Hush Little Baby – Joanna Barnard

Published November 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When baby Oliver breaks his arm, no-one can (or will) say how it happened.

His mother is exhausted.

His father is angry.

His older sister is resentful.

And they all have something to hide

What did I think?:

First of all, a big thank you to Ebury Press, part of Penguin Random House publishers for sending me a copy of this fantastic thriller in exchange for an honest review. Hush Little Baby was released in August 2017 and apologies that I’m only getting round to reading it now, I certainly won’t make that mistake again with any future novel I happen to read by Joanna Barnard. This book was such a wonderful surprise, exciting, tense and twisty that delves into some very dark places and controversial issues with ease and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment, racing through it in less than twenty-four hours like a woman possessed!

The above synopsis says everything you really need to know concerning what this book is about. As you may know, I’m not one for revealing spoilers so I’m hoping to be as deliberately vague as possible regarding the plot. It’s basically the story of a family – Sally, her husband Richard, their baby Oliver and Oliver’s teenage half-sister Martha. All their lives are turned upside down one night when Oliver has to be rushed to hospital after mysteriously breaking his arm with an injury the hospital are certain is unequivocally not accidental. No one is accepting responsibility for the incident and each member of the family has their own issues to deal with about the night in question i.e. where they were, what they were doing etc. Now social services have become involved and have removed Oliver from his parents to his grandparents custody whilst they try to find out what has happened. Hush Little Baby is a novel where parental responsibilities are questioned, dark secrets are unearthed and the actions of all our characters are revealed slowly and steadily with an ending that will leave you dumbfounded and in my case, slightly unsettled.

This fascinating novel is told in one of my favourite ways, from multiple perspectives. We hear from all three “potentially guilty,” parties in alternating chapters: Sally, Richard and Martha who were all there in some way when baby Oliver was injured. It was quite early on in the story that I began to have opinions on all three persons concerned, all of whom have made mistakes on that night but it’s up to the reader to decide who indeed might have made the biggest mistake. The plot itself deals with multiple issues, apart from the obvious issue of child abuse/neglect, it also explores mental illness, relationship difficulties and there are trigger warnings for self-harm which you should be aware of if you are sensitive to this subject. Because of this, it goes to some incredibly murky depths to paint the picture of what *might* have happened to Oliver and who *may* be to blame.

I have to say it made my emotions go haywire at points, particularly with the character depiction. I wanted to shake one of them at one point, I despised another with a passion and then I wanted to just take another far away from it all. It is the story of what happened to Oliver but mainly, it’s a novel about how a relationship can be affected by a crisis such as this, how people either do or do not take responsibility for their actions and how detrimental your actions can be to another person (or people) without even being aware of it. If you’re after a psychological thriller that is much more about the reactions of characters rather than what actually happened to the child, I would definitely read this book. Personally, I’ll definitely be checking out Joanna’s first book, Precocious on the strength of this one and I can hardly wait.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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The Things We Learn When We’re Dead – Charlie Laidlaw

Published November 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

With elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead shows how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, and how sometimes we can get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions. It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… Or does God have a higher purpose after all?

At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decision to make and that maybe she needs to find a way home.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the author Charlie Laidlaw for reaching out to me via email and offering me the chance to read this wonderful novel in return for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, as soon as he mentioned “a modern retelling of The Wizard Of Oz,” I was pretty much sold and when it arrived, I was completely charmed by the cover (yes, that’s a little hamster’s face in a spaceship!) but was even more delighted by the story that I found within.

Set in Edinburgh and North Berwick, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is the story of Lorna Love who steps out in front of a car on the same day of the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. She wakes up in what she believes to be a hospital bed but she is astounded to discover that she’s actually dead and in heaven, more specifically HVN, aboard a spaceship where they have a serious hamster problem as they continue to breed and nibble through the wiring of the ship (See, the hamsters were relevant!). Lorna has always been an agnostic but this idea of heaven is like something she could never have imagined. All the inhabitants choose to look like a celebrity of their choosing, for example, her nurse looks like Sean Connery and the chain-smoking woman who helps her adjust to life after death Irene, is a dead ringer for Kate Winslet.

When Lorna comes face to face with Captain God she learns that there is a real purpose to her being there and a reason why he has chosen her out of many people to live in the ship with the lure of being able to eat and drink whatever she wants when she wants, choose from a range of designer clothes that she never would have been able to afford on Earth and be able to transform her face and body to match any celebrity that might take her fancy. (Kate Winslet is quite popular, it turns out). However, until she recovers all her memories of her life, God will not tell her why she is there. We then follow Lorna’s life from childhood and adolescence to adventures with her best friend, the outgoing Suzie, her meaningful (and not so meaningful) relationships with men, how she juggles a menial job that she hates in a supermarket with training to be a solicitor and the struggles she has faced throughout her life. As Lorna looks back over significant events in her life, she begins to appreciate just how wonderful living is after all.

I have to admit, when I started this novel, I wasn’t too sure about whether I was going to enjoy it. I loved the fact it was set in Scotland being a Scots girl myself, and I instantly warmed to Lorna, a fantastic character who makes some bad decisions in her life but is so wonderfully endearing and an all round “good egg” that you can’t help but admire her. However, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead was a whole lot darker and infinitely more humorous than I first gave it credit for and by about one hundred pages in, I was completely hooked. This book was poignant, heart-warming and made me feel quite nostalgic as I look back over my life so far, the paths I’ve chosen to take and the people I’ve met (good and bad) along the way. It’s a quirky look at an alternative life after death and the highly charged emotional parts are perfectly balanced with some fantastic comedy moments. If you’re in the mood for something a bit different that warms the cockles of your heart this is definitely the book for you.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published November 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands all about?:

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands follows a group of friends who gather to hear spooky tales. The tale for this evening involves a man whom as the title may suggest does not under any circumstance shake hands… but why?

What did I think?:

You must all be bored of me professing my love for Stephen King by now surely? If you haven’t been here before or haven’t heard me gushing on about him before I’ll just say he is without a doubt my all time favourite author. However, I have come to realise over all the years that I’ve read him that at times, I do need to take those rose-tinted glasses off. I don’t love absolutely everything he has ever written and sometimes, I haven’t been as enamoured with one of his short stories as I would have liked but damn, Skeleton Crew has to be one of his finest collections so far.

It opens to a group of friends who are meeting to tell each other frightening stories. One of the men, George Gregson is particularly adept at holding his friends in utter rapture with his tales and that evening, he begins to tell a true story of a man that he professes to have been murdered in the exact same room that they find themselves in just over sixty years prior to this evening. This story involves George and a group of his friends who want to play a hand or two of cards but are lacking another man to make up the numbers. Enter Henry Brower, a friendly enough stranger to the group but with a strange tendency to shy away from anyone shaking his hand or in fact, coming near to touching him at all. We soon find out why exactly Henry fears the touch of anyone else when after a bit of drink, one of George’s friends takes his hand mistakenly to congratulate him on winning a hand. Henry’s reaction is extreme to say the least but it is only when George follows him outside when he flees that he begins to understand Henry’s reasons for keeping away from human touch.

Of course I’m not going to give anything away except to say I really didn’t realise where this story was going, even though it was hinted at merely a few pages in. The reason for Henry Brower’s complete terror of touch comes from an event in his past that continues to haunt his future and gives him little rest, making him almost an outcast from society and completely miserable to boot. To be honest, when the group were playing cards, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit disappointed. It was dull, I didn’t find it interesting and I couldn’t tell where Stephen King was taking the story. If like me, you decide to read this and feel the same, I beg you to please, please read on because as soon as Henry receives that well intentioned touch of a hand, the story explodes and becomes something entirely more horrific and wonderfully compelling. Stephen King often gets a bit of a reputation as a horror writer because of a few novels he has written (not necessarily because of the vast majority of his work) but when he chooses to write something a bit frightening, think there’s very few people in the world that can do it better.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

 

Book Tag – Shelfie By Shelfie #2

Published November 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image edited from: <a href=”http://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/frame”>Frame image created by Jannoon028 – Freepik.com</a>

Hi everyone and welcome to a brand new tag – Shelfie by Shelfie that I was inspired to create late one night when I couldn’t sleep. If you want to join in, you share a picture (or “shelfie”) of one of your shelves i.e. favourites, TBR, however you like to organise them, and then answer ten questions that are based around that particular shelf. I have quite a large collection and am going to do every single bookshelf which comprises both my huge TBR and the books I’ve read and kept but please, don’t feel obliged to do every shelf yourself if you fancy doing this tag. I’d love to see anything and just a snapshot of your collection would be terrific and I’m sure, really interesting for other people to see!

For my very first Shelfie by Shelfie please see my post HERE.

Anyway – on with the tag, here is the second shelf of my first bookshelf:

Back Shelf

Front Shelf

And here are the questions!:

1.) Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?

There’s kind of a theme going on here. Erm…kind of! The back shelf is mainly crime fiction with a mixture of authors including Thomas Harris, Chelsea Cain, Karen Rose, Cormac McCarthy, Belinda Bauer and a small collection of books by one of my favourite British crime authors, Mark Billingham that I really need to get back to reading! The front of the shelf has a few recent acquisitions like Sugar Money by Jane Harris and The Bright Edge Of The World by Eowyn Ivey which I’m reading very shortly. There’s also my collection of Roald Dahl short stories which all have the most stunning covers. (More on that later!).

2.) Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you i.e. how you got it/ a memory associated with it etc.

After much deliberation, I think I’m going to tell you about 2 A.M. At The Cat’s Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino. My boyfriend and I had recently moved into our new flat in Surrey, finally getting away from the chaos of London. It was nearly Christmas time (our first Christmas in the new flat), I was feeling so much more relaxed and happy and I had recently started getting a book subscription box called Book And A Brew which I highly recommend by the way! Then my second box arrived with this book in it and a wonderful black tea called Baby, It’s Cold Outside by The Teashed, perfect for Christmas with cardamom, nutmeg, clove, cinnamon and ginger. I still haven’t read the book (yet!) but it brings back a lovely memory.

3.) Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

Ugh. I hate my own question. Okay, I think it would have to be The Busker by Liam Murray Bell. I quite like the look of it but it’s probably the book on this shelf that I’m least excited about out of all of them.

4.) Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

This however is a very easy one! It would have to be my Roald Dahl collection of short stories. There were originally only four out and then recently, Penguin brought another four out so obviously I had to have them. The titles of the collections are Deception, Lust, Trickery, Innocence, War, Fear, Cruelty and Madness, the cover art by Charming Baker is completely gorgeous and I just wanted to show you some of my favourites.

5.) Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

That would be The Beach by Alex Garland. Can you believe I still haven’t got around to this book?!

6.) Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

Sugar Money by Jane Harris. I’m a huge fan of her previous novels, The Observations and Gillespie And I and am eagerly anticipating this one.

7.) Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)

The Bright Edge Of The World by Eowyn Ivey. I absolutely adored her debut novel, The Snow Child and have been a bit scared about reading this as I’ve got such high expectations. It WILL happen, and soon!

8.) If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

I have my five year Jane-A-Day diary on this shelf purchased from Waterstones a few years ago. I try to use it to keep track of all the blog tours/reviews I’ve promised to write for a certain time but sadly, don’t make as much use of it as I should. It has a quotation from a Jane Austen novel for each day of the year and I love that it’s five years as well – it’s lasting me so long!

9.) What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

I think it shows that l like my crime fiction (or anything else slightly disturbing) and that I’m a sucker for interesting covers.

10.) Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

Anyone who wants to do this, please feel free, I’d be delighted but please tag me in your post so I can see your shelfie in all its glory. This time round I’m going to choose a question for myself:

Is there a book on this shelf that you’re more intrigued to pick up? Perhaps you’ve forgotten it’s there?

For sure this would be The Beautiful Dead by Belinda Bauer. I had actually forgotten this was on my shelf (it’s so difficult when books are hiding at the back and you can’t see them every day!). I read The Shut Eye by her quite recently and really enjoyed it so keep meaning to pick up some more of her work.

 

COMING SOON on bibliobeth : Shelfie by Shelfie #3

 

 

Fairest (The Lunar Chronicles #3.5) – Marissa Meyer

Published November 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In this stunning bridge book between Cress and Winter in the bestselling Lunar Chronicles, Queen Levana’s story is finally told.

Mirror, mirror on the wall,
Who is the fairest of them all?

Fans of the Lunar Chronicles know Queen Levana as a ruler who uses her “glamour” to gain power. But long before she crossed paths with Cinder, Scarlet, and Cress, Levana lived a very different story – a story that has never been told . . . until now.

Marissa Meyer spins yet another unforgettable tale about love and war, deceit and death. This extraordinary book includes full-color art and an excerpt from Winter, the next book in the Lunar Chronicles series.

What did I think?:

The Lunar Chronicles is one of my arguments for giving a series another shot. I wasn’t particularly enamoured with the first book in the series, Cinder but I was persuaded to carry on and after Scarlet and Cress, I became quite the fan. Fairest is another fantastic addition to the world that Marissa Meyer has created and is in fact, a novella that should ideally be read between the third book, Cress and just before the final book in the series, Winter. I don’t think you should feel obligated to read this short tale (I know not everyone loves novellas) and you won’t miss out on anything important but personally, I thought it really brought something special to the series as a whole and if you have the opportunity and the inclination to read it you definitely should!

I say you won’t miss anything if you choose not to read it because in Fairest we actually travel back to the past, more specifically the past of Queen Levana, following her childhood and adolescence with absent, cold parents and the events that precipitated the horrific accident she had which leads her to hide her true self away from others by using glamour. I don’t really want to say too much about what happens in her life but the reader certainly comes to understand why she has become such a wicked, calculating villain in the most recent novels. Levana certainly goes through some harrowing experiences which may even lead to you feeling some sympathy for her as a character but in fact, it is the way that she deals with these issues and wreaks her revenge that leaves you with little hope for her redemption.

This was such a fascinating insight into the heart and mind of the Lunar Chronicles’ most despised villain and even though it is brief, at merely 222 pages, it packs an almighty lot of action, intrigue and emotion into those pages making it feel much “meatier,” as a result. I love to hate Queen Levana in this series but I was so impressed how Marissa Meyer managed to elicit my pity and sympathy at points in the narrative when she faced certain trials in her life. Not for long, mind you. By the end, she was completely back to the mean, nasty and despicable character that we know and appreciate from the full-length novels in the series. I just have to mention the cover art as well for this series which is truly magnificent and was a huge factor in me picking up these books in the first place. The Lunar Chronicles is due to finish with the final novel, Winter which I’m eagerly anticipating but have to admit to feeling a bit sad realising this is soon all going to be over! Until the re-read that is.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

A Dangerous Crossing – Rachel Rhys

Published November 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

England, September 1939
Lily Shepherd boards a cruise liner for a new life in Australia and is plunged into a world of cocktails, jazz and glamorous friends. But as the sun beats down, poisonous secrets begin to surface. Suddenly Lily finds herself trapped with nowhere to go …

Australia, six-weeks later
The world is at war, the cruise liner docks, and a beautiful young woman is escorted onto dry land in handcuffs.

What has she done?

What did I think?:

I was first made aware of A Dangerous Crossing through a good blogger friend, the wonderful Cleopatra from Cleopatra Loves Books and you can read her fantastic review HERE. She gave it five stars and called it “a story not to be missed.” Cleo also won the opportunity to have her name appear as a character in this novel by means of a charity auction on behalf on CLIC Sargent so look out for her fabulous cameo near the end! Cleo is one of a special group of people to me that when she makes a recommendation I really listen and I’m so glad I did because I cannot stress enough how wonderful this book was. Rachel Rhys (the pen-name of a successful psychological suspense author) writes such a vivid historical fiction novel that I was completely swept up with the time period, the characters and the evocative, mysterious nature of the narrative.

Our main female protagonist is Lily Shepherd and she has recently boarded a massive cruise ship en route to Australia in search of adventure, to see the world and escape certain events from her past. She gratefully seizes an opportunity to pursue domestic work in Australia in the late 1930’s when they were crying out for British workers for a fixed period of time. On the voyage, she instantly connects with a brother and sister, Edward and Helena Fletcher and a Jewish refugee called Maria but also comes into contact with the glamorous and rich couple Eliza and Max Campbell, strange and interfering Ida and fascist bully George. Interestingly, all the characters she comes into contact with appear to be running away from something and as the voyage continues, Lily slowly discovers what this is. At the very beginning of the novel, the prologue describes a woman being led off the ship in handcuffs but just what the woman has done and what precipitated her crime is all left for the reader to discover, piece by delicious piece.

A Dangerous Crossing was picked for the Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club here in the UK and it’s easily one of my favourites in terms of writing style, characters and plot. How can I describe the characters? There’s only one word really – just GORGEOUS. There’s such a variety of individuals to enjoy, each drawn beautifully with their own distinct personality, motives and morals that it’s almost like watching a blockbuster movie in your head. I was taken directly into the author’s world (a very willing and excited participant) from that show-stopper of a prologue right until the sensational finale which shocked and delighted me in equal measure. England is on the brink of war but on this cruise liner, in the middle of the ocean, it’s a completely different world entirely with its very own heroes and villains, morals and obligations, drama and danger. Basically, this book is perfection and I have not got a bad word to say about it – please read it and discover its brilliance for yourself!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night

Published November 9, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Moons Of Jupiter all about?:

The Moons Of Jupiter follows our protagonist Janet as she visits her father in hospital and comes to terms with the probability of losing him.

What did I think?:

I’m fairly familiar with Alice Munro’s work having read and enjoyed her short story collection, Too Much Happiness a few years ago. However, I often find that a book of short stories by one author has peaks and troughs and there always seem to be some stories that you favour whilst others seem to lack that extra something. It’s perfectly obvious (even to the non-analytical short story reader like myself) that Alice Munro is a talented author and a master of her craft and The Moons Of Jupiter is quite a clever little tale with multiple hidden meanings all revolving around the importance of family and how we re-analyse our own close relationships during times of crisis.

In this short story, our narrator is Janet and she is visiting her father in Toronto General Hospital after he has been told he has a very serious heart condition. The surgeons are willing to operate but make it quite clear to them both that his life expectancy is very much reduced. As well as (or maybe because of) all of this, Janet begins to look deeper into the relationships with her own children, Nichola and Judith which haven’t been plain sailing for one reason or another. After a trip to the planetarium and a heart-to-heart with her father before his operation, Janet begins to put things into perspective and feel grateful for the small moments in life and the love she has for her family.

If you haven’t read any Alice Munro before and you’re looking for something that is quite fast-paced beware, this probably isn’t for you. However, if you enjoy the intricacy of family relationships then this is an enjoyable little read. Personally, I have mixed feelings. I love the sentiment expressed in the story and the writing is obviously that of an author at the top of her game but….(and this is probably going to come out all wrong!), I appreciate a short story that I can get my teeth into, that plays on my mind and I have to think about, and with The Moons Of Jupiter it felt like I had to think too hard to discover what the author was trying to say. I fully admit that after finishing I had to google the story just to make sure I had got the right end of the stick and I had, thank goodness but for a little while, I felt a little bit stupid. I don’t tend to like stories where I have to analyse too much and with this one, it almost felt a little too clever for me and I hate feeling that way! On reflection though, when I had confirmed what the story was trying to say, it did make me look at it in a more positive light and I appreciated all the nuances the author used.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.