British Books Challenge 2018

All posts in the British Books Challenge 2018 category

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

Published January 19, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Books And Roses all about?:

In Books and Roses, one special key opens a library, a garden and clues to at least two lovers’ fates.

What did I think?:

Helen Oyeyemi’s short story collection, What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours is a new addition to my collection after completing a collection by a different author last year. This collection was actually recommended to me by the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights and I was immediately intrigued, both by the gorgeous cover art, the fact that it was quite whimsical and that characters from some of the stories were promised to appear in other stories in the collection. From what I can gather so far, each story involves a key of some sort and the protagonist searching for something, be that family, an object, their own identity etc. I finished this story with a lot of admiration for Helen Oyeyemi as a writer and clear master of words however I have to be honest, I also finished the story a little bit confused.

Books And Roses is the first story in this collection and quite a lengthy one relatively speaking at just over forty pages long. When it started, I was immediately intrigued. A baby has been abandoned in a monastery with a note, imploring the baby when she is older to “Wait For Me,” and enclosed is a mysterious key which the child, named Montserrat (Montse) wears around her neck. The unknown mother suggests that this was the best place for her to leave her baby as the baby is black and the monks have a statue of Black Madonna in their premises so she was certain she was leaving her in a good place. Then we follow our female protagonist quite quickly as she grows up, gets work as a laundress and meets another young woman who not only also possesses a strange key but is also waiting for someone and we hear a bit of her story. In quite a convoluted narrative, we eventually learn the secret behind the two keys and the way in which both women’s stories are inter-connected.

I’m wondering whether I should go back and read this story all over again as I’m worried I may have lost some of the meaning amongst the vast amount of information we are given by the author. I absolutely adored the beginning, it felt very fairy-tale like and some of the passages she writes are truly beautiful, especially ones set within the gorgeous library:

“A library at night is full of sounds: The unread books can’t stand it any longer and announce their contents, some boasting, some shy, some devious.”

However, I do think that because the author completely flooded the narrative with the back stories of both Montse, Lucy and another young woman Safiye, I perhaps got a little overwhelmed about where one story started and the other finished and how that information pertained to each character. I don’t blame the author at all for that, that’s merely my own inability to separate what we are told as a reader and then see it all as a whole which I sadly failed to do. Maybe it’s also getting used to a different writers style, especially when this is the first thing I’ve read by Helen Oyeyemi. For now, I’ll note that she’s a gorgeous writer and perhaps I need to concentrate a bit more when reading her fiction.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Apple Tree by Daphne du Maurier from the collection The Birds And Other Stories.

 

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The Haunting – Alex Bell

Published January 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Some curses grow stronger with time…
People say that all Cornish inns are haunted, but the Waterwitch’s history is particularly chilling. Built from the salvaged timber of a cursed ship, the guest house’s dark secrets go further back than anyone can remember.
Emma is permanently confined to a wheelchair after an accident at the Waterwitch which took place when she was ten. Seven years later, she decides to return to the place where the awful event occurred. But the ancient inn still has its ghosts, and one particular spirit is more vengeful than ever…
A chilling new title in the Red Eye horror series from the author of Frozen Charlotte.

What did I think?:

I’ve been a fan of Alex Bell for a little while now and have really enjoyed her adult reads including The Ninth Circle and Jasmyn, which I read in my pre-blogging days and of course, her relatively recent release of Frozen Charlotte with Red Eye publishers. The Haunting is her second book for Red Eye and once I realised that it involved something “witchy,” I was completely sold. I’m loving Alex’s foray into young adult fiction, particularly horror as it’s something I used to read almost exclusively when I was a teenager. When I read things like Frozen Charlotte and The Haunting I’m reminded of the Point Horror books released in the 1990’s which I used to adore and spend all of my pocket money on. As a result, reading her books written in this vein are incredibly nostalgic and I find myself just as gripped by the narrative as when I used to read books under the duvet with my torch in the middle of the night.

The Haunting follows our disabled protagonist Emma, confined to a wheelchair after a horrific accident as she goes to visit her sick grandmother in Cornwall. Her grandmother owns an inn called The Waterwitch and begs Emma not to return there, swearing that it is haunted and therefore dangerous but when Emma sees a mysterious light in the inn one evening, she is determined to investigate with her trusty assistance dog, Bailey. Reunited with her old friend Jem and his sister Shell, strange and creepy things start happening at The Waterwitch and Emma begins to realise that one particular spirit has a mission she is resolved to carry out, which could prove deadly for anyone that stands in her way.

As with most thrillers/mysteries I don’t want to go much more into the plot than I already have for fear of spoilers. I really loved the whole atmosphere of this novel, including our plucky characters (and I’m always a sucker for a brave dog too!). It was wonderful to see a protagonist that was not able-bodied and I appreciated her unwavering need for answers, returning to the place where her accident occurred and facing things that would have most ordinary people running for the hills! Alex Bell sets the scene beautifully with an inn that is built from the remains of a shipwreck of the same name, The Waterwitch, to tell a story that will give you chills and have you checking the darkest corners of your room before you go to sleep. It’s delightfully eerie but the perfect level of fright for teenagers without giving them nightmares so for that I heartily recommend it. Finally, I really appreciated a young adult piece of fiction that wasn’t all about the romance, had friendship and family much deeper at its core and wasn’t afraid to travel to some very dark places. I can’t really compare it to Frozen Charlotte if you’ve read that – in my eyes, it’s just as uncanny and definitely has the potential to raise a few goosebumps.

For my interview with Alex Bell, please see my post HERE

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Which Reminded Her, Later by Jon McGregor from the collection This Isn’t The Sort Of Thing That Happens To Someone Like You.

Published January 14, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Which Reminded Her, Later all about?:

Which Reminded Her, Later is about the relationship between a vicar and his wife when an uninvited guest comes to stay at their vicarage.

What did I think?:

Make no bones about it, I am a huge fan of Jon McGregor’s writing and when I realised this short story was one of the longer ones in this collection, I was delighted. Don’t get me wrong, I love the shorter narratives too, he’s a master wordsmith and manages to do in one page what some authors struggle to do with twenty but that’s the reason why I always want just a little bit more. It turns out this story isn’t one of my favourites in the collection but that in no way means it’s a bad story at all, in fact quite the opposite. It’s just that it hasn’t stayed with me or had such a powerful effect compared to some of the rest of the stories in this book so far.

The story is told from the point of view of Catherine, an English lecturer at a university and the wife of a vicar, Michael. In the main crux of the narrative, Catherine is quite fed up and we sense becoming rather disillusioned with her marriage and with her husband as a person. She has become quite used to his “little ways,” and tendencies to help all the waifs and strays that he comes across, as indeed you might think a vicar should. However his latest antic, by taking in a complete stranger into the house (whose attitude to Michael’s kindness begins to ruffle Catherine’s feathers considerably!) has really started to irk her. She begins to remember other times and other instances when Michael annoyed her in this way, she mourns the loss of her old life and career when she was known for much more than being merely “the vicar’s wife,” and by the end of the story, the reader begins to feel that the departure of the American stranger may be just the start of the couples troubles.

Once again, Jon McGregor knocked me sideways with the power of his writing and his characterisation. Not only does he draw such a perfect female character but he builds up his tale in such a slow, methodical fashion that the reader is immediately captivated and fully immersed on the ride until the very end. If I hadn’t read any other stories by Jon McGregor I would be singing this ones praises to the hills, his finesse with language is just extraordinary but to be perfectly honest, I think there are more wonderful stories in this collection that touched me more. It’s still a fantastic piece of writing however that shows off all his talent beautifully and if you enjoy a slow, literary narrative I don’t think you’ll be disappointed if this is the first story that you read by him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: Books And Roses by Helen Oyeyemi from the collection What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours.

Blog Tour – The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana

Published January 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Anna Flores’ adored older sister goes missing as a teenager, Anna copes by disappearing too, just as soon as she can: running as far away from her family as possible, and eventually building a life for herself abroad.

Thirty years later, the death of her mother finally forces Anna to return home. Tasked with sorting through her mother’s possessions, she begins to confront not just her mother’s death, but also the huge hole Gabriella’s disappearance left in her life – and finds herself asking a question she’s not allowed herself to ask for years: what really happened to her sister?

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the lovely Annabelle Wright and Mantle publishers for getting to touch to ask me if I’d like to read a copy of debut novel The Missing Girl, in exchange for an honest review and to be part of the blog tour. Well of course I jumped at the chance, especially when I saw it getting early rave reviews from bloggers I know and trust, like the wonderful Cleopatra Loves Books who wrote a fantastic review HERE. I trust Cleo implicitly as we tend to have a similar taste in books, particularly crime fiction so I knew I was in for a great reading experience even before I started. Luckily, this book was everything I had anticipated it to be. From a quiet build up that became even more menacing as the story unfolded, I loved everything about this novel. The writing, the plot, the characters….all these factors combined to make this story an unforgettable read that I didn’t want to end.

I’m not going to go too deeply into the nuances of the plot as obviously, with this sort of genre, the less you know the better and I prefer to go into these kinds of books knowing as little as possible. Basically, it follows our main female protagonist, Anna Flores who has returned home after her mothers’ death to deal with everything in the house, the family business – all those horrible, sad little things we have to deal with after someone close to us passes away. Coming back to her home town after being abroad in Athens, Anna is reminded of a terrible event thirty years ago when her older sister Gabriella went missing that she is now forced to confront. Nothing was ever discovered about what happened to Gabriella and who, if anyone was to blame. However, Anna now makes it her mission to uncover exactly what happened to her beloved sister.

As the reader, we are taken along a dual time-line, the present, where Anna is performing one last house clearance for her father’s old business, The House Of Flores and then we are also whisked back to 1982 and see the last months/days/hours just prior to Gabriella’s mysterious disappearance and how this affects the whole family. As this is such a steady build-up before any “big reveals,” I really felt we got to know the characters intimately, particularly Anna who became such a three-dimensional person and almost bounced off the pages for me with her vibrancy. She isn’t a perfect character, not by any stretch of the imagination and is particularly awful to one of the background characters, Martha. This is not why I liked her so much though. I thought she was written in a completely authentic way, she made mistakes, said horrible things but also felt intensely guilty afterwards for her actions and tried to make amends. Her adoration for her older sister was one of the sweetest parts of the narrative and I really felt sorry for her at points as she felt sometimes on the outside in the family unit.

Growing up in the 1980’s I also adored all the eighties references in this novel which were incredibly nostalgic to read i.e. Margaret Thatcher, The Falklands War (which my dad served in as a soldier) and classic songs like “Come On Eileen” by Dexys Midnight Runners. Alongside all this, the sense of foreboding throughout the story is eerie and tantalising and makes you want to read “just one more chapter” just to figure out what’s going on. We have no idea what’s happened to Gabriella until the very end and it’s obvious more than one person is hiding a secret which makes the unveiling all the more exciting in an ending that was gripping and incredibly surprising. I’m really looking forward to seeing what this author is going to do in the future and I’ll certainly be watching out for her next novel.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana is my first book in my attempt to conquer Mount Everest on the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Jenny Quintana grew up in Essex and Berkshire, before studying English Literature in London. She has taught in London, Seville and Athens and has also written books for teaching English as a foreign language. She is a graduate of the Curtis Brown Creative writing course. She now lives with her family in Berkshire. The Missing Girl is her first novel.

Find Jenny on GoodReads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17206031.Jenny_Quintana

or on Twitter at: @jennyquintana95

Thank you once again to Annabelle Wright and Mantle publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Missing Girl by Jenny Quintana is out now, published by Mantle in hardback and priced at £14.99. The blog tour is running from Thursday 28th December until Thursday 11th January so don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers stops for some more fantastic reviews!

GoodReads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36261291-the-missing-girl

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Missing-Girl-Jenny-Quintana/dp/150983950X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1515173893&sr=8-1&keywords=the+missing+girl+jenny+quintana

 

 

The Keeper Of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Published January 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A charming, clever, and quietly moving debut novel of of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that explores the promises we make and break, losing and finding ourselves, the objects that hold magic and meaning for our lives, and the surprising connections that bind us.

Lime green plastic flower-shaped hair bobbles—Found, on the playing field, Derrywood Park, 2nd September.

Bone china cup and saucer-Found, on a bench in Riveria Public Gardens, 31st October.

Anthony Peardew is the keeper of lost things. Forty years ago, he carelessly lost a keepsake from his beloved fiancée, Therese. That very same day, she died unexpectedly. Brokenhearted, Anthony sought consolation in rescuing lost objects—the things others have dropped, misplaced, or accidentally left behind—and writing stories about them. Now, in the twilight of his life, Anthony worries that he has not fully discharged his duty to reconcile all the lost things with their owners. As the end nears, he bequeaths his secret life’s mission to his unsuspecting assistant, Laura, leaving her his house and and all its lost treasures, including an irritable ghost.

Recovering from a bad divorce, Laura, in some ways, is one of Anthony’s lost things. But when the lonely woman moves into his mansion, her life begins to change. She finds a new friend in the neighbor’s quirky daughter, Sunshine, and a welcome distraction in Freddy, the rugged gardener. As the dark cloud engulfing her lifts, Laura, accompanied by her new companions, sets out to realize Anthony’s last wish: reuniting his cherished lost objects with their owners.

Long ago, Eunice found a trinket on the London pavement and kept it through the years. Now, with her own end drawing near, she has lost something precious—a tragic twist of fate that forces her to break a promise she once made.

As the Keeper of Lost Objects, Laura holds the key to Anthony and Eunice’s redemption. But can she unlock the past and make the connections that will lay their spirits to rest?

Full of character, wit, and wisdom, The Keeper of Lost Things is a heartwarming tale that will enchant fans of The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, Garden Spells, Mrs. Queen Takes the Train,and The Silver Linings Playbook.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: Generally, I thought that it was very easy to read and almost fairy tale like in its execution, particularly with the little short stories that we are told about the lost objects. Some I enjoyed more than others but overall, it seemed to be an intriguing little read.

BETH: How would you describe this book to someone who was interested in reading it?

CHRISSI: It’s a difficult one because it fits into so many genres, so you can’t exactly market it as in a specific genre. I think if I had to pick a word to describe this book it would be whimsical. It’s a story of two parts that meet together even if you don’t expect that they will.

CHRISSI: How does the story of Eunice and Bomber relate to Laura and Anthony’s story? Did you find the two plot strands difficult to juggle, perhaps too distracting? Or do the two tales enhance one another?

BETH: There is a reason for the inclusion of Eunice and Bomber’s story and I won’t go into it too much but it relates to the lost objects that Laura is looking after/trying to find homes for. I wasn’t sure at first how the two stories were connected and to be perfectly honest, preferred the current day story of Laura and Anthony to that of Eunice and Bomber. This is quite a departure for me as usually I much prefer a timeline set in the past compared to a contemporary one and I’m not sure why. Eunice irritated me slightly as a character so perhaps this put me off.

BETH: Which character did you connect with most in this novel and why?

CHRISSI: Ooh that’s hard because I really enjoyed two of the characters. I loved Laura and really felt for her at the beginning. She seemed incredibly broken and I really wanted a fix for her. I wanted her to be happy. A character that I really connected with was Sunshine. I thought she was an extraordinary character. I loved her insight. She easily understood things that others didn’t. I loved her view of the world.

CHRISSI: Did you connect with both Eunice and Bomber/Laura and Anthony?

BETH: Haha, I’ve managed to ramble right into the next question!! I didn’t really connect with Eunice as a character I have to say and Bomber was just a bit so-so for me. I found his sister, Portia to be a much more fascinating character to read about although there were some tender moments in the narrative involving these characters and their parents which I really appreciated. Laura and Anthony I liked more but the character who I enjoyed exploring the most was probably Sunshine who be-friends Laura quite near the beginning and becomes a very important part of the novel.

BETH: Did any of the stories about the objects stay with you and if so, which one and why?

CHRISSI: I wish I did have a story that stood out for me, but I really don’t. I thought all of the stories were intriguing in different ways. However,  there were so many of the stories that I couldn’t really focus in on one. There wasn’t one that immediately stuck with me. That’s not to say they weren’t well written. They were! Some were incredibly charming.

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

BETH: I’m not quite sure where to place this book genre wise. Some parts of it are historical, others contemporary, others kind of magical and fantastical. As a fantasy novel I think there’s a place for it but it’s much more gentle and not as complex as other books in the genre. For me, this was a decent read that I enjoyed but I wasn’t completely blown away.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. I thought this was an impressive debut. It read like it was from a very established author.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Probably!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art