British Books Challenge 2017

All posts in the British Books Challenge 2017 category

That Girl From Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson

Published March 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Where are you coming from with that accent of yours?’ he asks.
‘Nowhere,’ I reply. ‘I’m from nowhere.’
‘Everyone’s from somewhere,’ he says.
‘Not me,’ I reply silently.

Clemency Smittson was adopted as a baby and the only connection she has to her birth mother is a cardboard box hand-decorated with butterflies. Now an adult, Clem decides to make a drastic life change and move to Brighton, where she was born. Clem has no idea that while there she’ll meet someone who knows all about her butterfly box and what happened to her birth parents.

As the tangled truths about her adoption and childhood start to unravel, a series of shocking events cause Clem to reassess whether the price of having contact with her birth family could be too high to pay…

An emotional story about love, identity and the meaning of family, That Girl From Nowehere is the new novel from the bestselling author of The Ice Cream Girls, The Woman He Loved Before and My Best Friend’s Girl.

What did I think?:

I was first introduced to the marvellous author that is Dorothy Koomson by my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads who reads her work religiously as soon as it comes out. I started with My Best Friend’s Girl and haven’t stopped since then. Her story-telling is so beautiful and she chooses to focus on a number of issues that I like to read about, like the dynamics of different relationships, family secrets, betrayal and racism. That Girl From Nowhere is another corker of a story with a number of subplots going on underneath the main thread and has cemented Dorothy Koomson as one of my must read authors.

The protagonist in this novel is a young woman called Clemency Smittson (Smitty to her loved ones). Clem knew she was adopted from a young age and was raised by a white family, knowing nothing about her birth family except that she was handed over in a box decorated with butterflies. Throughout her childhood, although it was happy enough, she felt that she didn’t belong and a number of events lead her to be in quite a sad situation when we meet her. Her adopted father, whom she had a strong, loving relationship with has passed away and she has also ended a long-term relationship with Seth and moved back to Brighton, where she was born, to open up a jewellery store. The items that Clem makes for her clients are truly special. She re-vitalises old and worn pieces of jewellery into something that closely represents where her customer is at the current point of his/her life. A chance meeting with a stranger leads her to find one more information about her birth family and pushes her into finally making a connection with them. However, every family has secrets and Clem uncovers certain things which forces her to confront many events in her past and present. both in her adoptive family and her birth family which may make her then wish that she had never pulled at that thread in the first place.

Once again, I don’t want to say too much about the plot. It’s incredibly convoluted and intricate and simply made for discovering yourself. There’s a host of fantastic characters to enjoy and I loved the way the author explored the different relationships – between parents, siblings, lovers, friends, it’s all here and all completely delightful. I don’t think I’ve read too many books about adoption and it was interesting to read a story where this is one of the issues and we hear from both sides of the coin so as to speak. I also loved the casual racism that the author chose to focus on and it certainly made me think about how prevalent it still is sadly, in today’s “modern” society. If you’re new to Dorothy Koomson, it’s not my favourite of her books (I have so much love for The Ice Cream Girls and Rose Petal Beach) but it’s a solid four stars and a brilliant reading experience.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

 

Mini Pin-It Reviews #7 – Four Random Books

Published March 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

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

1.) Everything I Needed To Know About Being A Girl I Learned From Judy Blume – edited by Jennifer O’Connell

What’s it all about?:

“”I wonder if Judy Blume really knows how many girls’ lives she affected. I wonder if she knows that at least one of her books made a grown woman finally feel like she’d been a normal girl all along. . . .”” — FROM Everything I Needed to Know About Being a Girl I Learned from Judy Blume.

Whether laughing to tears reading “Otherwise Known as Sheila the Great” or clamoring for more unmistakable “me too!” moments in “Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret,” girls all over the world have been touched by Judy Blume’s poignant coming-of-age stories. Now, in this anthology of essays, twenty-four notable female authors write straight from the heart about the unforgettable novels that left an indelible mark on their childhoods and still influence them today. After growing up from “Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing” into “Smart Women,” these writers pay tribute, through their reflections and most cherished memories, to one of the most beloved authors of all time.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

2.) The Girl In The Red Coat – Kate Hamer

What’s it all about?:

She is the missing girl. But she doesn’t know she’s lost.

Carmel Wakeford becomes separated from her mother at a local children’s festival, and is found by a man who claims to be her estranged grandfather. He tells her that her mother has had an accident and that she is to live with him for now. As days become weeks with her new family, 8-year-old Carmel realises that this man believes she has a special gift…

While her mother desperately tries to find her, Carmel embarks on an extraordinary journey, one that will make her question who she is – and who she might become.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 four-stars_0

3.) The Accidental Apprentice – Vikas Swarup

What’s it all about?:

From the author of the book behind the blockbuster movie Slumdog Millionaire, a brilliant novel about life changing in an instant.

Life pivots on a few key moments. This is one of them.

Sapna Sinha works in an electronics store in downtown Delhi. She hates her job, but she is ambitious and determined to succeed, and she knows without the money she brings in, her family won’t be able to survive. Little does she know it but her life is about to change forever.

As she leaves the shop on her lunch break one day, she is approached by a man who claims to be CEO of one of India’s biggest companies. He tells her he is looking for an heir for his business empire. And that he has decided it should be her.

There are just seven tests she must pass. And then the biggest lottery ticket of all time will be hers.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably not.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

4.) Bats Sing, Mice Giggle: The Surprising Science of Animals Inner Lives – Karen Shanor and Jagmeet Kanwal

What’s it all about?:

“Amazing, moving and enlightening. Bats Sing, Mice Giggle presents the latest findings on the intimate lives of animals with great elegance. I recommend it wholeheartedly.”—Larry King

“Did you know that spiders taste with their feet, that a decapitated cockroach can live for two weeks, that a certain type of parrotfish wraps itself in a sort of foul-smelling snot before taking a nap, and that ants play? I didn’t until I read Bats Sing, Mice Giggle.” New Scientist

“Full of interesting facts . . . presented in a friendly, readable way that will appeal to most young adult and adult readers with an interest in the world around them. The authors discuss a remarkably wide range of topics [in] an easy general-reading text that introduces readers to interesting avenues of scientific research and observation.”—SB&F

“In the delightful process of discovering the secret skills of our living cousins, so crisply and clearly described in this book, each filled with their quirky spectacular capacities (which we can envy but not duplicate) that sense of our place in the scheme of things has been infused with . . . joyful awe.”—Stuart L. Brown MD, Founder and President, The National Institute for Play

Bats Sing, Mice Giggle is the culmination of many years of cutting-edge scientific research that reveals how animals have secret, inner lives of which until recently—although animal lovers will have instinctively believed it—we have had little proof.

The authors show how animals communicate; how they warn and help each other in times of danger; how some problem-solve even more effectively than humans; and how they build, create, and entertain themselves and others.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

COMING UP SOON ON MINI PIN IT REVIEWS: Four YA Books.

Talking About Lie With Me by Sabine Durrant with Chrissi Reads

Published March 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

“I suppose what I am saying is, how much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me?

You can hate and rail.
You can kick out in protest.

You can do foolish and desperate things, but maybe sometimes you just have to hold up a hand and take the blame.”

Breathless.
Claustrophobic.
Unsettling.
Impossible to put down.

From the author of Under Your Skin and Remember Me This Way, Sabine Durrant. The dazzling new must-read for all fans of The Girl on the Train, Gone Girl, and The Widow.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What was your first impression of this book?

BETH: To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t a great first impression! It was quite a slow start to the story although I had read some GoodReads reviews that mentioned that it got a lot better so I was kind of prepared for this. I was hopeful that it would pick up though and once our main character, Paul finally goes away on holiday with the woman he is seeing, the tension and action crept up a notch.

BETH: The (female) author has chosen to write from a male point of view. How well do you think she achieved this?

CHRISSI: Interesting question. I didn’t even think to take note of the fact that she was writing from a male point of view. To me, that says Sabine Durrant pulled it off. It never even crossed my mind that it was a female writing from a male point of view. Well done, Sabine!

CHRISSI: This novel is built on tension. Discuss how the author builds the tension and structures the novel.

BETH: I’m very wary of giving spoilers but I’ll do my best! I think the opening of the novel is absolutely brilliant. Let’s just say that Paul is in a place that we don’t expect him to be in (being deliberately vague, sorry!) and after this initial chapter, the story goes back in time to the events that occurred in the build up to the situation he now finds himself in. So we know where he ends up but we have no clue initially how on earth he got there! He seems, by all accounts to be a “normal,” man (apart from his compulsive lying, that is) and it makes the reader really rack their brains to try and figure out how and why he got where he ended up.

BETH: Discuss where the line falls between a few acceptable fibs and harmful lying. Is it ever ok to tell a small lie?

CHRISSI: Ooh, another good question. Lies are so difficult, because I would say that you shouldn’t lie if it is going to affect another person. However, sometimes I feel that some individuals need to be protected by a little white lie. It made me think though, is that okay? Is it okay to alter the truth a little to protect someone you care about? Argh, I really don’t know. In the end, the truth often comes out, so is it better to tell the truth from the start even if it causes some hurt? Harmful lying is obviously always a no, no for me, but ‘acceptable fibs’… hmm. It depends on your definition of acceptable. Some might consider something acceptable that others don’t. Ooh, such a good discussion subject and I haven’t even really come up with a decent response. All I’ll say is that line is very very unclear.

CHRISSI: Without spoilers- discuss the ending of the novel – did you see the twist coming?

BETH: Not really, no. I knew something wasn’t right with certain characters but I hadn’t figured out exactly what was going on. It was a big surprise when it came and I was shocked how it ended up. Did he deserve it? Some people might say yes, he wasn’t a very likeable character to say the least! However, what he ends up suffering is incredibly extreme in comparison to what he did wrong in my opinion. Loved the twist though, I’m really glad I didn’t predict it!

BETH: This novel has quite a slow pacing to it, did this affect your enjoyment of the story?

CHRISSI: To be honest, yes it did. I am not a fan of a slow paced novel, especially when I have a lot going on. I like to be picking up a book and immediately flying through the pages. I want something to get back to and want to get back to without worrying that I’m going to be bored. I just don’t think this book’s pacing worked for me, although I know some people really enjoyed it and got over the slow pace.

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I thought this book was quite different to other psychological thrillers that I’ve read and I thought it was quite brave in a lot of ways. It read to me almost like a literary psychological thriller (no offence meant to other psychological thrillers). I just mean that the pacing compared to other thrillers was quite slow and you usually find with other books in the genre it’s all quite action-packed and not really focused on character development, unlike Lie With Me. By the end of the book, I actually thought it was the most interesting novel in the genre that I’ve read for a long time and has stayed with me for a while, always a good sign that a book’s got under your skin!

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I’m not sure. It would depend on the subject matter. I thought it was interesting enough, but the pace did affect my enjoyment.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

 

In Darkling Wood – Emma Carroll

Published March 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘You’re telling me there are fairies in this wood?’

When Alice’s brother gets a longed-for chance for a heart transplant, Alice is suddenly bundled off to her estranged grandmother’s house. There’s nothing good about staying with Nell, except for the beautiful Darkling Wood at the end of her garden – but Nell wants to have it cut down. Alice feels at home there, at peace, and even finds a friend, Flo. But Flo doesn’t seem to go to the local school and no one in town has heard of a girl with that name. When Flo shows Alice the surprising secrets of Darkling Wood, Alice starts to wonder, what is real? And can she find out in time to save the wood from destruction?

What did I think?:

I’m a huge fan of Emma Carroll’s writing which is aimed at middle grade readers but can easily be read by children and adults alike. In fact, I like to think it brings out my inner child which I did think was permanently dormant until I get lost in one of her stories. Everything about this story is just beautiful. From the stunning cover art and inviting title to the story and characters within, the author has managed to write an inspiring tale that had me enraptured until I had finished it.

Once again, our main protagonist is female and just as charming and delightful as the author’s previous female leads in Frost Hollow Hall and The Girl Who Walked On Air. Her name is Alice and she has already been through the emotional mill and dealt with much more than a young teenager should have to. Her parents are (quite acrimoniously) separated and she has quite a difficult and distant relationship with her father and her father’s family. To top it all off, her little brother Theo is seriously ill and at the beginning of the novel, gets a long awaited call to have a heart transplant which will undoubtedly save his life. Alice is packed off to live with her grandmother on her father’s side, Nell while the upheaval with Theo is going on.

Nell lives right alongside Darkling Wood, a magical place where Alice manages to make her first friend – Flo, who dresses strangely and only meets her within the wood. Flo tells Alice all about the fairies who call Darkling Wood their home and that they are desperately worried. You see, some of the trees are causing a bit of damage to Nell’s house and Nell has become determined to get rid of the entire wood, despite the pleas of the other people in the town to desist. If this happens, the fairies will lose their home. Alongside this story, we also see wonderful letters from 1918 that a young girl who used to live there wrote to her brother, fighting in the war. Alice has a multitude of things to deal with – worries about her brother, her relationship with her grandmother and father, learning about the past and trying to change the present, all the paranoia that comes with starting a new school and being an outsider, learning to believe in fairies and magic again, healing rifts and building bridges that have been broken for so long.

I was always going to be excited about another Emma Carroll book, let’s be honest. An Emma Carroll book about fairies? Well, knock everything else off the TBR pile, I had to read this one ASAP. Of course, I was in no way disappointed. This wonderful story had everything I wanted and so much more. I loved the fairies, granted but this novel is so much more than that. It’s bittersweet, occasionally dark and sometimes heart-breaking and explores beautifully the complexity of human relationships in such a gentle, intelligent way. I especially loved the nod to actual events, where Arthur Conan Doyle visits girls who have reported that they have seen fairies. The author reminds me with every books that she writes of the old magic and strong characters that I used to live for in children’s literature. She deserves every bit of praise that is written about her and while I eagerly anticipate her next novel, I just want to wholeheartedly thank her for making me believe in fairies again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published March 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb all about?:

A young man comes to see Dr Watson in his surgery with a bloody cloth wrapped around his missing thumb. However, this was no accident. Why exactly would someone want to remove someone else’s thumb? It is for Holmes and Watson to find out.

What did I think?:

This is one of the very few mysterious cases that Dr Watson happens upon himself and brings to his partner, Sherlock Holmes, he of the incredible deducing capabilities and brilliant nose for figuring out clues. It is when Watson has left Baker Street, is married and has opened his own practice. One morning a young man comes to see him missing a thumb that he swears was taken “by murderous intent,” and has quite the story to tell Holmes and Watson as the good doctor rushes him to Baker Street.

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot, as usual for anyone who hasn’t read it yet but I’ll give you a quick overview. Our missing thumb man is Victor Hatherley, hydraulic engineer who set up his own business but work has been slow of late until a strange, sinister looking man by the name of Colonel Lysander Stark offers him twice what he has made in the past two years simply to look at a piece of machinery that he owns, fix it up and stay the night. For some strange reason, Victor must visit the property at midnight to see the equipment, must stay overnight as there is no way he could return home at that time of night and must keep everything about this job completely top secret before, during and after the work is completed. This is stressed to be of the utmost importance by the peculiar Colonel Stark.

Of course, in complex cases such as these brought to Watson and Holmes things are never what they seem and it turns out this piece of equipment has a use far beyond what Stark has told the engineer it is used for. When Victor discovers what its true purpose is, he becomes in very real danger of losing his life but manages to escape leaving just his thumb behind.

There are not so many breadcrumbs of clues in this adventure as compared to other Holmes and Watson stories I’ve read in this collection but in no way did this affect the excitement of the plot and brilliance of the writing. Colonel Stark made a wonderful villain of the piece and it all got terribly tense and frightening, especially close to the end. It’s also one of those stories where the criminals may not necessarily get their comeuppance which used to irk me slightly at the beginning of this collection but I don’t mind so much anymore as occasionally it’s quite interesting to end the story in this way with the “baddies still on the loose” so as to speak!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Erase Me: Positron, Episode Three – Margaret Atwood (stand-alone)

 

Tastes Like Fear (DI Marnie Rome #3) – Sarah Hilary

Published March 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarah Hilary won the 2015 Theakston’s Crime Novel of the Year with her debut, the 2014 Richard and Judy pick SOMEONE ELSE’S SKIN. She followed up with NO OTHER DARKNESS, proclaimed as ‘riveting’ by Lisa Gardner and ‘truly mesmerising’ by David Mark. Now D.I. Marnie Rome returns in her third novel.

Home is where Harm lies…

The young girl who causes the fatal car crash disappears from the scene.
A runaway who doesn’t want to be found, she only wants to go home.
To the one man who understands her.
Gives her shelter.
Just as he gives shelter to the other lost girls who live in his house.
He’s the head of her new family.
He’s Harm.
And when Harm’s family is threatened, Marnie Rome is about to find out that everything tastes like fear…

What did I think?:

Sarah Hilary is hands down one of my favourite crime fiction authors writing today. I was lucky enough to do an interview with the lovely lady just after the release of her second book in the Marnie Rome series, No Other Darkness. If you fancy seeing what she had to say, please see my post HERE. I highly recommend both books in the series and from the first fantastic novel, Someone Else’s Skin, to this phenomenal third novel, Tastes Like Fear (which I have waited WAY too long to read!), she is an author that I will automatically buy, regardless of what she writes. A huge thank you to the lovely people at Headline for sending me a copy of Sarah’s third novel and apologies that I’m only getting round to reviewing it now.

In Tastes Like Fear, Marnie and her sidekick Noah Jake have a new, frightening case to manage and solve. A young girl walks out into the path of a car one night causing a horrific accident. In the aftermath, she disappears and cannot be found. The driver of the car that crashed into another as he swerved to avoid the girl gives an interesting witness statement. He is certain that the girl was half-clothed, dishevelled, clearly not on this planet, with marks all over her body (which later is discovered to be writing). After further findings, the case turns out to be much more complex than Marnie could have imagined. It involves a house filled with homeless young girls that have been specifically chosen to live in the house and be kept “safe.” Although the perpetrator’s idea of safety is very different from what you and I might envisage. Especially when one of the girls turns up dead. Marnie and her team must hurry to discover exactly what’s going on, why and by whom if they are going to save any more vulnerable girls.

Once again, Sarah Hilary has pulled me into the amazing, twisted world of Marnie Rome with a strong female lead that has demons of her own but fights desperately to ensure that no else should suffer. Again, it was wonderful to see her teaming up with Noah Jake, one of my favourite characters and it was also lovely to get an insight into his personal life with his partner, Dan and his troubled kid brother Sol. Of course, Marnie is also given a good chunk of time which is fantastic and I enjoyed her ongoing struggle with the person who is serving time for killing both of her parents. From certain things that happened throughout the novel, it’s certainly set up some tense proceedings for the next few books in the series I’m sure and I cannot wait to see how it all pans out! I can safely say that Marnie Rome is my favourite female detective of all time and Sarah Hilary’s plots and character development just keep going from strength to strength. The fourth book in the series, A Quieter Killing was released on the 9th March 2017 and I’m very excited to say that I’ve been approved to read it on NetGalley. (Thank you again Headline!) One thing is for sure, I won’t be waiting so long to read it this time!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

Etta And Otto and Russell And James – Emma Hooper

Published March 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

I’ve gone. I’ve never seen the water, so I’ve gone there. I will try to remember to come back.

Etta’s greatest unfulfilled wish, living in the rolling farmland of Saskatchewan, is to see the sea. And so, at the age of eighty-two she gets up very early one morning, takes a rifle, some chocolate, and her best boots, and begins walking the 2,000 miles to water.

Meanwhile her husband Otto waits patiently at home, left only with his memories. Their neighbour Russell remembers too, but differently – and he still loves Etta as much as he did more than fifty years ago, before she married Otto.

What did I think?:

There were quite a few things that immediately drew me to Emma Hooper’s debut novel. First of all, the lovely cover with the cheeky little animal on the front (which I now know to be a coyote). Secondly, the title – I mean, four names in a title, what’s that all about? I simply had to find out! Finally, there had been a lot of comparisons of this book to The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry by Rachel Joyce which happens to be one of my all time favourite novels. I normally don’t like it when books are compared to others but I loved Harold Fry so much I needed to give Etta & Co a chance to stand as a story on its own merits.

So where this book is similar to Harold Fry is that it involves an adult in their eighties undergoing a long walk to get to a destination, meeting different people and well-wishers along the way. In this novel, our protagonist is Etta, 83 and slowly losing her memory. She wakes up one day and decides to walk to the ocean as she has never seen it, leaving her husband Otto a note explaining this and that she would “try to remember to come back.” The story follows Etta’s journey but is in no way chronological and dips back into the past and present as memories surface for Etta during her journey. We learn about her life as a teacher when she first met Otto. We also learn about Otto’s early life, part of a family fifteen-strong with the addition of his best friend (and current neighbour) Russell who becomes the honorary sixteenth member.

Most of Etta and Otto’s relationship is told in the form of letters, particularly when Otto has to go away to fight in World War II. Russell is Etta’s main support system when Otto is gone, unable to join up himself because of a childhood accident that left him with a lame leg. Russell is also deeply in love with Etta and when he hears about her pilgrimage later in life, immediately sets out to find her. Otto, her husband, stays at home making paper mache animals for Etta’s return and learning to bake from the recipes Etta has left him, deliberately so he can manage without her. Meanwhile on her journey, Etta meets many well-wishers and makes new friends, particularly a wily talking coyote called James who has quite the gift of the gab but encourages Etta through harder times on the road. The ending is somewhat bitter-sweet and very much left open to the readers own interpretation – it’s something I was slightly surprised by but thoroughly enjoyed at the same time.

I guess if you’ve read Harold Fry before you can see the similarities between them but I think this novel deserves to be talked about as a story all of its own. There are many differences between the stories also, particularly the magical realism part with the talking coyote, James, the dementia that Etta is sliding into and the hardships that Etta and Otto have suffered as a couple. I really fell in love with Etta as a character and the pure whimsical nature of this book (yes a talking coyote was always going to be a bonus for me, even if he was just in Etta’s mind?). It was also nice to hear from the spouse left behind, in this case Otto whose little paper mache animals and determination to learn to cook warmed the cockles of my heart. Initially, I was a bit wary of the ending of this novel and I have to admit, slightly disappointed but on closer reflection, I realise it was a perfect way for the reader to make up their own mind as to what happens. I’ll certainly be reading anything else Emma Hooper releases, this is one debut author with a bucket load of talent and beautiful writing to boot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0