Challenges

All posts in the Challenges category

The Immortals – S.E. Lister

Published September 19, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller, stuck in the year 1945. Forced to live through it again, and again, and again. All she ever wanted was to be free from that year, and from the family who keep her there.

She breaks out at last and falls through time, slipping from one century to another, unable to choose where she goes. And she is not alone. Wandering with her is Tommy Rust, time-gypsy and daredevil, certain in his heart of hearts that he will live forever.

Their journeys take them from the ancient shores of forming continents to the bright lights of future cities. They tell themselves that they need no kind of home. That they are anything but lost.

But then comes Harding, the soldier who has fought for a thousand years, and everything changes. Could Harding hold the key to staying in one place, one time? Or will the centuries continue to slip through Rosa’s fingers, as the tides take her further and further away from everything she has grown to love?

What did I think?:

First of all, can I just talk about this gorgeous cover? I posted a photo of it on my Instagram as I was reading it and it seriously does not do justice to how stunning the cover art actually is. I was recommended this book on a reading spa I went to with my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. If you haven’t been there before, I highly highly recommend it. Not just for the reading spa which was amazing (and the second one that we’ve actually had there!) but the bookshop itself is just beautiful and the staff so knowledgeable and friendly. Check out their website HERE and my post about our first reading spa HERE. Anyway, back to the book! I was so sure this was going to be a five star read for me, purely from the synopsis. It came ever so close in the end but didn’t quite make it. However, I urge you with every fibre of my being to read this book as everything from the writing, setting and characters is all kinds of fantastic and I thoroughly enjoyed every moment I spent reading it – it’s truly a story to be savoured.

In a similar manner to The Time Traveller’s Wife (another of my all time favourite reads) The Immortals follows a young woman called Rosa who is forced to travel forwards and backwards in time without much control. Her father was a time traveller himself although he became stuck in one particular year, 1945 which he is obliged to re-live again and again every New Years’s Eve when he travels right back to the beginning of the year with his wife, Rosa and her younger sister. Rosa is aware that her father is re-living this nightmare year because of a traumatic event in his past that he refuses to come to terms with but she is getting fed up of it so decides to run away and live her own life, flitting from decade to decade and embarking on crazy, wonderful and in some cases, not so wonderful adventures. She meets a host of interesting people, including Tommy Rust who becomes her time-travelling buddy for many years but it isn’t until she meets a distressed soldier called Harding that she begins to realise the nature of time and the effect it could be having on her body.

Can I just say – what an imagination this author has to be able to write a fantastical time-travel novel such as this? It’s beautifully layered, complex yet easy to read at the same time and filled with some brilliant, wonderfully drawn characters that instantly pull you into their lives and make you care about them, even if you might question some of their actions at times. I had an especially hard time with Rosa. Some of her motives and decisions are incredibly selfish and questionable as she jumps backward and forward in time yet still she seems to learn from her experiences and I felt a strange sort of affection for her as the novel progressed. The only thing I’m in a bit of a muddle about is the character of Harding. He appears relatively late on in the narrative and, on reflection, I think it would have been a slightly stronger story if he had appeared earlier and we had learned more about him as a character as I was infinitely more interested in his past than I was in Tommy Rust’s. That’s probably the only reason I haven’t given this novel a higher rating. Otherwise, this is everything I could ever want from a novel – captivating writing, magical elements, amazing world-building….go and read it!!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

Published September 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The House On The Hill all about?:

Set in the 1920’s, this is the story of a young woman who goes to visit her cousin in the countryside and her experiences with a house on the estate that has a strange light burning in one of its windows.

What did I think?:

When I first got my hands on this short story collection I was quite excited. Kate Mosse is a great British author and I have enjoyed her novels in the past but what I love most about her writing is when she turns things a little bit darker, eerie and Gothic. The name of this collection perfectly describes the stories within: “haunting tales,” that are all a little mysterious and unsettling in their execution. I’ve enjoyed the ones I’ve read so far but haven’t been overly blown away – until now. The House On The Hill was a wonderful short story and a perfect example of Kate Mosse’s writing at its absolute finest. It reminded me a lot of Daphne du Maurier and was the ideal story to curl up with when the weather is turning a little bit colder as we head into Autumn.

Our female protagonist is actually called Daphne (strange coincidence?) and when it begins, she is staying for a weekend with her cousin Teddy, at a house he has leased for a party called Dean Hall. We get the sense that Daphne is a little fragile, she mentions a husband called Douglas who has recently left her but we don’t learn too much about the circumstances of this until much later on in the narrative. Daphne is instantly attracted both to a large dolls house in the property that is exquisite in its detail, down to the intricate furniture and folded letter in the study and to another much larger actual house on the estate. She notices the house on her first night when she seems to see a light in one of the windows which is extinguished almost as soon as she begins watching. It is not until after the party that night when she is woken up suddenly by a strange light in the sky and when she looks outside, the house on the hill appears to be burning. It is now that the story really ramps up a gear and we learn much more about the mysterious house, its connection with the dolls house in Dean Hall and about Daphne herself and what she has had to suffer in her past.

Kate Mosse has really outdone herself with this story. I love being pleasantly surprised, especially by a short story as there really isn’t that much time to engage with the reader in comparison with a longer novel. The author has pulled it off flawlessly and the unexpected nature of what happens in the second half of the tale was not only delightful to read but utterly compelling and brilliant. I always appreciate a darker, more ghostly edge to a story and the atmosphere that was created in The House On The Hill was almost magical and definitely transported me to a different time and place. This is easily my favourite story in the collection so far and I’m now highly anticipating the ones to come – although they’ve got quite a lot to live up to now!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle from the collection A Book Of Horrors.

Blog Tour – Prisoner Of Ice And Snow – Ruth Lauren

Published September 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In a thrilling fantasy that’s equal parts Prison Break and Frozen, Valor attempts the impossible—breaking her sister out of prison.

When Valor is arrested, she couldn’t be happier. Demidova’s prison for criminal children is exactly where she wants to be. Valor’s sister Sasha is already serving a life sentence for stealing from the royal family and Valor is going to help her escape . . . from the inside.

Never mind that no one has escaped in three hundred years. Valor has a plan and resources most could only dream about. But she didn’t count on having to outsmart both the guards and her fellow prisoners. If Valor’s plan is to succeed, she’ll need to make unlikely allies. And if the plan fails, she and Sasha could end up with fates worse than prison.

This fresh and exciting middle-grade debut effortlessly melds an unforgettable protagonist, a breathless plot, and stunning world-building—and is impossible to put down. An unforgettable story of sisterhood, valour and rebellion, Prisoner of Ice and Snow will fire you up and melt your heart all at once. Perfect for fans of Katherine Rundell, Piers Torday and Cathryn Constable.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Faye who invited me to be part of this blog tour and to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for providing me with a free copy of Prisoner Of Ice And Snow in exchange for an honest review. As soon as Faye emailed with the synopsis of this book, of course I knew I had to have it straight away. This middle grade fiction and epic fantasy/adventure story was a joy to read with strong characterisation, a compelling plot and a beautiful message of sisterhood that I really appreciated. Basically, anything that is compared to “a cross between Prison Break and Frozen,” is bound to make me want to read it!

Prisoner Of Ice And Snow is set in the cold and wintry climate of Demidova (a land comparable perhaps to Russia) and when we meet our heroine Valor she is attempting to shoot a member of the royal family with her crossbow. However, there is method to her madness. Her twin sister Sasha was recently accused of stealing a precious and hugely important music box that was meant form part of a peace treaty with the neighbouring land, Magadanskya. Sasha has been given a life sentence in the notorious prison, Tyur’ma and now, after her attempt on Prince Anatol’s life, Valor will now join her, which of course was her grand plan all along. You see, Valor has a brilliant plan for them both to escape (even though nobody has actually managed to escape in three hundred years) and she is so determined and devoted to her sister that she might just pull it off.

There was so much in this book to love, I’m not quite sure where to start. The nods to Russia were wonderful and was one of the things that attracted me to the book in the first place but the best thing about the novel for me personally would have to be the character of Valor and her relationship with her sister, Sasha. Valor is one of the bravest fictional females I’ve come across in recent times and I had nothing but admiration and excitement for her tenacity, sheer ruthlessness and self belief that she would manage to free both herself and Sasha. There are a lot of terrible things that happen to the children in Tyur’ma and what amazed me about Valor is that even though she had some hideous and horrific experiences, not once did she think about giving up. Her love and protectiveness for Sasha never wavered, even at the toughest of times and it occasionally brought tears to my eyes as I was reminded of my close relationship with my own sister. Not only do we have Valor and Sasha but we have a multitude of other fascinating characters that I instantly adored, including street urchin Felixs, Valor’s cellmate Katia and the intriguing Prince Anatol. Combined with an action-packed plot that leaves you scarce able to draw breath I am incredibly excited to see where Valor and Sasha’s story will take them next – especially after THAT ending.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Ruth Lauren lives in the West Midlands in England with her family and a lot of cats. She likes chocolate, walking in the woods, cheese, orchids, going to the movies, and reading as many books as she can. She’s been a teacher and worked in lots of different offices, but she likes writing best. Prisoner of Ice and Snow is her debut novel.

Website: https://www.ruthlauren.com/

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/ruth__lauren

Instagram: http://www.instagram.com/ruth_lauren

Thank you once again to Bloomsbury Children’s Books for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Prisoner Of Ice And Snow was published on 7th September 2017 and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35382914-prisoner-of-ice-and-snow

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/1408872757

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand-alone)

Published September 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Go Deep all about?:

A hallucinatory noir short story from the No.1 bestselling author of the Will Trent novels. (‘Go Deep’ is also available as part of a bundle with ‘Remmy Rothstein Toes the Line’ and ‘Necessary Women’)

Growing up dirt poor, Charlie Lam worked his ass off to make something of himself, no thanks to his deadbeat father or his long-suffering mother. And now a lot of people depend on Charlie: by his last count, sixty-eight employees at his Atlanta auto dealership, eleven shiftless brothers and sisters, an ungrateful wife, a spoiled daughter, a shameless girlfriend. Who could really blame him for wanting a little extra?

The arrangement is simple: Charlie picks up a suit from the dry cleaner’s. In the suit pocket is the name of a very important man. The next day, that man walks into the dealership, drives out in a new car, and Charlie gets a fat envelope full of cash. Everyone’s happy. No one gets hurt. So long as Charlie doesn’t cross his business partner. But with one twist of a knife, the unthinkable happens. And suddenly Charlie is in deeper trouble than he could have possibly imagined.

What did I think?:

Just when I thought Karin Slaughter couldn’t get any more warped and twisted, Go Deep comes along. Ahem, well…I think the name of the novella speaks for itself doesn’t it? Do I really have to go into full, gory detail? I’ll try and keep it relatively clean. Being one of my all time favourite authors, I have high expectations when I come to read Karin’s work, whether it is a novella or one of her full length novels and am rarely disappointed. So why am I still processing how I feel about this particular story? It’s not that it wasn’t compelling, it certainly was and the author definitely has the gift of the shock factor and making you feel slightly uncomfortable but for some reason, I just can’t rate it as high as I have her previous novellas. It wasn’t that it was sexually explicit, it wasn’t the characters – I can’t explain it, something just felt a bit too strange for me personally and I usually love a story with a bit of an edge.

Our protagonist is a middle-aged man called Charlie Lam who hasn’t had the best start in life with a troubled family originating from a very impoverished background. He has managed to change his life around and now owns a successful car company and looks after all his siblings (even though they try to take advantage of him emotionally and financially on a number of occasions). You’d think a character like this sounds all kinds of lovely, right? Wrong. Charlie is a bit of a wrong ‘un. He associates with mob bosses, does dodgy deals and worse of all is a disgusting misogynistic pig. He has both a wife, daughter and girlfriend all of whom he treats with equal derision and takes pleasure in embarrassing women he meets through work on a daily basis. However, when Charlie has a run in (quite literally, using his car) with a homeless man, his life is turned upside down and he may never be the same man again.

Ugh, Charlie as a character really was hideous. I did love to hate him at points and Karin Slaughter did a marvellous job of creating such an unlikeable, despicable individual. Yet (as with many of the authors works) there are multiple twists in the tale that you will not see coming and by the end, you might even end up sympathising with Charlie as he ends up in quite a horrific situation. I can only applaud the author for making me feel this way, seriously, I really did hate this guy at the beginning of the novella! There are strange, almost mystical things going on that give Charlie a taste of his own medicine and whilst you may think that he deserves it, the situations he is placed in are pretty brutal and quite graphic – again, perhaps not one for the easily offended. Once again, she does pull a blinder of an ending and despite my misgivings about the story in general, I have to admit to being desperate to know what would happen next. Hmm, maybe I did enjoy this novella more than I let on?!

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT SHORT STORY: The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse from the collection The Mistletoe Bride And Other Haunting Tales.

The Last Letter From Your Lover – Jojo Moyes

Published September 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A sophisticated, page-turning double love story spanning forty years-an unforgettable Brief Encounter for our times. 

It is 1960. When Jennifer Stirling wakes up in the hospital, she can remember nothing-not the tragic car accident that put her there, not her husband, not even who she is. She feels like a stranger in her own life until she stumbles upon an impassioned letter, signed simply “B”, asking her to leave her husband.

Years later, in 2003, a journalist named Ellie discovers the same enigmatic letter in a forgotten file in her newspaper’s archives. She becomes obsessed by the story and hopeful that it can resurrect her faltering career. Perhaps if these lovers had a happy ending she will find one to her own complicated love life, too. Ellie’s search will rewrite history and help her see the truth about her own modern romance.

A spellbinding, intoxicating love story with a knockout ending, The Last Letter from Your Lover will appeal to the readers who have made One Day and The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society bestsellers.

What did I think?:

In my quest to read everything on one of my favourite authors back-list of works, The Last Letter From Your Lover was next on my agenda and I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I had heard that this novel was slightly more romance based than her previous novels and I’ve got to admit, I do tend to be a bit cynical of these kind of books. The romance aspect has to be done “just right,” for me and I find that it’s often a fine line between melting this cold heart of mine or just making me feel slightly sick. Jojo Moyes is one of those magical authors that gets it right every single time and I find her characters so warm and easy to relate to whilst managing to tug a little on my heart-strings, the latter of which is quite difficult to do, believe me!

Like many of her previous novels, the author uses two different time-lines to form a compelling and beautiful narrative. The first (and my favourite) is set in the early sixties and follows our protagonist, Jennifer Stirling who wakes up in hospital after a car accident with amnesia. She can’t even recollect her husband, friends or household staff at first and finds it very difficult to adjust when so many of her memories have completely disappeared. Then she finds a letter addressed to her which begs her to leave her husband, signed only with the letter B. We follow her story as she desperately attempts to recover her memory and piece together the puzzle of firstly, who B is and why it is imperative that she should break up her marriage. The second story is set in the present day and follows another young woman, Ellie who finds the old letters from B in a library and sets on her own mission to learn the story behind the doomed lovers, hoping that it will bring happiness into her own life as a result.

I adore how effective Jojo Moyes is in using dual perspectives and time-lines to tell a story. I have to be honest and say I wasn’t as keen on Ellie’s story although I appreciated why it was important to the novel. However, Jennifer’s story completely grabbed my attention and it was almost with bated breath I would wait for her section to roll around again, just so I could find out what was happening in her life. The love story between Jennifer and B is so touching and I was incredibly moved by her plight, the situation she found herself in post accident and how she managed to build herself up and start demanding answers from her to be frank, poor excuse for a husband. If I had to compare it with some of the authors previous books, I think it stands perfectly as one of her most poignant narratives and by the end, I was just rooting for Jennifer, for B and for everyone to get that wonderful happy ending. As for my rating, the only reason I’ve taken half a star off is that Ellie’s story didn’t compel me as much as I would have hoped – for Jennifer’s story alone, this novel is a solid four stars.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

NEXT JOJO MOYES READ: Me Before You – coming soon!

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories

Published September 10, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Little Radish all about?:

Little Radish is Angela Slatter’s take on the classic fairy tale Rapunzel – with a bit of a twist!

What did I think?:

If you’re a regular visitor to my blog (and by the way thank you, you’re amazing if you are!), you might remember that I tend to bang on about how much I love a story with a bit of a fairy-tale/magical realism slant. So far, the stories in Sourdough And Other Stories have absolutely blown me away. They are a beautiful blend of fantasy, darkness and escapism and have that undeniable quality that only the best fairy-tales have. I’m thinking of the Brothers Grimm stories here which possess that element of the dark side that is so delicious yet eerie to experience as a reader. Little Radish is another fantastic example of a tale with a bit of bite where good things don’t necessarily happen to our protagonist but they go on such a journey through their trials and tribulations.

Angela Slatter has taken the well-loved story of Rapunzel and given it a whole new lease of life. In Little Radish, our heroine is obsessed with finding a tower that she dreams of constantly. In comparison to the original tale where she is imprisoned against her will, Rapunzel is desperate to escape the noise and chaos of her family life, find her dream tower and live in utter silence and tranquillity. She happens upon a wise woman in the woods one day who tells her of such a tower that can be made invisible to the human eye if the resident of the tower is aware of the correct spell to use. Rapunzel is overjoyed and immediately sets off to find the tower and make her dream come true. There is a prince as well in this story that finds Rapunzel in her tower and begins a relationship with her. However, the nature of their relationship and what results from their liaisons is a lot more complicated and brutal than expected.

I have to admit, I wasn’t sure when I first started this story that I was going to like it. As always, the writing is gorgeous and I adore the magical element, as I was anticipating, but I wasn’t very sure about the direction in which the author was taking it. This feeling did not last for long however when I discovered exactly where it was going and now believe it to be one of the most memorable interpretations of the classic fairy tale that I’ve ever come across. I loved how Angela Slatter made her Rapunzel a lot more independent, strong-willed, inevitably flawed and hence more human than any other fairy tale princess we might read about. That ending as well – just wow. It broke my heart and put it together again.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Go Deep by Karin Slaughter (stand alone).

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Murders In The Rue Morgue by Edgar Allan Poe from the collection The Best Short Stories Of Edgar Allan Poe.

Published September 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s The Murders In The Rue Morgue all about?:

C. Auguste Dupin is a man in Paris who solves the mysterious brutal murder of two women. Numerous witnesses heard a suspect, though no one agrees on what language was spoken. At the murder scene, Dupin finds a hair that does not appear to be human.

What did I think?:

I approached this short story with slight trepidation – I’m afraid I didn’t have a brilliant experience with the first story in this collection, The Gold-Bug and I have actually read The Murders In The Rue Morgue before, many years ago and don’t have particularly fond memories of it either. On reading it for the second time I’ve found that I can appreciate some aspects of Poe’s writing and I can agree that the entire mystery behind the murders and unmasking of the murderer is intriguing enough but I can’t seem to get past some parts of the narrative which really annoy me. I find it far too detailed (and hence, dull) for my liking and think in some instances, certain parts of it are wholly unnecessary.

The story involves two men – Dupin and his unnamed friend whom in the main part of the story, are investigating two brutal murders that happened on the Rue Morgue in Paris and are completely foxing the authorities. The two women killed are mother and daughter and there appears to be no apparent motive for the crime. In fact, 4000 francs of the women’s money has been left behind in the room where they were killed so robbery is highly unlikely. There are a few other strange occurrences in this investigation – namely the sheer violence that the perpetrator used to commit the crime. The daughter’s body appears to have been throttled to death and then pushed up a chimney with immense force and the mother’s body has been viciously mutilated and practically decapitated. The Paris police are stumped and although they have arrested a man in connection with the murders, Dupin proves them wrong when a curious clump of hair is found in the hands of Madame L’Espanaye’s corpse.

I’ll start with the negative aspects of this story because I was pleased to discover on my second reading that there were some positive points to be taken! First of all, at the beginning of the story, our narrator goes on and on about the analytical mind and describes a walk he takes with his friend Dupin which surprises him when Dupin manages to figure out exactly what he has been thinking. Although this might set up the story and describe how Dupin unravels the mystery of the Rue Morgue murders I really did think it was unnecessary and rather tedious. If it hadn’t been for knowing how the story was going to pan out having read it years ago, this may have been the point where I gave up and just put the book down. However, the plot does get a lot better when Dupin takes us through what happened the night of the murders and then eventually, the identity of the true murderer which is a bit unique to say the least! Again, I did find things were analysed in much more detail than was necessary….is an entire page about a nail really that important to the plot for example? However, I am giving it a higher rating than I might normally purely because I found the mystery incredibly interesting in itself (although I have to say, it’s no Sherlock Holmes!) and Poe certainly doesn’t shy away from the more grisly components of a story.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Little Radish by Angela Slatter from the collection Sourdough And Other Stories.