queen resides, attended to by high priestess bees. Once again, her intelligence and talents surprise everyone and surpass everything ever seen before from regular bees. It looks like life can only get better for Flora with ears in such high places, then something happens that has the potential to threaten everything she has ever known. Flora cannot help her response to such a situation and, as a result, must try desperately to hide her secret as much as she can. This is dangerous territory, especially when their Holy Mother the Queen is having problems of her own in a sensitive area that involves the future of the hive. Furthermore, the Hive Mind will always seek out any mutant bees or rogue thoughts in their midst that cannot be controlled by the sweet pheromones pumped out by the Queen Bee.

This was a really interesting and unique read, a dystopian fantasy from the perspective of a creature we normally take for granted, the humble bumblebee. I loved Flora as a main character, she had just the right amount of tenderness and rebellion to make her exciting and so very readable. The author has clearly carried out astute research into the life of bees yet I still had to laugh at the mental images I was getting of these little insects, such as sweeping the floors and doing their little explanatory dances.


Image courtesy of

Never fear adrenalin junkies there are also plenty of action sequences in this novel as we see the Hive battle enemies such as mice, spiders and their old adversary the evil wasp! Then there are the princely male bumblebees which provided an extra bit of humour as they were preened and doted on by the females before finding their own mate outside of the Hive. To be honest, I don’t really have much to criticise about this book, it was slightly slow in the beginning but as I settled into the style of writing I began to love Flora and all she stood for. If you’re an animal lover or intrigued by the world of bees specifically, this is the perfect book for you. I learned a lot but I was also highly entertained which of course is the main thing!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



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