British Books Challenge 2014

All posts in the British Books Challenge 2014 category

British Books Challenge 2014 – The Round Up

Published January 5, 2015 by bibliobeth

Goodbye 2014! This was the second year I participated in the British Books Challenge and here’s a list of everything I read complete with review:

In Winter The Sky – Jon McGregor

The Blue Lenses – Daphne Du Maurier

The Flavours of Love – Dorothy Koomson

Black Dust – Graham Joyce

Marriage Material – Sathnam Sanghera

The Twins – Saskia Sarginson

The Long Weekend, A Social History of Great Britain 1918-1939 – Robert Graves and Alan Hodge

Who Framed Klaris Cliff – Nikki Sheehan

Storm and Stone – Joss Stirling

Foreign Fruit – Jojo Moyes

Through The Looking Glass and What Alice Found There – Lewis Carroll

Ghosts by John Harvey

The Lewis Man by Peter May

Talking About Apple Tree Yard by Louise Doughty with Chrissi

The Peacock Emporium by Jojo Moyes

The Jewel In The Crown – Paul Scott

The Chessmen – Peter May

Of Mothers and Little People – Lucy Wood

A Room Full of Chocolate – Jane Elson

A Commonplace Killing – Sian Busby

The White Princess – Philippa Gregory

The Fortune Hunter – Daisy Goodwin

Dangerous Girls – Abigail Haas

A Case of Identity by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes

The One Plus One – Jojo Moyes

The Magician’s Nephew – C.S. Lewis

Bees by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Entry Island – Peter May

The Ascent of Woman – Melanie Phillips

She Was Looking For This Coat – Jon McGregor

Sheltering Rain – Jojo Moyes

Longbourn – Jo Baker

The Science Magpie – Simon Flynn

Cruel Summer – James Dawson

Ganymede by Daphne du Maurier

Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie

Say Her Name – James Dawson

Xenos Beach by Graham Joyce

Down Among The Gods – Kate Thompson

That Dark Remembered Day – Tom Vowler

Heart Shaped Bruise – Tanya Byrne

I Am Pilgrim – Terry Hayes

The Wind in the Willows – Kenneth Grahame

Undone – Cat Clarke

Malvern Hills – Kazuo Ishiguro

An Officer And A Spy – Robert Harris

The Knife of Never Letting Go – Patrick Ness

The Lie – Helen Dunmore

Echo Boy – Matt Haig

Ghosts With Teeth – Peter Crowther

Hollow Pike – James Dawson

Eeny Meeny – M.J. Arlidge

The Madness – Alison Rattle

Shadows On The Moon – Zoe Marriott

The Selfish Giant – Oscar Wilde

Before We Met – Lucie Whitehouse

The Girl With All The Gifts – M.R. Carey

Mad About You – Sinead Moriarty

Lights In Other People’s Houses – Lucy Wood

The Ship Of Brides – Jojo Moyes

Daughter – Jane Shemilt

The Boscombe Valley Mystery – Arthur Conan Doyle

Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery – Henry Marsh

The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August – Claire North

Swallows And Amazons – Arthur Ransome

The Agency – Sarah Hall

The Shock Of The Fall – Nathan Filer

The Vanishing Witch – Karen Maitland

The Private Blog of Joe Cowley – Ben Davis

Looking Up Vagina – Jon McGregor

Season To Taste Or How To Eat Your Husband – Natalie Young

The Pool by Daphne du Maurier

Partial Eclipse by Graham Joyce

A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Nocturne – Kazuo Ishiguro

How To Build A Girl – Caitlin Moran

The Memory Book – Rowan Coleman

The Common Enemy – Natasha Cooper

Noughts & Crosses – Malorie Blackman

So that makes it 80 British Books read for 2014 just one less than last year. Highlights have to be discovering the wonderful Patrick Ness, finding the perfect short stories from Natasha Cooper and Daphne du Maurier and realising that I’m quite in love with YA fiction. Why did it take me so long to read Malorie Blackman? Here’s to 2015, I can’t wait to see what goodies I find this year.

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2014 – DECEMBER READ – The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Published December 31, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

What secrets lie behind the doors at Misselthwaite Manor? Recently arrived at her uncle’s estate, orphaned Mary Lennox is spoiled, sickly, and certain she won’t enjoy living there. Then she discovers the arched doorway into an overgrown garden, shut up since the death of her aunt ten years earlier. Mary soon begins transforming it into a thing of beauty–unaware that she is changing too. But Misselthwaite hides another secret, as Mary discovers one night. High in a dark room, away from the rest of the house, lies her young cousin, Colin, who believes he is an incurable invalid, destined to die young. His tantrums are so frightful, no one can reason with him. If only, Mary hopes, she can get Colin to love the secret garden as much as she does, its magic will work wonders on him.

What did I think?:

The Secret Garden is the last title in the Kid-Lit Challenge for 2014 and I am so pleased that it was picked, I know it’s also a big favourite of Chrissi’s. I was slightly concerned as always, that re-reading it as an adult would dampen some of its charm but luckily that was definitely not the case! Our main character is Mary Lennox, a ten year old girl whom when we meet her is living in India with her mother and a host of servants including her personal Ayah who she treats abominably. For Mary is selfish, spoilt and used to getting her own way and when she doesn’t – well, the people around her certainly know about it. Even playing with other children in the area fares no better as Mary is equally rotten to them causing them to tease and name her “Mistress Mary, quite contrary.” Then a bout of cholera sweeps over the household, taking the servants and Mary’s mother with it, leaving her forgotten about and orphaned in her rooms until someone happens upon her (in quite a tantrum for having being left alone) and sends her to her uncle’s home in England.

Mr Craven of Misselthwaite Manor in Yorkshire is a peculiar character and one Mary feels slightly wary of as she is told by the housekeeper, Mrs Medlock, that he is not to be disturbed and quite frankly, is not really bothered about her being in his keep. Therefore, she is to amuse herself. But with no access to books, toys, etc and finding out from the servant Martha who sweeps her fire each morning that she is to dress herself (horror upon horrors), the only thing to do is to get out in the fresh air and wander through the gardens of the property. There she comes into contact with Ben Weatherstaff, the surly yet lovable head gardener and it is through him that she makes her first friend, a wonderful little robin. This robin has no fear of the old gardener and to Mary’s delight, often alights at his feet while Ben talks to it as if it were you or me in his broad Yorkshire accent. Through Ben and Martha, whose chatter she comes to quite enjoy, she learns the sad story behind Misselthwaite Manor. The mistress of the house, Mrs Craven, died while quite young and since then Mr Craven has never been the same, caught up in grief and often confining himself to his rooms. She once had a glorious garden, but when she died, Mr Craven angrily locked the door and buried the key so no one else could enjoy it. Mary finds herself caught up with the romance and sadness of the story and one morning, while chattering away to her new robin friend, he begins digging in the earth close to a wall in which she is certain lies the forgotten garden. Lo and behold, he uncovers the key and Mary is able to enter the “secret” garden for the first time.

Mary doesn’t know a whole lot about gardening but is desperate to do something with her little secret haven so confides in Martha that she would quite like to learn a bit about gardens and how to keep them. Martha is pleased that a transformation of sorts seems to be happening with Mary and that she no longer seems so surly or mean-faced so she introduces her to her brother Dickon, who knows everything there is to know about how things grow. Dickon is a fascinating character and although Mary has never had a friend in her life, the two like each other instantly and revel in the joy of their secret garden. Dickon teaches Mary how to plant and grow seeds and seems to be a regular Dr Doolittle with an animal friend constantly in tow, including a crow, two squirrels, a fox cub and a newborn lamb. This isn’t the end of the story however, we still have an interesting character to meet. After Mary hears crying in the night and is fobbed off by the staff whom she knows to be hiding something, she happens upon a boy lying in bed. It turns out he is Colin, son of her uncle, whom when born was weak and seemed destined to be a cripple or a hunchback. He keeps to his bed, constantly fearing a lump appearing upon his back with frequent hysterical and demanding fits, determined that he is not long for this world. It is only with Mary and Dickon’s help and the magic of the secret garden that he is able to appreciate life once more. As a result, his father Mr Craven also may once again know the joy that he has missed.

This is a beautiful story by Frances Hodgson Burnett and definitely one of my favourite children’s classics. It was wonderful to find out that it has stood the test of time and I think children today would still enjoy either reading it themselves or listening to it being read. The main character Mary goes on quite a dramatic journey as a person and it was lovely to see her transformation from a blatantly horrible little creature to an enthusiastic, passionate, kind and giving child as the book nears its end. I also enjoyed that it had its morals and messages but they were fairly subtle rather than being pushed or preached to as you can sometimes find in certain classic novels. And who doesn’t love a story with animals in? The addition of the friendly robin, crow, fox etc was a great touch by the author and one in which I think would appeal to many children. Basically, I can’t find much wrong with this timeless children’s story and I’m even now looking forward to when I decide to re-read it again!

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Look out for Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit in 2015, titles to be revealed tomorrow!

Noughts & Crosses (Noughts & Crosses #1) – Malorie Blackman

Published December 14, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

Two young people are forced to make a stand in this thought-provoking look at racism and prejudice in an alternate society.

Sephy is a Cross — a member of the dark-skinned ruling class. Callum is a Nought — a “colourless” member of the underclass who were once slaves to the Crosses. The two have been friends since early childhood, but that’s as far as it can go. In their world, Noughts and Crosses simply don’t mix. Against a background of prejudice and distrust, intensely highlighted by violent terrorist activity, a romance builds between Sephy and Callum — a romance that is to lead both of them into terrible danger. Can they possibly find a way to be together?

What did I think?:

I am ashamed to say that even though Malorie Blackman is our Children’s Laureate in the UK until 2015, this is the first of her books I have read. She first came on my radar earlier this year with all the buzz around the first Young Adult Literary Convention which she organised and I attended and had a really great time. I’m happy to say that I’ve now been bitten by the Blackman bug as this book was truly fantastic and I can’t wait to continue the series. The novel is set in a world where individuals are divided into two classes on the basis of their skin colour. The Crosses are the elite, ruling class and are dark-skinned and the Noughts (or “no colour”) are the white subservient class who at one time, were slaves to the Crosses. Slavery has been abolished, but racial prejudice still runs high. The Crosses get the top jobs, the best pay etc whereas the Crosses tend to do more menial labours that require little/no education. It is only recently that Noughts have started allowing Crosses to enter their system for a better schooling yet there are no guarantees that they will be employed, especially if the employer is a Cross.

Our two main characters are Sephy and Callum who have been inseparable best friends since childhood even though Sephy is a Cross and Callum is a Nought. As they continue to grow up their feelings for each other change and they begin to fall in love. Unfortunately, this coincides with both teenagers becoming more aware of the differences between them and a heightened racial prejudice being reported in the media. For example, the idea of a Nought and a Cross becoming a couple is seen as despicable in most quarters. Furthermore, Callum who has been accepted to a high class Cross school, is in the obvious minority and suffers from physical attacks and taunts on a daily basis, sometimes shockingly, from the teachers. Fed up with being a second class citizen, Callum does not know where to turn and even Sephy cannot fully understand what he is going through, being a rich Cross who is chauffeur-driven to school due to her father being a rising and popular politician. Callum’s brother has decided to channel his hatred in a different manner – by joining the Liberation Militia, a Nought group fighting back against racial prejudice, but often in violent and almost terrorist ways. Callum has never condoned violence and is filled with hatred for what his brother does, but during his day to day life, he is becoming more isolated and is distancing himself from Sephy, afraid of what will happen if their two worlds collide. Sephy herself becomes increasingly desperate, not knowing how to reach out to Callum but is certain that they are meant to be together.

This was such a powerful book that affected me on so many levels. It’s almost like a modern day or dystopian Romeo and Juliet love story – ah, the star crossed lovers that can’t be together! Malorie Blackman has put her own magical spin on it however with the main theme being racial prejudice, that is just as heart-breaking and passionate as Shakespeare’s original story. I don’t think she had any motive in turning things round so that it was dark-skinned individuals who had the upper hand. In fact, I think she was making a general statement that racial prejudice of any kind against any person of any colour is fundamentally wrong and should not be tolerated. Sadly, there are still some deluded individuals out there who can’t quite understand this… Anyway, I absolutely loved the characters, the excitement of the plot, the suspense element and the (my mouth is gaping wide open right now) ending. This is a series with so much potential and from a talented author such as Malorie Blackman, I think it’s going to go really, really far.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):




Short Stories Challenge – The Common Enemy by Natasha Cooper from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Volume 7

Published December 12, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s The Common Enemy all about?:

The Common Enemy looks at the things that irritate us the most, yet when something terrible happens we may appreciate how lucky we are and how trivial those matters can be.

What did I think?:

For my Short Story Challenge, I’m rotating a number of collections around in sequence to try and get a bit more appreciation for the genre. So when I knew The Mammoth Book of Best British Crime (Volume 7) was coming around, I have to admit I sighed and rolled my eyes a bit as, to be honest, I haven’t been that impressed with the stories so far. I’m so glad I persevered with this collection as Natasha Cooper’s short story The Common Enemy really knocked my socks off. The story opens with an average couple, Dan and Sue Chalmers who are watching the News at Ten when they hear some noise from some teenagers outside. Sue seems to be livid with rage and we get the feeling that this is a common occurrence where they live. Even the gentle touch of her husband’s hand against her head does not ease her tension but when she listens to the newsreader talking about the problems in the Middle East she feels a bit chastised for getting so wound up about a bit of noise. After a little while, the noise ceases and Sue can hear the more familiar sound of her neighbour, Maggie Tulloch walking home from work whom she admires for being a probation officer and:

“trying to make her clients behave like human beings instead of filthy, thieving thugs.

Sue notices that Maggie’s footsteps seem to drag more than usual and she would be right. Maggie is having quite a tough time at home and tries to delay her arrival by any possible means, even if it means working late. When Maggie’s father died, Maggie invited her mother to move in with her, believing it would do them both some good. Her mum would have the company and Maggie would get some much needed help as she was raising her child, Gemma as a single parent. Now Gemma is fifteen and Maggie is regretting that decision enormously. Her mother is over-critical of everything she does, including how she brings up her daughter but she also criticises her personally e.g. wardrobe, eating habits – basically, she cannot do anything right and it’s really bringing her down.

That’s about all I’m going to say plot-wise because something happens that throws everything into disarray and changes lives for good. (Apologies too for the very vague synopsis). While I was reading this I actually missed my stop on the bus because I was so engrossed in the story! Furthermore, it’s not so much the turn of events that blew my mind but the way in which it ended. Shocking, thrilling and completely unputdownable, this story made my heart race and my eyes pop. I would have loved a little background information about the author in this collection as I haven’t read any of her work before but believe me, I’m going to now. If you get a chance to read this story please do and let me know what you think! Pure brilliance.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Note To Sixth-Grade Self by Julie Orringer from the collection How To Breathe Underwater

Talking About The Memory Book by Rowan Coleman with Chrissi

Published December 5, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

The name of your first-born. The face of your lover. Your age. Your address…

What would happen if your memory of these began to fade?

Is it possible to rebuild your life? Raise a family? Fall in love again?

When Claire starts to write her Memory Book, she already knows that this scrapbook of mementoes will soon be all her daughters and husband have of her. But how can she hold on to the past when her future is slipping through her fingers…?

Original, heartwarming and uplifting, The Memory Book is perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: The Memory Book is described in reviews as ‘life affirming’. Do you agree with this and if so why?
BETH: One hundred percent. It is definitely life affirming but in such a bitter sweet way. Our main character is Claire who has been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. She has two daughters, an older girl Caitlin from a previous relationship who she brought up alone, not telling the father about the pregnancy. Now she is married to Greg, the love of her life and has had a daughter with him Esther who is still very young. The bitter sweet part is that the Alzheimer’s is progressing more quickly than her family had expected, to a point where she is not safe left on her own. She begins to make a memory book to try and capture old memories so that they cannot be forgotten. There is no magical cure for her illness so there’s not going to be a happy ending but the story makes you think about how lucky you are to be alive and well in comparison and to live life to the fullest.
BETH: Discuss the relationship between Claire and Greg.
CHRISSI: I found the relationship incredibly moving between Claire and Greg. It was so hard to read about their relationship unravelling before their eyes. It must be incredibly hard for both sufferer and partner to deal with this horrible disease. Claire knew that she loved Greg at some point, but she couldn’t help the way the disease was making her feel. I thought it was particularly hard to read how Greg had to deal with ‘losing’ his wife so quickly. *gets all choked up*
CHRISSI: This book has been compared to Jojo Moyes’ Me Before You. This is one of our favourite books. Did the comparison affect your preconceptions of The Memory Book?
BETH: I always hate when books are compared to other books that I love! (A similar thing is happening with Gone Girl at the moment). However, I tried to ignore the hype monster, put JoJo Moyes book to the back of my mind and just enjoy the story that I was reading. It has a similar message sure, but I think it stands alone as a great story in its own right.
BETH: What did you think of Claire’s decision not to tell Caitlin who her father was?
CHRISSI: Oh gosh! That’s such a hard question. I think that except for exceptional circumstances that everyone deserves to know who their father is. It’s a part of them. I could totally understand Claire’s reasons why, but it really did make things hard in the long run for Caitlin and her father.
CHRISSI: Discuss the mother/daughter relationships in the book.
BETH: We have a few mother/daughter relationships in the novel. There’s Claire’s mother Ruth who has already nursed her own husband through Alzheimer’s disease until he died. Ruth and Claire have a bit of a fiery relationship as Claire is a strong and independent woman who when the disease hits, is finding it difficult to be taken care of and starts to resent her mother monitoring her so closely, even though she is doing it purely out of love. I enjoyed watching the relationship change between these two characters throughout the book, it was truly heart-warming. Then we have Claire’s relationships with her two daughters Esther and Caitlin. In her relationship with Esther, she becomes frustrated when she cannot read to her any more but ends up spending a lot of time with her doing fun things like escaping to the park and trying to cook – which ends in disaster! With Caitlin, it’s a bit more difficult, she has her own secrets and is finding the burden of knowing that she will have to care for her mother and that her mother will slowly forget her very difficult to take on.
BETH: Discuss how Greg copes with what is happening to Claire.
CHRISSI: *gets choked up again* I can’t even imagine how difficult it must be to deal with someone you love having this terrible disease. It really does destroy the person that used to be, and to watch someone you love have to go through that… it must be awful. I think Greg copes well considering what he is dealing with. You can feel his sadness and his detachment from his family. There are twists and turns in the story but I don’t want to spoil it for those that haven’t read it yet!
CHRISSI: Do you think this book is sensitive enough to the disease?
BETH: Definitely. I think it was portrayed very well. I was quite tentative when I was reading this novel, as Alzheimer’s and dementia are one of my worst fears. However, as Claire slips a bit further the author even manages to bring a bit of humour into situations that Claire finds herself in that were “sad-funny,” which I appreciated.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: Most definitely. A beautiful writer!
Would WE recommend it?:
BETH: But of course!
CHRISSI: Without a doubt!
BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):
CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

How To Build A Girl – Caitlin Moran

Published December 1, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn’t enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes—and build yourself.

It’s 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there’s no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde—fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer—like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontës—but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she’s smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She’s writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she’s built Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar—written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.

What did I think?: 

I was lucky enough to see Caitlin Moran in London when she went on tour talking about How To Build A Girl amongst other things that I hadn’t bargained for and was thoroughly delighted with. Yep, I stood on my chair and screeched “I am a feminist,” I bought some merchandise (all proceeds going to the charity Refuge which was fantastic) and was doubled over with laughter as Caitlin read some of the er… riskier parts of the book? How To Build a Girl is the story of an ordinary girl from Wolverhampton trying to become a woman amidst all the problems that adolescence brings, with a family who are practically living on the bread line.

Johanna Morrigan struggles with her own identity, in typical teenager fashion worrying about her body shape, her music tastes, boys and the inevitable sexual experiences that follow, but at the end of everything, all she wants to do is take care of her family. Her father has been an aspiring musician for many years but has failed to make it to the big time and drinks heavily. Her mother seems to exist on a different planet after having twins, probably suffering from post-natal depression so Johanna feels quite a bit of responsibility is on her shoulders for looking after the family. However, she makes a bit of a mistake by talking to the wrong person about the disability benefits her family is on and as a result, the benefits are cut taking her family even further down the poverty line. Things seems to be looking up when Johanna wins a poetry competition and has the opportunity to appear on television. Oh dear…the social awkwardness really comes into play here when Johanna makes a hilarious gaff on the programme (that had me in stitches, by the way) and she seems doomed to stay in her house forever and never appear in public again.

The only cure for this is to re-invent herself. Johanna Morrigan becomes Dolly Wilde, who blags herself a job as a music journalist complete with lots of eyeliner. And a top hat, of course. She also decides she will become a Lady Sex Adventurer, her exploits with a man with “a uselessly large penis,” is truly hilarious and has to be read to be believed. She manages to make a fair bit of money for her large and ailing family, but at some point seems to lose a part of herself along the way. But that’s what growing up is all about, making mistakes, hopefully learning from them and becoming a stronger, independent person because of them.

Caitlin Moran has written a fantastically rude and very authentic novel about adolescence and becoming a woman. I think it’s the sort of book that young girls should be able to read (and then hide under their pillow) just for the honest way in which the author writes about all those teenage feelings. Perhaps then they would feel that they weren’t alone, and what they were experiencing was entirely normal? If it helps one teenage girl feel a bit better about themselves, I think Moran has done a great duty and I can’t help wishing that it had been around during my adolescence.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge – Nocturne by Kazuo Ishiguro from the collection Nocturnes: Five Stories Of Music And Nightfall

Published November 29, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s Nocturne all about?:

Nocturne explores how physical appearance can be everything to be noticed in the Hollywood celebrity world. Our main character, Steve, is a talented saxophonist who has never made it big musically speaking until he is told that it is due to the way he looks.

What did I think?:

Nocturne could quite possibly be my favourite story in this collection. The theme surrounding all these tales appears to involve music and the jaded aspirations of the characters that feel that they have never really achieved their dream. Take our main character Steve, a brilliant saxophonist who has played with several bands and discovers real beauty in his music, yet according to his agent and soon to be ex-wife, it is because he is not blessed with the “movie-star looks,” that seem to be crucial to securing fame and fortune in the fickle Hollywood world. For example, in the words of his painfully honest agent:

“Billy’s ugly all right. But he’s sexy, bad guy ugly. You, Steve, you’re… Well, you’re dull, loser ugly. The wrong kind of ugly.”

Charming right? Steve does not even find comfort from his wife, who is leaving him for a guy she has held a torch for for many years. She embraces him, steps back regarding him deeply and considers, then actually agrees with his agent! But all is not lost – the man she is leaving him for feels bad about the whole situation (stealing his wife etc) and has offered to pay for him to have a full facial transformation under the best plastic surgeon that money can buy, a Dr Boris, surgeon to the stars who lets his patients recover on a special floor of an exclusive hotel where the press hounds cannot get to them. At first, Steve is appalled by the idea of changing his face to kick-start his career, but eventually he gives in and finds himself in the hotel, neighbour to no less than Lindy Gardner, a notorious celebrity who has a fabulous career, fantastic bank balance, a fresh face every so often and a few divorces under her belt. Steve’s agent is practically salivating when he finds out and insists that he remains on friendly terms with Lindy, as she could do so much for his career. I particularly love this quote from Steve which I find incredibly poignant regarding today’s celebrity culture:

“The week before, I’d been a jazz musician. Now I was just another pathetic hustler, getting my face fixed in a bid to crawl after the Lindy Gardners of this world into vacuous celebrity.”

They do become friends of sorts, and have a few interesting conversations about the celebrity world. Steve even gets the confirmation he has always dreamed of when Lindy listens to one of his CD’s and pronounces him “a genius.” The rest of the story is hilarious in parts, as the two set off on adventures around the hotel yet also bitter sweet as it comes near the time when the bandages are due to come off. For me, it was a beautiful and funny account of what one man will do to achieve his lifelong ambition. I felt myself switching from different emotions while reading it – some parts made me quite cross, others quite sad and others I just had to laugh at! Wonderful writing style as always with Kazuo Ishiguro who continues to surprise me with every story I read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Coffin-Maker’s Daughter by Angela Slatter from the collection A Book Of Horrors

Someone Else’s Skin – Sarah Hilary

Published November 27, 2014 by bibliobeth

Someone Else's Skin

What’s it all about?:

Some secrets keep you safe, others will destroy you…

Detective Inspector Marnie Rome. Dependable; fierce; brilliant at her job; a rising star in the ranks. Everyone knows how Marnie fought to come back from the murder of her parents, but very few know what is going on below the surface. Because Marnie has secrets she won’t share with anyone.

But then so does everyone. Certainly those in the women’s shelter Marnie and Detective Sergeant Noah Jake visit on that fateful day. The day when they arrive to interview a resident, only to find one of the women’s husbands, who shouldn’t have been there, lying stabbed on the floor.

As Marnie and Noah investigate the crime further, events begin to spiral and the violence escalates. Everyone is keeping secrets, some for survival and some, they suspect, to disguise who they really are under their skin.

Now, if Marnie is going to find the truth she will have to face her own demons head on. Because the time has come for secrets to be revealed…

What did I think?:

I first came across this book on the Richard and Judy Autumn Book Club list and as I’m a religious follower of the novels they pick, I was looking forward to giving it a go. What I wasn’t expecting was exactly how much I enjoyed it. Our main character is Detective Inspector Marnie Rome who may be excelling in her day-to-day work but underneath is suffering from a great personal tragedy, the murder of her parents. She is, as many of us attempt to do, trying to keep her personal life separate from her work life and is succeeding for the most part, yet still waters run deep and Marnie is dealing with her grief in quite a unique manner. From time to time, she visits the murderer of her parents in prison believing that eventually she will be able to get some answers as to why this person so brutally took the life of her parents.

Throwing herself into work, Marnie and her colleague Detective Sergeant Noah Jake visit a woman’s refuge as they are attempting to persuade a young woman to give evidence against her brothers for a savage attack they perpetuated on her. Unfortunately, things don’t quite go to plan as when they arrive at the refuge, all hell has broken loose. A man lies on the floor, halfway between life and death, stabbed by his wife, who had been staying at the refuge at the time. This is just the beginning of an intriguing and baffling case for the officers involved with a plot which is overflowing with suspense and excitement. There are also a lot of sub-plots going on involving multiple characters which I loved as it held my interest and curiosity. I’m not going to say too much more about the plot as I really don’t want to spoil things for those who haven’t read the book, but believe me you are not going to want to put this book down.

The characterisation in this novel was fantastic. I have to admit, Marnie was a character that kind of grew on me throughout the book, but by the end I loved her. Noah Jake is also another ball of surprises. His sexuality leads to him suffering from discrimination and prejudice (sadly, from his own colleagues) but his partnership with Marnie is a match made in heaven and they bounce off each other perfectly. And as for the plot? What can I say? Intricate, thrilling, compelling, with multiple twists and turns that both tease and delight. For a debut novel, it’s such an accomplishment and has Sarah Hilary sitting up the top with the best of the crime/thriller fiction writers. I’m so excited to hear that there will be more DI Marnie books and I can’t wait until I can get my hands on the next one!

For another perspective on Someone Else’s Skin, please see Cleopatra Loves Books fabulous review HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):



A Monster Calls – Patrick Ness

Published November 25, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

The monster showed up after midnight. As they do.

But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming…

This monster is something different, though. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor.

It wants the truth.

What did I think?:

I don’t even know where to start with this review, A Monster Calls is one of those books that will take your breath away. Not only is the premise incredibly sad but it was an idea conceived by the author Siobhan Dowd who tragically passed away from cancer before she was able to write the story. Patrick Ness took the project on and combined with the beautiful illustrations by Jim Kay, it stands out as one of those rare and powerful books that touch something in your heart and remain with you forever. Our main character is a boy called Conor whose mother is beginning treatment for cancer, although the prognosis is unfortunately not good. While this is happening Conor is having terrible nightmares and problems at school including bullying. Then it seems that others at his school, including teachers aware of his mother’s illness don’t really know how to talk to him and wherever he goes he is conscious of their pitiful glances. If all this wasn’t more than enough for a young boy to deal with, his father has moved abroad building a different life for himself with his new wife and child and doesn’t seem to know how to interact or support Conor in his time of need. Furthermore his grandmother, who looks after him when his mum is having her treatment is a bit prickly and does not conform to the stereotype of a loving, spoiling gran so they also have a difficult relationship:

“He didn’t like the way she talked to him, like he was an employee under evaluation. An evaluation he was going to fail.”

Then the monster comes. Fashioned from an old yew tree in the front garden, it appears just after midnight (obviously) and attempts to terrify Conor. However it is rather taken aback when Conor refuses to be terrified, after all Conor has in his words “seen a lot worse,” and his fears run a lot deeper than an old creaking yew tree. Conor dismisses the visit as just a nightmare, but then nightmares don’t leave bits of themselves behind like leaves and wood, do they? When the monster returns, he tells Conor that he will visit him again and each time tell him a story, three in total and then he expects Conor to tell him a fourth – THE TRUTH.


I don’t want to say too much more about the plot of this book as one of the many beautiful things about it is discovering the secrets yourself. I just have to re-iterate how blown away I was by it. Patrick Ness has already established himself as one of my new favourite authors with The Knife Of Never Letting Go, but with A Monster Calls he cemented it for good. I really appreciated the dark humour that ran throughout the story that made the heart-breaking moments so bitter sweet and I finished the story feeling emotionally exhausted but exhilarated at the same time as I knew I had just finished something incredibly special, the likes of which are rarely seen in a generation. I must also urge anybody who hasn’t read it to plump for the illustrated version – Jim Kay’s drawings also add a little something extra to the story and are truly gorgeous. I think this book would also be a must-read for anybody who has lost someone they loved, or a child in the same position as Conor that risks losing a parent.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


Short Stories Challenge – Partial Eclipse by Graham Joyce from the collection Tales For A Dark Evening

Published November 2, 2014 by bibliobeth


What’s Partial Eclipse all about?:

Partial Eclipse is a story about aliens – but not as we know them, and about the primal importance of dreaming.

What did I think?:

Graham Joyce has a real talent for blending a little bit of the supernatural into the lives of ordinary people and from the very first line of the short story Partial Eclipse, we are taken on a journey that will have an “other-worldly,” element:

“I know that Myra goes to bed every night and whispers, “Dear God please let the aliens come back.”

This is not just your typical alien story. These aliens are probably unlike anything you’ve ever read about before and were doing a very important job in our world. That is, they were the source of mankind’s creativity, storytelling, music, religion, scientific ideas and even jokes suggesting to our characters their visions through dreams. Unfortunately, they have now left and with them they took all opportunity for man to create something new.

The story focuses on a married couple, Jonathan and Myra who is pregnant with the couple’s second child. Each morning when they wake up they are desperate to know if the other has dreamed as it may suggest that the aliens have returned and things can return to normal. But seven years have passed since the aliens left Earth and when they ask each other the question, daring to hope after such a long time, there is a standard negative response. The desire for “something new,” seems to lie with the new generation who were born after the aliens departure and theatres are usually sold out when a new child prodigy performs, the audience desperate to hear something they haven’t already heard before. After seeing yet another suspected prodigy turn into bitter disappointment as the stories he tells are recognised, Jonathan begins to ruminate on the day the aliens left. Everyone can remember exactly what they were doing as is always the case with big events and the aliens appeared to each person in a dream in the form of a person/animal the dreamer has loved. They apologised for such a brief stay on the planet (five hundred thousand years to be exact), and hoped that each individual had enjoyed “the fruits of their presence.”

“Since then our stories have dried up. Our music has frozen, Our science is arrested. No one has had an original notion in seven years. We are lodged in the mud of time, fossilized. We are consigned to limbo, and the cold wind of uncreation howls in our ears like a demon. Our species, all of humanity, has become the preterite, the passed over. Our psychic teeth, pulled.”

The quote above, which is one of my favourites in the story, explains precisely the state that humanity now finds itself in. Myra even suggests that there were never really any aliens but that the voices in their dreams was the voice of God that gave them everything and then left them abandoned. It’s certainly an interesting concept and could be compared to an apocalypse or the end of the world as we know it. I don’t want to say too much more about the story but for some reason, this particular tale got right under my skin. I loved the unique way in which Graham Joyce’s imagination ran riot with this idea and I found myself wondering what it would be like to live in a world where we’ve “heard it all before,” and there is no scope for something original and different. For me the ending was absolute perfection and really rounded everything off quite nicely while suggesting hope for the future. Read this story and it will definitely stick in your head for a while, hard evidence of a master storyteller at the top of his game.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The Fly And Its Effect Upon Mr Bodley by Michel Faber from the collection The Apple: New Crimson Petal Stories