British Books Challenge 2017

All posts in the British Books Challenge 2017 category

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

Published February 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

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

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

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

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

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

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

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

 

The Girl Who Walked On Air – Emma Carroll

Published February 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

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

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

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

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? – Paula Daly

Published February 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

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

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

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

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

Published February 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

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

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Blog Tour – Burned And Broken – Mark Hardie

Published January 27, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

An enigmatic policeman – currently the subject of an internal investigation – is found burned to death in his car on the Southend sea front.

A vulnerable young woman, fresh out of the care system, is trying to discover the truth behind the sudden death of her best friend.

As DS Frank Pearson and DC Catherine Russell from the Essex Police Major Investigation Team are brought in to solve the mystery that surrounds their colleague’s death, they’re under intense pressure to crack the case without damaging the force’s reputation.

When a dramatic turn of events casts a whole new light on both cases, the way forward is far from clear. Were the victims connected in some way? And just how much should Pearson and Russell reveal to their bosses as they begin to unearth some dark secrets that the force would rather keep buried?

Mark Hardie’s stylish and gripping debut introduces a brilliant new detective duo to the world of crime fiction, weaving together two suspenseful stories that end in a breath-taking finale.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour and providing me with a copy of Mark Hardie’s debut novel in exchange for an honest review. I may have mentioned in previous posts that I used to read almost exclusively crime fiction, until I started broadening what I read as I found with many crime novels, they were getting a bit “samey,” to me. Therefore, it takes something quite special (usually terrific characters or an intriguing plot) to get me back into reading the genre. Luckily, Burned And Broken had both and I was captivated until the end.

Our two main characters are DS Frank Pearson and his partner DC Catherine (Cat) Russell who are working together to try and piece together the reasons behind the gruesome death of their colleague, DI Carragher killed in suspicious circumstances after his burned body was found in his car. Alongside this story is also the story of a dead young girl, Alicia whose case Carragher was working on before his unfortunate demise. Then there is Donna, best friend of Alicia who is certain that Alicia’s death was no accident and is determined to see her murderer brought to justice. She comes with her own set of issues, raised in the care system, a loner with mental health issues and an adoring friend, Malcolm who follows her like a little shadow. How and why are the two stories linked? And what murky secrets are about to be unearthed as Pearson and Russell go digging?

I really enjoyed many things about this novel. The style of writing was intense and brilliant that shifted from past to present to future without ever muddling or over-complicating the narrative. At times, the pace may feel slightly slow but it all builds up to an explosive finale with many twists and turns to savour. I liked how Pearson and Russell worked as a team but I don’t really feel we got to know them deeply as characters – perhaps this is all to come in further books in the series? My favourite character had to be troubled Donna who was written fantastically. She instantly drew me into her world, where just struggling to survive every day was a huge achievement. As always, it’s a bonus for me if I can’t see the ending coming or guess any of the possible motives/perpetrators and I certainly didn’t with this novel. This is a very promising start to a series from Mark Hardie and I look forward to where he takes the characters next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

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Mark Hardie was born in 1960 in Bow, East London. He began writing fulltime after completely losing his eyesight in 2002. He has completed a creative writing course and an advanced creative writing course at the Open University, both with distinction.

Mark lives with his wife Debbie in Southend-on-Sea.

You can find Mark on Twitter @MARKHARDIECRIME

On his GoodReads page https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8452087.Mark_Hardie

Thank you once again to Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a really great time doing it! Why not check out the other posts today from my fellow bloggers? Burned And Broken has been released in e-book format and is due to be released in paperback in May 2017.

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Monsters Of Men (Chaos Walking #3) – Patrick Ness

Published January 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Three armies march on New Prentisstown, each one intent on destroying the others. Todd and Viola are caught in the middle, with no chance of escape. As the battles commence, how can they hope to stop the fighting? How can there ever be peace when they’re so hopelessly outnumbered? And if war makes monsters of men, what terrible choices await?

What did I think?:

Ah, Patrick Ness. You’ve just gone and finished the Chaos Walking trilogy with a giant bang and I loved every second of it. I actually waited for a while before reading the third book, Monsters Of Men as, to be perfectly honest, I really didn’t want the series to end. It began with The Knife of Never Letting Go which I can only describe as epic and continued with The Ask And The Answer which made me conclude that Patrick Ness is now one of my all-time favourite authors. What then did I expect from Monsters Of Men? Well, I was slightly worried that my expectations were actually too high. Shouldn’t have worried though – the final book in the trilogy was just as nail-biting, thrilling and fascinating as when I first came to the series.

I find it very hard reviewing books in a trilogy, especially after the first book as I’m very wary of giving spoilers for those people that haven’t started the series yet. What I can tell you is this is the story of Todd and Viola who met in the first novel under strained and dangerous circumstances and their friendship and love for each other has gone from strength to strength. I’m not going to re-hash what has happened so far but at the beginning of Monsters Of Men they have been separated and are embroiled in a fierce war against both the Spackle (the native species of the New World – yes, humans in fact are the interlopers!) and the humans who are against the self-entitled leader of the humans, President Prentiss. The novel is told from both Todd and Viola’s perspectives and also from one of the Spackles whom we met in the previous novel which I found particularly intriguing. Todd  must struggles with his conscience, the weight of his past and future decisions and the mind control of the Major whilst Viola begs for peace and is desperately trying to reach Todd.

This book meanders between being very fast-paced and action packed to slower, gentler sections where the reader can pause for breath before being sent into the next battle/exciting incident/devastating repercussion (sometimes all three!). Once again, the author presents us with a mastery of characters, from Todd and Viola who we have already fallen in love with to the villain of the piece President Prentiss to the bloodthirsty for revenge Spackle and the fierce Mistress Coyle (terrorist or freedom fighter – who can tell?). The old saying that war makes “monsters of men,” resonates very deeply especially in this final offering in the Chaos Walking Trilogy and all characters have to come face to face with another side of their personality that they may not have been aware they possessed. The brilliance of the writing and the thrilling plot truly shines through the narrative and I have to admit to being quite bereft when I turned over the final page, especially with an ending that left my heart in little pieces. I will read anything Patrick Ness writes – that is a promise!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Blog Tour – A Boy Made Of Blocks – Keith Stuart

Published January 18, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Discover a unique, funny and moving debut that will make you laugh, cry and smile.

Meet thirtysomething dad, Alex
He loves his wife Jody, but has forgotten how to show it. He loves his son Sam, but doesn’t understand him. Something has to change. And he needs to start with himself.

Meet eight-year-old Sam
Beautiful, surprising, autistic. To him the world is a puzzle he can’t solve on his own.

But when Sam starts to play Minecraft, it opens up a place where Alex and Sam begin to rediscover both themselves and each other . . .

Can one fragmented family put themselves back together, one piece at a time?

Inspired by the author’s experiences with his own son, A Boy Made of Blocks is an astonishingly authentic story of love, family and autism.

What did I think?:

I first heard about this book from my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads who absolutely loved it. When my sister makes a recommendation, I take her up on it as she definitely knows the kind of books that I get excited about. Then when Little, Brown publishers asked me if I’d like to be part of the blog tour, I jumped at the chance. (thank you very much to them!) In my opinion, the more people know about this wonderful debut novel, the better as it’s just THAT GOOD. I haven’t been as moved or felt so emotionally wrung out for a while and I love when a book gets under my skin like that.

So, the story follows thirty-something Alex, married to Jody with a young son called Sam. When we first meet Alex, he isn’t having the best time of it. His relationship with both his wife and son appears to be slowly disintegrating and is incredibly fragile. Sam is autistic and Alex is not dealing with it very well. He seems at a loss with what to do regarding his behaviour, how to handle him in general and even how to communicate with him effectively. This leads to him sleeping at a friend’s house while desperately trying to repair the cracks that have appeared in his life and his marriage.

Luckily for Alex, something comes along, in the form of a computer game called Minecraft that just might change everything. Sam becomes obsessed with the game, and through it, so too does Alex as he learns that sometimes the right kind of communication can be begun by meeting that person on their own level, building slowly from there and simply learning to have fun together. Through Minecraft, Alex and Sam both learn a lot about each other, much more in fact than they ever have done previously. A strong relationship between the two begins to form and they learn to be friends as well as father and son, paving the way for a much happier and content family life in the future.

I don’t know where to start with telling you how beautiful and heart-warming this book actually was. The author was inspired by his own experiences with his son and this really shows in the writing. I think you can tell when an author is drawing from personal circumstances and we get an honest, authentic look into life with a child on the autistic spectrum which for our main character Alex, is both difficult and hugely rewarding. I did want to shake Alex at some points through the novel for decisions he has made but I loved how he developed throughout the story to become a real father, friend and support network for both his son and wife. It’s not often a book brings me to tears – I think I can count about three times in my entire life. Choked up, sad….for sure but actual tears? It’s very rare. Yet A Boy Made Of Blocks had me sobbing in the end, both happiness and sadness combined and it was an utterly magical experience that I won’t forget in a hurry.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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AUTHOR INFORMATION

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In 2012 one of KEITH STUART’s two sons was diagnosed on the autism spectrum. The ramifications felt huge. But then Keith and both boys started playing videogames together – especially Minecraft. Keith had always played games and, since 1995, has been writing about them, first for specialist magazines like Edge and PC Gamer then, for the last ten years, as games editor for the Guardian. The powerful creative sharing as a family and the blossoming of communication that followed informed his debut novel.

Find Keith on GoodReads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/441866.Keith_Stuart

On Twitter at: @keefstuart

Visit the website at: http://www.boymadeofblocks.com/

A huge thank you again to Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Why not check out all the other stops on the blog tour today? A Boy Made Of Blocks was released in paperback on 5th January 2017 and is available from all good bookshops and as an e-book now.

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