Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

Published February 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Wishing Tree all about?:

The Wishing Tree focuses on the relationship between a mother and a daughter as they struggle through a traumatic time and make an important journey that begins to build bridges between them.

What did I think?:

I’ve waxed on previously about stories in this beautiful collection that have been written so lyrically and have really touched something deep within myself. However, there are always going to be those stories that don’t quite hit the spot, so as to speak and unfortunately The Wishing Tree was one of those. On reading the title, I admit I was stupidly excited, expecting a story with a bit of a fairy tale element. Of course, the Cornish folklore that the author draws upon is present and the landscape she writes about is breathtaking and captured my attention in that way but for some reason, I just didn’t feel connected with the two main characters which left what happened between them at the end feeling like a bit of a “damp squib,” than a moving, tear-jerking incident which I think the author intended.

The story follows Tessa and her mother June who are on their way to visit an old friend, a trip they have made previously. The reader immediately senses that all is not right with June from the scar on her neck and the way her daughter refers to her. They have made this trip previously and on the first trip came across a wishing tree which they happen upon once more, filled with offerings that previous wishers have left on its branches. Tessa recalls how she was struggling to think of a wish the first time they visited and now regrets it. We get the feeling that there is a very clear thing that she should have wished for – her mother’s health.

Throughout the story, we get the impression that the two have quite a fractured and fragile relationship with June taking the typical role of “strong mother,” and Tessa being that child that always needed help (and indeed does still as an adult). Now that June is ill, the roles are having to be reversed even though June is fighting it with every fibre of her being. The story ends with Tessa finally being able to help her mother in the best way she can and June learning to accept her help.

There were a multitude of brilliant things about this story. First, the way it was written as with all of Lucy Wood’s stories – it was beautiful, descriptive and poetic, I could almost imagine every character and scene vividly. I did also love how she explored the relationship between Tessa and June and how we left them, albeit abruptly, with more hope for their future. Personally though, I felt quite distant from the two throughout the narrative and didn’t really feel like I knew them so the ending when it came, as a result did not touch me as much as it might have done if I had cared deeply about the characters. Strangely enough I also wanted the wishing tree to form a bigger part of the story and was perhaps a little disappointed when it didn’t! 😀

Saying that, I do think that this story will touch others, especially if they are struggling with an ill parent or have parental relationship issues of their own. For me, there are much better stories in this collection which had a greater impact and lasting effect.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

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

 

 

Talking About The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon with Chrissi Reads

Published February 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong.

England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home.

Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in.

In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realize is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: I was already pre-disposed to like this book, I had heard really good things about it from a friend of mine and the title was just too good to resist! I almost couldn’t believe it was a debut novel when I first started reading it, it felt like I was reading a book where the author had been established and writing for years. I was initially confused by some aspects of the story – but in a good way, I just wanted to know what exactly was going on and the author is very good at the “slow reveal,” shall we say?

BETH: Who were your favourite characters in the novel and why?

CHRISSI: I really liked Grace and Tilly because I felt like their friendship was incredibly realistic. I found myself excited to read Grace’s point of view because I really wanted to read about her perspective on the whole situation. I love reading from children’s point of view because they can be so honest, be incredibly wise, yet they can be incredibly naive at the same time.

CHRISSI: The cover of this book is quite simple. Why do you think they went for this choice?

BETH: I actually love how simple the cover is. It’s a lovely shade of blue with just a single goat on the front. No sheep though! 🙂 The title is actually described quite early on in the book but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the two young girls are trying to find God and they have been told by the local vicar that God prefers his people to be a flock of sheep rather than goats. The story is quite simple in the end, coming down to separating these people into the two categories (or can they really be separated?) so I think the cover is perfect for what the novel is.

BETH: What did you think about the relationship between friends Grace and Tilly? Was it typical of a female friendship at that impressionable age?

CHRISSI: I’ve mentioned in the previous answer that I really enjoyed the relationship between Grace and Tilly. I did like reading about them because it was so realistic. I felt like Grace was the more dominant friend and I do feel that friendship at that impressionable age can be like that. I felt like Grace thought she had to watch over Tilly and I loved that protective quality that Grace had. There are moments when Grace doesn’t treat Tilly well and I think that is true of a female friendship at that age. Children can be insensitive towards others and hurt them deeply because they still have a lot to learn.

CHRISSI: What do you think the setting of the heat wave of 1976 adds to the story?

BETH: The heatwave is almost a character in itself, it is mentioned so often and people are obviously suffering because of it. I think people have heard about the heat doing funny things to people’s characters…making them snap, do odd things etc and I think the heat actually has a huge affect on the characters in the story in exactly this way. Perhaps the heat exacerbates the situation and causes people to over-react where they might not normally do so?

BETH: How do you think the mystery of where Mrs Creasy had gone was played out in this novel?

CHRISSI:  The mystery of Mrs Creasy was very intriguing throughout the story. I have to agree that it’s very much a slow reveal and at times, I did start to lose a bit of interest in the story which is why I haven’t rated it higher. I enjoyed reading about the worry of the secrets that Mrs Creasy had taken with her. I felt like that was more important to her neighbours, rather than genuine concern about where she was.

CHRISSI: Many characters in the story have secrets and regrets – how do you judge the actions they have taken? Does it make you consider how we judge people without really knowing them?

BETH: Yes, yes, yes. I don’t think any character really comes out and apologises for their behaviour outright but you can definitely sense the guilt, the regret and a cooling of tempers, especially to the object of most of the characters anger. It felt very much when I was reading it sort of like a mob mentality with each character being “egged on” by what another would say/feel or do. This kind of behaviour becomes very dangerous when multiple people jump on the bandwagon so as to speak, as we can see from the events that occur.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes! I can’t believe that this book was a debut. It seemed incredibly accomplished! I enjoyed this book.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

 

The Girl Who Walked On Air – Emma Carroll

Published February 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Abandoned as a baby at Chipchase’s Travelling Circus, Louie dreams of becoming a ‘Showstopper’. Yet Mr Chipchase only ever lets her sell tickets. No Death-Defying Stunts for her. So in secret, Louie practises her act- the tightrope- and dreams of being the Girl Who Walked on Air. All she needs is to be given the chance to shine.

One night a terrible accident occurs. Now the circus needs Louie’s help, and with rival show Wellbeloved’s stealing their crowds, Mr Chipchase needs a Showstopper- fast.

Against his better judgement, he lets Louie perform. She is a sensation and gets an offer from the sinister Mr Wellbeloved himself to perform in America. But nothing is quite as it seems and soon Louie’s bravery is tested not just on the highwire but in confronting her past and the shady characters in the world of the circus . . .

Fans of Frost Hollow Hall will love this epic adventure, where courage takes many different forms.

What did I think?:

The Girl Who Walked On Air is the wonderfully talented Emma Carroll’s second novel for children, aimed around the middle grade reading age but… (and this is a big BUT), I truly believe that her books can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, especially those adults who love an imaginative plot and beautifully drawn characters like Louie Reynolds, our heroine for the story.

I first came across Emma’s writing with her fantastic debut, Frost Hollow Hall which completely captured my heart and I can’t recommend highly enough. Well, if she hasn’t gone and done it again with The Girl Who Walked On Air! Set in the grounds of a Victorian circus it features a young girl called Louie who was abandoned by her mother at Mr Chipchase’s circus and is looked after by the kindly Jasper, a trapeze artist and her guardian angel. She has big dreams of being a performer, or to be exact – a “showstopper,” on the tightrope wire. She practices constantly, watched over by her loyal little dog Pip, but Mr Chipchase is determined that she is only good enough to sell tickets and mend costumes.

This sends her and new arrival at the circus Gabriel, straight into the clutches of Mr Wellbeloved, who manages a rival circus and insists on only the most death defying stunts to bring in the punters. As Louie learns more about who she is as a person, where her heart lies and just what lengths she will go to in becoming a star, she also discovers a lot about friendship and just who can be trusted in a fickle world where money and pure greed is, sadly, the only yardstick by which success is measured.

Once again, Emma Carroll has given us some brilliant characters which have stayed with me long after finishing the book. Louie, just like Tilly in Frost Hollow Hall is beautifully drawn. She is impetuous, independent, brave and indeed flawed but ever so realistic as a young girl which in turn, made her infinitely more loveable as a result. I really enjoyed reading about her relationships with Jasper and her friends Ned and Gabriel and was touched by the dark side of her past and her desperation to find out where she came from and where she belonged. The setting of the circus that the author chose was just as stunning and so descriptive that I felt I could picture events scene by scene, character by character, which led to many difficulties putting it down!

As I mentioned earlier, please don’t be dissuaded that the author writes for children, I do believe that this book can be enjoyed by adults just as much. The Girl Who Walked On Air took me right back to my childhood when I used to just sit in a room and read right until the book was finished (and if this went past my bedtime, it was continued under my duvet with a torch!). I didn’t need the torch as an adult, but I certainly read from the beginning to the end in one sitting and loved every moment.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? – Paula Daly

Published February 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A searing and sinister thriller for readers who liked Gone Girl.

What if your best friend’s child disappears? And it was all your fault.

This is exactly what happens to Lisa Kallisto, overwhelmed working mother of three, one freezing December in the English Lake District. She takes her eye off the ball for just a moment and her whole world descends into the stuff of nightmares. Because, not only is thirteen-year-old Lucinda missing, and not only is it all Lisa’s fault, but she’s the second teenage girl to disappear within this small tightknit community over two weeks. The first girl turned up stripped bare, dumped on a busy high street, after suffering from a terrifying ordeal.

Wracked with guilt over her mistake and after being publicly blamed by Lucinda’s family, Lisa sets out to right the wrong. But as she begins peeling away the layers surrounding Lucinda’s disappearance, Lisa learns that the small, posh, quiet town she lives in isn’t what she thought it was, and her friends may not be who they appear, either.

What did I think?:

I was recommended this book by my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads and as usual, she knows exactly what kind of book I like to get my teeth into. Just What Kind Of Mother Are You is a gritty and exciting psychological thriller that I ended up devouring in just a twenty four hour period. It was so difficult in fact to put this book down and it was a shame that life got in the way sometimes as I could have easily finished it in one sitting.

The story focuses on Lisa Kallisto, married mother of three who is struggling to look after her three children, house and finances and manage a company that re-homes unwanted cats and dogs. It isn’t really surprising that from time to time, she becomes entirely human and makes mistakes. On the day in question she has kept her thirteen year old daughter Sally home from school as she is ill but has neglected to remember that Sally’s friend Lucinda is meant to be having a sleepover that night at her house and that she is meant to pick her up from school. Understandable really, she had her unwell daughter on her mind?

However, it is not until the next day before she discovers that Lucinda is missing and now Lucinda’s mother, Kate blames her entirely for what has happened. Worse of all, it is feared that Lucinda has fallen victim of a serial kidnapper and rapist as previously, another girl from the community was taken and subjected to a horrific ordeal. After a third girl goes missing the race is on for lead investigator  DC Joanne Aspinall to find the individual responsible for these chilling crimes before it escalates beyond control. Lisa, feeling terrible about what occurred on “her watch,” also does a bit of investigating of her own and what she finds brings a whole new interpretation to the title of this novel.

This was a fantastic debut novel that kept me gripped throughout, desperately turning the pages to find out what was going to happen. The plot and characters are beautifully conceived and very realistic which added a new chill to the narrative as it was so darn believable. I especially felt for the character of Lisa, caught up in the hectic dramas of everyday life, trying to do it all and be a great mother at the same time. She put a lot of pressure on herself and constantly compared her own life to those of her other friends, especially Kate who seemed to take things in her stride. We had a whole host of strong, independent female characters which I loved but even the male characters were wonderfully drawn and constantly intriguing to me. It was so easy to race through this action-packed novel, it felt like the author had been writing for years and years and there was never a dull moment. The ending just knocked me for six I have to say and I’ll certainly be putting Paula Daly’s next two novels, Keep Your Friends Close and The Mistake I Made on my “must read soon,” list. She definitely has the potential to be one of my favourite authors.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published February 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Butcher Of Meena Creek all about?:

The Butcher Of Meena Creek follows the story of Maggie who is cooking some food at a town gathering and preparing to leave her abusive husband.

What did I think?: 

I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read in Manslaughter And Other Tears so far but The Butcher Of Meena Creek has to be my favourite by a mile. It really reminded me of a Roald Dahl short story in the way it was written and the little sting in the tail (or should that be tale?) by the exciting final lines. I can certainly see why it won a award, I finished it absolutely enthralled and immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot for fear of spoilers. In fact, it’s best to go into this story knowing as little as possible but I’ll tell you the bare bones of the story. The story is told from the perspective of our main character, Maggie who is making some lasagne for a town gathering. The people in the town, including a hideous woman called Loretta treat Maggie with scorn and derision and like to make fun of the fact that she is in an abusive relationship. We soon learn that the last time Maggie made lasagne, her husband went crazy and she took the brunt of his anger, physically speaking. Larry is due to arrive at the gathering any minute and the townspeople are almost hugging themselves in glee so that they can all witness the fallout they are certain is going to occur.

Immediately, I felt sorry for Maggie who bears the evidence of physical abuse by her husband, clear for everyone to see. Despite the cruelty of the people in the town, she holds her head up high and continues to make the lasagne for everyone to enjoy. She is aware that her husband doesn’t look on lasagne as “real” food but she has a plan for getting away from him for good and I admired her determination to separate herself from him. Oh my goodness though, I was not expecting the turn that the story ended up taking and I was delighted (and shocked) with the end result. If you read one short story this year, please make it this one and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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NEXT SHORT STORY: The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

 

Talking About Baby Doll by Hollie Overton with Chrissi Reads

Published February 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

For fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, Baby Doll is the most tense thriller you will read this year.

Held captive for eight years, Lily has grown from a teenager to an adult in a small basement prison. Her daughter Sky has been a captive her whole life. But one day their captor leaves the deadbolt unlocked.

This is what happens next…

…to her twin sister, to her mother, to her daughter…and to her captor.#

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Hollie Overton is a TV scriptwriter- does this show in the way that she has structured this thriller?

BETH: Yes, I definitely think it does! It’s a fast paced, exciting thriller that had me on the edge of my seat but in the way it was written, it was almost like seeing a film in my head as each scene unfolded. I could picture every character and every moment so completely it was like the images were right there in front of me.

BETH: Discuss the relationship between Lily and Abby before and after her disappearance.

CHRISSI: I actually felt that the relationship between Lily and Abby was quite intense. I don’t know if it’s because they were twins, they had an even stronger connection than ‘normal’ sisters. I felt that their relationship became even more intense after her disappearance. It was clear to me that Abby felt so much love for her sister. She would do anything for her and was eager to protect her. My interpretation was that Abby felt more strongly for her sister, I felt that Lily could potentially be a little manipulative…

CHRISSI: We read a LOT of books in this genre. Do you think that this book stand out in a such a populated genre?

BETH: We certainly do. I think it’s one of our favourite genres to read but there is a risk that the market can get over-saturated with novels that all read like the same book. With Lily being captive for eight years and having had her jailer’s baby it felt very much like Room by Emma Donoghue and I was slightly worried that it was going to be the same thing. Then I was worried that it would have a lot to live up to being compared to Room (which is one of my favourite books ever) and wasn’t going to compare well. Luckily, Hollie Overton throws in many different plot devices and characters that kept it from being too similar. Especially with the ending!

BETH: What do you think Rick’s reasons were for capturing Lily and how do you think his attitude was to women in general?

CHRISSI: Rick honestly made my skin crawl. Just thinking of him now creeps me out and he’s a fictional character. I feel like Rick had an idea of what his perfect, young partner would be and that was Lily. I really disliked his attitude towards women. The fact that he was a teacher as well just didn’t sit right with it, it being my profession. I think he saw women as an object he could just manipulate. Ew. Didn’t like him.

CHRISSI: This book is as much about the consequences that a crime like this can have on a family as it is about the crime itself. Discuss how the different characters react to what has happened.

BETH: Lily’s poor family definitely go through the mill when she is captured and kept hostage for eight years in a basement. They have no idea whether she is alive or dead and their lives are ruined. Her father ends up passing away although the relationship between father and mother appears to be fraught and difficult just after Lily’s disappearance and prior to his death. After that, her mother has casual relationships with a few different men but doesn’t seem to be able to settle down again. Probably the worst affected though is Lily’s twin sister, Abby who blames herself for what happened to Lily, becomes depressed and suicidal and a bit of a “wild child.,” as she struggles to cope with what happened to her sister.

BETH: You’ve given this book quite a high rating. Was there anything about it you disliked?

CHRISSI: Apart from Rick? Ew. I thought that there were some unnecessary scenes in the book. I also didn’t think the relationship between Abby and Wes was overly believable which is why it didn’t get a 5 star treatment from me. I was actually quite surprised that this book has such mixed reviews. I couldn’t put it down!

CHRISSI: Without spoilers, did you predict the ending?

BETH: No way! The author really surprised me, to be honest. I expected this novel to be a bit predictable but right at the end she throws in a major plot twist which I totally wasn’t expecting and which I was delighted by. I had found some parts of the book a teensy bit unrealistic/unbelievable but how she chose to end the novel really altered my opinion of the entire book.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Definitely! I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

4-5-stars

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

Published February 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Ingrid Coleman writes letters to her husband, Gil, about the truth of their marriage, but instead of giving them to him, she hides them in the thousands of books he has collected over the years. When Ingrid has written her final letter she disappears from a Dorset beach, leaving behind her beautiful but dilapidated house by the sea, her husband, and her two daughters, Flora and Nan.

Twelve years later, Gil thinks he sees Ingrid from a bookshop window, but he’s getting older and this unlikely sighting is chalked up to senility. Flora, who has never believed her mother drowned, returns home to care for her father and to try to finally discover what happened to Ingrid. But what Flora doesn’t realize is that the answers to her questions are hidden in the books that surround her. Scandalous and whip-smart, Swimming Lessons holds the Coleman family up to the light, exposing the mysterious truths of a passionate and troubled marriage.

What did I think?:

I fell in love with Claire Fuller’s writing after I read her amazing debut novel Our Endless Numbered Days in the summertime of last year. If you haven’t read it, please you absolutely must – it’s a brilliant, shocking read which I highly recommend. I knew Claire was working on her second book, Swimming Lessons but when she kindly contacted me and asked if I’d like to read it, I literally jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did. It’s slow paced at the beginning but by the time I was a third of the way through I was completely hooked and it was difficult to pry the book away from me!

We see the drama unfold from multiple different perspectives. Firstly from Gil who swears that he sees his wife Ingrid standing outside a bookshop window. The strange thing is, Ingrid disappeared many years previously and is thought to have drowned in a tragic accident. Gil follows the woman he thinks to be Ingrid and ends up falling and ending up in hospital. This is where we meet his two daughters, Nan and the younger sister Flora who are completely different personalities but come together to help their father as they receive some heart-breaking news. We then get some insights into the past of this fascinating family from Flora’s memories of her childhood, her parents and from Ingrid herself.

This was the part that I just adored as Gil begins to find old letters addressed to him from Ingrid hidden in his precious books. They start from the very beginning of their relationship (which was frowned upon from some individuals due to the age difference between them) to their married life, berating him for certain behaviours and admitting other secrets. Basically, telling their whole story, warts and all, from her point of view. It’s the story of a dysfunctional relationship that also holds a lot of love which beggars belief at some points and intrigues you at other times. Do we ever really find out what has happened to Ingrid? Maybe…maybe not, but we certainly understand her and Gil a lot better through the process.

Like Claire’s debut novel, this story took me completely by surprise with how attached I became to the characters and their story. I never really felt like I understood Gil and his reasons for doing what he did but I certainly sympathised with Ingrid and the situation she found herself in and even understood her reasons for being attracted to Gil in the first place. I probably actually preferred Gil in the “present day” situation, being looked after by his daughters and perhaps feeling guilt and remorse for events that occurred in the past. On finishing it, I immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and perhaps pick up on things I may have missed in the narrative, not having the full information I had at the end and it’s definitely a novel I will look forward to re-reading in the future. Claire Fuller can do no wrong in my eyes as an author and with Swimming Lessons, she has certainly cemented herself in my heart as one of my favourites.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0