Contemporary

All posts in the Contemporary category

October 2017 – Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC month

Published October 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone! Every other month I alternate what I’m reading quite specifically between three things. It’s either Chrissi Cupboard Month where I try my best to get through all the books my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads lends me (and that’s a lot!). Then there’s Real Book Month where I try and read all the physical books just waiting to be devoured on my bookshelves (also a LOT!) Finally, there’s Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC Month where I try and catch up on all those ARC/review copies sent to me by authors, publishers, NetGalley and Book Bridgr. (A LOT!) October is going to be one of the latter months and here’s what I’m looking forward to getting to this month:

Stranger – David Bergen

(courtesy of Duckworth Overlook Publishers)

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah

(courtesy of Tinder Press via NetGalley)

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead – Charlie Laidlaw

(courtesy of author)

Rivals Of The Republic – Annelise Freisenbruch

(courtesy of Duckworth Overlook Publishers)

The Art Of Hiding – Amanda Prowse

(courtesy of Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley)

Is Monogamy Dead? – Rosie Wilby

(courtesy of author)

Advertisements

My Mother’s Shadow – Nikola Scott

Published September 23, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It is the year 1958 and Elizabeth Holloway has been sent away from her London home to spend the summer at Hartland, a beautiful, rambling country estate by the Sussex coast. To lovely, innocent Elizabeth, the Shaws are the height of sophistication and they treat her as one of their own, but when she falls in love, no one warns her that her dreams are dangerously naïve.

Forty years later, Elizabeth’s daughter Addie finds a stranger on her doorstep, a woman claiming to be her twin sister. At first, Addie refuses to believe it — until her beloved father admits that the circumstances surrounding her birth were not what she’d been led to believe.

The discovery challenges everything Addie thought she knew about the brilliant, difficult woman that was her mother. And as their journey takes them back to Elizabeth’s past, Addie and her new sister Phoebe uncover the extraordinary story of a lost child, a mother’s secret, and one golden summer that changed a woman’s life forever.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Becky Hunter and the team at Headline for sending me a copy of this fantastic debut novel by Nikola Scott in exchange for an honest review. My Mother’s Shadow is a cosy and compelling read that I found myself instantly intrigued by and it was easy to race through it as I became determined to discover the root of the mystery which also provided a very satisfying conclusion. I’m also a huge fan of a dual timeline and was delighted to realise that I enjoyed the narrative set in the present day just as much as the story set in the 1950’s (usually it’s the opposite way around for me!).

The novel follows our main character Addie in the present time and her mother, Elizabeth Holloway when she was a young adult in the fifties. It comes as quite a shock to Addie exactly one year after her mother’s death to find a stranger on her doorstep claiming to be her long lost twin sister. At first, it’s inconceivable to Addie and her family that this woman, Phoebe is telling the truth although the evidence she provides is highly stacked in her favour. When it turns out that Phoebe might actually be who she says she is, the two girls join forces to uncover the secrets behind their birth. As Addie had quite a tumultuous relationship with her mother, the details of what they find are incredibly eye opening, moving and surprising and makes her look at her late mother in a whole different light.

I was so happy when this book turned up on my doormat – I was just in the right sort of mood for a novel such as this, something which was gripping, poignant and heart-warming all at the same time. The author has an obvious gift for creating characters that you immediately become fond of, especially the two main characters of Addie and her mother, Elizabeth. As I mentioned, I loved the dual timelines and I felt each characters story was captured to perfection, in a way that always made me want to read just “one more chapter.” My Mother’s Shadow is a beautiful combination of historical and contemporary fiction with a slice of mystery on the side and I loved attempting to unravel what had happened to Elizabeth in her past that led to two estranged twin sisters, multiple secrets and a bucket load of questions. It’s the ideal book to cuddle up with if you like a bit of a puzzle to solve and I’m really looking forward to what this author writes next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Talking About The Betrayals by Fiona Neill with Chrissi Reads

Published September 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When Rosie Rankin’s best friend has an affair with her husband, the consequences reverberate down through the lives of two families.

Relationships are torn apart. Friendships shattered. And childish innocence destroyed.

Her daughter Daisy’s fragile hold on reality begins to unravel when a letter arrives that opens up all the old wounds. Rosie’s teenage son Max blames himself for everything which happened that long hot summer. And her brittle ex-husband Nick has his own version of events.

As long-repressed memories bubble to the surface, the past has never seemed more present and the truth more murky.

Sometimes there are four sides to every story.

Who do you believe?

Told through the eyes of four members of the same family, The Betrayals takes an unflinching look at contemporary family life, explores the nature of memory and desire and asks whether some things can ever be forgiven.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: Had you heard of the author before reading this book?
BETH: I have to be honest and say no, I hadn’t. Looking at the author’s back-list of books however, the cover of The Good Girl does ring a few bells so perhaps I had seen it around when it was released. I’m really pleased that Richard and Judy picked this book for their book club here in the UK as it’s definitely brought an author to my attention that I wasn’t really aware of before.
BETH: Were you aware while reading that some characters’ narratives were unreliable? If so, at what point did you start to realise this? Why do you think people mis-remember significant events?
CHRISSI: It took me a while to realise this. I think it was about half way through when I started to question every character. I can’t pinpoint an exact moment when I thought ‘Hmmm…’ but I started to become uncomfortable with some of the characters throughout the novel and as the intensity built. I think it’s interesting that people do mis-remember significant events. Perhaps we build things up in our memory or remember the parts of it that we want to, meaning that sometimes we mis-remember the parts we don’t want to remember fondly! Memory is such a strange thing to me. I can’t explain it!
CHRISSI: This is part thriller, part family drama. Explore the family relationships in the novel.
BETH: I loved the mixture of thriller and drama in this novel. Throughout it all, there’s this element of mystery and unreliable narrators (which I always adore!). The relationships are particularly fraught in this story for a variety of reasons but mainly due to the divorce between Rosie and Nick which affect both their children, Daisy and Max in different ways. Daisy and Max blame their father for what has happened and this affects their relationship with him in the present time and especially with his new fiancee, Lisa. There are so many other relationships to be explored in this novel though. We also have the relationship of Lisa with her children and her ex husband Barney which is very fragile and the relationship between the siblings and step-siblings which is difficult because of Daisy’s OCD and events that have happened between the four children in the past when Rosie and Nick were still a couple.
BETH: The strongest bond in this novel is the bond between Daisy and Max rather than between the children and their parents. Why do you think this is?
CHRISSI: I think Daisy and Max are always there for each other from their childhood. They had such a strong bond. Daisy became reliant on Max when she was completing her OCD rituals. Daisy and Max stick together despite their parent’s relationship falling apart around them. I saw Daisy and Max as a team, despite Max being frustrated by Daisy’s OCD. Max felt guilt for something he had done to Daisy and I think his guilt made him want to be there for her in later years.
CHRISSI: Discuss the portrayal of Daisy’s OCD in the novel.
BETH: It’s great to see any portrayal of mental health in novels and making sufferers feel that they are not alone is so vitally important. I am not a sufferer myself but I thought the OCD was portrayed really well and quite sensitively and it certainly made me feel more sympathetic to those people that have no choice but to live with the condition. It also taught me things I hadn’t been previously aware of like its effect on other people around the sufferer and how it can have knock on effects on health, memory etc.
BETH: Who betrays who in this novel? In your opinion which is the worst betrayal?
CHRISSI: Goodness, it’s more like who doesn’t betray in this novel! I’m actually torn between the worst betrayal. I hate when best friend’s betray, I hate when partner’s betray… basically none of it sits right with me. I actually found Nick’s betrayal to be the most heartbreaking. He lets down his wife and his children. 😦 Bad times!
CHRISSI: I found myself disappointed by the ending. Without spoilers, what did you make of the ending?
BETH: I think I texted you ARRRGH at the time of reading it? Yes, that’s exactly how I felt. I had thoroughly enjoyed the story from the very first page and perhaps my expectations were a bit high but I wasn’t entirely happy with how open ended and unresolved the ending felt to me. I understand that maybe the author wanted us to make up our own minds about what happens next and sometimes I love this in novels but in this story, it felt frustrating and I was desperate to know what happened next.
BETH: Would you read another book by this author?
CHRISSI: I would! Even though I was SUPER frustrated by the ending. It had gripped me from the start and then I was annoyed by the unresolved, open ending. Others I’m sure would love it though!
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 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!

Manipulated Lives – H.A. Leuschel

Published September 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Five stories – Five Lives.
Have you ever felt confused or at a loss for words in front of a spouse, colleague or parent, to the extent that you have felt inadequate or, worse, a failure? Do you ever wonder why someone close to you seems to endure humiliation without resistance?
Manipulators are everywhere. At first these devious and calculating people can be hard to spot, because that is their way. They are often masters of disguise: witty, disarming, even charming in public – tricks to snare their prey – but then they revert to their true self of being controlling and angry in private. Their main aim: to dominate and use others to satisfy their needs, with a complete lack of compassion and empathy for their victim.
In this collection of short novellas, you meet people like you and me, intent on living happy lives, yet each of them, in one way or another, is caught up and damaged by a manipulative individual. First you meet a manipulator himself, trying to make sense of his irreversible incarceration. Next, there is Tess, whose past is haunted by a wrong decision, then young, successful and well balanced Sophie, who is drawn into the life of a little boy and his troubled father. Next, there is teenage Holly, who is intent on making a better life for herself and finally Lisa, who has to face a parent’s biggest regret. All stories highlight to what extent abusive manipulation can distort lives and threaten our very feeling of self-worth.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the author Helene Leuschel for providing me with a copy of her series of novellas, Manipulated Lives in exchange for an honest review. I have read some fantastic reviews of this collection around the blogosphere and was really excited to discover the stories for myself. I was slightly concerned that the subject matter would be too difficult for me to read about (having been a victim of emotional manipulation in the past) but in fact, it was quite a cathartic reading experience and I appreciated the way in which the author presented all the possible guises of a narcissistic/manipulative personality.

Manipulated Lives is a collection of five different novellas, all involving a character that has been manipulated in some manner. Covering both sexes, differing sexual preferences and across a broad age range this versatile collection of stories includes an old woman called Tess who almost lost her family because of the manipulation of her lover, a coming of age story about a teenage girl called Holly who is falling in love for the first time with entirely the wrong sort of boy, a woman called Lisa who realises (perhaps, too late?) the type of son that she has raised and the story of Sophie who begins a relationship with a man and his son only for things to become incredibly intense very quickly. My favourite story in the collection has to be The Narcissist where we get a fascinating insight into the personality of an expert manipulator as we learn more about his life and how he ended up in the hospital bed where he now finds himself, confused and completely alone.

Normally when you read a short story/novella collection, there are those stories that you don’t necessarily warm to that much but I can definitely say, hand on heart, this wasn’t the case with Helene’s collection. I may have liked some of the tales slightly more than others but there wasn’t one story in the bunch that I disliked, a rare thing indeed and proof of the author’s wonderful ability for story-telling. Some of the things she wrote, especially when she was describing the personality of a manipulative individual were so spot on I found myself nodding along, instantly transported back to the past when I had the misfortune to be involved with such a person but the good luck to find a way out of it. I loved the variety of characters and situations that were explored and found it so easy to read this collection in one sitting, instantly compelled to read “just one more story,” until the collection was complete. If you’re looking for a gripping read with a psychological edge that can be enjoyed bit by bit or all in one go, I highly recommend Helene Leuschel’s writing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Mini Pin-It Reviews #13 – Four YA Novels

Published September 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four YA books for you – please see my pin it thoughts below!

1.) The Impossible Knife Of Memory – Laurie Halse Anderson

What’s it all about?:

For the past five years, Hayley Kincain and her father, Andy, have been on the road, never staying long in one place as he struggles to escape the demons that have tortured him since his return from Iraq. Now they are back in the town where he grew up so Hayley can attend school. Perhaps, for the first time, Hayley can have a normal life, put aside her own painful memories, even have a relationship with Finn, the hot guy who obviously likes her but is hiding secrets of his own.

Will being back home help Andy’s PTSD, or will his terrible memories drag him to the edge of hell, and drugs push him over? The Impossible Knife of Memory is Laurie Halse Anderson at her finest: compelling, surprising, and impossible to put down.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

2.) Through The Ever Night – (Under The Never Sky #2) – Veronica Rossi

What’s it all about?:

It’s been months since Aria last saw Perry. Months since Perry was named Blood Lord of the Tides, and Aria was charged with an impossible mission. Now, finally, they are about to be reunited. But their reunion is far from perfect. The Tides don’t take kindly to Aria, a former Dweller. And with the worsening Aether storms threatening the tribe’s precarious existence, Aria begins to fear that leaving Perry behind might be the only way to save them both.

Threatened by false friends and powerful temptations, Aria and Perry wonder, can their love survive through the ever night?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

3.) Belle Epoque – Elizabeth Ross

What’s it all about?:

When sixteen-year-old Maude runs away to Paris, her romantic dreams vanish as quickly as her savings. Increasingly desperate for money, she answers a mysterious advert: ‘Young Women Wanted for Undemanding Work. Apply In Person To The Durandeau Agency.’ But the work is very strange indeed. Maude discovers she is to be a repoussoir – an ugly young woman hired by Parisian socialites to enhance their beauty.

Maude is humiliated – but faced with destitution, what choice does she have? Quickly (and secretly) selected as the perfect companion for the Countess Dubern’s daughter Isabelle, Maude is thrown into a decadent world full of parties, glamour and astonishing cruelty. Maude finds that academic Isabelle is equally disenchanted with the Parisian social scene, and the girls form a tight bond. But when bohemian artist Paul and the handsome Duke d’Avaray are introduced into the girls’ lives, their friendship will be tested to its limits. The girls are about to discover the true meaning of being beautiful…

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

4.) Born Wicked (The Cahill Witch Chronicles #1) – Jessica Spotswood

What’s it all about?:

A gorgeous, witchy, romantic fantasy by a debut author! Perfect for fans of Kristin Cashore and the Beautiful Creatures series!

Everybody thinks Cate Cahill and her sisters are eccentric. Too pretty, too reclusive, and far too educated for their own good. But the truth is even worse: they’re witches. And if their secret is discovered by the priests of the Brotherhood, it would mean an asylum, a prison ship–or an early grave. Then Cate finds her mother’s diary, and uncovers a secret that could spell her family’s destruction. Desperate to find alternatives to their fate, Cate starts scouring banned books and questioning rebellious new friends, all while juggling tea parties, shocking marriage proposals, and a forbidden romance with the completely unsuitable Finn Belastra. But if what her mother wrote is true, the Cahill girls aren’t safe–not even from each other.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP NEXT ON MINI-PIN IT REVIEWS: Four Thriller Novels.

Talking About Good Me Bad Me by Ali Land with Chrissi Reads

Published September 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Milly’s mother is a serial killer. Though Milly loves her mother, the only way to make her stop is to turn her in to the police. Milly is given a fresh start: a new identity, a home with an affluent foster family, and a spot at an exclusive private school.

But Milly has secrets, and life at her new home becomes complicated. As her mother’s trial looms, with Milly as the star witness, Milly starts to wonder how much of her is nature, how much of her is nurture, and whether she is doomed to turn out like her mother after all.

When tensions rise and Milly feels trapped by her shiny new life, she has to decide: Will she be good? Or is she bad? She is, after all, her mother’s daughter.

What did WE think?:

CHRISSI: I started this book a bit before you and told you how disturbing it was. Did you agree with my initial impression? What were your first impressions?

BETH: It was quite funny in a way. You started reading it and then texted me just two words – “Woah dude.” Then I got to the exact same point in the book that you did and texted you exactly the same thing! I know we usually hate comparisons and like that a book should stand on its own but as you said to me, this was one of the most disturbing things I’ve read since Gone Girl, I think. Obviously I don’t want to go into too many details for fear of spoilers but this novel is a lot darker, a lot twistier and more warped than I could have ever expected. You would think I might be expecting this if you read the synopsis? No, I wasn’t prepared for how “wrong,” it was going to get.

BETH: What did you think of the character of Phoebe? Could you sympathise with her at all?

CHRISSI: It’s an interesting question as Phoebe is such a complex character. I felt sorry for her because her home life was pretty horrific. Her mother didn’t have a great bond with her and she was feeling left out when Milly was getting a lot of attention from Phoebe’s parents. That can’t be nice. Especially when Phoebe’s mum gave Milly a gift that Phoebe thought was a precious thing between Phoebe and her mother. However, I didn’t feel comfortable with the bullying that Phoebe and her friends were inflicting upon Milly. Bullying should never be excused in my eyes!

CHRISSI: Ali Land is a Child and Adolescent Mental Health nurse – how do you think this affects the way she has written this novel?

BETH: I think it’s given her a perfect insight into mental illness in children, to be honest. She’s probably seen and experienced some things in her career and understands how a child may view a certain situation, what they might do and what kinds of emotions they might be experiencing as a result. Because of this, the novel came across as very authentic to me and as I mentioned before, I certainly wasn’t prepared for the directions the author took with the story.

BETH: Milly has to give evidence in a court in front of her mother – how do you think this was handled in the novel?

CHRISSI: I thought this was dealt with really well in the novel. Milly wanted to be there in court and this wasn’t disregarded because it was too tough for her. The adults around Milly seemed to listen to her. I also enjoyed how the court scenes were written. I loved how Milly’s mother’s presence was so strong in the novel. It was almost creepy. She felt like an incredibly evil character (what she did was awful!) and her little movements mentioned in the court scene made my skin crawl. I loved how the author made us feel her presence in court (despite Milly not physically seeing her) and how much Milly was aware of it.

CHRISSI: What does this story tell us about the question of nature vs nurture?

BETH: As a scientist (by day!) I probably could have a very scientific answer for you… 😝 but to be honest, I think the book explores both aspects. Is it the genes within us that programme us to be what we are and how we react to certain situations? Or is it the environment outside i.e. how we are brought up, who we interact with that determines our behaviour and actions. If I’m fair, poor Milly didn’t have much of a choice either way considering she was brought up with a serial killer for a mother. It’s how she responds when taken out of that situation however that gets very interesting.

BETH: How would you describe the relationship between Milly and her mother?

CHRISSI: In two words… incredibly unhealthy! I felt like Milly constantly struggled with the feelings towards her mother. It says it all really in the title ‘Good Me, Bad Me.’ Milly was so aware of what was right and wrong. She knew what her mother had done was wrong, yet she still felt a strong pull towards her, despite all of the awful things that had happened to her. Milly really was messed up by her mother and understandably so. Their relationship was toxic. Milly’s mother ‘training’ her daughter for such awful things…

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its heavily populated genre?

BETH: I was a huge fan of this book. I think it stands heads and shoulders above quite a few books in the genre. I don’t know if it’s the writing style, the subject matter or the fact that the author isn’t afraid to go to incredibly dark places but I loved what she did with the story and even though it made me feel intensely uncomfortable and disgusted it was an unforgettable reading experience.

BETH: Would you read another novel by this author?

CHRISSI: I really would! This is such a promising debut novel. I loved how Ali Land didn’t shy away from such an uncomfortable topic.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: But of course!

CHRISSI: Without a doubt!

BETH’s Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

CHRISSI’s Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S