Short Stories Challenge 2016 – A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published January 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s A Convalescent Ego all about?:

A Convalescent Ego is about a man who has been quite ill, was hospitalised and is recovering from surgery at home. This story explores his mindset as he has a little accident in the house and pictures multiple scenarios of how his wife will react when she gets home.

What did I think?:

As I mentioned with previous posts regarding this collection, the stories within it are beautifully grouped into separate sections. This story falls into the category of Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong and was a wonderful surprise to me as I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did. The author, Richard Yates is famous for his critically acclaimed novel Revolutionary Road (which is languishing on my shelves at the moment but I do intend to get to it someday!). Unfortunately he passed away in 1992 but if this story is any testament to the way he usually writes I’m determined to get to more of his work sooner rather than later.

The story focuses on a couple, Bill and Jean although we mainly hear from the perspective of Bill. He has been ill recently and is recovering from surgery. He is not expected to recover for at least another month and we get the feeling that both himself and his wife are becoming slightly frustrated with his lack of activity, especially as they have a young child to look after, although Jean is fully aware it is through no fault of his own. Jean takes their son out for a short time and whilst she is away she asks Bill if he would mind rinsing out some teacups for her that she is quite fond of. Poor Bill cannot even do this right, he ends up breaking one of the precious cups while washing it. Easy done, you might say but Bill feels terribly guilty about it all and begins to procrastinate through several scenarios in his head about how his wife will react when she discovers what she has done.

The wonderful thing about this story is how detailed Bill’s possible scenarios become, with full conversations between the two, facial expressions, different endings etc, all which involve him going back to work early, replacing her cup and returning with champagne as a surprise for her which he feels might soften the blow but all scenarios he thinks off, end badly for him. He even goes as far as to start to get ready to go to work, suited and booted, puffing and panting – obviously not ready in the slightest to return to work at all! Throughout this, as images of the many different ways their conversation could go run through his head, I got a incredibly warm feeling towards Bill as a character. I found myself feeling so sorry for him, so admiring of his tenacity in trying to make things better after an incident that was clearly an accident that could have happened to anyone.

Bill builds it up in his mind so much as to be something huge when it was really so trivial and a little ridiculous but his love and respect for Jean is clear. Then….the ending. The way it went in the end when Jean finally did get home was absolutely perfect and gave me a little fuzzy feeling of happiness. It made me realise how connected I had become to the characters and their situation, the sign of a masterful author for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

 

Talking About The Muse by Jessie Burton with Chrissi Reads

Published January 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Sunday Times Number One Bestseller

A picture hides a thousand words . . .

On a hot July day in 1967, Odelle Bastien climbs the stone steps of the Skelton gallery in London, knowing that her life is about to change forever. Having struggled to find her place in the city since she arrived from Trinidad five years ago, she has been offered a job as a typist under the tutelage of the glamorous and enigmatic Marjorie Quick. But though Quick takes Odelle into her confidence, and unlocks a potential she didn’t know she had, she remains a mystery – no more so than when a lost masterpiece with a secret history is delivered to the gallery.

The truth about the painting lies in 1936 and a large house in rural Spain, where Olive Schloss, the daughter of a renowned art dealer, is harbouring ambitions of her own. Into this fragile paradise come artist and revolutionary Isaac Robles and his half-sister Teresa, who immediately insinuate themselves into the Schloss family, with explosive and devastating consequences . . .

Seductive, exhilarating and suspenseful, The Muse is an unforgettable novel about aspiration and identity, love and obsession, authenticity and deception – a masterpiece from Jessie Burton, the million-copy bestselling author of The Miniaturist.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: How does The Muse compare to The Miniaturist?

BETH: The Muse is Jessie Burton’s second novel after the roaring success of her debut, The Miniaturist which I thought was great but I actually enjoyed this one more. Physically speaking, they are both beautiful specimens with some gorgeous art but more specifically, they are both works of historical fiction that tell their stories from the perspective of strong women. In The Muse, we actually follow the stories of two women in different countries and time periods but who are strikingly similar in some aspects. There is a link between both stories which is brought together towards the end of the novel but part of the fun of this book is watching it all being brought together.

BETH: There are a number of supporting characters in this novel. Which one was your favourite and why?

CHRISSI: Ooh interesting question. I think my favourite character would have to be Cynth. I really liked their friendship and thought it came across really well in the beginning. It is their friendship that immediately hooked me in the story. I wish we would’ve seen more from her!

CHRISSI: The story is split between London in 1967 and Spain in 1936 – what parallels do you see between the two stories?

BETH: There are a lot of parallels between the two, one being as I mentioned above is the similarity between Odelle and Olive’s strength of characters. Both stories also feature a love interest that at some point in both narratives causes the women some concern for different reasons. Odelle and Olive are also both artists – Olive in the literal sense of the word is a very talented painter and Odelle is a writer. In both narratives they struggle with their art, being in both the thirties and sixties as something not many women did.

BETH: Discuss the character of Marjorie Quick and her relationship with Odelle.

CHRISSI: Marjorie Quick is an incredibly interesting character. I found her really intriguing right from the start. I think she saw something in Odelle right from the start which was really intriguing. Majorie really was an no nonsense character. She seemed incredibly protective over Odelle and I wondered why she was so keen to stifle the interest in the painting. She also seemed cautious over Odelle’s relationship. I found her to be an incredibly complex character and their relationship too seemed complex!

CHRISSI: Jessie Burton evokes two very different settings in London and Spain – how does she create the sense of place and time for both these storylines?

BETH: First of all, I loved that we got two such colourful stories with a multitude of intriguing and diverse characters. The author evokes the sense of London perfectly, from the fashions that were worn to places that were mentioned. It was quite a contrast between sections to be transported from a cold, dreary London to a hot, tempestuous Spain but the author’s use of descriptive prose meant that each setting was available in glorious and vivid detail.

BETH: Did you find any parts of this book difficult to read and why?

CHRISSI: If I’m honest, as I got further into this book I began to lose interest in it. I find Jessie Burton’s writing to be quite flowery and sometimes that doesn’t capture my imagination as much as I want it to. Don’t get me wrong, she is a brilliant writer, she’s just not my cup of tea.

CHRISSI: What was your favourite part of this book?

BETH: That’s such a hard question as I really loved every single minute from start to finish. There wasn’t even a narrative that I preferred, both were perfect and equally fantastic. If I had to choose though it would be a certain scene in Spain when a certain shocking event occurs that I was NOT expecting. (no spoilers!)

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I don’t think so. A great writer- sure, but not one that I’ve connected with during both of her books.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

Star rating (out of 5):

BETH:

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CHRISSI:

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Ballroom – Anna Hope

Published January 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Where love is your only escape ….

1911: Inside an asylum at the edge of the Yorkshire moors,
where men and women are kept apart
by high walls and barred windows,
there is a ballroom vast and beautiful.
For one bright evening every week
they come together
and dance.
When John and Ella meet
It is a dance that will change
two lives forever.

Set over the heatwave summer of 1911, the end of the Edwardian era, THE BALLROOM is a tale of unlikely love and dangerous obsession, of madness and sanity, and of who gets to decide which is which.

What did I think?:

The Ballroom is the last book in the Richard and Judy Winter Book Club 2016 here in the UK and what a blinder they’ve ended with! This is the author’s second novel after her debut and critically acclaimed novel The Wake (which I still have on my shelves to read and I shall certainly be “bumping,” it on the strength of her second book). Set in the early twentieth century this book is a captivating tale of love and madness that kept me gripped until the very end.

It is the tale primarily of Ella, a young woman who finds herself admitted to an asylum in Yorkshire for (according to her) a slight misdemeanour at work that has led to her being pronounced mad and committed to the asylum for an indefinite period of time or until she appears to recover her senses. John is also in the asylum on the men’s side after having being driven mad with grief after a terrible event in his past. The two first meet properly when the men and women are brought together for a weekly dance, led by one of the medical professionals who insists that the music will have beneficial effects for the poor people that seem to have lost their minds.

Slowly but surely, love develops between Ella and John, a love that seems quite pointless and doomed if they are never to be released from the asylum and never allowed to be together. This is the story of how they cope in the asylum, what day to day life is like for them and also focuses on the other characters in the institution – friends of both Ella and John and on the medical professional and music master, Dr Charles Fuller. He is preparing a paper for the Eugenics Society on the benefits of music for the asylum inhabitants and has a rather sad past/present situation of his own.

The lines between madness and sanity are blurred extraordinarily in this fantastic novel and it makes us question the fragility or strength of our own mind if we were placed in certain situations. I loved Ella and John as characters, both were strong yet somehow very vulnerable and their love story made for delicious reading. I was also deeply intrigued by the character of Charles Fuller, for reasons I dare not disclose for fear of spoilers. At points, it was his story, attitude and actions that made me keep turning the pages, especially at a particularly tense scene involving John near the end…. This is a beautiful piece of writing from a very talented author and I cannot wait to now read her debut, if the brilliance of The Ballroom is anything to go by.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Blog Tour – The Dry by Jane Harper

Published January 9, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Luke Hadler turns a gun on his wife and child, then himself. The farming community of Kiewarra is facing life and death choices daily. If one of their own broke under the strain, well…

When Federal Police investigator Aaron Falk returns to Kiewarra for the funerals, he is loath to confront the people who rejected him twenty years earlier. But when his investigative skills are called on, the facts of the Hadler case start to make him doubt this murder-suicide charge.

And as Falk probes deeper into the killings, old wounds start bleeding into fresh ones. For Falk and his childhood friend Luke shared a secret… A secret Falk thought long-buried… A secret which Luke’s death starts to bring to the surface…

What did I think?:

Welcome to my post on the blog tour for this fantastic piece of crime fiction The Dry, set amongst a small community in Australia. A huge thank you to the publishers Little, Brown for inviting me to be a part of the tour and for sending me a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. This is Jane Harper’s debut novel and after the strength of this thrilling story, I’m hoping for amazing things from her in the future.

Our main character is Aaron Falk, who escaped from his hometown Kiewarra to live in the city after a frightening incident that involved one of his best friends. I don’t want to say too much about that for fear of spoilers but let me tell you there are a lot of secrets in this novel for many different characters not just our protagonist and the way they are gradually uncovered are thrilling. He comes back to Kiewarra to attend his old best friend’s funeral after a shocking occurrence where two members of Luke’s family were brutally shot and then Luke himself appears to have committed suicide, also with the gun.

Aaron promises Luke’s father that he will look into the mystery and try to clear his friend’s name as it was assumed that Luke was the perpetrator of the crime. Furthermore, if it was the case that Luke did kill two of his family – what were his possible motives for doing such a terrible thing? There is much more going on in this little town than previously assumed however so be prepared for several shocks and surprises. Nothing or no-one is what it seems and the connection to events in Falk’s past is paramount and incredibly murky.

As I’ve mentioned earlier, I thought this was a fantastic debut novel with lots of twists and turns – just how I like my crime fiction. I liked that it was set in Australia, I loved the variety of characters that we were given and I enjoyed that it wasn’t just about one event. Many things are linked in this story and there are lots of different aspects to be discovered and savoured, the latter of which I certainly did. Jane Harper has a real gift for spinning an exciting narrative and I can’t wait to see what she does next!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Visit Jane at her website: http://janeharper.com.au/

or on Twitter: @janeharperautho

A huge thank you again to Little, Brown Books for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour. The Dry was released on 12th January in the UK and is available from all good bookshops NOW. If you’re interested, why not check out the other stops on the blog tour?

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part One

Published January 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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Its a new year and time for some more short stories. I usually do short stories in three month blocks however I’ve been struggling to keep up with this so instead of calling this post January to March I shall call it Part One and see how I get on! This is what I’ll be reading in the first half of 2017:

The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Faithful Lovers by Margaret Drabble from the collection The Story: Love Loss & The Lives Of Women

Double Room by Ramsey Campbell from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

On The Banks Of Table River: (Planet Lucina, Andromeda Galaxy, AD 2319) by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

The Passenger by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky

Fleeing Complexity by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You

Short Stories Challenge – What We Save by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Published January 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s What We Save all about?:

The penultimate story in Julie Orringer’s marvellous short story collection focuses on two sisters who visit Disneyland in Florida with their mother who is suffering from cancer.

What did I think?:

I’ve really fallen in love with some of the characters and the stories in this collection. Hard-hitting, poignant, heart-breaking and often about difficult subjects, a lot of the stories are not exactly what I would call cheery reading but they definitely touch something inside of you as you read them. What We Save is another classic example of a family in turmoil, trying to make each day count as they spend a day out in the land of make believe, Disneyland, Orlando.

We are instantly placed into the perspective of a young girl of 14, Helena who also has a younger sister, Margot. They are on their way to Disneyland to meet up with their mother’s old high school sweetheart and his family to spend a magical day. All Helena can worry about is her mother, Nancy though and how she is feeling. We guess pretty early on that Nancy is seriously unwell, probably cancer when she is described as wearing a wig but it is confirmed fairly swiftly. We also get a sense of how strongly the mother feels about her old flame, Brian and how important today is for her, especially as she seems to have something she wants to hand over, something she has saved for many years.

This idea of her mother handing over something so treasured to her devastates Helena as she worries that this may be a sign that her mother is finally giving up and letting cancer win. However, this is not her only worry of the day. During one of the rides (Space Mountain for Disney fans), something happens to Helena that robs her of all her childhood innocence and suggests that she may finally have entered the scary, sometimes tragic world of being an adult.

This story was so touching and you can probably guess, quite hard to read at times. I’m lucky enough not to have had any of my close family succumb to cancer at this time but there’s been a scare both with myself and another person. I remember how terrifying even the thought of the deadly “C” felt so I can’t imagine how people who have actually lost their loved ones would feel reading this. However, I did also like that it was not just about cancer, it was about Helena and what she goes through at Disneyland. In a way, she loses something forever that can’t be returned and I believe this connects with fearing the potential loss of her mother which makes the experience all the more scary. I’m a bit sad that there is only one more story to go in this brilliant awe-inspiring collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and, for a debut collection, it’s truly an amazing piece of work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: A Convalescent Ego by Richard Yates from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Aw…bibliobeth turns 4!

Published January 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

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I cannot believe I’ve now been blogging for FOUR years! I want to thank every single person who reads my posts whether you’re a regular visitor or come now and then, I honestly appreciate your support. Who knew anybody would be interested in what I’ve got to say?!

Unfortunately, my last year in blogging hasn’t been as great as the year before. I have a chronic illness (something I’m thinking about talking about in a personal post at some point but am a bit wary of doing this!) and this year it’s really affected the way and the amount I blog. This is really annoying as I love blogging so much and I get cross when something prevents me from doing it.

However, I AM planning on doing some awesome bloggish things this year and just hope to really enjoy it and not put too much pressure on myself.

To celebrate my four year blogoversary I’d like to host a giveaway. FOUR books of your choice from Amazon or The Book Depository (exceptions are textbooks and ridiculously priced books). I will keep it open until the end of January so you have lots of time to enter and once I’ve chosen a winner at random, I’ll contact you and you can let me know your address for receiving your lovely goodies! Please make sure if you are under 18 you have permission to email me your address which will only be used for the purpose of this giveaway. Please enter below and good luck everyone!

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