British Books Challenge 2015

All posts in the British Books Challenge 2015 category

British Books Challenge 2015 – The Round Up

Published January 3, 2016 by bibliobeth

BBC pointed shaded

2015 was my third year of participating in the British Books Challenge and I’m absolutely loving finding new British authors and discovering old ones too. Here’s what I read in 2015, please click on the title to see my review:

The Secret Garden – Frances Hodgson Burnett

The Devil In The Marshalsea – Antonia Hodgson

Under A Mackerel Sky – Rick Stein

A Terribly Strange Bed – Wilkie Collins

Silver Bay – Jojo Moyes

The Miniaturist – Jessie Burton

Five Children and It – E. Nesbit

Elizabeth Is Missing – Emma Healey

Magpies – Lucy Wood

Honeymoon In Paris – Jojo Moyes

The Good Children – Roopa Farooki

Ironheart – Allan Boroughs

The Five Orange Pips – Arthur Conan Doyle

The Murder Bag – Tony Parsons

She Murdered Mortal He – Sarah Hall

Dangerous Boys – Abigail Haas

The Raven’s Head – Karen Maitland

The Long Shadow – Mark Mills

Miss Carter’s War – Sheila Hancock

Keeping Watch Over The Sheep – Jon McGregor

The Archduchess – Daphne du Maurier

The Oversoul – Graham Joyce

Plague Land – S.D. Sykes

A Colder War – Charles Cumming

Flour Babies – Anne Fine

The Summer We All Ran Away – Cassandra Parkin

Cellists – Kazuo Ishiguro

Mrs Hemingway – Naomi Wood

Us – David Nicholls

Gretel And The Dark – Eliza Granville

The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe – C.S. Lewis

Frozen Charlotte – Alex Bell

Bloodsport – Tom Cain

The Lemon Grove – Helen Walsh

Kew Gardens – Virginia Woolf

Funny Girl – Nick Hornby

The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams

No Other Darkness (Marnie Rome #2) – Sarah Hilary

The Giant’s Boneyard – Lucy Wood

Golden Boy – Abigail Tarttelin

A Want Of Kindness – Joanne Limburg

Gangsta Granny – David Walliams

Half Bad – Sally Green

The Man With The Twisted Lip – Arthur Conan Doyle

I Let You Go – Clare Mackintosh

The NightLong River – Sarah Hall

Knife Edge – Malorie Blackman

This Book Is Gay – James Dawson

She Is Not Invisible – Marcus Sedgwick

The Beloved – Alison Rattle

The Graveyard Book – Neil Gaiman

Airshow – Jon McGregor

The Menace – Daphne du Maurier

A Song For Issy Bradley – Carys Bray

Candia – Graham Joyce

Night Music – JoJo Moyes

Extremes: Life, Death And The Limits Of The Human Body – Kevin Fong

Gingerbread – Robert Dinsdale

The Mistletoe Bride – Kate Mosse

The Taxidermist’s Daughter – Kate Mosse

More Than This – Patrick Ness

Watership Down – Richard Adams

The Rat In The Attic – Brian McGilloway

All The Birds, Singing – Evie Wyld

The Last Wild – Piers Torday

The Dark Wild – Piers Torday

The Wild Beyond – Piers Torday

How To Fly With Broken Wings – Jane Elson

Goodnight Mister Tom – Michelle Magorian

The Bees – Laline Paull

The Ice Twins – S.K. Tremayne

Beachcombing – Lucy Wood

House Of Windows – Alexia Casale

A Man And Two Women – Doris Lessing

The Ask And The Answer – Patrick Ness

The Class That Went Wild – Ruth Thomas

Life After You – Lucie Brownlee

A Wicked Old Woman – Ravinder Randhawa

The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle – Arthur Conan Doyle

Vuotjärvi – Sarah Hall

The Well – Catherine Chanter

So by my calculations that makes it 81 books read! Highlights for this year include my continuing love for Patrick Ness, the amazing House of Windows by Alexia Casale which absolutely floored me, the beauty that is Goodnight Mister Tom (why did I wait so long to read that?!) and All The Birds Singing by Evie Wyld which was just gorgeous. Looking forward to reading some more great British books in 2016.

The Well – Catherine Chanter

Published December 22, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

From the winner of the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize, a brilliantly haunting and suspenseful debut set in modern-day Britain where water is running out everywhere except at The Well; the farm of one seemingly ordinary family whose mysterious good fortune leads to suspicion, chaos, and ultimately a shocking act of violence.

Ruth Ardingly has just been released from prison to serve out a sentence of house arrest for arson and suspected murder at her farm, The Well. Beyond its borders, some people whisper she is a witch; others a messiah. For as soon as Ruth returns to The Well, rain begins to fall on the farm. And it has not rained anywhere else in the country in over three years.

Ruth and her husband Mark had moved years before from London to this ancient idyll in the hopes of starting their lives over. But then the drought began, and as the surrounding land dried up and died, and The Well grew lush and full of life, they came to see their fortune would come at a price. From the envy of their neighbors to the mandates of the government, from the fanaticism of a religious order called the Sisters of the Rose to the everyday difficulties of staying close as husband and wife, mother and child;all these forces led to a horrifying crime: the death of their seven-year-old grandson, drowned with cruel irony in one of the few ponds left in the countryside.

Now back at The Well, Ruth must piece together the tragedy that shattered her marriage, her family, and her dream. For she believes her grandson’s death was no accident, and that the murderer is among the people she trusted most. Alone except for her guards on a tiny green jewel in a world rapidly turning to dust, Ruth begins to confront her worst fears and learns what really happened in the dark heart of The Well.

A tour de force about ordinary people caught in the tide of an extraordinary situation, Catherine Chanter’s The Well is a haunting, beautifully written, and utterly believable novel that probes the fragility of our personal relationships and the mystical connection between people and the places they call home.

What did I think?:

I have such mixed feelings about this novel I’m hoping this review will be coherent and not a rambling mess! You’ll probably agree with me that the premise sounds fascinating and as a result, I was hopeful that it would be a good read. Unfortunately I had a few issues with it that has led to me giving it the star rating that I have. So, the story begins by introducing us to a woman called Ruth Ardingly who has returned to her home known as The Well on house arrest, guarded by three officers at all times, accused of murder. Then the story switches back to the past as Ruth recollects when she first came to the countryside property with her husband Mark, trying to escape the hustle bustle of the city life and some recent allegations about Mark (which were proved to be unfounded). Their marriage is on shaky grounds as it is and they are hoping that a new start on land where Mark can realise his dream of farming will allow their relationship to heal. Oh dear…you just know that this is not going to be the case, don’t you?

As Ruth and Mark are settling into their life at The Well, the rest of the country is experiencing the worst drought in history and life is difficult for the general population as they cope with water rations and inevitable drama that would ensue from this operation. Life gets a bit more difficult for Joe Public however when it is realised that there is one place in the country that seems to have an abundance of water and is the only place that receives precious rain. Yes, you’ve guessed it – it’s The Well. Just as Ruth and Mark are trying to re-build their marriage, they now have to deal with the jealousy, crazy people and haters who accuse Ruth of everything from water theft to plain and simple witchcraft. Ruth’s daughter Angie, an ex drug addict and her son Lucien come to stay on the property for a while in the company of some hippy-type travellers and even she is shocked by the drama that is unfolding in her mother’s life.

Following close on the travellers heels come another group of people which leads to the completely unanticipated and life-altering situation that Ruth now finds herself in the present time. They are of a new religious order, celebrating feminism and The Rose of Jericho and headed by the confident and very persuasive Sister Amelia. She manages to convince Ruth that she is something close to sainthood because of the seemingly magical flow of water to The Well and Ruth is soon thoroughly smitten with the idea, indulging in regular and cult-like devotions and neglecting her marriage and other responsibilities. Then Ruth’s grand-child, Lucien is tragically killed and Ruth immediately falls under suspicion when she cannot account for her whereabouts except for being in the throes of prayer. Fast-forward to the present time and Ruth has lost everything good in her life – her husband, her daughter, her grand-child, unless it can be discovered what really happened on that terrible evening.

Hmmm. So it wasn’t that I disliked this book. In fact, some parts of it I found incredibly poetic and moving and as I mentioned above, I was quite excited about it after reading the synopsis. Generally, I found it to be a bit of a slow burner, especially at the beginning although it did hit its stride after The Sisters Of Jericho entered the narrative. I also enjoyed how it bounced from the past to the present and loved reading about the relationship between Ruth and Boy (her favourite guard). My two main issues are the paranormal slant that the story is given which I didn’t really think went anywhere. At no time are we ever given an explanation of exactly why The Well is the only drought-less place in the country which was slightly frustrating but it’s not really explored in any great depth either and I would have liked a bit more insight into the situation across other homes and in the country as a whole which would have made the situation a bit more realistic in my eyes. Also, when the villain of the piece was unmasked, I was quite surprised as it seemed a little too easy for my liking. Unfortunately, I had already guessed it at the beginning of the novel but I immediately dismissed it as I thought the author would make it harder for me than that! If you can get past these two little niggles though it is a decent enough read and sports some beautiful passages that are so descriptive that I was able to picture the setting with ease. I would definitely be interested to see what this author does next.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge – Vuotjärvi by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference

Published December 18, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s Vuotjärvi all about?:

In the final short story of this collection, the serenity of a Finnish lake turns sinister when a woman’s lover does not return from his swim.

What did I think?:

I was disappointed to discover that Vuotjärvi was the last story in this collection, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and will definitely hunt for more books from Sarah Hall. I’m quite tempted to read her debut novel, Haweswater but I do already have a copy of her latest novel, The Wolf Border on my Kindle so stay tuned to discover which one I will pick! This story is set in the beautiful country of Finland where a young couple take up the offer of a cottage beside a lake (the Vuotjärvi of the title) for what looks to be their first holiday away together.

The story is told from the woman’s point of view as she watches her boyfriend swim out to the little island in the middle of the lake, expecting him to take about forty-five minutes to reach it. She watches until his head becomes a mere speck in the distance and then her mind wanders, re-living certain sensual moments of their relationship which the reader understands to be quite new and exciting as they haven’t yet said the pivotal three words “I love you.” When she looks out again to the lake, expecting to see him approaching or on the island she cannot see him which does not concern her at first – perhaps he has already got out of the water and is walking around the perimeter of the island after all.

However, when time passes by and she still cannot see her boyfriend, a mild panic begins to take over her and images of his body lying prone in the water come to her mind. She herself is not a strong swimmer and she recollects that she has already had a frightening experience when they were both swimming together in the lake where she felt as if she were being dragged down by something underneath. She debates for a while whether to rouse their neighbours and ask for help but decides that this may waste precious time so pulls their little rowing boat into the water and sets off towards the island herself, praying that she will see him at any moment.

This is when the story takes an even more sinister turn but I am wary of spoiling it. I think the beauty of this story lies in reading it yourself – all I will say is prepare for an eerie and dramatic last line! Sarah Hall seems to be a bit of a fan for ambiguous endings and, as ever, a lot is left open for the reader to explore with their own imagination. Mine is particularly vivid and there are multiple possible scenarios for a resolution, or not as the case may be. This tale was a perfect finale to the author’s first short story collection that combined beautiful moments of a couple in the first throes of love with creepy, unsettling prose and imagery that left me quite unsure at times whether I was reading a love story or a horror story! I am certain however that the darkness and passion of the author’s imaginings will stay with me and continue to unsettle me for a while yet.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Bibhutibhushan Malik’s Final Storyboard by Rajesh Parameswaran from the collection I Am An Executioner: Love Stories

Short Stories Challenge – The Adventure Of the Blue Carbuncle by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published December 8, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle all about?:

It is Christmas and the disappearance of a precious jewel, along with a rise in the popularity of geese (or one particular goose!) leads to a curious case for Holmes and Watson.

What did I think?:

I’m really enjoying the stories in this collection, especially trying to figure out what exactly is going on before Holmes and Watson (which I never manage to of course). I have found that each story has elicited a different response from me and I’ve actually learned a lot along the way which I had never realised about the classic detective and his trusty and often befuddled side-kick. For example, sometimes no actual crime has been committed and the story veers into the “cosy little mystery” genre with Holmes and Watson solving a puzzle rather than catching a bad guy. I mention this because The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle has within it another new realisation for me, that is – sometimes the perp may not always be brought to justice.

The story is set in the festive season quite appropriately for when I am writing this review and, as often happens, Watson comes across Holmes in his infamous rooms in Baker Street in quiet reflection mode. Holmes has been brought a battered old hat earlier that day by Commissionaire Peterson who tells a rather strange story. The hat and a goose had been dropped by a man in a brawl with some rather nasty characters who had meant to rob him. Holmes is attempting to work out what sort of man owned such a hat, and doing rather well much to Watson’s amazement, predicting such intricate details even down to what kind of products the man used on his hair!

The tale ramps up another notch when the excited Peterson rushes into his rooms after finding something rather curious in the goose that his wife had been preparing for dinner. It is the almost priceless Blue Carbuncle, a jewel previously owned by the Countess of Morcar but had disappeared from her room where she was staying. The police already have a man in custody for the crime, a plumber who carrying out some work in the room when the jewel was assumed to have gone missing. Of course, Holmes believes the man is innocent of the charge and after some digging around is able to unmask the true thief. Sherlock must have a soft heart under that often implacable exterior though as it looks like he might let this one get away. It is Christmas, after all!

This was a really nice little story and came round in perfect timing for the holiday season. At first, I did think it was going to be a bit more of the same old thing i.e. Holmes has a clue, manages to deduce crazy things from the look, smell, taste etc of an object, Watson is befuddled, Holmes provides the explanation, Watson is amazed! I do enjoy this part of course, and his deductions this time were incredibly clever but it can get a little formulaic from story to story. This time, I was delighted to find the cosy little mystery combined with a jewel robbery and then implantation of the said jewel into a goose of all creatures! It was also interesting to see the tender side of Sherlock as he reasons that the jewel will return to its rightful owner and the thief would be unlikely to offend again. Lovely little tale if you fancy reading some detective fiction based in the festive period.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: Vuotjärvi by Sarah Hall from the collection The Beautiful Indifference


Domestic geese have been used for centuries as watch animals and guards, and are among the most aggressive of all poultry – just a random fact for you!

Image and info from

Blog Tour – A Wicked Old Woman by Ravinder Randhawa

Published December 5, 2015 by bibliobeth

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I am delighted to be taking part in a blog tour for acclaimed author Ravinder Randhawa’s new novel, A Wicked Old Woman, organised by the lovely Faye, a freelance PR and book blogger extraordinaire! To visit her blog A Daydreamer’s Thoughts, please click HERE.


What’s it all about?:

Drama. Masquerade. Mischief.

A sharply observed, witty and confident novel. Linguistically playful, entertaining and provoking.

In a bustling British city, Kulwant mischievously masquerades as a much older woman, using her walking stick like a Greek chorus, ‘…stick-leg-shuffle-leg-shuffle…’ encountering new adventures and getting bruised by the jagged edges of her life. There’s the glamorous rebel who rescues her after a carefully calculated fall; Caroline, her gregarious friend from school days, who watched over her dizzy romance with ‘Michael the Archangel’, and Rani/Rosalind, who’s just killed a man …

Vividly bringing to life a bit of the 60s, 70s and 80s.

What did I think?:

After reading the synopsis of this novel, I was immediately intrigued and when invited to take part in a blog tour for the author, Ravinder Randhawa, I knew it was a story I had to read. Fiction about India has always been a bit of a passion of mine, whether set in India or in another country, usually England in my experiences. It encompasses a wide range of characters, all of whom have very different outlooks on what it has meant to be someone of Indian culture living in Britain through three decades of our history.

Generally, we tend to see life and the lives of others through the eyes of Kulwant who in the present time, is often accompanied by her stick and somewhat of a prickly, closed disposition. Of course there are reasons why she is so guarded, as the story continues and she reflects on her past we learn about the break-down of her marriage, her strained relationship with some of her children and a friendship that has lasted throughout the years, with Caroline, a white British woman who has been Kuli’s staunchest supporter. Their relationship was probably my favourite in the novel, I loved that Caroline took Kuli under her wing so that she did not feel as much of an outsider at school and is a driving force in the present to make sure Kuli is happy and makes the most of her life.

The supporting characters of this cast also play fantastic roles in this novel. We have poetic “Michael the Archangel” who asked for Kuli’s hand in marriage (and was gently let down) to “Myopic Maya,” who has had her own share of heart break but really comes into her own by the end of the story and finally, Rani/Rosalind whose sad state of affairs really tugged at my emotions. I have to admit that at points I did feel a little confused about what was going on exactly and I think that’s probably because I picked up and put down the book quite a few times. This book would probably benefit by being read in one or two sittings and it’s length (235 pages in my edition) means that this is a possibility. Once I had read a few pages however and was used to the style of writing, I really enjoyed the flow and meaning behind the novel.

Being a white British woman myself, I probably can’t completely understand or relate to what the author was describing in the novel i.e. how to live in a country where the culture is different from what you are born into, but I believe she got the message across very well and there were some beautiful moments. Reading her words feels almost like poetry and she has a real flair for language – in fact, there are wonderful, emotive lines on almost every page:

“…progress won’t come by changing a brick here and there, the whole structure was suspect and should be challenged as a whole.”

As a means of furthering my own education about Indian culture, this book definitely did the job and as a novel generally, it’s a fantastic piece of work that I think most people will be able to identify with even if there are differences in race. I learned a lot and will be thinking about some of these characters for a while as a result of this story.

Would I recommend it?:


Star rating (out of 5):


Intrigued? Want to know more? Make sure you check out the rest of the stops on the blog tour!

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Ravinder Randhawa is the acclaimed author of the novels Beauty and the Beast (YA), A Wicked Old Woman, The Tiger’s Smile and the short story collection Dynamite. She’s currently working on a trilogy: The Fire-Magician. Ravinder was a Royal Literary Fund Fellow at Toynbee Hall, Queen Mary’s University, the University of London, and founded the Asian Women Writer’s Collective.

Ravinder was born in India, grew up in leafy Warwickshire, now lives in London and agrees with Samuel Johnson’s saying (though of course, in a gender non-specific way) ‘…if a man is tired of London, he is tired of life.’ Loves good coffee and really good thrillers.

Author Links Website:









Talking About Life After You by Lucie Brownlee with Chrissi Reads

Published December 2, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

‘He crashed on to the pillow next to me, heavy as a felled oak. I slapped His face and told Him to wake up. Our daughter, B, appeared in the doorway, woken up by the screaming – I must have been screaming but I don’t remember – and she was crying and peering in. I told her the ultimate adult lie; that everything was all right.’

Sudden death is rude. It just wanders in and takes your husband without any warning; it doesn’t even have the decency to knock. At the impossibly young age of 37, as they were making love one night, Lucie Brownlee’s beloved husband Mark dropped dead.

As Lucie tried to make sense of her new life – the one she never thought she would be living – she turned to writing to express her grief. Life After You is the stunning, irreverent and heartbreakingly honest result.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: This title is published under Me After You and Life After You. What do you make of the titles?

BETH: Good question! I was slightly confused when I first purchased this novel for my Kindle as it appeared on there as a completely different title – my copy has the original title Me After You. I then found out that the title was changed to Life After You, perhaps as the original title looks too much like the (excellent and highly recommended) fiction novel Me Before You by Jojo Moyes. Personally, I believe it’s a good change and Life After You fits slightly better, especially as this is in fact a non-fiction read and shouldn’t really be compared to women’s fiction. I’m not saying anything against the genre as I do love a decent contemporary read angled at women but I think the story of this author’s grief after losing her husband shouldn’t be given the chance to be mixed up with any fictionalised account.

BETH: Were you immediately captivated by Life After You or did it take you a while to settle into the story?

CHRISSI:  I was absolutely captivated by this memoir. I thought it was an incredibly easy to read book, but at the same time it was hard to read because it was absolutely heart-breaking to read about Lucie’s loss. I think the reason why it was so captivating was the fact that it was such a raw read. It was brutally honest, and that’s what many people wish for in a memoir.

CHRISSI:  This memoir has been described as a ‘wrenchingly funny read’. Do you agree with this?

BETH: My first instinct on reading this question was to say “No,” as I got quite emotionally involved with the story and just felt so terribly sorry for what the author had/is continuing to go through. Looking back on it now though there was a lot of humour in this novel, perhaps it made it easier for the author to write about? I particularly enjoyed when the author tells us about Mark’s last words as they are having sex: “You’ve still got your socks on,” which was a strange but funny thing for her to remember and her naughty trysts with the plumber were also very amusing and felt heart-wrenchingly real.

BETH: Lucie refers to Mark in this novel with capital H’s i.e. Him/He. What do you think the purpose of this was and did you enjoy it?

CHRISSI: I personally think that Lucie capitalised Him and He because Mark was as important to her as God is to others. I know some other readers had some problems with it, but I thought it was suitable and fit the tale that Lucie had to tell.

CHRISSI: Did the fact that this is a true story have any more of an impact on you?

BETH: Definitely. I do love a non-fiction book at times, especially if one can tug at your emotions like this one did for me. It was a mixture of everything to be honest that had the impact. Firstly, Mark died so young and in the most horrendous of circumstances which I don’t think I could have coped with as well if it had been me! Secondly, they obviously had a beautiful, loving relationship which must make it all the worse when it is taken away from you. Finally, Lucie and Mark have a young daughter, B, who witnesses her mother trying to perform CPR on her husband and I cannot imagine how terrible that must have been for both Lucie and her daughter.

BETH: Lucie is very honest in this novel, being completely open about her excessive drinking. Did you understand her reasons for doing this?

CHRISSI: I do totally understand why Lucie was completely honest and open about her drinking. I believe that Lucie really wanted to portray what her grief was like and wanted to stay true to herself. I think that she wanted to be open and honest, so that other people that were going through the same thing, could read it and know that they weren’t alone. I believe that that’s a really brave thing to do!

CHRISSI: Lucie is a successful blogger. Does this book make you want to read her blog?

BETH: Oh yes! I’m always on the look out for new bloggers to follow and as I really enjoyed the style of writing in this novel I’m quite curious to see what else Lucie has written about.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author, non-fiction or otherwise?

CHRISSI: I would. I really enjoyed her writing style.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Yes!


BETH’s star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

CHRISSI’s star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art


Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2015 – NOVEMBER READ – The Class That Went Wild by Ruth Thomas

Published November 29, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

“Joseph climbed on his desk and began jumping up and down, wild with excitement, screaming at the top of his voice, ‘We’re the greatest! We’re kings of the world! We’re the greatest…!”

Ever since Mrs Lloyd left to have a baby, Class 4L has been impossible! Teacher after teacher has left in tears as Sean and his gang have got rowdier and rowdier. Gillian becomes worried because her twin Joseph has joined the gang and she’s sure he’s in trouble. But when her plan to rescue the situation ends in disaster, it seems nothing can save Class 4L.

Then Joseph goes missing….

What did I think?:

I’m afraid I might not be able to give a completely unbiased review of this book as it’s one of my childhood favourites and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve read and enjoyed it. This story holds so many happy memories for Chrissi and myself and I remember it being one of the books I read to her at night before she went to sleep. Ah yes, even then I was nurturing the little bookworm inside my sister! Of course, there’s always a worry that re-reading a book you loved so much as an adult will ruin some of the magic but I’m happy to report that this was not the case with this story and it was a beautiful trip down memory lane. The author, Ruth Thomas, wrote books that drew on her own experiences as a primary school teacher in London and she wrote convincing and credible characters that children can still relate to today.

As mentioned in the synopsis, this book follows the children from Class 4L, a lively bunch of ten year olds who have recently lost their beloved teacher Mrs Lloyd as she leaves to have a baby. It seems that Mrs Lloyd was the only teacher who had any influence or indeed managed to control the class. The children take out their frustrations at losing her on teacher after teacher as the class spirals into bouts of bad behaviour, led by resident bad boy and “king,” of the class, Sean Adams. One of our main characters, Gillian Rundell is terribly worried about her twin Joseph, the class clown, who has become indoctrinated into Sean’s gang and is getting into trouble both in and out of the classroom.

Joseph is easily influenced and peer pressure plays a huge role which leads to things getting increasingly nasty with little hope of a resolution, despite the efforts of Gillian and her friend Grace to save her vulnerable brother and turn around the behaviour of Class 4L in general. It turns out even a Good Club may not be enough to change things for the class and when Joseph goes missing, Gillian, her family and the headmistress Mrs White are at their wits end about what to do. Come back Mrs Lloyd!

This book was just as magical for me as it was during my childhood and it was so much fun re-discovering passages I had completely forgotten. Who could forget Dippy Dora, the poor old mad woman who lived near the school and provided so much fuel for the children’s teasing? Then there are the specific “bad things,” that Joseph gets involved in that I was surprised to still be shocked by as an adult! It’s such an exciting story that is profoundly moral without ever preaching and I was so pleased to remember the diverse cultural cast of children that really represent Great Britain today which I must applaud the author for, especially as it was written in the late 1980’s. I’m sure I will be reading this book again at some point as it has so many important messages that are still relevant today and it’s a perfect book to read to children. A worthy addition to our kid-lit shelves, it’s reminded me that the author, Ruth Thomas won The Guardian Children’s Fiction Award for her first novel, The Runaways in 1988. Hmm, a potential contender for Kid-Lit 2016 Chrissi?

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):




Ruth Thomas 1927-2011

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The Ask And The Answer (Chaos Walking #2) – Patrick Ness

Published November 28, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s it all about?:

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

“The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy.

What did I think?:

Patrick Ness is, without a doubt, one of my new favourite authors and after the fantastic Knife Of Never Letting Go which I read a little while ago, it was high time that I read this, the second in the series. Ness leaves us at the end of the first book with an unbelievable cliff-hanger and I’m going to try and make this review as spoiler free as possible but if you’ve not read the first book, I highly recommend you do and then come back and read this review! I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Todd and Viola have walked right into terrible danger, in the form of Mayor Prentiss, a terrific fanatical villain who has plans for a new world order, one in which he is the President and rules by manipulating the “noise,” of his citizens.

Almost immediately, Todd and Viola are separated and for most of this novel, we see the story from both of their points of view as Viola is placed in the care of a group of healers with all the women and Todd is left with the Mayor (sorry, PRESIDENT) and the men. He is forced to take charge of the Spackle, strange and mute alien beings who were actually the native species of this planet before the humans arrived and, as is often the case, took over everything. President Prentiss has plans for the Spackles – not nice ones I’m afraid to say and by using an eerie form of mind control, torture, threats and his son Davey, he forces Todd to do things he is not proud of which brings back bad memories of what he has done in the past. He becomes desperate to find Viola and make everything right again, even if this means war and over-throwing Prentiss.

Meanwhile, Viola is adapting to life amongst the healers where tensions and bad feeling against Prentiss are slowly beginning to rise, master-minded by the lead healer, Mistress Coyle. Eventually, she heads up a group of women known as “The Answer,” to stand against the President in a war that makes Viola question everything she believes in. These are dangerous times, especially when another group also rises to fight which could mean the end of the world as they know it. Who is right and who is wrong? Which side should Todd and Viola choose? Is war ever justified? These questions and so many more are just begging to be answered as we head towards the final book in this thought-provoking and action packed trilogy. There’s one thing I know for sure, it’s going to be one hell of a finale.

For me, the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy was even better than the first and I didn’t think that was going to be possible. I absolutely love Todd and Viola as characters (although I did miss a certain dog…) and it was great to see our heroine’s point of view a little more in this novel. What makes them so great? It’s a mixture of things, Todd’s unique voice and the way he uses grammar is a real bonus for me and I love the way he’s so imperfect. Yes, he makes mistakes, he struggles, he doesn’t always make the right decisions but he’s still a young lad trying to find his feet in a dangerous world facing things we can only imagine – he’s allowed to mess up! Viola is a perfect compliment to his character, providing peace and inner strength, allowing him to make his own way and then helping him to be a better person. Then we have Prentiss, a phenomenal villain who could definitely benefit from some psychiatric help but truly believes he is doing the right thing for the world. Well, they do say psychopaths believe their own hype, right?

This story is so jam packed full of action, just when I thought it couldn’t get any more frenetic, Ness ramped it up just one more notch. This is certainly a book I couldn’t put down and one that stayed with me for a while as I considered exactly what the author was trying to say about war, violence, friendship, fascism and indeed, racism. Throughout the novel I was moved, angered, repelled and excited (sometimes all at the same time) and it has paved the way for an extraordinary series ending. If you haven’t started or finished the series yet, please do yourself a favour and DO IT! You won’t be disappointed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):




Image from


Short Stories Challenge – A Man And Two Women by Doris Lessing from the collection The Story: Love, Loss And The Lives of Women edited by Victoria Hislop

Published November 24, 2015 by bibliobeth


What’s A Man and Two Women all about?:

A Man and Two Women tells the story of two married couples who are also great friends although the arrival of a baby on one side tips relationships and the friendship between the four to potential breaking point.

What did I think?:

I was delighted when I discovered that this short story collection, edited by Victoria Hislop had stories by Doris Lessing within. I’ve heard a lot about the author – awarded the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime’s achievement in British Literature, ranked fifth on The Times list of the “50 Greatest British Writers Since 1945,” and a Nobel Prize in Literature in 2007 to cap it all off. I have one of her best loved novels The Golden Notebook on my Kindle with no idea when I was going to get round to reading it so this story came just at the right time to give me a bit of an introduction to her work. Now I’m so glad that I have read something of hers, this story was engaging, beautifully written with the most perfect of endings and it has definitely inspired me to pick up The Golden Notebook a bit sooner then I perhaps would have.

The main focus of this narrative is a woman called Stella whom, along with her husband Philip have become very close friends with another couple, Dorothy and Jack Bradford. Both Dorothy and Jack are artists and Stella can identify with them both being an artist herself so when Philip is away at work for extended periods of time (which happens quite often due to him being a journalist) she takes the opportunity to meet up with her friends, revelling in the joy that both the couples have strong, loving relationships.

However, since Stella last visited, Dorothy and Jack have had a baby and as Jack meets her at the station, she can immediately sense something is amiss although Jack’s character will not allow him to admit this openly. On seeing Dorothy again she is surprised by how much her friend has changed. She is obviously in complete awe and adoration of her son and we get the sense that Jack has taken somewhat of a back seat in her affections, either consciously or sub-consciously. She is then more confused when Dorothy begins talking about infidelity – whether she thinks that Philip is unfaithful to her when he is away on business which upsets Stella greatly and confiding in her that Jack admitted he was unfaithful fairly recently. It isn’t his infidelity that bothers Dorothy though, it is the fact that she isn’t bothered in the slightest!

The author really mixes things up with what Dorothy goes on to suggest. Although the idea isn’t particularly repugnant to any of them it has Stella questioning anything and everything about her friends’ relationship which she thought she knew so well and, more importantly, her own feelings and desires. Stella’s own morals and strength of character are tested to the limits but perhaps it is only when put in a situation like this do things become infinitely clearer.

This short story is extremely readable and a great introduction I think for someone like me who had never read any of Doris Lessing’s work before. She clearly has a talent for hooking the reader quite quickly and making them intrigued and interested enough in the characters to want to read to the end, just to find out what the outcome would be. It is a brilliant observation of human relationships, friendships, infidelity, the longevity of marriage, sexual desire and temptation. I also loved the statement that I believe the author was making in that having a child does not make a woman lose her identity, her desires or make her less desirable to others. The next time this collection rolls round it will be another short story by Doris Lessing and I really can’t wait now to read more of her work.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):


NEXT SHORT STORY: The New Veterans by Karen Russell from the collection Vampires In The Lemon Grove


Doris Lessing at the Lit Cologne literary festival in 2006 (photograph from Wikipedia)


Author Interview – Alexia Casale on her new YA novel House Of Windows

Published November 23, 2015 by bibliobeth



Shortlisted for the Waterstone’s Children’s Book Prize. Longlisted for The Branford Boase Award. A Book of the Year 2013 for the Financial Times and Independent.

A British-American citizen of Italian heritage, Alexia is an author, editor and writing consultant. She also teaches English Literature and Writing.

After an MA in Social & Political Sciences (Psychology major) then MPhil in Educational Psychology & Technology, both at Cambridge University, she took a break from academia and moved to New York. There she worked on a Tony-award-winning Broadway show before returning to England to complete a PhD and teaching qualification. In between, she worked as a West End script-critic, box-office manager for a music festival and executive editor of a human rights journal.

She’s not sure which side of the family her dyslexia comes from, but is resigned to the fact that madness runs in both. She loves cats, collects glass animals and interesting knives, and has always wanted a dragon.

Alexia is represented by Claire Wilson of Rogers, Coleridge & White.

Her debut novel, The Bone Dragon, is published in English by Faber & Faber, and in German by Carlsen.

Click on the books to get to the link for GoodReads!


For my review of The Bone Dragon, click HERE.


For my review of House Of Windows, click HERE.

Interview with Alexia Casale

I’d like to welcome Alexia to bibliobeth today and thank her very much for her time in giving this interview.

1.) House of Windows is a very different book to your debut The Bone Dragon. Did you set out to write such a completely different story or was it an idea that developed over time?

I started working on a version of House of Windows when I was thirteen, long before I thought of the pieces of story that became The Bone Dragon. Returning to this ‘old’ project after The Bone Dragon allowed me to start as I mean to go on by showing that I plan to write all sorts of books, across all sorts of genres: it’s the story and characters that attract me to a book, not the genre or readership. But I love that Faber took such trouble over the look of House of Windows so there was a connection between the two, at least with appearances!

bibliobeth (“Both the covers are absolutely beautiful, designed by Helen Crawford-White.”)

2.) Our main character in this novel is Nick and his story reads like a “coming of age” epic. Is he based on anyone you know and was it hard to say goodbye to him at the end?

Nick, or a version of Nick, has been living in my head since my early teens so I doubt I’ll ever be rid of him. The thing that’s changed is that he’s no longer demanding that I write his story: he’s out there between the pages to meet other people, so he doesn’t take up my time creatively any more. But he’s not gone, just like Evie’s not gone. I guess it’s like former colleagues who’ve become friends: it’s all fun now, rather than mostly hard work!

Different bits of Nick are based on different people. There’s a certain amount of me in him, as there is with any protagonist, then there are bits of various people I went to University with, and bits and bobs of family members and family friends… The people we meet and know and love and hate are how we understand how people work. No matter what a writer says, that’s the resource we all draw on to create characters.

3.) You paint a beautiful picture of Cambridge in the novel, a city that you know well. Did most of your research for this novel involve having to re-visit and why in particular did you choose to set your story here?

Going back to Cambridge is always wonderful and it was fantastic to have an excuse to revisit some of my favourite places in the University and the town. Mostly I went to take photos in case I needed them for publicity or promotions stuff – I’m hoping to make a book trailer once YA Shot is over! Cambridge is so close to my heart that I didn’t need to re-visit. That’s why the book had to be set in here: I had all the passion and joy in the place that Nick needed and it was a lovely thing to share with him. I got to fall in love with Cambridge all over again through him, sharing all the little details of one of my favourite places in the world.

IMG_4704-001 (1)

King’s Chapel in Cambridge from The Backs (photograph provided by author)

As for the ‘character’ of the University, most people imagine Cambridge is posh and snotty and that it takes itself very seriously, but that’s only true of some aspects and some people. The thing I’ve tried to capture is how Cambridge is a world unto itself and everyone plays along because it’s fun… but we all get how daft it all is. Take the language: you have to learn it because everyone stops speaking English at the gates, but that’s not a hardship because it’s basically a very silly game you all get to bond over. So what most people probably see as a way of excluding the rest of the world is more about building a sense of community around fun and not taking yourself or the whole Cambridge life too seriously. I really hope that comes across. But the bottom line is that Cambridge is beautiful and fascinating: the key aspects of most compelling settings.

IMG_4756-001Trinity Hall, Jerwood Library from Clare Bridge, Cambridge (photograph provided by author)

4.) You touch on some emotional subjects in this novel, in particular the relationship between Nick and his father. Do you think that if their relationship had been better Nick would have been a different person as a result?

Definitely! Nick is emotionally unintelligent and maybe he always would have been, but a loving, healthy family dynamic would doubtless have mitigated his natural cluelessness: it’s hard for someone who doesn’t naturally ‘get’ people if there’s no one to help him figure those things out. If even one of his parents had helped him learn how to relate to other people, he’d have lived a very different life. He’d still be super-smart but maybe if he had been busy having a social life and doing something other than studying and more studying, he wouldn’t have gone to Cambridge at 15… Which is not to say that Nick isn’t responsible for his own choices, but he is still a kid. He gets a lot of stuff wrong but I appreciate how little help he’s had in getting it right. Nick isn’t written to be likeable, but I really hope people will grow to understand him. Even if they still think he’s spiky, difficult little smart arse, I hope they’ll also empathise with him by the end of the story.

5.) Are you working on anything now and can you tell us a little bit about it?

Many things! I’m writing a WWII adult historical novel. And a psychological thriller in a similar vein to The Bone Dragon. And also the first in a potential series.
But obviously the main thing is YA Shot until November!

bibliobeth: (“I actually cannot wait!!”)

IMG_4992-001The Bridge Of Sighs at St John’s, Cambridge (photograph provided by author)

Now for some quick fire questions!:

E book or real book?
Real book EVERY TIME. As a professional editor, ebooks are too much like work.

Series or stand alone?
Depends. Series for fantasy. Standalone for thrillers. Series for historical. Standalone for literary/contemporary. Series for crime. Sometimes. Oh, I don’t know. Just give me all the books and an eternity to read them.

Fiction or non-fiction?
Fiction for pleasure every time. As a researcher, I’m hardly anti non-fiction, but getting the most out of non-fiction is always hard work. Books are sometimes just for fun.

Online shopping or bookshop trawling?
Online at the moment because of time and energy issues! But I LOVE secondhand bookstores. Many of my happiest family holidays of a kid were spent in Hay-on-Wye (aka Bliss-on-Earth).

Bookmarking or dog-earing?
Bookmarks for reading. Dog-earring for permanently marking things I think are amazing. Dog earring for recipe books.

Once again, a HUGE thank you to the lovely Alexia Casale for her efforts in making this interview possible. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next and be assured, I will definitely be reading it.

House of Windows was published on 6th August 2015 by Faber Children’s Books and is available from all good book retailers now. I also highly recommend her debut novel The Bone Dragon which was short-listed for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize.