Challenges

All posts in the Challenges category

Talking About The Trouble With Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon with Chrissi Reads

Published February 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Part coming-of-age story, part mystery, The Trouble with Goats and Sheep is a quirky and utterly charming debut about a community in need of absolution and two girls learning what it means to belong.

England, 1976. Mrs. Creasy is missing and the Avenue is alive with whispers. The neighbors blame her sudden disappearance on the heat wave, but ten-year-olds Grace and Tilly aren’t convinced. As the summer shimmers endlessly on, the girls decide to take matters into their own hands. Inspired by the local vicar, they go looking for God—they believe that if they find Him they might also find Mrs. Creasy and bring her home.

Spunky, spirited Grace and quiet, thoughtful Tilly go door to door in search of clues. The cul-de-sac starts to give up its secrets, and the amateur detectives uncover much more than ever imagined. As they try to make sense of what they’ve seen and heard, a complicated history of deception begins to emerge. Everyone on the Avenue has something to hide, a reason for not fitting in.

In the suffocating heat of the summer, the ability to guard these differences becomes impossible. Along with the parched lawns and the melting pavement, the lives of all the neighbors begin to unravel. What the girls don’t realize is that the lies told to conceal what happened one fateful day about a decade ago are the same ones Mrs. Creasy was beginning to peel back just before she disappeared.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: I was already pre-disposed to like this book, I had heard really good things about it from a friend of mine and the title was just too good to resist! I almost couldn’t believe it was a debut novel when I first started reading it, it felt like I was reading a book where the author had been established and writing for years. I was initially confused by some aspects of the story – but in a good way, I just wanted to know what exactly was going on and the author is very good at the “slow reveal,” shall we say?

BETH: Who were your favourite characters in the novel and why?

CHRISSI: I really liked Grace and Tilly because I felt like their friendship was incredibly realistic. I found myself excited to read Grace’s point of view because I really wanted to read about her perspective on the whole situation. I love reading from children’s point of view because they can be so honest, be incredibly wise, yet they can be incredibly naive at the same time.

CHRISSI: The cover of this book is quite simple. Why do you think they went for this choice?

BETH: I actually love how simple the cover is. It’s a lovely shade of blue with just a single goat on the front. No sheep though! 🙂 The title is actually described quite early on in the book but I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that the two young girls are trying to find God and they have been told by the local vicar that God prefers his people to be a flock of sheep rather than goats. The story is quite simple in the end, coming down to separating these people into the two categories (or can they really be separated?) so I think the cover is perfect for what the novel is.

BETH: What did you think about the relationship between friends Grace and Tilly? Was it typical of a female friendship at that impressionable age?

CHRISSI: I’ve mentioned in the previous answer that I really enjoyed the relationship between Grace and Tilly. I did like reading about them because it was so realistic. I felt like Grace was the more dominant friend and I do feel that friendship at that impressionable age can be like that. I felt like Grace thought she had to watch over Tilly and I loved that protective quality that Grace had. There are moments when Grace doesn’t treat Tilly well and I think that is true of a female friendship at that age. Children can be insensitive towards others and hurt them deeply because they still have a lot to learn.

CHRISSI: What do you think the setting of the heat wave of 1976 adds to the story?

BETH: The heatwave is almost a character in itself, it is mentioned so often and people are obviously suffering because of it. I think people have heard about the heat doing funny things to people’s characters…making them snap, do odd things etc and I think the heat actually has a huge affect on the characters in the story in exactly this way. Perhaps the heat exacerbates the situation and causes people to over-react where they might not normally do so?

BETH: How do you think the mystery of where Mrs Creasy had gone was played out in this novel?

CHRISSI:  The mystery of Mrs Creasy was very intriguing throughout the story. I have to agree that it’s very much a slow reveal and at times, I did start to lose a bit of interest in the story which is why I haven’t rated it higher. I enjoyed reading about the worry of the secrets that Mrs Creasy had taken with her. I felt like that was more important to her neighbours, rather than genuine concern about where she was.

CHRISSI: Many characters in the story have secrets and regrets – how do you judge the actions they have taken? Does it make you consider how we judge people without really knowing them?

BETH: Yes, yes, yes. I don’t think any character really comes out and apologises for their behaviour outright but you can definitely sense the guilt, the regret and a cooling of tempers, especially to the object of most of the characters anger. It felt very much when I was reading it sort of like a mob mentality with each character being “egged on” by what another would say/feel or do. This kind of behaviour becomes very dangerous when multiple people jump on the bandwagon so as to speak, as we can see from the events that occur.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Yes! I can’t believe that this book was a debut. It seemed incredibly accomplished! I enjoyed this book.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

 

The Girl Who Walked On Air – Emma Carroll

Published February 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Abandoned as a baby at Chipchase’s Travelling Circus, Louie dreams of becoming a ‘Showstopper’. Yet Mr Chipchase only ever lets her sell tickets. No Death-Defying Stunts for her. So in secret, Louie practises her act- the tightrope- and dreams of being the Girl Who Walked on Air. All she needs is to be given the chance to shine.

One night a terrible accident occurs. Now the circus needs Louie’s help, and with rival show Wellbeloved’s stealing their crowds, Mr Chipchase needs a Showstopper- fast.

Against his better judgement, he lets Louie perform. She is a sensation and gets an offer from the sinister Mr Wellbeloved himself to perform in America. But nothing is quite as it seems and soon Louie’s bravery is tested not just on the highwire but in confronting her past and the shady characters in the world of the circus . . .

Fans of Frost Hollow Hall will love this epic adventure, where courage takes many different forms.

What did I think?:

The Girl Who Walked On Air is the wonderfully talented Emma Carroll’s second novel for children, aimed around the middle grade reading age but… (and this is a big BUT), I truly believe that her books can be enjoyed by children and adults alike, especially those adults who love an imaginative plot and beautifully drawn characters like Louie Reynolds, our heroine for the story.

I first came across Emma’s writing with her fantastic debut, Frost Hollow Hall which completely captured my heart and I can’t recommend highly enough. Well, if she hasn’t gone and done it again with The Girl Who Walked On Air! Set in the grounds of a Victorian circus it features a young girl called Louie who was abandoned by her mother at Mr Chipchase’s circus and is looked after by the kindly Jasper, a trapeze artist and her guardian angel. She has big dreams of being a performer, or to be exact – a “showstopper,” on the tightrope wire. She practices constantly, watched over by her loyal little dog Pip, but Mr Chipchase is determined that she is only good enough to sell tickets and mend costumes.

This sends her and new arrival at the circus Gabriel, straight into the clutches of Mr Wellbeloved, who manages a rival circus and insists on only the most death defying stunts to bring in the punters. As Louie learns more about who she is as a person, where her heart lies and just what lengths she will go to in becoming a star, she also discovers a lot about friendship and just who can be trusted in a fickle world where money and pure greed is, sadly, the only yardstick by which success is measured.

Once again, Emma Carroll has given us some brilliant characters which have stayed with me long after finishing the book. Louie, just like Tilly in Frost Hollow Hall is beautifully drawn. She is impetuous, independent, brave and indeed flawed but ever so realistic as a young girl which in turn, made her infinitely more loveable as a result. I really enjoyed reading about her relationships with Jasper and her friends Ned and Gabriel and was touched by the dark side of her past and her desperation to find out where she came from and where she belonged. The setting of the circus that the author chose was just as stunning and so descriptive that I felt I could picture events scene by scene, character by character, which led to many difficulties putting it down!

As I mentioned earlier, please don’t be dissuaded that the author writes for children, I do believe that this book can be enjoyed by adults just as much. The Girl Who Walked On Air took me right back to my childhood when I used to just sit in a room and read right until the book was finished (and if this went past my bedtime, it was continued under my duvet with a torch!). I didn’t need the torch as an adult, but I certainly read from the beginning to the end in one sitting and loved every moment.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Published February 11, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Butcher Of Meena Creek all about?:

The Butcher Of Meena Creek follows the story of Maggie who is cooking some food at a town gathering and preparing to leave her abusive husband.

What did I think?: 

I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read in Manslaughter And Other Tears so far but The Butcher Of Meena Creek has to be my favourite by a mile. It really reminded me of a Roald Dahl short story in the way it was written and the little sting in the tail (or should that be tale?) by the exciting final lines. I can certainly see why it won a award, I finished it absolutely enthralled and immediately wanted to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

I don’t really want to talk too much about the plot for fear of spoilers. In fact, it’s best to go into this story knowing as little as possible but I’ll tell you the bare bones of the story. The story is told from the perspective of our main character, Maggie who is making some lasagne for a town gathering. The people in the town, including a hideous woman called Loretta treat Maggie with scorn and derision and like to make fun of the fact that she is in an abusive relationship. We soon learn that the last time Maggie made lasagne, her husband went crazy and she took the brunt of his anger, physically speaking. Larry is due to arrive at the gathering any minute and the townspeople are almost hugging themselves in glee so that they can all witness the fallout they are certain is going to occur.

Immediately, I felt sorry for Maggie who bears the evidence of physical abuse by her husband, clear for everyone to see. Despite the cruelty of the people in the town, she holds her head up high and continues to make the lasagne for everyone to enjoy. She is aware that her husband doesn’t look on lasagne as “real” food but she has a plan for getting away from him for good and I admired her determination to separate herself from him. Oh my goodness though, I was not expecting the turn that the story ended up taking and I was delighted (and shocked) with the end result. If you read one short story this year, please make it this one and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Wishing Tree by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles

 

Talking About Baby Doll by Hollie Overton with Chrissi Reads

Published February 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

For fans of Gone Girl and Girl on the Train, Baby Doll is the most tense thriller you will read this year.

Held captive for eight years, Lily has grown from a teenager to an adult in a small basement prison. Her daughter Sky has been a captive her whole life. But one day their captor leaves the deadbolt unlocked.

This is what happens next…

…to her twin sister, to her mother, to her daughter…and to her captor.#

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Hollie Overton is a TV scriptwriter- does this show in the way that she has structured this thriller?

BETH: Yes, I definitely think it does! It’s a fast paced, exciting thriller that had me on the edge of my seat but in the way it was written, it was almost like seeing a film in my head as each scene unfolded. I could picture every character and every moment so completely it was like the images were right there in front of me.

BETH: Discuss the relationship between Lily and Abby before and after her disappearance.

CHRISSI: I actually felt that the relationship between Lily and Abby was quite intense. I don’t know if it’s because they were twins, they had an even stronger connection than ‘normal’ sisters. I felt that their relationship became even more intense after her disappearance. It was clear to me that Abby felt so much love for her sister. She would do anything for her and was eager to protect her. My interpretation was that Abby felt more strongly for her sister, I felt that Lily could potentially be a little manipulative…

CHRISSI: We read a LOT of books in this genre. Do you think that this book stand out in a such a populated genre?

BETH: We certainly do. I think it’s one of our favourite genres to read but there is a risk that the market can get over-saturated with novels that all read like the same book. With Lily being captive for eight years and having had her jailer’s baby it felt very much like Room by Emma Donoghue and I was slightly worried that it was going to be the same thing. Then I was worried that it would have a lot to live up to being compared to Room (which is one of my favourite books ever) and wasn’t going to compare well. Luckily, Hollie Overton throws in many different plot devices and characters that kept it from being too similar. Especially with the ending!

BETH: What do you think Rick’s reasons were for capturing Lily and how do you think his attitude was to women in general?

CHRISSI: Rick honestly made my skin crawl. Just thinking of him now creeps me out and he’s a fictional character. I feel like Rick had an idea of what his perfect, young partner would be and that was Lily. I really disliked his attitude towards women. The fact that he was a teacher as well just didn’t sit right with it, it being my profession. I think he saw women as an object he could just manipulate. Ew. Didn’t like him.

CHRISSI: This book is as much about the consequences that a crime like this can have on a family as it is about the crime itself. Discuss how the different characters react to what has happened.

BETH: Lily’s poor family definitely go through the mill when she is captured and kept hostage for eight years in a basement. They have no idea whether she is alive or dead and their lives are ruined. Her father ends up passing away although the relationship between father and mother appears to be fraught and difficult just after Lily’s disappearance and prior to his death. After that, her mother has casual relationships with a few different men but doesn’t seem to be able to settle down again. Probably the worst affected though is Lily’s twin sister, Abby who blames herself for what happened to Lily, becomes depressed and suicidal and a bit of a “wild child.,” as she struggles to cope with what happened to her sister.

BETH: You’ve given this book quite a high rating. Was there anything about it you disliked?

CHRISSI: Apart from Rick? Ew. I thought that there were some unnecessary scenes in the book. I also didn’t think the relationship between Abby and Wes was overly believable which is why it didn’t get a 5 star treatment from me. I was actually quite surprised that this book has such mixed reviews. I couldn’t put it down!

CHRISSI: Without spoilers, did you predict the ending?

BETH: No way! The author really surprised me, to be honest. I expected this novel to be a bit predictable but right at the end she throws in a major plot twist which I totally wasn’t expecting and which I was delighted by. I had found some parts of the book a teensy bit unrealistic/unbelievable but how she chose to end the novel really altered my opinion of the entire book.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: Definitely! I thoroughly enjoyed this book!

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

4-5-stars

Everbound (Everneath #2) – Brodi Ashton

Published February 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Nikki Beckett could only watch as her boyfriend, Jack, sacrificed himself to save her, taking her place in the Tunnels of the Everneath for eternity — a debt that should’ve been hers. She’s living a borrowed life, and she doesn’t know what to do with the guilt. And every night Jack appears in her dreams, lost and confused and wasting away.

Desperate for answers, Nikki turns to Cole, the immortal bad boy who wants to make her his queen — and the one person least likely to help. But his heart has been touched by everything about Nikki, and he agrees to assist her in the only way he can: by taking her to the Everneath himself.

Nikki and Cole descend into the Everneath, only to discover that their journey will be more difficult than they’d anticipated — and more deadly. But Nikki vows to stop at nothing to save Jack — even if it means making an incredible sacrifice of her own.

In this enthralling sequel to Everneath, Brodi Ashton tests the bonds of destiny and explores the lengths we’ll go to for the ones we love.

What did I think?:

It’s always tricky reviewing the second book in a series so I’m going to try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible! For anybody who hasn’t come across the Everneath series before it’s heavily based on Greek mythology (one of my favourite things) but set in contemporary times. The Everneath itself is the equivalent of the Greek Hades and is ruled over by a Queen (who is slightly more tyrannical than the Greek Persephone). It’s definitely become one of my favourite YA series and not just because of the mythological nod. I love the characters, the plot and the world building – basically, it’s just a darn good read if you like your fiction a little fantastical.

Our main character is Nikki Beckett whom in the first book, experienced all the horrors of the Everneath through Cole, a resident of the area. At the time, her mother had died, she was having problems with her boyfriend Jack and generally wasn’t in a good place. However, visiting the Everneath with Cole came at a price. After coming back to her normal life, she was compelled to return to the Everneath after a period of six months for good and is desperately trying to figure a way around it after she was happily reconciled with Jack. The first book ends with a bit of a bang leaving both Nikki and Jack’s lives in danger. With the help of Cole, she must return once more to the Everneath to save both her and her boyfriend’s lives. Entering the Everneath with the hope of escaping is not going to be an easy task in any way, shape or form. Nikki must penetrate the three barriers of wind, fire and water, avoid zombie-like creatures that wander aimlessly around and the furious Queen if she can possibly help it and manage to escape out the other side, back to the real world with both her and Jack’s lives intact.

This is a brilliant and very strong second book in the Everneath series. I love Nikki as a character, she’s independent and determined and although she has been through multiple traumatic experiences she seems to come out of it relatively scar free with more motive than ever before. I’m not usually a fan of love triangles (cue eye rolling) in YA fiction but I really rate the characters of both Jack and Cole, the latter of which just fascinates me. For Jack fans, there is less of him to savour in this outing but we do get a few flashbacks of the early stages of his relationship with Nikki which was lovely to read. Finally, the world building which I mentioned earlier is just phenomenal and so imaginative. I could really picture the Everneath in my mind’s eye and whilst Nikki is there, the action is full throttle and incredibly thrilling. I’m definitely looking forward to the final book in the trilogy now and will feel a bit sad when it all comes to an end!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – The Raft by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew

Published February 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

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What’s The Raft all about?:

The Raft is about four college students who decide to celebrate the end of summer by swimming out to a raft on a remote lake. Unfortunately they come across a monstrous entity that puts an end to summer in a way they never could have expected.

What did I think?:

So, it’s Stephen King. If you haven’t been here before, I’m a bit of a fan. However, I like to think that I am perfectly honest when I think he hasn’t written a brilliant story – case in point, The Wedding Gig, also from this collection which I gave a shocking two stars. Luckily, Stephen King was back on top form with this latest story from Skeleton Crew, The Raft, which has to be one of my all time favourites of short fiction that he has written. It has everything you could ever want from a horror story and this is definitely where he gets his (often not accurate) reputation as a horror writer as this story is truly horrific. Not for the weak of stomach, I wouldn’t recommend this story for anyone who gets queasy at the thought of elaborate death scenes.

We have four college students – Randy, Deke, Rachel and LaVerne who are all drinking and having a good time at the end of summer. After a bit too much booze, they decide it would be a great idea to drive to a remote lake nearby and swim out to a raft placed in the middle of the lake. The boys are both having a relationship with the girls and a lot of it is posturing and ego but in the end, all four decide it would be a good idea even if Randy (whose perspective we hear from the most) is starting to regret the decision. Well, wise old Randy was right to be tentative because as the teenagers strip down to their underwear and one by one swim out to the raft, he notices a strange dark puddle in the water. It’s almost like an oil slick with a rainbow of colours amidst the darkness.

This is no ordinary oil slick however. It appears to malevolently come after the girls as they are swimming towards the raft. Of course, Randy’s fears are laughed at by the rest of the group but not for long as Rachel, transfixed by the colours in the darkness is compelled to topple into the water and is immediately gobbled up, albeit very slowly, limb by limb by the “oil slick.” This is now very dangerous territory for the group. They cannot swim to the shore as the oil slick is too fast and would engulf them. They cannot call for help as they are in a very remote area with little likelihood of someone coming by. They cannot even look at the oil slick for too long as the colours seem to have a hypnotic effect, inducing them to fall into the water and face certain death. This story is not likely to end well!

The Raft is Stephen King at his absolute greatest. As always with his writing, it’s not just a horrific event occurring. He really delves into the relationships between the members of the group – the bro-mance between Randy and Deke and the suggestion that ladies man Deke is also making a play for Randy’s own girlfriend which puts their friendship on very shaky grounds. As if they didn’t have enough to deal with coping with a carnivorous oil slick!! I did mention before though that the death scenes are incredibly graphic and I must emphasise that again. Anybody who doesn’t like too much blood and gore is definitely not going to get on well with this story. Strong stomach required! The only part that didn’t sit well with me is near the end of the story where Randy and LaVerne, overwhelmed with emotion, have sex with each other on the raft while the oil slick lurks nearby, awaiting its opportunity to strike. It didn’t strike me as realistic or necessary at all and made me roll my eyes slightly – for shame, Stephen King! It is my only gripe with the story mind you, but because of that, I sadly can’t give it the full five star treatment (otherwise it certainly would be) 🙂

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Butcher Of Meena Creek by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears

Beth And Chrissi Do Kid-Lit 2017 – JANUARY READ – Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis

Published January 31, 2017 by bibliobeth

587316

What’s it all about?:

The Pevensie siblings are back to help a prince denied his rightful throne as he gathers an army in a desperate attempt to rid his land of a false king. But in the end, it is a battle of honor between two men alone that will decide the fate of an entire world.

What did I think?:

Welcome to the first book of Kid Lit 2017! Chrissi and I have chosen to continue with the Chronicles of Narnia series as we’ve been reading it from when we first started blogging four years ago and I especially really wanted to read right until the very end. We are also reading in chronological order rather than publication order, so Prince Caspian is the fourth book in the Narnia adventures and one I don’t really remember from when I read the series as a child so I was keen to re-discover it.

I was delighted to find that our favourite siblings from The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe are back in the magical land of Narnia, called back from Susan’s magical horn, given to her from the great Aslan himself. The horn summons help when the user is in need and the user, Prince Caspian is in dire straits indeed. He is the rightful heir to the throne of Narnia but the kingship has been taken over by the wicked King Miraz and his band of soldiers, the Telmarines. They reject all the “old Narnian” ways, even by punishing people talking about the old days and the talking creatures that are left have fled into hiding to escape persecution/certain death.

Prince Caspian, the true king, is now a threat to King Miraz and is helped to flee by his tutor, a half-dwarf who puts him in touch with the Old Narnians, two dwarfs and a kindly badger called Trufflehunter. They in turn round up all the other talking creatures to form a war council (with some of the most wonderful characters I have ever read about!) and summon the ancient rulers of Narnia – Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy back from England. The siblings find Narnia completely changed from when they were last Kings and Queens. Cair Paravel has gone to ruin, the creatures in the trees have all gone to sleep and all the other talking creatures daren’t show their faces for fear of what would happen under King Miraz. However, Lucy swears that she keeps seeing Aslan through the trees and perhaps with his help, they can put Prince Caspian in his rightful place and return Narnia to how it used to be.

I’m always going to love going back into the world of Narnia I think, no matter how long it has been. Prince Caspian started very promisingly and took me straight back to that magical place, especially when we got to the talking creatures (which made me do a silent fist pump, I have to admit). Like Mr Tumnus and Mr and Mrs Beaver in The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe we have a whole host of loveable animals to coo over but the absolute best and I’m sure Chrissi would agree was the delightful head of the mouse army – Reepicheep who also has the honour of having the cover of the book. He was completely adorable, I loved his attitude, his bravery and his determination and was definitely one of my highlights of the book.

Apart from that, it was lovely to catch up with the Pevensie siblings and even if Susan irritated me slightly in this outing it was quite sobering to realise that the next book in the series may feature just two of the original foursome. The only slight issues I have with the book is the ending which unfortunately I feel was just too rushed and perhaps slightly confusing for younger readers. As for the religious references, to be honest, I don’t really read it like that. I’m aware of it as an adult but it doesn’t seem terribly overt and obvious and I just appreciate it for the fantasy and great adventure story that it is.

For Chrissi’s fabulous review check out her post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

COMING UP IN FEBRUARY ON BETH AND CHRISSI DO KID-LIT 2017: The Cuckoo Sister by Vivian Alcock