British Books Challenge 2017

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British Books Challenge 2017 – The Round Up

Published January 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

BBC pointed shaded

2017 was another fantastic year of British books. I really love participating in this challenge and always surprise myself with the amount I manage to read. Here’s what I read this year:

Checkmate (Noughts & Crosses #3) – Malorie Blackman

The Dry – Jane Harper

 The Ballroom – Anna Hope

The Muse – Jessie Burton

A Boy Made Of Blocks – Keith Stuart

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

Burned And Broken – Mark Hardie

Swimming Lessons – Claire Fuller

Just What Kind Of Mother Are You? – Paula Daly

The Girl Who Walked On Air – Emma Carroll

The Trouble With Goats And Sheep – Joanna Cannon

The Wishing Tree – Lucy Wood

The Cuckoo Sister – Vivian Alcock

The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time – Mark Haddon

Mad Girl – Bryony Gordon

How To Be A Good Wife – Emma Chapman

Blood Red, Snow White – Marcus Sedgwick

Faithful Lovers – Margaret Drabble

Stasi Child (Karin Müller #1) – David Young

A Place Called Winter – Patrick Gale

Double Room – Ramsey Campbell

Etta And Otto And Russell And James – Emma Hooper

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

The Adventure Of The Engineer’s Thumb – Arthur Conan Doyle

In Darkling Wood – Emma Carroll

Lie With Me – Sabine Durrant

The Girl In The Red Coat – Kate Hamer

That Girl From Nowhere – Dorothy Koomson

Bamboo Heart – Ann Bennett

Bamboo Island – Ann Bennett

 Bamboo Road – Ann Bennett

Awful Auntie – David Walliams

Shadow Magic – Joshua Khan

Dream Magic – Joshua Khan

The Stranger In My Home – Adele Parks

Fleeing Complexity – Jon McGregor

Six Tudor Queens – Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen

A Kiss In The Dark – Cat Clarke

Double Cross – Malorie Blackman

Close To Me – Amanda Reynolds

The Birds – Daphne du Maurier

He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Glow – Ned Beauman

Gone Without A Trace – Mary Torjussen

 The Drowned Village – Kate Mosse

This Must Be The Place – Maggie O’Farrell

Jane Austen At Home: A Biography – Lucy Worsley

Alice Through The Plastic Sheet – Robert Shearman

I See You – Clare Mackintosh

Black Water – Louise Doughty

Anne Boleyn: A Kings Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) – Alison Weir

The Owl At The Window – Carl Gorham

Fruits – Steve Mosby

The Prime Minister’s Brain – Gillian Cross

Quieter Than Killing (DI Marnie Rome #4) – Sarah Hilary

The Book Of Souls (Inspector McLean #2) – James Oswald

The Shut Eye – Belinda Bauer

Living The Dream – Lauren Berry

Leopard At The Door – Jennifer McVeigh

Together – Julie Cohen

Conclave – Robert Harris

An Anxious Man – James Lasdun

Ask No Questions – Lisa Hartley

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Miss You – Kate Eberlen

Broken Branches – M. Jonathan Lee

Then She Was Gone – Lisa Jewell

Necropolis – Guy Portman

Blue Moon – Lucy Wood

The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

Master – Angela Carter

Possum – Matthew Holness

This Beautiful Life – Katie Marsh

The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor – Arthur Conan Doyle

The Snow Sister – Emma Carroll

Wages Of Sin – Kaite Welsh

Last Seen Alive – Claire Douglas

The White Doe – Rosy Thornton

Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel

How To Be Both – Ali Smith

Animal: The Autobiography Of A Female Body – Sara Pascoe

The Way Back To Us – Kay Langdale

Cartes Postales From Greece – Victoria Hislop

Did You See Melody? – Sophie Hannah

Vessel – Jon McGregor

Madness Is Better Than Defeat – Ned Beauman

Fortunately, The Milk – Neil Gaiman

Monte Verita – Daphne du Maurier

Good Me Bad Me – Ali Land

The Watchmaker Of Filigree Street – Natasha Pulley

The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

The Prisoner Of Ice And Snow – Ruth Lauren

The House On The Hill – Kate Mosse

The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

The Farm – Tom Rob Smith

Girl 4 – (January David #1) – Will Carver

The Two (January David #2) – Will Carver

The Immortals – S.E. Lister

Fire Lines – Cara Thurlbourn

Saffy’s Angel – Hilary McKay

Western Fringes – Amer Anwar

The King’s Curse – Philippa Gregory

The Next Together (The Next Together #1) – Lauren James

A Place For Violence – Kevin Wignall

Black Hearts In Battersea (The Wolves Chronicles #2) – Joan Aiken

The House – Simon Lelic

Is Monogamy Dead? – Rosie Wilby

A Dangerous Crossing – Rachel Rhys

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead – Charlie Laidlaw

Hush Little Baby – Joanna Barnard

The Art Of Hiding – Amanda Prowse

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah

Under A Pole Star – Stef Penney

Wisht – Lucy Wood

Witch Child – Celia Rees

Dead Set – Will Carver

The Strangler Vine – M.J. Carter

The Hangman’s Song – James Oswald

Seeing Double – Sara Maitland

Dreamwalker (The Ballad Of Sir Benfro #1) – James Oswald

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

High House – Rosy Thornton

Finding Jennifer Jones (Jennifer Jones #2) – Anne Cassidy

So if my calculations are correct, that makes 123 British books/short stories read this year which has smashed last year’s record of 72 which I’m very pleased about. Highlights of this year have to be The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry which just captivated me, A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale which completely stole my heart and I still think about today and A Dangerous Crossing by Rachel Rhys, a fantastic surprise that I didn’t anticipate enjoying as much as I did. I’ve also enjoyed catching up on Emma Carroll’s back catalogue (one of my targets for the year) and read some beautiful short stories, including one very recently by Rosy Thornton. I’m very excited for some more British books in 2018 – bring it on!

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Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2017 – DECEMBER READ – Finding Jennifer Jones (Jennifer Jones #2) – Anne Cassidy

Published December 31, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Kate Rickman seems just like any other nineteen-year-old girl. She goes to university, she dates nice, normal boys and she works in her local tourist office at the weekend. But Kate’s not really normal at all. ‘Kate’ is in fact a carefully constructed facade for a girl called Jennifer Jones – and it’s a facade that’s crumbling fast. Jennifer has spent the last nine years frantically trying to escape from her horrifying past. Increasingly desperate, Jennifer decides to do something drastic. She contacts the only other girl who might understand what she’s dealing with, breaking every rule of her parole along the way. Lucy Bussell is the last person Jennifer expects any sympathy from, but she’s also the last person she has left. Finding Jennifer Jones is the powerful sequel to the highly acclaimed, Carnegie Medal nominated Looking for JJ. It is a tense, emotional thriller about guilt, running away and wondering if you can ever truly know yourself.

What did I think?:

Finding Jennifer Jones is the last book in our Kid-Lit challenge for this year and one we thought we’d leave until last to savour as we enjoyed the first book in the series so much in 2016, Looking For JJ. Quite often, I find the second book in a series a bit of a let down if I’ve loved the first so much but luckily, this wasn’t the case at all with Finding Jennifer Jones. It was just as gut-wrenching and poignant as the first novel and it instantly made me remember why I loved the author’s writing style so much when Chrissi and I first discovered her.

As with many series in young adult fiction, I think you will get much more out of the Jennifer Jones duology if you read Looking For JJ first where it introduces our main character, Jennifer Jones and explores the reasons why she finds herself living with a new identity. She is constantly on edge about the risk of people discovering who she really is and more importantly, what she did in her past which still continues to haunt her, as it well should. In this second novel, she has been forced to move once again and assume yet another identity whilst she goes to university, works part time at a tourist information centre, makes new friends and a love interest and desperately tries to live a normal life. However, this is easier said then done when the ghosts of her past still continue to torture her everyday life and it’s not long before she considers breaking the very strict terms of her new existence just to try and feel free once more.

Hopefully I’ve been just vague enough for people who haven’t read the first book in the series yet, both of which I highly recommend. Anne Cassidy is a fantastic author for young adults and really explores the gritty, darker side of human nature in a way that elicits your full and frank sympathy, particularly for our female protagonist, Jennifer. She realises unequivocally the gravity of her actions when she was a child and does not try to make excuses for them but obviously deeply regrets what happened as a terrible, unforgiveable mistake. As the reader, we too are appalled by what Jennifer did but at the same time feel so sorry for what she has gone through and still continues to suffer. Perhaps, we even think, she might have been punished enough? This is a story I was completely compelled by and it was wonderful to re-enter Jennifer’s world and catch up with her life after the tense and life-changing events of the first novel. It would definitely raise some talking points considering the subject matter and is is nothing short of page turning.

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

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Don’t miss our post on January 2nd when we reveal our Kid-Lit titles for 2018! Hope everyone has a wonderful New Year. 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – High House by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

Published December 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s High House all about?:

High House follows our female narrator who becomes particularly friendly with a man she cleans for. He ends up teaching her many things about the world, especially the dangers of climate change.

What did I think?:

This is the second story in Rosy Thornton’s short story collection, Sandlands. When I first started it, I have to admit I immediately thought: “Oh, this isn’t going to be as good as the first story, The White Doe.” However, by the end I was completely charmed by the entire narrative and especially its two main protagonists. It’s a beautiful little tale that feels starkly poignant, especially with the natural disasters that have been plaguing our world in the past few years or so, and with the ever looming threat of climate change having the potential to disrupt our lives and our children’s lives forever.

It’s hard to describe what this story is about but I’ll do my best. Set in the small village of Blaxhall in Suffolk, it begins with our unnamed female narrator who is describing the environment, the tranquillity of her surroundings and her obvious love for where she is living. She works as a cleaner/housekeeper for various residences around the village, but treasures the time she spends with a Mr Napish who lives in High House, a property high above the village and who treats our narrator with courtesy, consideration and respect, being one of the very few who will deign to make a cup of tea for her as she works (ah, a wonderful man indeed!). He talks to her about many things, especially climate change and possesses a map of how the country might look if the sea levels continue to rise in the manner the scientists are suspecting. Unfortunately, the village then suffers its own spate of floods and our narrator and Mr Napish gallantly step in to try and save some of the animal population in some of the sweetest scenes I’ve had the pleasure to read.

One of the things that most attracted me to Sandlands as a short story collection was the promise of stories about animals. I have been delighted to discover this in both stories so far but was surprised to discover the richness and beauty of Rosy Thornton’s story-telling as an additional bonus. She describes the British landscape so eloquently you can almost visualise the area she is talking about and smell those wonderful, natural scents. This story was particularly beautiful as it felt so timely with the recent floods, earthquakes, tsunami’s etc, many attributed to climate change that have taken/ruined many lives irrevocably. It certainly made me stop to think and worry slightly about what might happen in our future. On a happier note, the ending, which I definitely shall not spoil, came as a huge surprise as we get a slight hint about some of the reasons why Mr Napish may be doing what he’s doing (if I’ve interpreted it correctly!) and it gave me such a difference of feelings – terror and the warm fuzzies, an interesting mixture!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Strange Star – Emma Carroll

Published December 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

They were coming tonight to tell ghost stories. ‘A tale to freeze the blood,’ was the only rule. Switzerland, 1816. On a stormy summer night, Lord Byron and his guests are gathered round the fire.

Felix, their serving boy, can’t wait to hear their creepy tales.

Yet real life is about to take a chilling turn – more chilling than any tale.

Frantic pounding at the front door reveals a stranger, a girl covered in the most unusual scars.

She claims to be looking for her sister, supposedly snatched from England by a woman called Mary Shelley.

Someone else has followed her here too, she says. And the girl is terrified. This breathtaking new book from Emma Carroll, the critically-acclaimed author of Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air, In Darkling Wood and The Snow Sister, is a deliciously creepy story inspired by the creation of Frankenstein, and is brought to life by a leading talent in children’s literature.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors to my blog might recall my previous gushing reviews for the wonderful middle grade fiction author that is Emma Carroll. I highly recommend all her work including Frost Hollow Hall, The Girl Who Walked On Air, In Darkling Wood and The Snow Sister and now I’m delighted to recommend another one – Strange Star which was so beautifully Gothic in nature and eerily atmospheric that once more, I was left in awe of the author’s story-telling abilities. Emma Carroll takes notorious figures from our history, the author Mary Shelley and Lord Byron and writes a fantastic fictional account of where Shelley may have got her inspiration for Frankenstein and it was a story that was so utterly compelling I had no problems in finishing it in just two sittings.

It’s a tale at first that is narrated by a young ex-slave called Felix who is working as a servant for Lord Byron and his guests (which include Mary Shelley) at one of their infamous dinner parties where they challenge each other to tell the scariest stories. This evening however, a young girl called Lizzie appears at the door in a terrible state. We end up hearing a whole new and very frightening story from her that involves a tragic event in her past that led to her being blinded by a lightning strike, a scientist who likes to carry out dangerous experiments with electricity and her worries for her younger troublesome sister as they become embroiled in a precarious situation.

This wonderful Victorian story covers so many different themes effortlessly told in Emma Carroll’s distinctive style which never fails to impress. We touch on racism with Felix and his past as a slave, feminism with some of our strong, female protagonists and their choice of careers, grief and loss and also some ethical questions regarding experimentation and how far someone would be willing to bend their morality in the name of science. As a scientist myself, I loved how the author took science and gave it a voice, (especially a female one) and I found these portions of the narrative both intriguing and at times, slightly unnerving. However, it’s all done in an excellent way considering the target audience of this novel and it never felt too much for a younger reader or, on the other hand, “dumbed down” for the age range. What I love most about Emma Carroll is that her stories can easily be read and enjoyed by both adults and children – her writing is intelligent, insightful and in each novel I’ve read so far, challenges the way you might look at the world. I loved every moment and I can’t wait to read her latest tale, Letters From The Lighthouse, coming soon!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Dreamwalker (The Ballad Of Sir Benfo #1) – James Oswald

Published December 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The dragons of Glwad are dying. Persecuted for over two millennia, they’re a shrunken echo of the proud creatures they once were. And yet in new life springs hope: Benfro, son of Morgwm the Green, the first male kitling in a thousand years. Long ago dragons wrought a terrible wrong to the land, and now is the time for redemption.

Every young boy in the Twin Kingdoms dreams of being chosen for one of the great orders, and Errol Ramsbottom is no different. He longs to be a Warrior Priest of the High Ffrydd, riding to glorious victory in battle. But you should be careful what you wish for; it might just come to pass.

For almost a century there has been an uneasy truce between the Twin Kingdoms and the godless Llanwennogs to the north, but as King Diseverin descends ever further into drunken madness, his ruthless daughter Beulah takes up the reins of power. A time of war looks set to descend upon Gwlad, and it will surely draw everyone, man and dragon both, into its cruel game.

What did I think?:

Dreamwalker, the first book in The Ballad of Sir Benfro series is a high fantasy novel which appears to be marketed at the young adult population although can easily be read by adults. Written by James Oswald (yes, he of the Inspector McLean thriller/crime fiction series) this was a recommendation by one of my favourite bookshops, Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights when I went there for a reading spa with my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads. I have to say, when the bookseller sold it to me, I was initially unsure as I’m not a huge dragon fanatic but as with all the reads we ended up choosing, she made it sound so fantastic that any misgivings I did have were thoroughly quashed. Generally, I found it to be an interesting story although I wasn’t as enamoured by it as I might have hoped…more on this later.

Encompassing multiple story-lines and characters, Dreamwalker is the story of a world where intelligent dragons exist but are constantly threatened by a minority of the human population that are determined to hunt them to extinction. This means that the small community that has survived have secluded themselves in a forest, protected from human eyes and those that would wish them harm by a magical spell. It is also the tale of three characters – the first, a young dragon called Benfro, the first male dragon to be born for a thousand years and destined for great things. The second and third of our protagonists are human, the first, a merciless princess called Beulah who has recently ascended the throne and will stop at nothing to get exactly what she wants. Then there is Errol, a young boy who has had a humble upbringing but unknown to himself possesses a royal bloodline that could shake everything up irrevocably. Finally, we have Inquisitor Melyn, the villain of the piece who is thirsty for dragon blood, the elimination of the species and hell-bent on using the magic system in this world for his own diabolical purposes.

This novel combines all these complex and intertwining elements to form a story that is highly convoluted at times but also incredibly imaginative. For me, there were good things and bad things about it and I have quite mixed feelings which I have to admit, does make me hesitate in continuing with the series. First of all, the intricate nature of the multiple plots mean that the novel is at times a bit of a slog to get through so if you’re a fan of fast paced narratives, this might not be the book for you. On the other hand, I did fall in love with many of the characters, including the endearing Benfro the dragon, sweet Errol and our “bad guy” Melyn who was wonderfully wicked. The magic system is also intriguing but I have to say, took me a little while to get my head round. However, if you’re looking at this purely as a fantasy novel, it’s got everything you could want so I think fans of the genre will be satisfied. Personally, I’m really torn over whether I’m going to carry on to book two. I’m interested  and care enough about the characters to wonder how it’s all going to pan out but on the other hand, the pacing does put me off slightly. If anyone has read the second book and can tell me if this is still the case I would really appreciate it! Otherwise, I’m not sure if I’ll be rushing to read it – there’s too many other brilliant books out there.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes

Published December 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet all about?:

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet follows a man who comes to Holmes and Watson for help when a precious beryl coronet he is tasked with looking after is damaged and some of the jewels are stolen.

What did I think?:

As I’ve made my way through the short stories in The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle has regularly managed to stump me over what exactly is going on in his mysteries. So I was quite delighted (but at the same time strangely disappointed) when I could instantly identify our perpetrator in The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet. Mind you, he still managed to stun me with the more intricate details of the crime i.e. the reasons behind it and for that reason, it was again a thoroughly enjoyable reading experience. I don’t think anyone has managed to write a detective as intriguing and as famous as Mr Holmes and I’m sure his stories will continue to entertain for many years to come.

This story follows a banker called Alexander Holder who is given an incredibly valuable and very well known beryl coronet to hold as security when he gives a client a loan of £50,000. Not trusting the safe at his office he keeps the item at home, believing his family and staff trustworthy despite the current disappointment he has in the character of his son, Arthur. Of course, you might have seen it coming, the coronet is damaged one night and some of the jewels are nowhere to be found. Even worse, when Alexander hears the disruption at night, he comes to the room where the coronet is stored to find it in the hands of his son, Arthur who he presumes to have been involved in the crime and calls for him to be arrested. He is now begging Holmes and Watson to discover what really happened that night so he can come to terms with his son being guilty or innocent.

This is a great little mystery to get your teeth into and although I had guessed what had happened and who was responsible, I loved all the minute details that went into how Holmes deduced exactly what had occurred. There’s not that much interaction between Holmes and Watson in this story sadly but I still enjoyed him as a background presence and the narrator of our tale. Holmes is his usual genius self divulging to the reader all the random, tiny little things that you might never pick up on but turn out to be a crucial piece of evidence in solving the mystery – ah, imagine if our police detectives today had his skills?! The next story in this collection is actually the last one I believe and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed discovering Sherlock Holmes for the very first time.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Freaks: A Rizzoli & Isles Short Story by Tess Gerritsen (stand-alone).

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

Published December 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Seeing Double all about?:

Seeing Double is the story of a young boy who lives with his father and is looked after by a nanny. He seldom sees anyone else and there is a terrible reason why he is being kept away from other people.

What did I think?:

Although I’ve never read any of Sara Maitland’s work before, I’m very familiar with her name and have her non-fiction book, Gossip From The Forest as a priority read on my Kindle that now I’ve finally read some of her fiction, I simply must make time for in the New Year. For this short story, all I can say is wow. This little tale really floored me, it was so powerful in its nature and the clever reveals throughout which led up to an explosive ending were simply stunning. I’ve heard that Sara Maitland has a bit of a talent for short story writing (that’s putting it lightly!) but I wasn’t prepared at all for how marvellous her writing actually was and I’m delighted to finally have discovered her.

Now, the only annoying thing about Seeing Double is that I’m going to have to be incredibly careful what I tell you about it! I really don’t want to ruin anything and if I reveal the “big secret,” that our young male protagonist has, I’ll be doing exactly that. Let’s just say that we have a young boy born whose mother sadly dies when she gives birth to him. The midwife who assisted at the birth ends up being employed by the boy’s father as a permanent nanny to look after him and they are ensconced in a large house in the country with his father who becomes increasingly distant as he indulges his passion for nature, although they do have some tender moments playing together with a train set. Our protagonist doesn’t see anyone else apart from Nanny and his father, this includes the various servants that help out in the house until one day a maid enters his room. Both her and the boy find out the reason why he has been secluded and because of this, his life is changed forever:

“Grown-ups, he learned far too suddenly, spoke with double voices, cunningly, so that true and not true weren’t like white and black, like either-or, like plus and minus, they were like the bogs on the hill side, shifty, invisible and dangerous.”

As you can tell from the above quote, the writing is absolutely glorious and I felt just the utmost happiness when I was reading this dark little tale, purely for the gorgeous lyrical style and the way that the author uses her words to beautiful effect. Yes, this story has murky depths and goes to some strange and fascinating places so if you’re not into twisted tales, this might not be the story for you BUT I urge you to give it a chance because I’m now desperate to talk to anyone who has read this before and hear all their thoughts on it. I immediately felt so sorry for our protagonist when we learn what he has to deal with but I certainly wasn’t expecting the direction in which Sara Maitland took it in one of the most dramatic conclusions I think I’ve ever read in a short story. Have I convinced you yet? I’ve undeniably convinced myself that I need to read something else by this author ASAP.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

 

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.