Challenges

All posts in the Challenges category

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Published July 22, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Word Processor Of The Gods all about?:

Richard Hagstrom receives a birthday present from his recently deceased nephew of a word processor that Jon has built himself from scratch. This isn’t an ordinary piece of machinery however – it has the potential to change Richard’s life.

What did I think?:

Ah, Stephen King. How I do love you! The master does it again with this phenomenal short story all about a rogue word processor with magical but deadly properties. This is one of King’s relatively shorter stories in the collection but it packs as much of a punch as his longer ones, particularly when you get to the end which I’m not going to spoil, don’t worry! Of course, no writer is perfect and I have found myself slightly disappointed with a couple of the author’s short stories in this collection but on reflection of the ones I’ve read so far (as I find myself pretty much halfway through) the majority of them I’ve thoroughly enjoyed and are so haunting and original that they have stayed in my thoughts.

Word Processor Of the Gods is another excellent example of the genius that is Stephen King. It’s about a man called Richard Hagstrom, husband to a disaffected wife, Lina and a disgruntled, ungrateful teenage boy called Seth. When we first meet Richard, he is installing a word processor in his study which was a gift from his nephew, Jon. Richard often feels that Jon is the son that he should have had and the fact that he built this machine himself, using multiple scraps and various different electrical components warms his heart. Sadly, Richard’s brother Roger, his wife and Jon were killed in a horrific car accident (his brother had been driving drunk) so the gift is even more bitter-sweet and tinged with grief and regret.

Of course, if you’re reading a Stephen King story and thinking this is just an ordinary word processor, you’d be very wrong. Richard is shocked to discover that the machine made out of so many different bits and bobs, whilst emitting a strange sound and smoking ever so slightly actually works – but perhaps it works a bit too literally. When Richard types a particular command onto the screen and presses either the EXECUTE or the DELETE button, things actually happen…..or disappear. How would you deal with this kind of power? What would you change if given half a chance? What would be the consequences if you had the opportunity to permanently alter your life?

I have to admit, this story started of kind of slow and considering it was fairly short, I was slightly concerned that I wasn’t going to enjoy it as much as I had hoped. However, after Richard turns on the word processor for the first time, all doubts I had were immediately blown away by how action packed the narrative ending up becoming. I loved the idea, became fascinated by the characters and their motives and was completely floored by that ending. If you’ve never read any Stephen King before, I recommend this story as a fantastic place to start. It shows off his unique style perfectly and will certainly have you wondering what you would do if you found yourself in similar circumstances.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: Hot Dog Stand by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Broken Branches – M. Jonathan Lee

Published July 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘Family curses don’t exist. Sure, some families seem to suffer more pain than others, but a curse? An actual curse? I don’t think so.’

A family tragedy was the catalyst for Ian Perkins to return to the isolated cottage with his wife and young son. But now they are back, it seems yet more grief might befall the family.

There is still time to act, but that means Ian must face the uncomfortable truth about his past. And in doing so, he must uncover the truth behind the supposed family curse.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to publisher Hideaway Fall for sending me a copy of this fascinating novel in return for an honest review when I contacted them and expressed my interest in working with them. Hideaway Fall are a new independent publishing company based in Yorkshire and aim to support local and Northern based authors who write kooky, unique and astonishing fiction. Broken Branches is the first novel that they have brought out and if their future projects are anything like this, I’m so excited for their future and am honoured to have the opportunity to be part of it all, giving a little bit of attention and publicity to novels like this that fully deserve to be read and enjoyed.

Broken Branches is the extraordinary and incredibly eerie story of Ian and Rachel Perkins and their young son as they inherit Ian’s old childhood home, the aptly named Cobweb Cottage after a family tragedy. The novel is told from two different time periods, the “present” Ian and Ian when he was a younger boy, growing up in the cottage with his mother, distant and gruff father and older brother, Stuart. The reader finds out quite quickly that for generations, there is thought to have been a curse on the Perkins family which all began with an incident involving an imposing sycamore tree outside the front of the house and has led to multiple past deaths and terrifying incidents.

Ian is attempting to investigate the so-called “family curse” by re-tracing his family tree, accumulating documents related to his family and attempting to piece together what has actually happened in different generations of the family. As the project becomes more overwhelming, he becomes more obsessed and determined to crack the mystery and, as a result, his marriage suffers with both partners becoming relative shadows of themselves. To add to their woes, Ian is experiencing strange things within the cottage – hallucinations and strange noises, increased awareness of an alien presence and a very real sense that something is very wrong and dangerous within his home. As Ian scrambles to find out as much information as possible, things continue to spiral downwards for the family and we start to really wonder how much of what is happening is real and how much is just pure superstition?

I had read a few wonderful reviews of Broken Branches before contacting Hideaway Fall and they all made it obvious that this was a book I just had to read. I was fairly prepared for it going to some dark places and dealing with some tough issues but what I hadn’t realised is the extent of the murky depths that it would take me to. We see grief, loss, depression and pure horror in all their guises and not only did the author explore these themes with real panache but he also put a lot of heart and soul into what can be a very tricky and emotive subject matter. I certainly was not equipped to deal with the creepy, superstitious side of this novel and at quite a few points in the narrative, I was a bit loathe to turn out the lights! Finally, I love going into a story thinking I know what it’s going to be about and then the author does something to throw me off, surprises and delights me and has me looking at certain events, characters etc in a completely new light. In fact, when I finished this book, I immediately wanted to go back to the start and read it in light of new information that was revealed. If you like fiction that chills you, moves you and makes you want to keep turning the pages you should definitely try Broken Branches, I’m sure you won’t regret it!

Broken Branches is released by Hideaway Fall publishers on the 27th July 2017.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Talking About Miss You by Kate Eberlen with Chrissi Reads

Published July 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Tess and Gus are meant to be. They just haven’t met properly yet. And perhaps they never will . . .

Today is the first day of the rest of your life is the motto on a plate in the kitchen at home, and Tess can’t get it out of her head, even though she’s in Florence for a final, idyllic holiday before university. Her life is about to change forever – but not in the way she expects.

Gus and his parents are also on holiday in Florence. Their lives have already changed suddenly and dramatically. Gus tries to be a dutiful son, but longs to escape and discover what sort of person he is going to be.

For one day, the paths of an eighteen-year-old girl and boy criss-cross before they each return to England.

Over the course of the next sixteen years, life and love will offer them very different challenges. Separated by distance and fate, there’s no way the two of them are ever going to meet each other properly . . . or is there?

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Did you judge this book by its cover? I can imagine it’s one you wouldn’t pick up if you saw it in the shop!

BETH: Do you think just because you’re my sister you know me? Haha, of course you’re right, I have to be honest. This cover would immediately make me scrunch up my face in the way that you know so well and I wouldn’t necessarily pick it up because of that. I’m not the biggest romance fan in the world and it has to be told in just the right sort of way to touch this cold, cold heart. No cheesiness here please! But, as you know, I have been completely wrong about covers in the past… Me Before You by Jojo Moyes is a classic example!

BETH: How do you think that this book compares with others in the genre?

CHRISSI: Interesting question! As you know, I have read quite a lot of this genre, so I feel like I’m well informed to answer this question. I think it fits nicely into the genre, but it’s not necessarily a book that I think stands out. Don’t get me wrong, it was easy to read and I enjoyed it, but it’s not one that will stay with me for a long time.

CHRISSI: Both Tess and Gus experience bereavement in this novel. Discuss how the different characters deal with this situation.

BETH: Both Tess and Gus have lost someone important in their lives. With Tess, it is her mother who died of cancer and with Gus it is his older brother who died in a horrific skiing accident on holiday. They both deal with their loss in very different ways and I think a lot of that is bound up with how close they were with their respective loved one. With Tess, it’s her mother so of course she feels the loss keenly but has to get on with things as she has a younger sister, Hope to bring up and look after. This completely ruins any plans she had for university but she is incredibly strong as a character and just gets through it. Gus on the other hand, feels constantly guilty for the loss of his brother, Ross. He feels he is in some way to blame for the accident as he “let” Ross go off on his own down a dangerous slope. Coupled with this is the fact that Ross has constantly bullied and belittled him throughout their lives prior to the accident so they didn’t have the best or most loving relationship which he also feels some residual guilt for.

BETH: Which character’s point of view did you enjoy reading about the most?

CHRISSI: My answer would have to be Tess. I really enjoyed reading about her story. I think the main reason for this is the relationship Tess has with her younger sister. I called Asperger’s before it mentioned it in the story. I have children with both low functioning autism and high functioning autism (Asperger’s) in my class and I could recognise the traits immediately. I loved how, even though Tess struggled with not following her dreams, she was there for her sister. I was rooting for Tess from the start and hoping she found some happiness for herself.

CHRISSI: Discuss how Kate Eberlen structured this novel.

BETH: I really enjoyed the structure of this novel. It’s told in dual perspectives so one chapter is Tess’ point of view and the next is from Gus. It also starts in the late nineties when they are both eighteen years old and ends in the present day. I really enjoyed this as I am a similar age to the characters and enjoyed the nostalgic feel that the author brought when talking about certain things in the nineties that I remember very clearly! I also loved how we got hints of the “tall man,” or “tall woman,” aka Gus/Tess when they almost met so many times during the narrative.

BETH: Do you believe that some things are just meant to be or is everything just chance?

CHRISSI: That’s a hard one for me to answer. I’d like to think that things happen for a reason, but then sometimes awful things happen and I can’t justify that with ‘things happen for a reason.’ So to answer, I think I believe in coincidences. But who knows? Ooh, look at you with such a tricksy question!

CHRISSI: Did your initial impressions of this book change by the ending?

BETH: I’m afraid it did and I’m sad to say, not in a good way 😞. I did love that what I expected to happen did happen which pleased me for the characters sake but unfortunately, it did feel slightly cheesy by the end and they were way too quick to say the “three magic words,” which made me believe in them and their relationship a little less. Apart from that though, I was really enjoying their story up to that point!

BETH: Would you read another novel by this author?

CHRISSI: I think I would. I did enjoy reading it and it didn’t take me long to read at all.

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):

3-5-stars

The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Published July 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

What did I think?:

If you haven’t heard of The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, where on earth have you been?! This gorgeous, one of a kind novel (with equally stunning cover art) has been critically acclaimed and nominated or won a host of awards including being long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, nominated for best novel at the Costa Book Awards in 2016, winning the Waterstone’s Book Of The Year in 2016 and the British Book Award for Book Of The Year earlier this year. It was picked as one of the books for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club recently and although it’s been languishing on my shelves for months now, I’ve finally had an opportunity to pick it up. All I can say is I have no idea why it took me so long! The Essex Serpent deserves all the praise and glory that it has had so far and is truly one of the most beautiful and special books that I’ve had the honour to read.

The scene is set in the 1890’s where a young woman, Cora Seaborne has just become widowed from her controlling, manipulative husband and relatively loveless marriage. Feeling like the entire world has been lifted from her shoulders, she decides to travel to Colchester with her son and good friend, Martha to explore one of her biggest passions – the natural world and fossil hunting. While she is there she meets local vicar, Will Ransome and his wife Stella who she develops a strong friendship with as they discuss science and faith, myths and legends. The village of Aldwinter has become subject to a terrifying prospect in recent times. Unexplained deaths and strange occurrences for the inhabitants of the village are being blamed on the return of a mythical creature, The Essex Serpent who appears to be terrorising the land and the people.

Will and Cora form an intense bond as The Essex Serpent continues to roam the land, Will believing that it’s a lot of superstition and nonsense and as the parish vicar, has the thankless job of trying to reassure and calm his flock. Meanwhile, Cora sees things scientifically and believes it may be the potential return of an ancient creature only previously captured in fossils and is determined to make history by cataloguing its existence. This story is about the relationship between Will and Cora, the differences between hard science and true faith and about love in all the ways that it happens upon us.

I have to admit, this story is a bit of a slow burner to begin with. Please, please stick with it though because by about one hundred pages through I was completely hooked. It’s a study on nature, the environment, superstition and logic and has some of the most beautifully descriptive writing that I’ve ever experienced. It gives you that cosy feeling that’s a rare experience which only happens with a very unique type of book – like you’re warm and cosy under a thick blanket with a cup of hot tea and you’re experiencing the happiest moment of your life. That’s exactly how I felt when reading this book. There are so many secondary characters as well as the wonderful Cora and Will to relish and each one of them was so perfectly drawn that I felt I knew them intimately as friends.

I also loved that there were a number of sub plots and extra things going on that felt equally important and connected to the main narrative like Dr Luke Garrett’s fight to control his feelings for Cora, the excellent passage where he performs open heart surgery for the first time and the wonderful Martha’s determination to improve living conditions for the poor people in Victorian London, parts of which really rang true when we think about conditions for those living in poverty today, horrifically enough! I really can’t gush enough about this extraordinary novel. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time and I feel lucky just to have had the opportunity to read it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

Blog Tour – Ask No Questions by Lisa Hartley

Published July 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Some secrets were meant to stay hidden… Trust no-one

After an operation goes badly wrong, undercover specialist Detective Caelan Small leaves the Metropolitan Police for good. Or so she thinks. Then the criminal responsible is seen back in the UK.

Soon Caelan is drawn back into a dangerous investigation. But when the main lead is suddenly murdered, all bets are off. Nothing is as it seems. Everyone is a suspect – even close colleagues.

Someone in the Met is involved and Caelan is being told to Ask No Questions.

That isn’t an option: Caelan needs answers… whatever the cost.

The nerve-shredding new crime thriller from bestseller Lisa Hartley starts a must-read new series. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons and Robert Bryndza, it will keep you guessing until the very end.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Faye Rogers for organising and inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to the publishers Canelo for sending me a complimentary copy of Ask No Questions in e-book format in exchange for an honest review. There was a time in my life when I pretty much used to read crime fiction exclusively before I branched out into reading other genres. However, I still love a good crime narrative and when I read the synopsis of this novel it sounded a bit different from the norm which is definitely something I am intrigued by so I was excited to give it a shot.

Our protagonist of the story is Detective Caelan Small, a police officer that specialises in undercover operations and is incredibly good at her job role – in fact, one of the best in the business. When we first meet her however, she is on hiatus after one of her past jobs went badly wrong. A small boy that she was attempting to save and a close colleague of hers was killed, the suspects managed to escape and are still at large and the repercussions of the events of that evening still haunt her. Even though she is on enforced leave, she is pulled back into the investigation when the suspect is seen once again in the UK. This time, Caelan is determined to complete the case, find out what went so horribly wrong previously and put the perps behind bars. It’s not that easy though and Caelan finds herself embroiled in a dramatic web of corruption, violence and lies. Worse still, the bodies are starting to stack up again and the finger of blame is being pointed firmly at Caelan leading to her being either a suspect for murder or in terrible danger herself.

Ask No Questions was an action-packed, roller-coaster ride of a story that left me hardly able to draw breath, there was so much going on. The plot is intricate and complicated but what I enjoyed most is that you never knew exactly what was going on right up until the end of the novel. Caelan Small isn’t your ordinary hard-boiled, bad ass female detective and this made her even more interesting to read about. She’s brave and at times, obviously reckless but she also has a strong moral sense of what’s right and wrong, a determination to see justice and a lot of heart which made her infinitely more human. If I had to criticise in any way, I might just say that it would have been nice to see a bit more of other characters which I didn’t think were fleshed out as much as Caelan was herself. Generally though, this was an exciting read with a strong plot and I’d be intrigued to find out more about Caelan as a character in future novels.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Lisa Hartley lives with her partner, son, two dogs and several cats. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Studies, then had a variety of jobs but kept writing in her spare time. In addition to this new series with Canelo she is also working on the next DS Catherine Bishop novel.

Website: http://www.lisahartley.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rainedonparade

Thank you once again to Canelo publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Ask No Questions was published on 10th July 2017 as an e-book 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/35486880-ask-no-questions

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B072X2MY21

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Published July 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s An Anxious Man all about?:

An Anxious Man follows our main character as he deals with financial difficulties on a family holiday.

What did I think?:

I’m always quite excited when this book rolls around in my Short Stories Challenge and it’s time to read a new story from it. I love how it’s packaged and how it’s compartmentalised i.e. divided into different sections with the headings “Stories To Read When…” An Anxious Man falls into the category “Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong,” which I have to laugh about – sounds slightly like my life right now! I was especially looking forward to seeing what it was all about as it won the National Short Story Award back in 2006 so I was gleefully anticipating great things. Unfortunately, I have to admit to being slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the author can write for sure, and knows how to spin a good yarn but I was left wanting more.

Our main character Joseph is on a family holiday with his wife Elise and their young daughter Darcy and is attempting to enjoy himself but he has a lot of things on his mind, namely money problems. He and his wife decided to invest an inheritance that she received and they thought they were making a wise decision but fairly recently, the markets have completely crashed and every day they seem to be losing more and more money. Joseph is beginning to feel very anxious at their predicament and makes superstitious bets with the world to prevent anything else going wrong in his life. It is only on meeting another couple on holiday that he begins to relax slightly when the husband of the two suggests that the markets might still pick up and they could recover their losses. However, the anxiety, obsessive thinking and worry are always there, affecting his life, his relationship with his wife and daughter and the way he views other people.

I was expecting so much more from this short story than I felt that I got from it. I don’t mind at all reading a story where very little happens, in fact I occasionally prefer an intimate character study over a thrilling plot if it is done correctly but I don’t really feel like I got enough of that in this narrative. I didn’t really care for Joseph, Elise or the other holidaying couple – in fact, the most interesting thing in the story might have to be a fight over a couple of lobsters and even then, I didn’t really feel as excited about that as I perhaps should have. I don’t think it was the financial aspects of the story that put me off, nothing too intricate or complicated in that way was discussed (which was a relief!). I’m trying to pin down exactly what it was and perhaps it was simply not being bothered about the characters? Who knows! The writing is obviously great, definitely award-worthy and one scene in particular when Joseph is swimming across a lake was especially beautiful but generally speaking, I just don’t think this story was my cup of tea.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Conclave – Robert Harris

Published July 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
Unputdownable’ Guardian
‘Gripping’ Sunday Times 

The Pope is dead.

Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election.

They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals.

Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.

What did I think?:

I approached this new novel by Robert Harris with slight trepidation I have to admit, having not had the greatest experience with one of his previous novels, An Officer And A Spy, which was also a Richard and Judy Book Club pick here in the UK a little while ago. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the writing, I did think it was very cleverly done and I ended up giving it a three star rating but unfortunately it didn’t blow me away. So when I saw the most recent Richard and Judy Summer Book Club list and saw another Robert Harris novel on there, I did feel a little bit wary and wasn’t really looking forward to it. Well. How wrong was I?! I was really shocked and delighted to discover that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it definitely makes me more eager to read some more of the author’s work, something I was not considering before this. It’s also why I always advocate giving an author a second chance, just because one book doesn’t particularly work for you doesn’t mean that another won’t be exactly the opposite.

I’m starting to ramble and digress slightly so let’s get back to what Conclave is all about. Conclave follows our main character, Cardinal Lomeli whom, as Dean over all the other Cardinals is tasked with leading proceedings when a current Pope passes away in order to choose another one. The whole procedure is shrouded in secrecy with the hundred-odd Cardinals being sequestered away, completely cut off from the outside world and forbidden to discuss the process in any huge detail with each other as they cast their votes, time and time again until a majority is announced that elects a new Pope.

Now you might think that this all sounds quite dull but believe me it’s not. Robert Harris manages to make the election process of a new Pope thrilling, mysterious and completely page turning as we learn about the main contenders for the big job as the holiest man on Earth and also rocks the boat slightly when Cardinal Lomeli discovers some inside and very damaging information about a couple of the contenders that threatens their journey to becoming the Holy Father. Alongside this is the arrival of a new Cardinal that is completely unprecedented by the others, and is a person the previous Pope chose to elect in complete secrecy for reasons unknown to apparently everyone. This is a story about religion, the loss of faith, the changes in Catholicism over the years, men’s pride, extreme ambition, what makes a good/bad man and the fight between duty and desire.

I was actually raised Catholic (although lapsed now!) and went through the whole process – church every Sunday, First Communion, Confirmation etc and although I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, I didn’t ever believe that reading a story about the election of the Pope could be so compelling. As I mentioned previously, I was completely taken aback by how much I enjoyed this novel and how surprised I was, especially in the directions the author chose to take the narrative. It’s a fascinating insight into Catholicism and faith but also with an amazingly human edge with real, flawed characters that you can really understand and believe in. You don’t have to be a believer to enjoy this novel at all but if you have any interest in how the process might work and enjoy a damn good mystery, this book is definitely for you. It takes twists and turns that you might never have imagined and I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0