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Talking About Only Child by Rhiannon Navin with Chrissi Reads

Published December 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For readers of Room and The Girls, a dazzling, tenderhearted debut about healing, family, and the exquisite wisdom of children, narrated by a seven-year-old boy who reminds us that sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. A gunman has entered the building, taking nineteen lives and irrevocably changing the very fabric of this close-knit community. While Zach’s mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter’s parents, holding them responsible for their son’s actions, Zach retreats into his super-secret hideout and loses himself in a world of books and art. Armed with his newfound understanding, and with the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach sets out on a captivating journey towards healing and forgiveness, determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion needed to pull them through their darkest hours.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Wow. As soon as I read the initial few chapters I have to admit, I found it a struggle to put it down. It begins with Zach and his teacher in a closet desperately hiding from a gunman in their school with numerous other children and it was so powerful and moving I had trouble catching my breath at points. I have such strong opinions on gun violence myself and to read a book about a school shooting was poignant and troubling. It certainly left its impression on me.

BETH: As a teacher yourself, how was the reading experience of Only Child for you?

CHRISSI: Absolutely terrifying. Absolutely. It is my worst fear. I can’t even begin to imagine something this awful happening in my classroom which I try to create as a home away from home. Like many other educators, our classroom is our home and a place for the children to feel safe. A teacher likes to control their classroom and rightly so. Something this horrific makes you lose control and that is terrifying. I hope I am never in the position where I have to save my children’s lives. I’m not sure I could go back to the classroom if that happened to me. I’m in awe of educators that do return to the classroom. I can’t even begin to imagine how much strength that takes. Gun crime is horrific and I feel blessed that I work in a country where this kind of crime is incredibly rare. It doesn’t mean that dangerous things wouldn’t happen in the classroom. We’ve even had to develop a lock down policy, just in case, which is a terrifying idea. It really would be my worst nightmare.

Excuse my little rant. Aside from the fear it gave me, this book was utterly compelling to read. I was really impressed with Zach’s narration. How clever to tell the story from his point of view. It’s horrifying what children go through when this happens in their safe place. 😦

CHRISSI: Many books have been written about gun crime, but rarely from the point of view of a child as young as Zach. What did you make of Zach’s narration?

BETH: That’s true! I never realised that before. I think writing it from the point of view of a child was an incredibly clever thing for the author to do. In a way, it made it more horrific as you were seeing it directly through a child’s eyes and although in some instances, Zach came across a little older than his years, I think these parts were necessary so we could feel the full impact of what he has been through, how he continues to suffer and how he manages to pull himself and his family through the other side.

BETH: How do you think Zach, his mother and his father differed in their experiences of grief?

CHRISSI: Zach, his mother and his father definitely differed in their experiences of grief. Grief affects in all in different ways. Zach has nightmares, bed-wetting and feels guilt because initially he feels his life will be better without his brother. Zach’s father retreats into work. He tries to be there for Zach as much as he can. Zach’s mother is initially very shocked and then her shock turns to seeking revenge and justice for her son.

CHRISSI: Do you think this book should have been longer?

BETH: For me, I felt it was the perfect length. I don’t think there was anything else the author could have done or said – I think she got her point across and it ended on a rather hopeful note for the future which was pleasant to read amidst all the darkness and despair.

BETH: Reading the Magic Tree House books aloud “to Andy” helps Zach cope with his grief. Which books have helped you through difficult times in your life?

CHRISSI: One of the most powerful books I’ve read that have helped me is Matt Haig’s Reasons To Stay Alive. I was absolutely amazed and how Matt Haig just ‘got’ me. I believe I have suffered from anxiety since I was younger. Matt’s words were the only words that I’ve really connected with. I felt like he understood what was going on in my head which is a very powerful thing.

CHRISSI: Should Zach have returned to school earlier?

BETH: Absolutely not. He had obvious PTSD about the terrifying incident that he had to go through and was amazingly resilient considering how he suffered. I know if it was me, I’d have trouble going back into that situation, especially if I was still having nightmares so a child as young as Zach was certainly shouldn’t have been forced into going back before he was ready. Yes, it’s important to move on and realise that it was a rare occurrence that was unlikely to happen again but the extent of the trauma that people go through in these situations is not realised enough, in my opinion.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would definitely. I was really impressed with this book.

Would WE recommend it?

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’S Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Uncommon Type: Some Stories – Tom Hanks

Published December 12, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A collection of seventeen wonderful short stories showing that two-time Oscar winner Tom Hanks is as talented a writer as he is an actor.

A gentle Eastern European immigrant arrives in New York City after his family and his life have been torn apart by his country’s civil war. A man who loves to bowl rolls a perfect game–and then another and then another and then many more in a row until he winds up ESPN’s newest celebrity, and he must decide if the combination of perfection and celebrity has ruined the thing he loves. An eccentric billionaire and his faithful executive assistant venture into America looking for acquisitions and discover a down and out motel, romance, and a bit of real life. These are just some of the tales Tom Hanks tells in this first collection of his short stories. They are surprising, intelligent, heartwarming, and, for the millions and millions of Tom Hanks fans, an absolute must-have!

Featuring additional performances by Peter Gerety, Peter Scolari, Cecily Strong, Holland Taylor, and Wilmer Valderrama on “Stay With Us.”

What did I think?:

When famous actor Tom Hanks released his first collection of short stories I have to say I was a little sceptical and wasn’t sure I would be rushing to read it. Two things changed that for me – firstly, I started to see the positive reviews come flooding in and secondly, Richard and Judy chose it for their book club here in the UK. I tend to follow their lists every season and most of them I review with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads in our “Talking About” feature. So….the million dollar question, can Tom Hanks write? The answer is simple, yes he can. As with most short story collections I read, I connected with some stories more than others but there were a few stand-out pieces of work that were incredibly memorable and made me realise that Hanks does indeed have a talent for story-telling.

Tom Hanks, Hollywood actor and author of Uncommon Type: Some Stories.

In Uncommon Type, the stories all share one common theme. Somewhere within the narrative, a typewriter is referenced. It may be purchased, used by our characters or referred to but either way, it is a prominent feature of each short story. For another fun fact, apparently Hanks actually wrote this entire collection on his very own beloved typewriter which brings another nice little connection to the proceedings! The stories within this book are about very ordinary people doing everyday things and provides a slice of their life in a defining moment of their history which had the effect of feeling like you’re experiencing each character’s intimate and private moments.

As I mentioned earlier, there are a couple of gems in this collection, namely “Christmas Eve 1953” which follows a veteran called Virgil who makes a routine call every Christmas to a fellow veteran. Personally, I found this to be the strongest story in the collection, I adored Virgil as a character and thought he had amazing depth and heart as the reader explores his colourful and heart-breaking past. “Welcome To Mars,” the story of a nineteen year old boy celebrating his birthday surfing with his father and how their relationship alters within moments was also another blindingly good piece of work and clearly demonstrates how much subtle emotion Hanks can place into his fiction in such a short space of time. Finally there is “The Past Is Important To Us,” a wonderful mixture of historical fiction, fantasy and science fiction where a man travels back to 1939 over and over again in search of just a little more time with a particular woman.

Tom Hanks’ love for New York, the myriad of interesting and fascinating people that live there and his own knowledge and experience over the years is prominent throughout this collection. He comes across as remarkably down-to-earth, intelligent and warm-hearted and I felt as if through these short stories, I was getting a deeper insight into what he’s like as a person, divorced from his Hollywood persona and fame. It’s not a perfect collection and there were a few instances where I felt his character development or plot needed a bit of fine-tuning and finessing but for a debut offering, the strength of the stories I’ve mentioned above made for a generally enjoyable reading experience. I’ll certainly be interested to see what he writes next, especially if the quality of his next work matches the stories in Uncommon Type that I really loved.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Waking Gods (Themis Files #2) – Sylvain Neuvel

Published December 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

As a child, Rose Franklin made an astonishing discovery: a giant metallic hand, buried deep within the earth. As an adult, she’s dedicated her brilliant scientific career to solving the mystery that began that fateful day: Why was a titanic robot of unknown origin buried in pieces around the world? Years of investigation have produced intriguing answers—and even more perplexing questions. But the truth is closer than ever before when a second robot, more massive than the first, materializes and lashes out with deadly force.

Now humankind faces a nightmare invasion scenario made real, as more colossal machines touch down across the globe. But Rose and her team at the Earth Defense Corps refuse to surrender. They can turn the tide if they can unlock the last secrets of an advanced alien technology. The greatest weapon humanity wields is knowledge in a do-or-die battle to inherit the Earth . . . and maybe even the stars.

What did I think?:

I was lucky enough to read the second book in The Themis Files with the lovely Janel from Keeper Of Pages as our October buddy read after we thoroughly enjoyed the first book in the trilogy, Sleeping Giants, a couple of months prior to that. A huge big “I’m sorry!” to her for being so slow in finally getting this review up, life has been kind of crazy work wise but I’m hopefully now back on the horse so as to speak, and can catch up with my backlog of reviews. As with all second books in a series, I always approach it with slight trepidation, after all, if I’ve enjoyed the first one so much – could it possibly match my elevated expectations? Hmm, well yes and no. There were things about this novel that I loved, particularly the format (which is one of the most fabulous things about this series) and in general, this is still a trilogy that so far, I would highly recommend. However, there were some minor niggles that were just a bit disappointing and unfortunately, has led to me giving Waking Gods an ever so slightly lower rating in comparison to Sleeping Giants.

Sylvain Neuvel, author of Waking Gods, second novel in The Themis Files.

As with all trilogies/series, the second book and any following novels become really difficult to review especially as you’re wary of releasing spoilers into the world for the readers who haven’t experienced the series yet. But never fear readers, I shall be deliberately vague and shall tell you the absolute bare minimum you need to know so that you can check out whether this trilogy might be for you. In a nutshell, this series follows the discovery of large parts of a strange robot hidden in different places around the Earth. In Sleeping Giants, this robot is assembled and its purpose discovered. Our characters learn how to operate said robot and its devastating, mind-blowing potential becomes realised when it is revealed that it might not have been built by human hands. In Waking Gods, a decade after the events of the first novel, our lead characters return when a host of new robots begin to appear around the globe. What do these robots want? More importantly, what does their arrival mean for the future of our planet?

As with Sleeping Giants, the story is told in the format of journal entries and interview transcripts by an unknown male protagonist who appears to be leading the research and usage of the discovered robot – referred to as Themis. I was delighted once more with this fascinating way of approaching the novel, especially as it makes it so very tempting to read just one more entry before putting the book down. As a result, once more it was a relatively quick and thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. My favourite bad-ass, independent, intelligent and feisty female protagonists are back and there’s multiple surprises and exciting incidents that the author springs upon the reader, meaning that you’re never quite completely sure what’s going to happen next – I adore that in a novel.

I’ve been racking my brains to try and figure out why I didn’t enjoy Waking Gods as much as I did Sleeping Giants and I think there’s a couple of different reasons. Firstly, I believe it might suffer from that “age-old trilogy problem,” as I like to call it. That is, the first book sets the scene and makes you eager to continue whereas the second novel occasionally acts as a bit of a “filler,” basically preparing the reader for the explosive events which will occur in the final novel. That isn’t to say there weren’t exciting events – there certainly were, including the appearance of a robot in London, how the community responded, and the after-effects of the robot’s presence. I have to admit, that was a particularly tense and captivating moment and after this, I had high hopes for the rest of the narrative. Additionally I appreciated Neuvel paving the way rather excellently for the final novel with some shocks and unexpected events that had both Janel and I reeling.

However, apart from the above mentioned moments, things kind of just chugged along with a bit less oomph and pizzazz in Waking Gods and it just didn’t feel as dramatic or unique as what we had already experienced when we were first introduced to our rag-tag bunch of fascinating characters. Perhaps it was because we were already familiar with the set-up, the format, the individuals concerned? I’m not sure. Nevertheless, for the compelling moments, the brilliance of the science-fiction and imaginative quality of the writing, I still had a fantastic reading experience and am very much looking forward to completing the trilogy with Janel as we read Only Human this month.

Thank you so much to Janel @ Keeper Of Pages for another excellent buddy read. Check out her review of Waking Gods HERE.

Also look out for our November buddy read review of The Three by Sarah Lotz coming soon!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Previous buddy reads with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages 

The Fireman by Joe Hill – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Seven Husbands Of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

Sleeping Giants (Themis Files #1) by Sylvain Neuvel – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

The Girls by Emma Cline – check out my review HERE and hers HERE.

 

 

Blog Tour – Attend by West Camel

Published December 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Sam falls in love with Deptford thug Derek, and Anne’s best friend Kathleen takes her own life, they discover they are linked not just by a world of drugs and revenge; they also share the friendship of the uncanny and enigmatic Deborah. Seamstress, sailor, storyteller and self-proclaimed centenarian immortal, Deborah slowly reveals to Anne and Sam her improbable, fantastical life, a history of hidden Deptford and ultimately the solution to their crises.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to Karen Sullivan from Orenda Books for the complimentary digital copy in exchange for an honest review. I have to admit, when Anne first emailed me about this book I was immediately entranced by that simplistic yet stunning front cover. It really draws the eye (and perhaps also threads the eye?!) and is a perfect example of how beautiful cover art can entice a reader to want to know more about the story. Luckily it had a fantastic synopsis too – I mean, “self-proclaimed centenarian immortal?” I simply HAD to read this book when that line jumped out at me! Please pardon the pun but this is a beautifully woven story that I thoroughly enjoyed. It has its darker moments, which to be honest, I’m always a fan of but there were softer, more gentle periods too that I really appreciated.

West Camel, author of Attend.

This is the story primarily of three people. Anne is a former heroin addict, mother to Julie and grandmother to Tom. She has been away from her family for some time while she recovers from her addiction and is determined not to see any of them until she can ensure she won’t succumb to her demons and let them down again. As a result, she hasn’t even met her grandson and at the time the novel is set, she is slowly trying to integrate herself back into their lives whilst attempting to fight her own personal battles. Sam is a young gay man who has also had some hardships in his life and eases his loneliness by going out a lot, desperate to find someone who will finally “see” and appreciate him. Our final protagonist is Deborah, an older lady with a plethora of stories to tell, primarily how she has become immortal through working on a small piece of sewing. All three characters are drawn together by seminal events that occur in their lives and by finding each other, there is an opportunity for each one to eventually find happiness and contentment.

Deptford, South-East London, England where Attend is set.

The more I think about this novel, the more I realise what the author might have been trying to say and how moving the narrative is in general. We have three characters, all three are intriguing, have a story to tell, have had difficulties in their lives in the past and present and crucially, all of them are struggling with being seen by other people. I think my favourite part of the narrative had to be Deborah’s story, particularly when she told parts of her past that were incredibly heart-breaking. There’s a particular moment during the war when she is trapped in a shelter that was so moving and written so beautifully I couldn’t put the book down until I had finished that specific chapter. Additionally, I loved how all the characters find that inner strength they eagerly desire from each other and they emerge more resilient by the end.

Finally, I really appreciated that you can’t really categorise this novel. It’s such a heady mixture of contemporary fiction with a dashing of historical and crime elements and a sprinkling of magical realism. I feel like the more fantastical, whimsical parts of the story worked very well as a whole and it never strayed into the realms of unbelievable. From that beautiful front cover, to an equally beautiful story within the pages, Attend is an imaginative piece of work that will touch your heart and potentially make you believe in magic all over again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Born and bred in south London – and not the Somerset village
with which he shares a name – West Camel worked as an editor in
higher education and business before turning his attention to the
arts and publishing. He has worked as a book and arts journalist,
and was editor at Dalkey Archive Press, where he edited the Best
European Fiction 2015 anthology, before moving to new press
Orenda Books just after its launch. He currently combines his
work as editor at Orenda Books with writing and editing a wide
range of material for various arts organisations, including ghostwriting
a New-Adult novel and editing The Riveter magazine for the
European Literature Network. He has also written several short
scripts, which have been produced in London’s fringe theatres,
A highly anticipated debut, blending the magical realism of Angela Carter
and the gritty authenticity of Eastenders
and was longlisted for the Old Vic’s 12 playwrights project. Attend is his first novel.

Find West on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8283285.West_Camel

or on Twitter at: @west_camel

Thank you so much once again to Anne Cater, Karen Sullivan and Orenda Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Attend will be published on 13th December 2018 and will be available as a paperback and a digital e-book. If you fancy more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to book on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/41967084-attend

Link to book on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Attend-West-Camel/dp/1912374390/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1544092398&sr=8-1&keywords=attend+west+camel

The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton (buddy read with Stuart from Always Trust In Books)

Published December 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

How do you stop a murder that’s already happened?

At a gala party thrown by her parents, Evelyn Hardcastle will be killed–again. She’s been murdered hundreds of times, and each day, Aiden Bishop is too late to save her. Doomed to repeat the same day over and over, Aiden’s only escape is to solve Evelyn Hardcastle’s murder and conquer the shadows of an enemy he struggles to even comprehend–but nothing and no one are quite what they seem.

Deeply atmospheric and ingeniously plotted, The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle is a highly original debut that will appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Agatha Christie.

And now for something a bit different…

Hello everyone and welcome to a very special review on my blog. A little while ago, I participated in my first ever buddy read with Stuart who blogs over at Always Trust in Books (and is an awesome blogger so you should all go follow him if you don’t already!). So far we’ve read the first two books in the brilliant Arc Of A Scythe series by Neal ShustermanScythe and Thunderhead and we’ve even read a little non-fiction too – Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt.

Stuart and I ummed and aaahed for a little bit about how we wanted to review our books – individually or more of a collaboration and he had the brilliant idea of capturing our Twitter chat and then including it as part of our review. So please find here before our thoughts and feelings about The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle at the moment of reading it. If you’re worried about spoilers, never fear! Stuart and I deliberately kept the juicier parts of the narrative very vague so if you haven’t read this yet, no big secrets are given away.

What did WE think?:

Stuart: Hey Beth. I hope your week hasn’t been to hectic! Are you good to start reading today?

Beth: I sure am!! 😁 very excited, how would you like to divide it up?

Stuart: Let’s go with pages 100, 231, 350 and the end. Is that okay for you?

Stuart: Just to let you know, I am going to need some time before I actually post this buddy read. I am planning on doing a huge shake-up on my blog, name change and all.

Beth: That’s perfect. No worries at all dude. Ooh I’m kind of intrigued about your shake up! 🤔 don’t worry we can post whenever you’re ready.

Stuart: I just need to jumble everything up and refocus. I’ve been a tad slack recently. Cool! Well I’ll get started now 😁

Beth: I’m crossing everything that we’ll love this as much as everyone else seems to! 🤗

Stuart: Me too. Don’t want to be that reader 🙄. Liking what I am reading so far.

Stuart: I’m ready 😀. So many questions!

Beth: Me too!! First of all, let’s talk about that opening chapter? 😳 Wow, wow, WOW!

Stuart: It was a pretty explosive entry into the narrative. That line ‘How lost do you have to be to let the devil lead you home’ gave me chills. It is a great fusion of spiky adrenaline and dreamy confusion.

Beth: Fantastic description and exactly how I felt. I love a narrative like this that keeps you guessing. By about 30 pages in I already knew I was going to love it and I’m so intrigued to see how it continues. I’m intrigued about our narrator being trapped in different characters each morning but to have a puzzle to solve as well? Who knows what’s going to happen?!

Stuart: I was fascinated by the mystery but I was also slightly uneasy with the initial journey into Blackheath. When he truly discovers what is going on, that really did it for me and now I am completely fixated 😅

Beth: I think it might be one of the few books that I could give five stars in such a short time of

reading it! What do you think about the strange figure that appears telling our main lead what’s going on?

Stuart: The plague mask is an interesting point. I hope it has meaning instead of just being a cool feature. I don’t know what to think really. What could they possibly achieve with such a scenario. I wonder if the others are going to be competitive or helpful.

Beth: I definitely wasn’t expecting the whole costume thing. I definitely think they’re going to be competitive. I’m quite concerned it could turn quite nastier than we’re anticipating? 😕

Stuart: Well if that whole servant assault scene was anything to go by then it is going to be brutal. I’m hoping it might turn out to be an impossible love story, that would be perfect. Shall we continue reading?

Stuart: Should have probably finished on the next chapter 😅

Beth: Yes I’ll see you at the next checkpoint! 🤗

Stuart: I really like the way that the traits of each person come through. It would have been a shame if each individual was overly similar.

Stuart: ‘It’s like I’ve been asked to dig a whole with a shovel made of sparrows’. Turton’s imagination is excellent!

Stuart: Ready when you are! We always get the oddest of places to stop for our chats 😅

Beth: We certainly do! Still SO many questions! Who is the plague doctor? Who is this mysterious footman? I loved that quote you put above, the imagery is just fantastic and I really feel present in this world, like an onlooker at the party. I am glad like you say that each “host” is so very different. There’s a lot of characters to get to grips with and it makes it much easier when they have their own personalities!

Stuart: Having Aiden grapple with his hosts personalities and use their qualities (or lack of) to his advantage was really good. The plague doctor guess is still a work in progress. It is quite immersive and I am finding myself trying to keep track of who was where and when. My speculation generator is working overtime. What do you think of Turton’s writing?

Beth: I’m really enjoying it. It’s highly imaginative and the way he must have had to get all these

different pieces of the plot to come together is staggering! I’m not getting confused between the characters which is a relief but I am having to remind myself what certain individuals have done! 😂 How about you?

Stuart: It is an ambitious tale for sure! I am enjoying his multi-layered narrative and you’re definitely right about it not getting muddle up. Turton traps you with this impossible situation and I knew I had to finish this novel no matter what from the very beginning. I like the fluidity of the story, anything can change and Aiden’s hosts are beginning to overlap in new and interesting ways. Can’t wait to delve in deeper!

Beth: Me neither. Do you think Anna can be trusted? 🤔

Stuart: I’m not sure! There are so many versions of each character at various points in the story. I do know that the footman will stop at nothing to bring the others to their end. Ready to carry on?

Beth: Absolutely! I might be a bit slow for the next couple of days as work is a bit mad but looking forward to it. P350 right?

Stuart: Yeah no problem. Hope work goes okay!

Stuart: He has done this loop thousands of times!

Stuart: Ready 😁. Another perfectly timed break!

Beth: Oh my God I’ve just started reading. P245 – “brave rabbit.” 😱 Then the next chapter when he’s warned about the carriage…🤔

Stuart: Oh yeah. It has gotten so much darker!

Beth: It sure has. P316 “Every man is in a cage of his own making.” (The Plague Doctor) and the suggestion Aiden is being lost in the personalities of his hosts? 😳

Stuart: I think he might have done this to himself as some sort of penance. He has choosen to be there but why?

Beth: Oooh that’s interesting! You’ve made me think now. P331-332 oh my god!! 😳

Stuart: Oh yeah, the clock is ticking…

Beth: Hooray! I’m at p350, you’re right that was the perfect place to stop. Wow. I have such a mixture of feelings right now. I’m really confused, excited, intrigued, bewildered?? 😂

Stuart: It is very paradoxical and nuanced at the same time. One moment Aiden is chatting and the next second he is gunning for his life. I can’t stop trying to guess who it was. My head hurts 🤕

Stuart: I feel like making a wall chart with all the players criss-crossing and events displayed. I feel close to a solution then I forget another important part 🤣

Beth: Ahh mine too 🤕 😂 I don’t think you can call it at all. I have no clue what’s going to happen! And because it jumps backward and forward in time sometimes it’s so easy to lose the thread! This footman is really creeping me out though, how about you? 😕

Stuart: I just don’t know how he fits into the scheme. Is he there for sport? Does he have a bigger goal? How does he know more than everyone else? I’m getting dizzy again!

Beth: We really don’t know much about him. He’s so mysterious. All we know is that he wants to kill off all the hosts. It’s like they’ve both got the same goal – to stop the loop and it’s first one to the finish line?

Stuart: There are so many little lines of text that throw us off course. Turton is a pro at getting us to trust no one!

Beth: Haha that’s very true! We don’t even know who our main character really is, that could come as a surprise if we find out later? 🤔

Stuart: Possibly! Time to continue?

Beth: Let’s go to the end!! 👊🏻💪🏻👍🏻👌🏻🤘🏻

Beth: What is going ON?! P429 😅🤷🏼♀️😂

Stuart: I know. Many different hands at play. I love seeing all the earlier moments explained.

Very satisfying!

Beth: Finished!! 😅😳

Stuart: 😬🤕😅

Beth: Oh my goodness what did you THINK? Were you expecting that?!

Stuart: I was amazed by the Anna situation/ending. What a scenario! The Evelyn Hardcastle side of things… I am on the fence. How about you?

Beth: It took me a little while to get my head round it if I’m perfectly honest. It was so unexpected that I found myself re-reading entire passages twice or three times just to make sure I understood exactly what Turton had done. 🤔

Stuart: The connection between Anna and Aiden was superb. The best kind of backstory! I couldn’t get enough. I know what you mean though. Evelyn’s was a bit of a tougher conclusion. I still have questions… But what a book overall! Turton deserves the praise. Maintaining all those threads in a meaningful and whole narrative without totally losing his own mind is a success in itself!

Beth: Absolutely. So beautifully intricate I can’t even imagine how he pulled it all together. I feel like it’s the kind of book you need to read again just to appreciate all the threads that he wove and the incredibly convoluted plot?

Stuart: I think that is what makes this book so appealing is its superbly weaved mystery and the fact that Turton’s delivery is both controlled yet explosive at the same time. I would read it again just for those ‘ahhhhhh!’ moments 😅

Beth: I’ll certainly be reading anything Turton puts out in the future! Who do you think was the most interesting host? 🤔

Stuart: I’m going to say Derby but only because, not only was he the turning point for the whole story, he was a nasty piece of work that Aiden had to keep under control. You?

Beth: I think Rashton, the policeman? I really enjoyed his detective work and thought things really started coming together when Aiden was in his body.

Stuart: That is true, plus he was an unknown player right up until the last act. I did love those moments where actions from the earlier chapters get explained or come into play. It was very satisfying!

Beth: Yes! It’s why I wonder if a second reading would be even more valuable to cement the timeline of events even more? 🤔

Stuart: I am enjoying going back through it in my mind and trying to make new connections. Seven Deaths was a book that really tested my intuition. I have a bit of a book hangover now…

Beth: Me too haha 😂

Here endeth the Twitter chat.

Final thoughts

I think you might be able to see from our Twitter chat that Stuart Turton sent us into complete emoji-overload! This book had such a convoluted plot but what I couldn’t get over at any point in the narrative was how amazingly clever it was and how all the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle slotted together right at the end. I can’t imagine the amount of preparation and thought that had to go into a novel like this and I salute the author whole-heartedly for pulling it off in an incredible fashion where I’m still thinking about the book quite a while after finishing it.

Stuart Turton, author of The Seven Deaths Of Evelyn Hardcastle.

Personally speaking, I find there is a fine line with complexity in novels. That is to say, I want something innovative, deep and slightly confusing that might fox me a little and have me scratching my head BUT I don’t want it to frustrate me and lead to me putting down the book because it isn’t exciting enough to hold my interest. Turton walks this line perfectly with Evelyn Hardcastle. Yes, it is intricate and makes your head spin a little bit however the glorious nature of the plot, the characters and the way the author structures it made me desperate to figure out the puzzle. So where it might have been maddening at points, it was maddening in a terrific way and I was constantly invested and involved in the story, curious to discover what exactly was going on.

And the characters? Wow. Just wow. I don’t think I’ve ever read a novel before where the characters were so completely diverse and individual from each other! I have to admit when I saw the extensive list of players in the beginning, I was slightly nervous – would I be able to keep up? The answer is – quite easily. Each character is very distinguishable and incredibly fascinating. In fact, there wasn’t a single person that I didn’t want to know more about which is an enviable task for an author I’m sure.

The mystery in this novel is second to none. From the very beginning, I was enveloped in Aiden’s journey through his various hosts in order to figure out exactly who killed Evelyn Hardcastle and what their potential motive is. Nothing is wrapped up nicely in a little bow (which I appreciated) and it’s a long, elaborate story to get there but boy, is it worth it! I came away from this book immediately wanting to go right back to the first page and start again to pick up on the things that I had missed and it’s a rare book that makes me want to do that. If you haven’t read this novel yet, I encourage you with every breath in my body to DO IT – it’s a reading experience that cannot be missed and I’m so delighted to have finally realised why everyone is talking about it.

Thank you to Stuart from Always Trust In Books for another amazing buddy read – check out his review on his blog today!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2018 – NOVEMBER READ – Number The Stars by Lois Lowry

Published December 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ten-year-old Annemarie Johansen and her best friend Ellen Rosen often think of life before the war. It’s now 1943 and their life in Copenhagen is filled with school, food shortages, and the Nazi soldiers marching through town. When the Jews of Denmark are “relocated,” Ellen moves in with the Johansens and pretends to be one of the family. Soon Annemarie is asked to go on a dangerous mission to save Ellen’s life.

What did I think?:

I had a sneaking suspicion before I suggested this title to Chrissi for our Kid-Lit list this year that I was going to enjoy it and I’ve got to say, I love it when my hunches about a novel are spot on! I’ve already read two books in Lowry’s infamous Giver series so I was aware of the power of her writing style and when reading the synopsis and discovering it was set during World War II (another of my favourite time periods to read about) I was quietly confident that I was on to a winner. I was anticipating an emotional and dramatic narrative considering the atrocities that were perpetuated against the Jewish people during the war but I wasn’t expecting such beautiful and understated characters that carried out unbelievable feats of bravery where it made for an astonishing and compelling read.

Lois Lowry, author of Number The Stars.

This is the story of ten year old Annemarie Johansen and her Jewish best friend, Ellen Rosen, two ordinary little girls living in Copenhagen, Denmark whose lives like everyone elses is turned upside down when Denmark surrenders to the Nazi’s and German soldiers enter their town, assuming control and terrifying everyone at any given opportunity. The brutality of the Nazi’s increases exponentially as they begin to carry out their twisted ideals in Copenhagen by slowly removing any Jewish members of the population. Desperate to help, Annemarie’s family takes Ellen into their home, pretending she is one of them and with the help of the Danish Resistance, make new plans to help all the other Jewish people in the town that haven’t already been “re-located” so they may escape almost inevitable death.

King Christian X of Denmark making his regular pilgrimage by horse through Copenhagen in 1940, as referenced in Number The Stars.

What a lovely and moving story this was! I’m always in two minds about how I feel after reading World War II narratives but I particularly enjoy reading stories set in different countries that I haven’t read about before so as to learn how they coped, especially if they had to suffer Nazi occupation. Part of me feels disgusted and devastated by the treatment shown, particularly to the Jewish contingent but another part of me is always compelled to keep reading and absorbing as much as I can about this terrible period of our worlds history, to ensure it is never forgotten and (fingers crossed) will hopefully never happen again.

The story felt remarkably authentic and it’s obvious the author did her research on Denmark at this troubled time. I adored the inclusion of King Christian X who defiantly continued to ride through the town on his horse and see his people despite the ominous presence of the Nazi soldiers who wondered at his audacity! The fact that this actually used to happen made me feel quite emotional and it made me consider the terrible decision he had to make about surrendering to the Germans. Denmark was a small country with a relatively small army in comparison to the German military and I completely understand why he made the decision he did – in order to save many more lives than if he had stood against them in war.

Number The Stars has an intriguing, very readable and gripping plot coupled with some fantastic characterisation in Annemarie and her family. Although Annemarie was perhaps the most developed of the characters (I would have liked to have known a bit more about the characters within the Danish Resistance), she was an instantly loveable and endearing part of the story and I appreciated her journey from a frightened ten year old girl to a brave, determined fighter who is put into the most horrific situations but takes it all in her stride in order to protect her friends and family.

This is a stunning story with an important message and I really hope it continues to be read by children all over the world for years to come.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review, please see her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP IN DECEMBER ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT: Time Travelling With A Hamster by Ross Welford.

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales – Oliver Sacks

Published November 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In his most extraordinary book, “one of the great clinical writers of the twentieth century” (The New York Times) recounts the case histories of patients lost in the bizarre, apparently inescapable world of neurological disorders. Oliver Sacks’s The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat tells the stories of individuals afflicted with fantastic perceptual and intellectual aberrations: patients who have lost their memories and with them the greater part of their pasts; who are no longer able to recognize people and common objects; who are stricken with violent tics and grimaces or who shout involuntary obscenities; whose limbs have become alien; who have been dismissed as retarded yet are gifted with uncanny artistic or mathematical talents.

If inconceivably strange, these brilliant tales remain, in Dr. Sacks’s splendid and sympathetic telling, deeply human. They are studies of life struggling against incredible adversity, and they enable us to enter the world of the neurologically impaired, to imagine with our hearts what it must be to live and feel as they do. A great healer, Sacks never loses sight of medicine’s ultimate responsibility: “the suffering, afflicted, fighting human subject.”

What did I think?:

This particular work of nonfiction might not come as a surprise to recent readers of my blog as I’ve been participating in Nonfiction November and being quite enthusiastic about the fact that neuroscience is one of my favourite things to read about. Saying that, it might come as a bit of a shock (and it certainly was to me!) that I haven’t picked up a single book by world-renowned neuroscientist Oliver Sacks who has written a plethora of books on the topic before sadly passing away in 2015. Awarded a CBE in 2008, Sacks even has an asteroid named after him for crying out loud! It was high time I discovered his work and I was delighted when my partner, Mr B picked one of his most famous books as part of my September TBR.

Generally, I have to say that I really enjoyed this fascinating little book. I have some small issues with it which I’ll go into a bit later but overall, it was a mind-blowing insight into the world of the brain when it happens to malfunction. It’s a book I absorbed in small chunks, reading a particular case each night and personally, I found this to be the best method of taking in the wealth of information that we are given as a reader. Now I’m quite lucky to have a scientific background because of my day job within science but I have to admit there were moments when I feel the author assumed the reader had a greater medical knowledge than they might otherwise have. This makes me slightly concerned that someone who doesn’t have any prior scientific know-how might be a bit turned off by portions of this book but thankfully I don’t think there’s too many instances of information overload and most of the time, I believe you would get the gist of what the author is describing.

Oliver Sacks, author of The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales.

I have to say, the cases that Sacks describes in this book are absolutely unforgettable. There’s the “Man” from the title who has issues with visual recognition, even attempting to lift his wife’s head clean off her neck, mistaking it for his hat! Oddly enough, as we find with many of these neurological cases, despite our man’s severe visual recognition problems, he still manages to work as a successful music teacher and live a fulfilling life. We also have a man suffering from Parkinson’s who can’t help but tilt as he walks, rather like the Tower Of Pisa and develops a strange method to correct his tilting when Sacks draws his attention to it. Then there is the lady who has a strange dream that she cannot feel parts of her body and one day, when she awakes, her dream seems to have become her worst nightmare. She loses all sense of where her body is in space and in time (known as proprioception) and she is forced to concentrate at every waking moment to assess where her body might be, even for something as simple as sitting down.

I think the most heart-breaking story for me was the story of the middle-aged sailor who Sacks meets and immediately forges a relationship with. However, our sailor believes himself to be nineteen years old and in the year 1945 and neglects to remember who Sacks is after a few minutes of leaving the room. There is sadness in a lot of the cases that Sacks recounts and other accounts that had me shaking my head in disbelief and wonder, purely at how our brain can mess up so randomly and most importantly, drastically affect the rest of our lives as a result. However, the most interesting thing is that in many of these cases, the person afflicted didn’t realise anything was actually wrong and seemed perfectly content in the new life that their brain had made for them. Does this make it okay? Of course not! But are they suffering? It’s hard to say and there’s so much about the brain that we still don’t know which makes it an endlessly fascinating subject for me.

Image from: https://charterforcompassion.org/science-and-research-compassion-book/what-neuroscientists-can-teach-you-about-the-brain

As I alluded to earlier, I do have some small criticisms about this book, aside from the occasionally complicated and unexplained scientific terms I mentioned before. I am fully aware that this book was originally published in 1986 and therefore, attitudes and political correctness were perhaps slightly different however I did find it uncomfortable reading when Sacks devoted whole chapters to individuals that were mentally challenged/autistic and referred to them in terms that would be derogatory nowadays i.e. idiot, retarded, simple to name a few. Of course I understand this was merely a sign of the times and wouldn’t be acceptable today but this book has had multiple editions published and I don’t think a quick update would have hurt? Just my opinion.

Apart from this little niggle, I found this to be a highly informative and intriguing read and I’ll be interested to pick up another of Sacks works in the future for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat And Other Clinical Tales by Oliver Sacks was the fifty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!