Costa Prize Winner

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February 2018 – Real Book Month

Published January 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

It’s time for one of my favourite months – real book month! This is where I try to bring down that pesky TBR as much as I can. I try to focus on books I’m really excited about and roll my eyes that I haven’t managed to get to them before now. I normally have a list of about ten I want to read, however, because I also participate in Banned Books and Kid-Lit with my sister as well as reading the Richard and Judy book club titles, I’ve felt under too much pressure lately so am just easing that slightly. This month I want to focus on some more of the titles my sister Chrissi Reads and I bought on our trip to the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. This is what I’ll be reading:

1.) The Gracekeepers – Kirsty Logan

What’s it all about?:

A lyrical and moving debut in the tradition of Angela Carter and Margaret Atwood, introducing an original and commanding new voice in fiction

As a Gracekeeper, Callanish administers shoreside burials, laying the dead to their final resting place deep in the depths of the ocean. Alone on her island, she has exiled herself to a life of tending watery graves as penance for a long-ago mistake that still haunts her. Meanwhile, North works as a circus performer with the Excalibur, a floating troupe of acrobats, clowns, dancers, and trainers who sail from one archipelago to the next, entertaining in exchange for sustenance.

In a world divided between those inhabiting the mainland (“landlockers”) and those who float on the sea (“damplings”), loneliness has become a way of life for North and Callanish, until a sudden storm offshore brings change to both their lives–offering them a new understanding of the world they live in and the consequences of the past, while restoring hope in an unexpected future.

Inspired in part by Scottish myths and fairytales, The Gracekeepers tells a modern story of an irreparably changed world: one that harbors the same isolation and sadness, but also joys and marvels of our own age.

2.) If I Fall If I Die – Michael Christie

What’s it all about?:

A heartfelt and wondrous debut about family, fear, and skateboarding, that Karen Russell calls “A bruiser of a tale . . . a death-defying coming-of-age story.” 

Will has never been outside, at least not since he can remember. And he has certainly never gotten to know anyone other than his mother, a fiercely loving yet wildly eccentric agoraphobe who panics at the thought of opening the front door. Their world is rich and fun- loving—full of art, science experiments, and music—and all confined to their small house.

But Will’s thirst for adventure can’t be contained. Clad in a protective helmet and unsure of how to talk to other kids, he finally ventures outside.  At his new school he meets Jonah, an artsy loner who introduces Will to the high-flying freedoms of skateboarding.  Together, they search for a missing local boy, help a bedraggled vagabond, and evade a dangerous bootlegger.  The adventure is more than Will ever expected, pulling him far from the confines of his closed-off world and into the throes of early adulthood, and all the risks that everyday life offers.

In buoyant, kinetic prose, Michael Christie has written an emotionally resonant and keenly observed novel about mothers and sons, fears and uncertainties, and the lengths we’ll go for those we love.

3.) The Lie Tree – Frances Hardinge

What’s it all about?:

Faith Sunderly leads a double life. To most people, she is reliable, dull, trustworthy – a proper young lady who knows her place as inferior to men. But inside, Faith is full of questions and curiosity, and she cannot resist mysteries: an unattended envelope, an unlocked door. She knows secrets no one suspects her of knowing. She knows that her family moved to the close-knit island of Vane because her famous scientist father was fleeing a reputation-destroying scandal. And she knows, when her father is discovered dead shortly thereafter, that he was murdered.

In pursuit of justice and revenge, Faith hunts through her father’s possessions and discovers a strange tree. The tree bears fruit only when she whispers a lie to it. The fruit of the tree, when eaten, delivers a hidden truth. The tree might hold the key to her father’s murder – or it may lure the murderer directly to Faith herself.

4.) Hideous Creatures – S.E. Lister

What’s it all about?:

An extraordinary, magical odyssey into the dark heart of the New World . . .

Arthur Hallingham is the youngest son of an English earl. He’s on the run from his former life – from a family where painful, half-understood secrets lurk.

Arthur travels on a slave ship to the coast of America. Amidst the teeming squalor and vaulting ambitions of the New World, he encounters Flora, the tough daughter of an outlaw, and Shelo, a native medicine man with mysterious powers who seems to have a plan for him.

The three set off on a journey through the thick forests and along the wide rivers of the lush southern wilderness. As they near their destination, Shelo’s terrible and destructive purpose is gradually revealed.

Hideous Creatures is a rich, beautiful and compelling novel that will appeal to fans of Audrey Niffenegger, Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman, by a young debut author destined for literary stardom.

5.) Into The Trees – Robert Williams

What’s it all about?:

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

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

 

As with everything that Mr B’s recommended us, the booksellers there did such a stellar job and I’m looking forward to every single one of these books. I’m particularly intrigued by Hideous Creatures by S.E. Lister as I read The Immortals by her recently (another Mr B’s purchase!) and absolutely loved it. I’ve also spent far too long waiting to read The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge, especially as it has had much critical acclaim, winning the Costa Book Award in 2015. The Gracekeepers by Kirsty Logan also looks like such a “me” book – fairy tale-esque, literary and lovely. Can’t wait to get started!

Have you read any of these books? What did you think and what should I read first?

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The Ask And The Answer (Chaos Walking #2) – Patrick Ness

Published November 28, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

We were in the square, in the square where I’d run, holding her, carrying her, telling her to stay alive, stay alive till we got safe, till we got to Haven so I could save her – But there weren’t no safety, no safety at all, there was just him and his men…

Fleeing before a relentless army, Todd has carried a desperately wounded Viola right into the hands of their worst enemy, Mayor Prentiss. Immediately separated from Viola and imprisoned, Todd is forced to learn the ways of the Mayor’s new order. But what secrets are hiding just outside of town? And where is Viola? Is she even still alive? And who are the mysterious Answer? And then, one day, the bombs begin to explode…

“The Ask and the Answer” is a tense, shocking and deeply moving novel of resistance under the most extreme pressure. This is the second title in the “Chaos Walking” trilogy.

What did I think?:

Patrick Ness is, without a doubt, one of my new favourite authors and after the fantastic Knife Of Never Letting Go which I read a little while ago, it was high time that I read this, the second in the series. Ness leaves us at the end of the first book with an unbelievable cliff-hanger and I’m going to try and make this review as spoiler free as possible but if you’ve not read the first book, I highly recommend you do and then come back and read this review! I don’t think it’s a spoiler to reveal that Todd and Viola have walked right into terrible danger, in the form of Mayor Prentiss, a terrific fanatical villain who has plans for a new world order, one in which he is the President and rules by manipulating the “noise,” of his citizens.

Almost immediately, Todd and Viola are separated and for most of this novel, we see the story from both of their points of view as Viola is placed in the care of a group of healers with all the women and Todd is left with the Mayor (sorry, PRESIDENT) and the men. He is forced to take charge of the Spackle, strange and mute alien beings who were actually the native species of this planet before the humans arrived and, as is often the case, took over everything. President Prentiss has plans for the Spackles – not nice ones I’m afraid to say and by using an eerie form of mind control, torture, threats and his son Davey, he forces Todd to do things he is not proud of which brings back bad memories of what he has done in the past. He becomes desperate to find Viola and make everything right again, even if this means war and over-throwing Prentiss.

Meanwhile, Viola is adapting to life amongst the healers where tensions and bad feeling against Prentiss are slowly beginning to rise, master-minded by the lead healer, Mistress Coyle. Eventually, she heads up a group of women known as “The Answer,” to stand against the President in a war that makes Viola question everything she believes in. These are dangerous times, especially when another group also rises to fight which could mean the end of the world as they know it. Who is right and who is wrong? Which side should Todd and Viola choose? Is war ever justified? These questions and so many more are just begging to be answered as we head towards the final book in this thought-provoking and action packed trilogy. There’s one thing I know for sure, it’s going to be one hell of a finale.

For me, the second book in the Chaos Walking trilogy was even better than the first and I didn’t think that was going to be possible. I absolutely love Todd and Viola as characters (although I did miss a certain dog…) and it was great to see our heroine’s point of view a little more in this novel. What makes them so great? It’s a mixture of things, Todd’s unique voice and the way he uses grammar is a real bonus for me and I love the way he’s so imperfect. Yes, he makes mistakes, he struggles, he doesn’t always make the right decisions but he’s still a young lad trying to find his feet in a dangerous world facing things we can only imagine – he’s allowed to mess up! Viola is a perfect compliment to his character, providing peace and inner strength, allowing him to make his own way and then helping him to be a better person. Then we have Prentiss, a phenomenal villain who could definitely benefit from some psychiatric help but truly believes he is doing the right thing for the world. Well, they do say psychopaths believe their own hype, right?

This story is so jam packed full of action, just when I thought it couldn’t get any more frenetic, Ness ramped it up just one more notch. This is certainly a book I couldn’t put down and one that stayed with me for a while as I considered exactly what the author was trying to say about war, violence, friendship, fascism and indeed, racism. Throughout the novel I was moved, angered, repelled and excited (sometimes all at the same time) and it has paved the way for an extraordinary series ending. If you haven’t started or finished the series yet, please do yourself a favour and DO IT! You won’t be disappointed.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Image from http://www.ohthebooks.com/bookish-reunion-the-ask-and-the-answer-by-patrick-ness/

 

The Shock Of The Fall – Nathan Filer

Published October 2, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

‘I’ll tell you what happened because it will be a good way to introduce my brother. His name’s Simon. I think you’re going to like him. I really do. But in a couple of pages he’ll be dead. And he was never the same after that.’

There are books you can’t stop reading, which keep you up all night.

There are books which let us into the hidden parts of life and make them vividly real.

There are books which, because of the sheer skill with which every word is chosen, linger in your mind for days.

The Shock of the Fall is all of these books.

The Shock of the Fall is an extraordinary portrait of one man’s descent into mental illness. It is a brave and groundbreaking novel from one of the most exciting new voices in fiction.

What did I think?:

I picked up this book at the Hay Festival last year, immediately attracted by its beautiful cover art and intriguing premise. I’ve only just got round to reading it now as part of my “Real Book” month in August, but it was definitely worth the wait. The story is voiced by Matthew Homes, who at 19 years old has been formally diagnosed with schizophrenia although his problems seem to stem from childhood, when he lost his older brother Simon who also had special needs in a terrible accident that Matthew feels to blame for. As a child when Simon was still alive, Matthew felt like his own needs were pushed to the background, as a lot of attention was focused on his brother, and understandably felt slightly resentful as a result. Now Simon is dead, once again Matthew’s needs are not being met as his mother sinks into depression whilst being fiercely over-protective of the son that remains and his father seems vacant and unreachable.

The book chops and changes much like Matthew’s state of mind between the days immediately before the accident and the events afterwards. At one time, Matthew manages to live independently, renting a flat with a friend for a short period. Following that, he lives there alone checked up on by his ever faithful Nanny Noo, a stable person in his life that brings him shopping and keeps an eye on him as well as treating him like a “normal” person. However his mental state begins to deteriorate to such a point that he won’t even answer the door to her, is missing appointments and is not taking his medication. The mental health authorities become increasingly concerned and he is institutionalised for his own safety. Many of his hallucinations and other manifestations of his condition involve his brother Simon and it is obvious that he still has a lot of unresolved issues and guilt about his brother’s death. Realising this, Nanny Noo buys him a typewriter and it is a wonderful tool for Matthew to use to get his feelings down on paper, no matter how rambling and incoherent they might be, as the reader sees his illness progress.

Another way in which this book was so special was the variety of font used which really made certain things pop out to me as the reader. Also, the illustrations and little diagrams (like the Homes family genogram) were a beautiful and unique way of telling the story. Nathan Filer has a background of working in the mental health profession and his knowledge of schizophrenia and the ins and outs of the profession in general makes this novel slightly bitter-sweet but infinitely readable. I actually cannot believe this was his debut novel and it truly deserves the distinction that comes with the Costa Novel of the Year prize. I’m looking forward to what he comes out with next and this time, I definitely won’t wait as long to read it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

 

And the winner of the Costa Novel 2012 is….

Published February 2, 2013 by bibliobeth

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So, in the literary world, “Queen” Hilary Mantel can do no wrong. Fresh from scooping the Man Booker Prize 2012, she becomes the first person to also win the Costa Award (formally the Whitbread award) in the same year! This is as well as winning the Man Booker for her first book in the Cromwell series, Wolf Hall. The prize, a cool £30,000  is in its 41st year and described as one which “rewards enjoyability” in comparison to its cleverer counterpart, the Booker.

The other prizewinners (winning £5,000 each) included:

Dotter of her Father’s Eyes – Mary and Bryan Talbot – a graphic novel which won the Biography section and I’m quite intrigued to read after seeing an interview with the couple on Channel 4.

The Innocents – Francesca Segal – First Novel

The Overhaul – Kathleen Jamie – Poetry

Maggot Moon – Sally Gardner – Children’s Book (on my TBR pile)

Previous winners of the Costa prize include Pure by Andrew Miller, The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, Small Island by Andrea Levy and the marvellous Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time by Mark Haddon.

Now, I have to admit, I haven’t read Bring Up The Bodies yet. I didn’t really get on with Wolf Hall the first time I tried to read it but am preparing to give it another shot as Anne Boleyn is one of my favourite historical characters and I can’t bear to miss out on a re-telling of her antics. The BBC is due to dramatise both Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies this year, so I’ll definitely be looking out for that. Mantel is currently working on the third novel in the story of Cromwell’s rise and fall from grace – I seriously need to catch up!!