Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

Published August 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Light Through The Window all about?:

The Light Through The Window is about a lonely window cleaner who watches people behind the windows of a high rise building and mourns the loss of his own family.

What did I think?:

I think it’s fair to say that some of the stories in this collection have been really hit and miss for me. Some of them are absolutely beautiful – namely The Ceiling, but others such as The Passenger and The Jesus Stories I’ve found myself getting quite frustrated with. I’m afraid The Light Through The Window was another one of those stories where I don’t really have any strong emotions for or against it and I finished it feeling rather apathetic about the whole reading experience and to be honest, quite worried about writing a review as I have a feeling I’m going to be struggling for things to say.

Our unnamed protagonist for the story is a male window cleaner who diligently cleans the windows of a high rise building every day without fail. He has never married or had children and from time to time, fantasises about the people behind the windows that he cleans in that he is part of their family. He doesn’t have any family of his own still alive but reminisces constantly about his mother, father and grandfather who were a big part of his life. Actually, he often imagines that he sees them all when he is working and looks forward to this experience and the intense connection that he still feels he has with them even though they have all passed away. He attempts to start a relationship with a woman behind one of the windows but unfortunately his efforts are not really fruitful and he remains alone but with the knowledge that he can always see his family any time he wants with the power of his own mind.

So, yes….gosh – what can I say? Of course, as with all Kevin Brockmeier’s stories, the writing is truly stunning and the imagery and vocabulary he uses to tell his tale is masterful. I always enjoy reading his prose, even if I don’t care very much for the story, he is a true artist with words and it’s always lovely to experience. He did succeed in making me feel terribly sad for his window cleaner, especially when he tried (and failed miserably) to form a connection with one of the women in the building but that was the only part of the story which I felt any real emotion or enjoyment. I felt that nothing really happened which sometimes isn’t a bad thing if the story focuses purely on character development. However, I don’t feel that this was really explored in the way it could have been either. Gorgeous words, fairly interesting premise but I’m afraid this was just a bit of a letdown for me.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Vessel by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Five Star TBR Pile Predictions

Published August 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from http://lithub.com/in-praise-of-the-book-tower/

Hello everyone and welcome to something a bit different on my blog today. One of my favourite book-tubers, Mercedes from Mercy’s Bookish Musings recently posted a brilliant video where she went through her TBR and tried to predict which five books would be five star reads for her. She then did a wrap up video after she had read the books to see how many she had got right. I thought this was a fantastic idea and immediately wanted to do the same as a blog post rather than a video. Honestly, none of you need to see me stammering away in front of a camera – it’s not a pretty sight. I’ll leave it to the experts! Without further ado, I’ve picked five books from my TBR that I think will be five star reads for me and I’ll give you a little bit of background information about how I got the book and why I think I might give it five stars.

1.) Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Stay With Me came across my radar when it was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction earlier this year. I was lucky enough to attend an event where I got to hear the short-listed authors read from their books and answer some questions. I had already heard brilliant things about this book from reviewers whose opinions I really respect and trust but hearing the author speak on the night had me determined that this book was going to be great. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Mostly because people with very similar reading tastes to my own have praised it to the heavens and I’m anticipating I’m going to feel exactly the same way.

2.) The Clay Girl by Heather Tucker

Mercy from Mercy’s Bookish Musings is responsible for my interest in this little beauty. She raved about it in a recent video and after hearing her review, I knew I had to have it. I mean, check out this opening:

“Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.”

Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Again, a great review from a person with similar reading tastes to my own, the dark content and that opening is just too intriguing to resist.

3.) The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

This book has been languishing on my TBR for a ridiculous amount of time and it’s about time it gets read! I’m a big fan of Michel Faber, especially after his beautiful novel, The Crimson Petal And The White and I’ve been looking forward to reading this for the longest time. I feel like it’s going to be a bit like The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell and The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers, both of which I loved. I understand Michel Faber is either taking a break from writing or has said that he’s not going to write any more novels at all and I think that’s one of the reasons I’ve been putting off reading this book – I just don’t want to admit to myself that I’m never going to read anything new by him again! Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Mostly due to the premise which immediately pulled me in and I have to say, that gorgeous cover. Okay I know, never judge a book by its cover! (But I do!).

4.) The Bear And The Nightingale – Katherine Arden

I’ve been coveting this book ever since I first saw it in a bookshop – I mean, just look at that cover! There’s a few buzz words that will guarantee I’ll buy a book and some of them are “fairy tale,” “Russian,” “with a dark edge,” and this book has all these things, I’m certain it’s going to be gorgeous. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? It looks to have everything I would want from a novel and yep…..that cover again!

5.) Girls Will Be Girls: Dressing Up, Playing Parts And Daring To Act Differently – Emer O’Toole

I love a bit of non-fiction, especially when it’s a topic that fascinates me, in this case gender stereotypes and feminist issues. There have been some brilliant reviews of this book and I can’t wait to get to it. I think it’s going to be interesting, eye-opening and I’m hoping to learn a lot too. Why do I think it’s going to be a five star read? Probably because of the subject matter which I’m always hungry for and the fact that I’ve heard nothing but good things.

So that’s five books from my TBR which I think (and hope!) are going to be five star reads for me in the future. I’ll get on with reading them in the next few months and then I’ll be back with a wrap up post where I’ll let you know if I was right in my predictions or not. I will also be reviewing each book separately as always but I’ll do that after my wrap up post so as to not give anything away ahead of time. 

Make sure to check out Mercy’s video on her channel to see which books she has predicted will be five star reads for her. If anyone else wants to do this, I would absolutely love to see your choices, please leave a link to your post (or just tell me your choices) in the comments section below!

 

Animal: The Autobiography Of A Female Body – Sara Pascoe

Published August 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Take a funny and illuminating tour of the female body with award-winning comedian Sara Pascoe.

Women have so much going on, what with boobs and jealousy and menstruating and broodiness and sex and infidelity and pubes and wombs and jobs and memories and emotions and the past and the future and themselves and each other.

Here’s a book that deals with all of it.

Sara Pascoe has joked about feminity and sexuality on stage and screen but now she has a book to talk about it all for a bit longer. Animal combines autobiography and evolutionary history to create a funny, fascinating insight into the forces that mould and affect modern women.

Animal is entertaining and informative, personal and universal – silly about lots of things and serious about some. It’s a laugh-out-loud investigation to help us understand and forgive our animal urges and insecurities.

What did I think?:

I am so happy that I finally got round to reading this book. I had it on my Amazon wishlist for so long, eventually bought it then it stared at me from my bookshelves for months before I gave in to its demanding “read me!” pleas and cracked it open. Now I had an inkling before I started that I was going to love this wonderfully funny piece of non-fiction but I couldn’t have anticipated just how much that would be. Sara Pascoe, a British comedian hits the nail on the head every single time when she talks about the female body, sexuality and gender inequality and I found myself nodding along on multiple occasions completely enamoured with every tidbit of information she shared with me, some of it incredibly personal things relating to her own experiences.

The tagline for this book is “Autobiography Of A Female Body,” and that’s the perfect way to describe it if you’re wondering what this book is about. After an entertaining, short and snappy little introduction about Sara and her reasons for writing the book it is divided into a few different sections – love, the female body and the very important issue of consent. Each section has a wealth of useful and often hilarious information, some of which Sara has researched for the purpose of the book and knowledge that she has amassed from her own life experiences. Filled with Sara’s trademark wit and down to earth approach it’s an honest, uplifting and at times, incredibly poignant look into what life as a woman is really like.

I honestly can’t believe it took me so long to pick up this book and I’m so glad it lived up to every single one of my (very high) expectations. I have seen Sara live before and really enjoyed it but felt I got to explore her personality at a much deeper and more intimate level with Animal. It was side-splittingly funny, sure – that’s to be expected from a comedian surely? However, I wasn’t prepared for how emotional it would also make me feel, particularly in the final section when Sara explores consent, rape and the (hugely flawed in my opinion) British justice system for rape victims. I finished the book filled with a strange sense of pride for being a woman and a tentative hope for the future where women will be on a more equal footing with men.

Please don’t shy away from this book thinking it might not be for you if you are a man as well, this book does not discriminate on gender (unlike the world we live in today!) and I think it’s a hugely important read for both men and women. I laughed my head off, felt instantly more empowered and learned a few things too. For example, did you realise that modern technology is leading to the death of the glow bug population? Apparently, the male glow bugs keep trying to mate with the street lights thinking it’s a female glow bug and are obviously unsuccessful! Thank you Sara Pascoe for that fantastic little nugget of information that I can pull out at random moments! Personally, I think this is such a vitally important book that needs to be read by as many people as possible and I can’t recommend it highly enough. It has recently been announced by Faber that Sara will be writing a follow up book about masculinity and considering the brilliance that was Animal, I’ll be first in the queue!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

Published August 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sooner or later the dead catch up.

When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an ageing death-metal rock-god, buying a poltergeist almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years… by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the suicidal girl he abandoned. But this ghost, delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, is different. It makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors might be aware of a teeny weeny love (obsession?) I have with Stephen King. Well, Joe Hill happens to be one of his children and I have had his debut novel on my shelves for the longest time, putting it off and then putting it off some more. Why did I do this? I have no idea when this book is just so damn GOOD! All I can think is that I had huge expectations and that’s really not fair to him as an author, his novels stand on their own as brilliant (occasionally terrifying) works of fiction. He shouldn’t be compared to his father in any way, shape or form and I’m not going to even go there. I’m just going to talk about how fantastic HE is.

Heart-Shaped Box is a dark, twisted little tale about a middle-aged rock star, Judas Coyne who has a fancy for the quirky, more unusual items out there on the web and his head is turned by someone selling a ghost in a heart-shaped box. However, purchasing it has to be one of the biggest mistakes in his life. Within the box is an old suit that contains the spirit of a very vengeful, very nasty man called Craddock McDermott that has a bone to pick with Judas. His step-daughter committed suicide after being in a relationship with Judas, a relationship that ended quite acrimoniously and obviously led her to taking her own life. Now Craddock is back from the dead, apoplectic with rage, determined to avenge his step-daughter and for Jude and anyone who stands in his way there’s going to be hell to pay.

Great premise right? With a synopsis like that, I was expecting great things and Joe Hill delivered on every single level. The plot was fast, exciting and ever so gritty and at points, the twists and turns that this narrative took and the things Craddock subjected Jude and his girlfriend Georgia to were truly hideous and terrifying in equal measure. I also loved the creation of the characters who weren’t necessarily the easiest people to like – frankly, I despised Jude at the start and found Georgia irritating and a bit of a brat… but Joe Hill completely changed my mind round and I found myself championing both of them until the bitter end. Craddock was also an amazing villain – insane, petrifying, disgusting, all these things but utterly, completely brilliant. Some reviewers are not so keen on this book as I am and praise Joe Hill’s later books – Horns, NOS4R2 and The Fireman more than this, his debut novel. Well, all I can say is if this isn’t his best, boy am I in for a treat when I read his next book! (P.S. I have already read his second novel, Horns – review coming soon and spoiler alert, it’s completely fantastic!!)

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Mini Pin-It Reviews #12 – Four Random Books

Published August 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four random books for you – please see my pin it thoughts below!

1.) City Of Thieves – David Benioff

What’s it all about?:

From the critically acclaimed author of The 25th Hour, a captivating novel about war, courage, survival — and a remarkable friendship that ripples across a lifetime.

During the Nazis’ brutal siege of Leningrad, Lev Beniov is arrested for looting and thrown into the same cell as a handsome deserter named Kolya. Instead of being executed, Lev and Kolya are given a shot at saving their own lives by complying with an outrageous directive: secure a dozen eggs for a powerful Soviet colonel to use in his daughter’s wedding cake. In a city cut off from all supplies and suffering unbelievable deprivation, Lev and Kolya embark on a hunt through the dire lawlessness of Leningrad and behind enemy lines to find the impossible.

By turns insightful and funny, thrilling and terrifying, City of Thieves is a gripping, cinematic World War II adventure and an intimate coming-of-age story with an utterly contemporary feel for how boys become men.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

2.) Annihilation (Southern Reach #1) – Jeff VanderMeer

What’s it all about?:

Winner of the 2015 Nebula Award.

Area X has been cut off from the rest of the continent for decades. Nature has reclaimed the last vestiges of human civilization. The first expedition returned with reports of a pristine, Edenic landscape; all the members of the second expedition committed suicide; the third expedition died in a hail of gunfire as its members turned on one another; the members of the eleventh expedition returned as shadows of their former selves, and within months of their return, all had died of aggressive cancer.

This is the twelfth expedition.

Their group is made up of four women: an anthropologist; a surveyor; a psychologist, the de facto leader; and our narrator, a biologist. Their mission is to map the terrain and collect specimens; to record all their observations, scientific and otherwise, of their surroundings and of one another; and, above all, to avoid being contaminated by Area X itself.

They arrive expecting the unexpected, and Area X delivers—they discover a massive topographic anomaly and life forms that surpass understanding—but it’s the surprises that came across the border with them, and the secrets the expedition members are keeping from one another, that change everything.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

3.) Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel

What’s it all about?:

Alison Hart is a medium by trade. But her ability to communicate with spirits is a torment rather than a gift. Behind her plump, smiling and bland public persona is a desperate woman. Her days and nights are haunted by the men she knew in her childhood, the thugs and petty criminals who preyed upon her hopeless, addled mother, Emmie. And the more she tries to be rid of them, the stronger and nastier they become.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

4.) How To Be Both – Ali Smith

What’s it all about?:

Passionate, compassionate, vitally inventive and scrupulously playful, Ali Smith’s novels are like nothing else. A true original, she is a one-of-a-kind literary sensation. Her novels consistently attract serious acclaim and discussion—and have won her a dedicated readership who are drawn again and again to the warmth, humanity and humor of her voice.

How to be both is a novel all about art’s versatility. Borrowing from painting’s fresco technique to make an original literary double-take, it’s a fast-moving genre-bending conversation between forms, times, truths and fictions. There’s a Renaissance artist of the 1460s. There’s the child of a child of the 1960s. Two tales of love and injustice twist into a singular yarn where time gets timeless, structural gets playful, knowing gets mysterious, fictional gets real—and all life’s givens get given a second chance.

A NOTE TO THE READER:
Who says stories reach everybody in the same order?
This novel can be read in two ways and this book provides you with both.
In half of all printed editions of the novel the narrative EYES comes before CAMERA.
In the other half of printed editions the narrative CAMERA precedes EYES.
The narratives are exactly the same in both versions, just in a different order.

The books are intentionally printed in two different ways, so that readers can randomly have different experiences reading the same text. So, depending on which edition you happen to receive, the book will be: EYES, CAMERA, or CAMERA, EYES. Enjoy the adventure.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four YA Novels.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Published August 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The White Doe all about?:

The White Doe is the story of Fran who has recently lost her mother and has been seeing a rare white doe in the countryside near to her home.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Rosy Thornton for sending me a copy of her first short story collection, Sandlands in exchange for an honest review. On reading the synopsis, which promises magic entwined with the beauty of nature I was certainly sold and thought it would be a great addition to my Short Stories Challenge. The first story is The White Doe and even though my expectations were slightly raised (due to the promise of animals I have to say, I’m a sucker for anything involving them!) I wasn’t disappointed. It was written beautifully and the surrounding environment of Suffolk was incorporated so expertly that the narrative just seemed to flow like water.

Our main character in the story is Fran who lost her mother whom she was incredibly close to, six months ago. She hasn’t really had a good opportunity to grieve for her loss and finds looking through any of her mother’s belongings terribly difficult so is pushing it to one side for now. It is obvious her mother is continually present in her thoughts – she mentions her constantly in the story and it is obvious her feelings about her death are still very raw. Recently however, she has been seeing a white doe amongst a group of other deer and wondering what it can possibly mean.

Fran is aware of an old folk tale about a white doe (who was actually a woman that transformed into the animal) and how it ended very badly when her brother mistakenly killed her whilst out hunting, believing her to be in fact a doe and not his sister. This story is also connected with the horrific migraines that Fran has been suffering. She has always had a bit of a predisposition for headaches that were normally soothed for her as a child by her mother but since her mother’s death they appear to be getting worse. The visitation of the deer, Fran’s memories of her mother and her migraines are all connected and all assist Fran in confronting her grief when the time is right.

I actually read this story two times so that I could fully appreciate it. The descriptive nature of Rosy Thornton’s writing is as magical as the folk tale/legends that she recounts in the narrative and whilst reading, I felt like I was immersed in another world that I didn’t want to leave. Being British, I also loved the connection to the Suffolk countryside and as an animal nut, the references to the deer in their appearance and their behaviour. This isn’t a story just about a special deer however, it’s got so many different levels, namely regarding grief and how it is experienced and effectively managed and the importance of motherhood. Personally, I thought it was a stunning short story and am eagerly anticipating the rest of the collection.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.

A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

Published August 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

What did I think?:

If you’ve not heard of A Little Life before now where the devil have you been? Critically acclaimed, this incredibly powerful novel was short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2015, was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year and won the Kirkus Prize in Fiction, also in 2015. I jumped on the bandwagon a bit later (as usual!) in February of 2016 but because of my back-log in reviews I’m only getting round to reviewing it now. There is also the minor fact that I can’t seem to form any coherent thoughts about it without wanting to turn into a blubbering mess but we’ll leave that to the side for now!

A Little Life is not an easy read, far from it and as a result may not be for everyone. There are trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse but the entire novel felt like an insanely emotional roller-coaster for me. The story follows four friends in New York and we learn a little bit about each of their lives and the bonds of friendship that tie them all together. However, we mainly hear from Willem and more specifically Jude, the latter of whom has undergone major trauma and suffering in his past – trauma that still deeply affects him in his everyday life, threatens to spoil his future happiness and has the potential to ruin relationships with those dearest to him. Throughout the novel, we learn more about what Jude’s mammoth struggles, both in the past and in the present, learn more about him as an individual and, in the end, suffer with him as it seems like his disturbing past will be a cross to carry for the rest of his life.

As I mentioned earlier this book is incredibly harrowing and deals with some intensely difficult subjects. If you find abject misery and trauma hard to read about, this book might not be for you. I hesitate to say that I “enjoyed” this book, enjoy is not quite the right word as the topics I read about were so awful at times I found it hard to keep turning the pages. It’s quite strange, by about fifty pages in, I honestly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and was seriously considering putting it down. Yet by about one hundred pages, I was completely invested in the characters and their lives and if someone had tried to tear the book out of my hands, there might have been trouble! This might sound very silly but it’s a novel where when I finished it, I actually felt changed as a person and that feeling has stayed with me over a year later as have the characters of Willem and Jude. I can’t stop thinking about them or about the fact that I know what it feels like now to have your heart break into pieces when you read an astounding story such as this.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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