British Books Challenge 2018

All posts in the British Books Challenge 2018 category

Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

Published April 12, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Four Hundred Rabbits all about?:

Four Hundred Rabbits tells the story of a midwinter festival to honour the Aztec gods in which a young man is drugged. As our protagonist investigates, we find out exactly what happened to him and why.

What did I think?:

Once again with my Short Stories Challenge, I’ve been introduced to an author that I’ve never heard of before and I love it for that! Simon Levack is a British author of historical mystery novels that so far, all feature the same character, Yaotl who is a slave in in Precolombian Mexico with the Aztec people. Almost immediately, I appreciated the detail that has gone into Four Hundred Rabbits and in it’s execution, it very much reminded me of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom (which I have fallen woefully behind on). Generally, I thought it was a decent enough tale and it was obvious that the author had created the plot meticulously however it didn’t blow me away. It was enjoyable but unfortunately, only okay in my opinion.

Our protagonist for the story is the same character featured in the author’s novels, a slave called Yaotl who used to be in the priesthood but was expelled and turned quite heavily to drink before he became apprenticed as a slave. In Four Hundred Rabbits, he is brought up before his master, Lord Feathered In Black and his assistance is demanded. In the corner lies the body of Black’s great-nephew, Heron in a drugged stupor. As Yaotl has had a lot of experience with different plants/drugs through his studies as a priest, Black wants him to investigate the incident and find the culprit so that he can be punished. We are taken to a world of strange religious rituals, where four hundred men compete to drink sacred wine through a hollow straw and it is by these means that Yaotl believes Heron has been poisoned. Why was he attacked in this way? Yaotl must find out before his master’s impatience runs out or before he becomes a target himself.

First of all, I really loved how unique this story felt, especially in comparison to every other tale in this collection. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to another country, another culture and another point in time that is so vastly different from our contemporary world with different beliefs and ideals. I mentioned Shardlake earlier and the way Yaotl goes about his business of attempting to find the perp really reminded me of Matthew’s own investigations in the Sansom novels of King Henry VIII’s England. I was fascinated by how all the pieces of the puzzle came together although I still found it a bit difficult to realise the exact motives of our culprit. Although the writing was excellent, something didn’t fully connect with me unfortunately. Perhaps I was interested in Yaotl himself as a character and was far more intrigued about why he had been expelled from the priesthood rather than a young (rather obnoxious) young man being drugged during a festival. Maybe Yaotl is explored further in Levack’s novels and I’d certainly be curious enough to give them a try.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

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Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading – Lucy Mangan

Published April 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Lucy Mangan was little, stories were everything. They opened up new worlds and cast light on all the complexities she encountered in this one.

She was whisked away to Narnia – and Kirrin Island – and Wonderland. She ventured down rabbit holes and womble burrows into midnight gardens and chocolate factories. She wandered the countryside with Milly-Molly-Mandy, and played by the tracks with the Railway Children. With Charlotte’s Web she discovered Death and with Judy Blume it was Boys. No wonder she only left the house for her weekly trip to the library or to spend her pocket money on amassing her own at home.

In Bookworm, Lucy revisits her childhood reading with wit, love and gratitude. She relives our best-beloved books, their extraordinary creators, and looks at the thousand subtle ways they shape our lives. She also disinters a few forgotten treasures to inspire the next generation of bookworms and set them on their way.

Lucy brings the favourite characters of our collective childhoods back to life – prompting endless re-readings, rediscoveries, and, inevitably, fierce debate – and brilliantly uses them to tell her own story, that of a born, and unrepentant, bookworm.

What did I think?:

Oh my goodness, what could be better than a book about books? My boyfriend got me this book as a gift and as a loud and proud bookworm, he couldn’t have got me anything better. Seriously, this must be how some girls feel when they’re given jewellery? Lucy Mangan’s thorough exploration of her childhood reading is beautifully nostalgic and warmed my heart. We hear small parts of Lucy’s own life but unlike other memoirs, as the title suggests, this book is focused purely on how different books have shaped the author’s life. As a bookish, rather solitary child myself, I nodded along with almost everything the author described. For example, the joys of being sent to your room as a punishment – hey, more time alone to read right? Or the delights of reading under your cover with a torch when you’re supposed to be sleeping, which made me very tired the next morning at school but strangely satisfied as I managed to finish the book I was reading!

From the delights of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Lucy takes us through books that meant something to her as a child and how they changed her as a person. Lucy is slightly older than me by six years so some of the books I wasn’t instantly familiar with but I had a bundle of fun researching them on Google, especially when she mentioned illustrators like Edmund Evans and Maurice Sendak. However, the cockles of my heart were well and truly warmed when she mentioned my own childhood favourites like C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles Of Narnia, the master that is Roald Dahl, the heart-break of Charlotte’s Web, the goddess of adventure stories that is Enid Blyton and of course, my own personal heroine, Judy Blume. Helpfully, the author also provides a complete list of all the books she mentions in the appendix and I have to admit to adding quite a few to my wish-list!

Bookworm: A Memoir Of Childhood Reading is a gorgeous, evocative read that will have you remembering the books that really made an impression on you when you were younger and leave you with a wistful urge to re-read them all over again. The only reason I’m not giving it a higher rating is that there were a few books that I didn’t know and so didn’t quite feel the same connection with as others. However, this is a fantastic journey back in time that I thoroughly enjoyed and highly anticipate reading again in the future next time I need a trip down memory lane. The style of Lucy Mangan’s writing really invites you in and makes you feel like you’re having a chat with a good friend about the favourite topic of any bookworm of course – BOOKS. I’ve got that fuzzy, gooey feeling all over again just talking about this book!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Blog Tour – Drift Stumble Fall by M. Jonathan Lee

Published April 10, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The author of five novels, M Jonathan Lee is a tireless mental health awareness campaigner, working closely with organisations including Mind, Time to Change and Rethink and blogs regularly for Huffington Post. Having personally experienced anxiety and depression during his life, Jonathan draws on his experiences to inform his writing.

Richard feels trapped in his hectic life of commitment and responsibility. From the daily mayhem of having young children, an exhausted wife and pushy in-laws who frequently outstay their welcome, Richards existence fills him with panic and resentment. The only place he can escape the dark cloud descending upon him is the bathroom, where he hides for hours on end, door locked, wondering how on earth he can escape.

Often staring out of his window, Richard enviously observes the tranquil life of Bill, his neighbour living in the bungalow across the road. From the outside, Bills world appears filled with comfort and peace. Yet underneath the apparent domestic bliss of both lives are lies, secrets, imperfections, sadness and suffering far greater than either could have imagined. Beneath the surface, a family tragedy has left Bill frozen in time and unable to move on. As he waits for a daughter who may never return, Bill watches Richards bustling family life and yearns for the joy it brings. As the two men watch each other from afar, it soon becomes apparent that other peoples lives are not always what they seem.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Charlotte Cooper and Hideaway Fall for inviting me to take part in this blog tour. This is M. Jonathan Lee’s fifth novel and I’ve only recently come across his work after loving his fourth book, Broken Branches last year. Well, I can now consider myself a fully fledged Lee fan. This novel is a fantastic read that perfectly explores the issues of depression, anxiety, feeling trapped and longing for escape. I always worry when reading a novel about mental health that it will affect me in a bad way, I’m quite sensitive to a lot of the areas explored in this story. However, I’m always proved wrong with brilliant novels like this that allowed me to fully empathise with our main character and root for better days ahead for them.

This is the story of two families – Richard, Lisa and their two children Hannah and Oscar and across the road, their neighbours, an elderly couple called Bill and Rosie. Richard is obviously struggling with mental health issues and has been for a number of years. He feels that his life has become stagnant, devoid of meaning and dreads each waking moment when he has to spend time with his wife, children or his in-laws, when he has to pretend to be a normal human being and father. Without his family’s awareness, he is planning to leave and start all over again, possibly in America where no one knows him and he can have the kind of peace he craves. He spends a lot of time staring into space, out of the window and often sees his neighbour Bill looking out too. He begins to fantasise about what it would be like to have Bill’s life, something he believes is considerably nicer than his own. However, he is in no way aware of the immense struggles that Bill and Rosie are going through in their lives themselves. The grass isn’t always greener and both men may be about to find that out for the very first time in his life as their town experiences huge snowfall and makes the feeling of entrapment feel even more intense.

I had such mixed emotions when reading this book. It was brutally honest about the daily toils of parenting and how sometimes it can all get a bit much, even for someone who has sound mental health! I’m not a parent myself so I can’t really comment on that but I have seen evidence of it in my own family and friends so am well aware of the difficulties. I really felt for Richard and for Bill and Rosie although Richard especially produced such conflicting feelings for me. I just wanted him to get help (I know, easier said than done) and when he started making serious plans for leaving and even started to put these plans into action, I just wanted to step in and stop him, shake him, give him a hug….maybe all three! This novel is truly heart-breaking in the way it makes you feel. Every time Richard becomes too anxious, the turmoil in his brain becomes too much and he has to step away from the situation I was right with him. Then there is Bill and Rosie and the suffering that they are enduring which ends in a rather distressing situation that only made the lump in my throat feel like a boulder. I won’t say any more because the beauty and agony of this book really deserves to be discovered for yourself but I can’t praise it highly enough.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

 

 

AUTHOR INFORMATION

M Jonathan Lee is a nationally shortlisted author who was born Yorkshire where he still lives today with his wife, children and dog, Alfie.

His debut novel, The Radio was shortlisted for The Novel Prize 2012. He has spoken in schools, colleges, prisons and universities about creative writing and storytelling and appeared at various literary festivals including Sheffield’s Off the Shelf and Doncaster’s Turn the Page festival.

His second novel, The Page was released in February 2015.

His much anticipated third novel, A Tiny Feeling of Fear was released in September 2015 and tells the story of a character struggling with mental illness. All profits from this novel are donated to charity to raise awareness of mental health issues. This was accompanied by the short film, Hidden which was directed by Simon Gamble and can be seen here.

In 2016, he signed for boutique publishers, Hideaway Fall and his fourth novel Broken Branches was released in July 2017, winning book of the month in Candis magazine for September.

He is a tireless campaigner for mental health awareness and writes his own column regularly for the Huffington Post. He has recently written for the Big Issue and spoken at length about his own personal struggle on the BBC and Radio Talk Europe.

His fifth book, the critically acclaimed Drift Stumble Fall is released in Spring 2018.

Find M. Jonathan Lee on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6953417.M_Jonathan_Lee

on his website at: https://www.mjonathanlee.com/

on Twitter at: @mjonathanlee

Thank you once again to Charlotte Cooper and Hideaway Fall for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Drift Stumble Fall will be published on the 12th April 2018 and will be available as both a paperback and an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers stops for some more fantastic reviews!

Goodreads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38350672-drift-stumble-fall

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Drift-Stumble-Fall-Jonathan-Lee/dp/0995492344/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1523122695&sr=1-1&keywords=drift+stumble+fall

 

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

Published April 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A fiercely intelligent, well-respected High Court judge in London faces a morally ambiguous case while her own marriage crumbles in a novel that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case – as well as her crumbling marriage – tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

What did I think?:

I’ve had a bit of a strange relationship with Ian McEwan as a writer. One of my all time favourite books is the gorgeous Atonement (which I’m just about to re-read) but other books that I’ve read by him before I started blogging have left me rather dissatisfied – for example, Saturday and Solar, both of which left me wondering what all the fuss was about. How did The Children Act measure up? Well, it sits itself quite firmly somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Atonement but was certainly interesting enough to keep me turning the pages and is a relatively short read at a mere 240 pages. I had some small issues with the characters and the narrative which I’ll go into a bit later but generally, I had a fairly enjoyable experience when reading it.

This is the story of Fiona Maye, a well respected High Court judge who comes up against traumatic circumstances in both her personal and professional life. At home, her husband has just asked her permission to have an affair (whilst continuing to be married to her) and understandably, Fiona has reacted badly to his suggestion leaving their relationship on very fragile territory. At work, she is about to become embroiled in one of the toughest cases of her career when a seventeen year old boy who is critically ill with leukaemia steadfastly refuses to have a blood transfusion that will save his life on the grounds that he is a Jehovah’s Witness and it is against his beliefs. Fiona becomes quite personally invested in Adam’s story as she fights to get a High Court order insisting that his wishes should be over-ruled on account of his being under eighteen. Alongside the stress of her job, her marriage is disintegrating before her eyes and Fiona must decide whether she wants to save her relationship with her husband, Jack as well as Adam’s life.

Personally, I found this novel to have both good and bad parts and even now, I’m struggling to decide on an overall rating. I did find the story fascinating and was intrigued enough as to care about how it was all going to work out for each individual character however I don’t feel there was anything particularly unique within the plot. In other words, I do feel like this story has been played out before by other authors so there was nothing too novel that really shocked me or completely captured my attention. I enjoyed how the author chose to tell The Children Act from the point of view of a woman, and a high powered one at that (thumbs up, Ian McEwan) however, I worry that sometimes she didn’t come across in the best light and left me feeling slightly cold. She was obviously a strong, independent woman and I just wish that she had made firm decisions regarding her marriage and her work that reflected all that strength. Finally, I did feel that Ian McEwan was taking a bit of a pop at religion which didn’t sit well with me. I’m not particularly religious and certainly don’t enjoy being preached at, nevertheless I respect that other people have beliefs and ideals, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them myself.

You might think with all this criticism I didn’t rate this novel at all! However, I did honestly enjoy what the author did in such a brief narrative. The courtroom scenes were particularly fascinating and kept me gripped. I did find parts of it problematic of course, but if I compare it to other novels that I’ve read so far (save for Atonement which is all kinds of wonderful!) I do rate this higher. There is no denying that the author can write beautifully and he does know how to spin a good yarn that I’m certain other people will be fawning over much more than myself.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Talking About Close To Home (DI Adam Fawley #1) by Cara Hunter with Chrissi Reads

Published April 7, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Someone took Daisy Mason. Someone YOU KNOW.

Last night, 8-year-old Daisy Mason disappeared from her parents’ summer party. No one in the quiet suburban street saw anything – or at least that’s what they’re saying. DI Adam Fawley is trying to keep an open mind. But he knows that nine times out of ten, it’s someone the victim knew. That means someone is lying. And that Daisy’s time is running out…

Introducing DI Fawley and his team of Oxford detectives, CLOSE TO HOME is a pulse-pounding race against time and a penetrating examination of what happens to a community when a shocking crime is committed by one of its own.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did you have any preconceptions about this book before you started it?

BETH: I really try not to have preconceptions about any book before I read it but I think it’s human nature, you do make a snap judgement depending on how the book looks and what you’ve heard about it. Luckily, I had heard only good things and if anything, the preconceptions were basically high expectations based on the number of positive reviews I’ve read and the fact it was picked for the Richard and Judy Spring Book Club list this year. Always a good sign! However, we do know there have been books that have been chosen that we haven’t particularly loved – would this be one of them? No chance. I adored this book and believe it’s the start of a hugely promising crime series that I’m now desperate to follow.

BETH: Our lead detective, DI Adam Fawley is reported in this novel as also experiencing tragedy in his life. Were you as eager as me to know his back story?

CHRISSI: So very desperate. I loved how it was teased throughout. That sounds like I mean that I was happy he experienced tragedy, not at all, I just loved the way the details were drip fed to us. Anticipation. I really wanted to know what had happened to DI Adam Fawley. I was intrigued throughout and wanted to know what had happened to him. I grew to love him as a character and felt like I could feel his pain through the pages of the book. He’s not real, Chrissi, he’s not real!

CHRISSI: What does this novel say about children and the world they’re growing up in now?

BETH: Interesting and very tough question! And I’m going to try and do this without spoilers….One of the things that I enjoyed most about this book was the use of different media to tell the story. For example, we have Twitter feeds, news articles, interview transcripts etc. and not only did this give an alternative look at the story from a number of points of view, it broke up the narrative in a really fun-to-read way. However, I think it illustrated perfectly how powerful and dangerous social media can be in distorting views, inciting hatred, giving false information and potentially endangering lives. We already know from the very start of the novel that Daisy has disappeared with someone “close to home,” and it makes you wonder if you can really trust anyone – a terrifying thought.

BETH: Who do you think is a better parent to Daisy, Barry or Sharon?

CHRISSI: Well this is an evil question, Beth! They both have their flaws. Definitely. I have to say that I doubted them all the way through at different points in the story. Cara Hunter is awesome at keeping you guessing, I have to say. If I had to choose it would be Barry. I think. Argh! I don’t know. I don’t like this question, Beth. I don’t know if I’m picking Barry because I intensely disliked Sharon!

CHRISSI: Cara Hunter sets her novel in Oxford, a place that’s been portrayed many times in crime fiction. What do you think of her version of the city?

BETH: I’ve visited Oxford a couple of times now (once with you fairly recently!) and I loved Cara’s version of this beloved and well-known city. I enjoyed that we got to hear about a few staples of the city, like the spires but it generally felt much more focused on an ordinary street with very ordinary people living there but where an extraordinary and very traumatic thing has occurred. I liked how the author focused on the community around the Mason family, what they saw, how they connected with the Masons and how they reacted to the event.

BETH: Without spoilers, did you see this ending coming and what did you think of it?

CHRISSI: That ending! Oh my goodness. I don’t want to spoil it at all, so I’m going to be very careful around discussing it. It deserves to be read without knowing what’s going to happen. If you manage to get it without spoilers (like I did!) then your mouth might drop open…a bit like mine did. I definitely didn’t see it coming. As I mentioned before, Cara Hunter totally kept me guessing. The ending that happened never, ever crossed my mind. Mind blown.

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in the (heavily) populated genre?

BETH: It’s up there with the best in my opinion. As I mentioned, I loved the way in which Cara Hunter styled this novel and used a vast array of other media to tell this tale. It felt unique, different and was a clever little break from a cliffhanger in the narrative that just made you want to read as fast as you could to get back to the main crux of the novel and find out what happened next! These parts were ever so important however as they brought vital information into the case of Daisy Mason that you wouldn’t want to miss by glossing over these sections. There was not only a stellar plot (and THAT ending) but I absolutely adored all the characters, even those you love to hate. They were frank, authentic, fully formed and I felt just as interested in them as I did in what happened to Daisy. Can’t say enough good things, it was brilliant.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes, yes I would. I have automatically downloaded the next book in the series on NetGalley, which I’m super excited about. I tend to find crime fiction a bit overpopulated and a little bit samey, but I’m happy to say that I found Cara Hunter’s book to be incredibly unique and well worth reading. It kept me captivated throughout. I’m excited to see where this series goes.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

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CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

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Close To Home by Cara Hunter was the twenty-seventh book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Charlotte Brontë: A Life – Claire Harman

Published April 6, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

On the 200th anniversary of Charlotte Brontë’s birth, Penguin is publishing the definitive biography of this extraordinary novelist, by acclaimed literary biographer Claire Harman.

Charlotte Brontë’s life contained all the drama and tragedy of the great Gothic novels it inspired. She was raised motherless on remote Yorkshire moors and sent away to brutally strict boarding school at a young age. She watched helpless growing up as, one by one, her five beloved siblings sickened and died; by the end of her short life, she was the only child of the Brontë clan remaining. And most fascinating and tragic of all, throughout her adult life she was haunted by a great and unrequited love – a love that tortured Charlotte but also inspired some of the most moving, intense and revolutionary novels ever written in the English language.

Charlotte was a literary visionary, a feminist trailblazer and the driving force behind the whole Brontë family. She encouraged her sister Emily to publish Wuthering Heights when no-one else believed in her talent. She took charge of the family’s precarious finances when her brilliant but feckless brother Branwell succumbed to opium addiction. She travelled from Yorkshire to Europe to the bright lights of London, met some of the most brilliant literary minds of her generation (Elizabeth Gaskell, Charles Dickens, William Thackeray), and became a bestselling female author in a world still dominated by men. And in each of her books, from Villette and Shirley to her most famous, Jane Eyre, Charlotte created brand new kinds of heroines, inspired by herself and her life, fiercely intelligent women burning with hidden passions.

This beautifully-produced, landmark biography is essential reading for every fan of the Brontë family’s writing, from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights. It is a uniquely intimate and complex insight into one of Britain’s best loved writers. This is the literary biography of the year; if you loved Claire Tomalin’s Charles Dickens, this event is not to be missed.

What did I think?:

My wonderful boyfriend was kind enough to buy me this beautiful hardback edition of Charlotte Brontë – A Life a couple of years ago for a birthday and I cannot believe I’m only getting round to reading it now. Jane Eyre is tied with Pride And Prejudice for one of my favourite classics, actually if I’m being honest, one of my favourite ever books and I’m eagerly anticipating doing a re-read of my lovely Penguin clothbound edition very soon. I’ve always been fascinated about the life of Charlotte but occasionally, memoirs intimidate me slightly so I’ve putting this off for a while now! I honestly don’t know why I was being so silly because this biography was hugely readable and very enjoyable to boot. I have remained shamefully ignorant about Charlotte and her sisters in the past but found out much more than I could ever have anticipated from Claire Harman’s wonderfully researched tome. It’s definitely made me more keen to catch up on the rest of Charlotte’s novels – Vilette, Shirley and The Professor and I can’t wait to get started.

The reader is spoiled with this book in that not only do we get the life of Charlotte to pore over but we get detailed information on every single member of her family. Of course, who could leave out Anne and Emily who had such great successes of their own? We learn about the difficulties faced by Charlotte’s father when he first came to the country from Ireland and how he managed as a single father of six children after his wife died unexpectedly. Not only does Charlotte grow up without the steady hand and love of her mother whom she barely remembers but she has to suffer unbearable agonies as through her life, each of her five siblings also passes away. We get a fascinating insight into Charlotte’s time at boarding school which were so hideous that they inspired the events at the school in her most famous novel, Jane Eyre. Furthermore, we also learn about her great love, a married Belgian schoolteacher who she never really gets over and who breaks her heart by not reciprocating her feelings. Throughout it all, Charlotte comes across as one of the most determined, headstrong, stubborn and gentle women that I’ve had the pleasure to read about. Her life was filled with heart-ache but throughout it all, she never gave up and managed to do what she had always dreamed of – to be a successful writer.

Oh my goodness, after this stunning, intricately detailed biography, I feel almost like I know Charlotte inside out. My heart broke with hers when her sisters and brother died, I felt her agony at suffering with low self-esteem and at times, fragile mental health and saw her pain when she fell in love to have it ignored. Not only did I enjoy “meeting” Charlotte but I loved learning in greater depth about Emily, Anne and Branwell too who all had their own individual demons to fight. Some parts were completely shocking – like Emily’s treatment of a dog which was not only hideous but thoroughly confusing to me. There is also evidence that Charlotte herself didn’t actually die of TB as was suspected but was instead suffering from quite a different condition that still plagues many women today (although luckily, they don’t usually pass away from it!). I don’t think I’ve read many biographies that touch my heart and make me feel so many emotions but Charlotte Brontë – A Life was definitely one of these. It’s quite dense in places and reads quite slowly in others but it’s all worth it to learn about the enthralling life of such a beloved author in our history.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Charlotte Brontë – A Life by Claire Harman was the twenty-sixth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

Into The Trees – Robert Williams

Published April 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Harriet Norton won’t stop crying. Her parents, Ann and Thomas, are being driven close to insanity and only one thing will help. Mysteriously, their infant daughter will only calm when she’s under the ancient trees of Bleasdale forest.
The Nortons sell their town-house and set up home in an isolated barn. Secluded deep in the forest, they are finally approaching peace – until one night a group of men comes through the trees, ready to upend their lives and threaten everything they’ve built.

Into the Trees is the story of four dispossessed people, drawn to the forest in search of something they lack and finding their lives intertwining in ways they could never have imagined. In hugely evocative and lyrical writing, Robert Williams lays bare their emotional lives, set against the intense and mysterious backdrop of the forest. Compelling and haunting, Into the Trees is a magisterial novel.

What did I think?:

Into The Trees came my way via the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath who recommended this novel (and sold it remarkably well!) in a reading spa that I attended with my sister, Chrissi Reads. It’s been a little while now since we first heard about it so my memory had faded somewhat about why I was so excited to read it but then everything came flooding back as soon as I had read the first intriguing chapters. After a previously disappointing reading experience with a previous Mr B’s recommendation, Hideous Creatures, I was so relieved to be pleasantly surprised by this novel. It’s relatively slow paced so if you’re a fan of non stop action in your plots, this may not be the book for you. There is one major, dramatic event which is pivotal to the characters in our story but apart from this, it’s very much a methodical character study of how this event affects both the family in the book and those closest to them.

This is the tale of Ann and Thomas Norton whom when our story begins, are struggling with their new baby, Harriet. She refuses to sleep at night and our poor, severely sleep-deprived parents are really suffering with the exhaustion and physical, mental and emotional stress of it all. On a whim one night, Thomas drives Harriet into the forest and strangely enough, she stops crying. After repeating the experiment numerous times, the couple discover that it is only when Harriet is within the trees that she will sleep through the night. Of course, this is an answer to their prayers and they immediately sell their house and move to one within the forest so that they can all finally be happy. Unfortunately, their peace and happiness does not last for long when a terrible crime is committed against the family. The reverberations of this incident will haunt parents and children alike, especially Thomas who sinks into severe depression with the guilt of not being able to better protect his family and terrified that it could happen to them again.

I absolutely adored the opening chapters of this novel, which I also believe was its strongest part (and if it had carried on in this vein, there is no doubt I would be giving it a higher rating). The mystery behind why baby Harriet will not stop crying unless she is in the forest was almost fairy-tale in its execution and although we never find out exactly why the trees had such a calming effect on her I was fascinated to see how it would all turn out. I’m finding it quite hard to categorise this novel or pop it into a genre, I don’t think it slots easily into a neat little box. There’s parts of it that are almost fantastical but not quite, then there’s the literary style of the author’s writing and finally, the thriller portion where the family are attacked. The pace ebbs and flows, reaching a peak when the crime is committed and then slowly meandering down to a much more sedate narrative. I very much enjoyed the characterisation, particularly of Thomas and Thomas’ new friend, quiet but soft-hearted Raymond.

Furthermore, the villain of the piece is wonderfully drawn, very easy to hate yet incredibly authentic to read. Think of the worst neighbour you’ve ever had (or heard about) and then imagine him written down as a character. He was very believable and I also appreciated his journey as a character, through self-loathing, greed and despair. As a reading experience, I definitely had an enjoyable time with this novel. There were parts that were stronger than others and the ending left me feeling slightly crestfallen, just wanting a bit more but it’s certainly made me curious to check out some of the author’s other works.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Into The Trees by Robert Williams was the twenty-fifth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!