Debut Novel

All posts in the Debut Novel category

Block 46 (Emily Roy & Alexis Castells #1) – Johana Gustawsson (translated by Maxim Jakubowski)

Published July 31, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In Falkenberg, Sweden, the mutilated body of talented young jewelry designer Linnea Blix is found in a snow-swept marina. In Hampstead Heath, London, the body of a young boy is discovered with similar wounds to Linnea’s. Buchenwald Concentration Camp, 1944. In the midst of the hell of the Holocaust, Erich Hebner will do anything to see himself as a human again. Are the two murders the work of a serial killer, and how are they connected to shocking events at Buchenwald? Emily Roy, a profiler on loan to Scotland Yard from the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, joins up with Linnea’s friend, French true-crime writer Alexis Castells, to investigate the puzzling case. They travel between Sweden and London, and then deep into the past, as a startling and terrifying connection comes to light.

What did I think?:

All my favourite bloggers have been telling me to read this novel from the Queen of French Noir, Johana Gustawsson and I’ve been putting it off for goodness knows how long but there came a time when I could no longer delay the inevitable and I finally succumbed, gave in, folded, (however else you want to describe it) and all I can say is THANK YOU SO MUCH EVERYONE. This debut novel and the first in a new series is the most excited I’ve been about a debut since Cara Hunter’s Close To Home and I devoured it within a couple of days, reluctant to return to ordinary life each time I picked it up, it was that compelling and had me thoroughly enraptured by the power of both the subject matter and the extraordinary writing.

Johana Gustawsson, author of Block 46, the first novel in the Roy and Castells series.

Like many of my other preferred narrative styles, Block 46 takes place across two time periods. The first is the present day and follows two women, crime writer Alexis Castells and profiler Emily Roy who team up when a series of gruesome murders plague both London and Sweden. Are the murders committed by the same people? Is it a single serial killer or a duo? Why in particular has the killer(s) chosen to focus on these geographical areas? Then the author takes us back to the past, the 1940’s to be exact where we follow a man, Erich Hebner who is incarcerated in the brutal Buchenwald concentration camp in Nazi Germany. Roy and Castells must discover how these two time-lines are connected and attempt to stop a crazed killer who will stop at nothing in order to carry out his convoluted, incredibly twisted little mission.

Prisoners during a roll call at Buchenwald concentration camp.

I don’t know how eloquent I’m going to be at convincing you that if you haven’t read this book yet and you enjoy a gritty, shocking piece of crime fiction, you should pick this book up immediately. I feel a bit cross with myself for not picking this book up earlier myself as I was completely engrossed as soon as I had got to the end of the first page! I don’t often do one-off Tweets about a book I’m currently reading unless I have very strong opinions about the novel either way but with Block 46, I just couldn’t help myself. Part of it is set during one of my favourite periods of history to read about, Nazi Germany but I felt this author found brand new ways to tell me about the suffering of prisoners in the camps that opened my eyes as if I had been reading about the horrors for the very first time. It was intense, it was horrific, it was emotional and grotesque all at the same time. There were some events that occurred where I thought I wouldn’t be able to bear it but even through this, I prevailed because I literally couldn’t put this book down.

I couldn’t help but think as I was reading about how the treatment of the prisoners in concentration camps actually happened. It was this cold, it was this cruel, it was this malicious. The author’s grandfather was actually liberated from Buchenwald camp in 1945 so it’s plain that she has not only a very personal connection to the atrocities perpetuated in that place but has carried out her research diligently and sensitively. On another note and credit to the translator, at no point did it feel like I was reading a translated work, it felt just as raw, sharp and honest in English as I’m sure it does in the author’s native French. Let me just take a moment and mention the characters also, particularly Roy and Castells who I immediately warmed to and who definitely have mysterious depths that I’m hoping get probed a bit further in future books in the series. I especially loved the enigmatic Emily Roy, a no nonsense, blunt, independent woman who is quite the closed book when we first meet her and doesn’t always behave in a socially acceptable way (I can relate to this, I’m incredibly awkward at times!) but there are reasons behind her “poker face” demeanour that we start to discover near the end of the novel and personally, it was really affecting for me.

Finally, can we PLEASE talk about that ending. This is actually when I tweeted my message, it made me gasp out loud whilst waiting in a coffee shop for a hospital appointment and I got quite a few odd looks in return when customers saw the *gasp* was about a book. I know you bookworms would understand though?! All I can say about it is that it was pure and utter brilliance. I didn’t see it coming, I don’t think you could ever predict it and it elevated the author and her talent to even greater heights in my eyes. Now that I’m thinking about the way I delayed reading this book, I’m actually pretty glad I did. It meant I could immediately order the second book from Johana Gustawsson, called Keeper straight after I had finished reading Block 46, something I’m not sure I’ve ever done before. I can already tell that this author has the potential to become a firm favourite where I buy/pre-order her books the second I get the chance to and Block 46 has certainly earned its place on my favourites shelf where I look forward to reading it again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

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The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood

Published July 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things. Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover. And chef.

This is his story.

We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to it and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.

Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.

Passionate love, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, but his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.

But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind.

What did I think?:

The Last Banquet, translated by Maria Maestro was recommended to me on a reading spa I went to at the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights with Chrissi Reads. To be honest, considering that eye-catching cover, it’s the sort of book that would have intrigued me enough to pick it up but I’m not sure on the synopsis alone whether I would have been compelled to follow through and read it. Luckily, the book-seller who encouraged me to give it a try was incredibly persuasive and I became excited to find out what it was all about. To be fair, the intricate details of the narrative within this novel haven’t completely stayed with me but generally, this book is a literary marvel. The way it’s written is so sumptuously detailed that for any lovers of language, it’s truly a joy to read. It’s not for the faint-hearted, (which I’ll go into a bit later) but it’s a surprisingly compulsive read and I found myself hanging on every word the author had written, the sure sign of a hooked reader!

Jonathan Grimwood, author of The Last Banquet.

In a nutshell, The Last Banquet focuses on one male lead, Jean Marie Charles d’Aumout who is found by the Regent of France in the late 1700’s on a roadside feasting on some beetles whilst his parents lie dead in a looted house nearby. The Regent takes pity on the young boy and takes him under his wing, sending him to a school and then to a prestigious military academy where he mixes with the aristocracy. This is the story of how Jean Marie rises from a penniless existence to the ranks of the wealthy as he takes his fascination that began with tasting beetles to whole new levels, continually on the quest for a more interesting and exclusive taste. Meanwhile, the French Revolution looms terrifyingly in the background, threatening the rich and entitled, and Jean Marie begins to understand the true nature of love and trust.

Our story covers the period of the French Revolution from 1789-1799.

This was such an interesting novel that I really didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I eventually did. From the very first moments, when we are introduced to Jean Marie eating stag beetles at the side of the road, I was instantly curious to see how the story was going to play out and of course, completely disgusted! My mum actually tells a story of when I was a young girl and she pulled half of a stag beetle from my mouth: (“It’s back legs still wriggling!” she delights in telling me!) and I don’t even want to think about where the rest of that beetle went! UGH. The fact that I find all kind of insect life absolutely grotesque in my adult years means that I wonder now whether the taste of that beetle put me off for life? Haha! Anyway, our lead character certainly doesn’t have any problems in that department regarding tasting the weird and wonderful. He will try anything and everything, despite the species and this is where my warning in the first paragraph comes into effect. If you think you might be slightly queasy regarding this subject, be warned indeed. Included in the text are multiple recipes for Jean Marie’s concoctions, including graphic details on how exactly they should be cooked.

Some parts are horrible, I have to admit but at the same time, the dark side of my brain was fascinated by his life, his strange obsession for new tastes (which does stray into the sexual as an adult as well), and how his happiness seems to hinge on this very unique quest of his. It is an odd book in this regard and I think you have to be pretty open-minded to see past this slight freakishness and appreciate the novel for what it is – something a bit different which is beautifully written and definitely has an edge over other books in the genre. The author did go to some unconventional places, that’s for sure but you know what? I actually respect and admire him all the more for being brave enough to do that and writing a book that I’m more likely to think about and want to re-visit years down the line. Despite our male lead’s quirks, he is an endearing and engaging character and because you follow him from such a young age and see his rise in society, you really want to know how it’s all going to turn out for him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Mid Year Freak Out Tag 2018

Published July 3, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to a tag that’s really doing the rounds at the moment – the Mid Year Freak Out Tag which I loved doing last year. Here we go!

1.) The Best Book You’ve Read So Far This Year

This book has now made it onto my all time favourites shelf and I’m already dying to re-read it which usually doesn’t happen for a few years at least! It broke my heart and made me laugh in equal measure and if I’m ever asked for a recommendation, this is the latest book that I push into the hands of everyone who asks. 

2.) Your Favourite Sequel This Year?

I’ve got a feeling that one of the Marnie Rome books appeared in this spot last year, I’m so predictable haha! For me, this series keeps getting better and better and this book for “favourite sequel” spot was a no-brainer.

3.) A New Release That You Haven’t Read Yet But Really Want To?

Okay, so I was initially put off this book because I heard it was about ice hockey. I’m not a huge fan of reading about sports so thought it wasn’t for me. Then I started to see all the amazing reviews, then I realised it wasn’t just about ice hockey, NOW my fellow bloggers are starting to virtually bash me on the head for not having read it so far. This will happen soon, I promise. Er, this month or next month I mean!! For my interview with Fredrik Backman – please see my post HERE. (shameless plug).

4.) Most Anticipated Release For The Second Half Of The Year?

I think I might have already mentioned Melmoth by Sarah Perry in a previous tag but Bridge Of Clay by Markus Zusak is another one I’ve got on pre-order and am really excited for it to be released!

5.) Your Biggest Disappointment?

I was going to choose one of our Banned Books, Blood And Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause for this answer but in the end, I’m going to choose this. Lee Child has so many fans around the world, I really, REALLY wanted to like this book. I don’t know what it was, maybe I came to the series too late but I didn’t get on with it at all. Huge disappointment! Read my review HERE (but please LC fans, don’t come after me with pointy sticks!)

6.) Biggest Surprise Of The Year?

I read this as a buddy read with the lovely Stuart from Always Trust In Books. It was our first buddy read together so I will always have fond memories of it because of that but I honestly wasn’t prepared for how much I enjoyed this. I was completely gripped the whole way through and this is the first YA series that has got right under my skin for a long time now. Check out my review and our Twitter chat HERE.

We recently read a non fiction together, Cannibalism: A Perfectly Natural History by Bill Schutt so look out for our review on that coming in the next couple of weeks. We are also just about to start on the follow up to Scythe, called Thunderhead and I think I can say for both of us that we are VERY excited!

7.) Favourite New To You Or Debut Author?

This was an easy pick for me. I read Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine with my blogger BFF Janel at Keeper Of Pages as our second buddy read and it was also our second five star! Gail Honeyman is new to me and she is also a debut author so that ticks both boxes and I can safely say, whatever she writes next I will be pre-ordering and incredibly excited for.

8.) Your New Fictional Crush?

I have to be honest, I don’t really get fictional crushes but if I had to choose, I’d choose Henry from one of my all time favourite books, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger which I re-read again this year. He’s a little bit mysterious, a little bit dangerous and I love the way he loves Clare. I’m not big on romance but their relationship just captured my heart.

9.) New Favourite Character?

I read the Nightingale with Janel @ Keeper Of Pages for our third buddy read and although my review isn’t up until tomorrow (spoiler alert, I ADORED it!) I had to include it on this tag because I completely fell in love with the character of Isabelle. I’ll talk more about her tomorrow but wow, I don’t think I’ll ever forget her!

10.) A Book That Made You Cry?

It takes a lot for a book to make me cry, I’m not sure why! But when a book does, I will never forget it. I came close to crying with The Heart’s Invisible Furies and The Nightingale, books I’ve already mentioned in this tag but I really teared up during a particular moment of H Is For Hawk, by Helen Macdonald, a non fiction book about grief and falconry where Helen is feeling sad and then plays with her hawk for the first time. It’s really heart-warming and was a passage I read over and over again.

11.) A Book That Made You Happy?

Matilda by Roald Dahl, an old childhood favourite and one Chrissi Reads and I picked for our Kid-Lit challenge this year. I absolutely adore it and it’s always a delight to re-read. 

12.) Your Favourite Book To Movie Adaptation That You’ve Seen This Year?

Has to be The Handmaid’s Tale, adapted from the novel by Margaret Atwood. I love the book (it’s another of my all-time favourites) and I loved the TV series too, I’m currently watching the second one on Channel 4 and it’s so chilling!

13.) Favourite Book Post You’ve Published This Year?

I hate this question as I’m always really insecure about how my blog posts are received. I guess there’s two I’m quite pleased with for very different reasons, Another Day In The Death Of America where I really enjoyed ranting about guns in America and The Time Traveler’s Wife which I’ve already mentioned above where I got into some quite personal details about my own life. 

14.) The Most Beautiful Book You Have Bought/Received This Year?

I’m actually on a book buying ban this year (this excludes pre-orders and any books I might receive for my birthday of course!) so I’ve been really good about not buying many. I did get this beautiful Penguin clothbound classic of Little Women by Louisa May Alcott from my boyfriend for my birthday while we were on holiday in Mexico which was a lovely surprise!

15.) What Are Some Books That You Need To Read By The End Of The Year?

These are the main two books that my fellow bloggers have been begging me to read soon. And I will, I promise!

So that’s my answers, thank you so much for reading and I hope you’ve enjoyed my choices. Let me know in the comments if you agree with me or tell me what you might choose yourself. Anyone who wants to do this and hasn’t done it yet, consider yourself tagged!

 

Blog Tour – Love And Death In Shanghai by Elizabeth J. Hall

Published July 1, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A young man’s search for love in Shanghai, set during a time of gang warfare, drug running, prostitution and Japanese invasions.

“This is a riveting account of a compelling and erotic story.” Jill Dawson, author of The Great Lover

Shanghai 1924. Sam Shuttleworth joins the Municipal Police to escape his working class roots in Lancashire. He is looking for good pay, adventure and beautiful women.

Shanghai is torn by gang warfare, political instability and violence. After erotic affairs, and seeking stability, he marries his glamorous Russian lover. The relationship is tumultuous, with infidelities on both sides.
In the 1930s, Japan invades China and moves into Shanghai with consequent pillage, rape and cruelty. Sam has to negotiate between warring sides, and wonders if he will ever find peace amidst the chaos of his relationships and the bloody events of his career.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Anne Cater for emailing me and inviting me to take part in this blog tour and for kindly sending me a copy of the novel in exchange for an honest review. I have to say the synopsis of this novel had me instantly intrigued to read it. I’m always a huge fan of a story set in another country, especially China which I have a particular soft spot for. Then if you throw in a historical setting, a character struggling with the instability of the country and the Japanese invasion of the 1930’s, it’s pretty much a sure thing that I’m going to want to read it! Generally, this novel was a sumptuous fictional imagining of characters and events that occurred within the author’s own family and this only served to make it a more authentic and fascinating read. It was beautifully descriptive and so detailed that I could almost imagine I walked the same streets as our lead character and those he comes into contact with.

Elizabeth J. Hall, author of Love And Death In Shanghai.

Lancashire born and bred Sam Shuttleworth escapes to Shanghai with a sense of adventure and to try and live and work in a culture so incredibly different from his own. He lands a job as a police officer in Shanghai and is tasked with keeping peace in the very fractured city between a number of different gangs, communist and nationalist uprisings, petty arguments that become violent, murderous acts due to the general instability and uncertainty of the country and the eventual Japanese invasion that changes everything irrevocably for the inhabitants of Shanghai. He has a number of affairs as a single young man then meets a few individual women that each alter his outlook on life forever, in very different ways. He finally begins to learn that work and having a good time outside of work means nothing if you don’t have the support of a loving family behind you.

Love And Death In Shanghai is a perfect title for this novel. It does exactly what it says on the tin. There are erotic, even more graphic moments which I wasn’t quite expecting, but luckily, they don’t overwhelm the reader and the narrative is much more focused on the dark side of Shanghai and how our male lead has to cope with the horrifying and shocking things that he has to see every day, things that most inhabitants take in their stride. Some of it did make for difficult reading but I’m so pleased the author had the courage to go there and show us the real, very brutal Shanghai in the 1920′-30’s. I was also fascinated to read about the stark contrast between these poorer, crime-led areas and the rich side of Shanghai where food, drink and entertainment was in abundant supply for those who could afford it, of course.

1930’s Shanghai, where part of our story is set.

I found the characterisation of this book extremely intriguing and I’m not sure if other readers would have the same or different opinions to mine. Let me explain what I mean – I didn’t find there were many likeable characters in this novel. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, I love an unreliable character, a person with flaws, an intensely horrible one that you can have strong hateful feelings towards….all these things are great. However, I didn’t know how to feel about our male lead, Sam. At times I loved his bravery and nobility, in fact my favourite moments of his is when he was back in England for a visit seeing his family where I felt the real “Sam” came out. It was just all the affairs though. Fair enough when he was a single man of course, he has no responsibilities or attachments, but then he meets Lulu, discovers what responsibility really means and er…..doesn’t really change!

As I’m working this all out in my head as I’m writing, I’m considering the fact that perhaps Sam just hasn’t met the “one” in Lulu, they certainly seemed to have quite a volatile relationship and although I can’t really excuse his behaviour, there is an opportunity for them to have mutual contentment by the end. I don’t want to go too much into the ending for fear of spoilers, I felt it quite bitter-sweet but entirely accurate and I have to be honest, I definitely wasn’t expecting it. Elizabeth J. Hall writes a comprehensive and exquisite tale of a country in turmoil, I loved the attention to detail and appreciated the vast research that must have been completed to tell a compelling story.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Elizabeth J.Hall works in politics in the UK. Love and Death in Shanghai, her debut novel was inspired by the life and death of her uncle who worked in the Shanghai Municipal Police in the 1920s and 30s. Elizabeth’s first memory is of her mother crying when she received a telegram reporting his assassination.

Elizabeth lives in East Sussex with her husband. After a degree in French, she trained as a teacher with a particular interest in social and health education. She worked in the USA, West Africa and London before becoming a consultant, developing programmes of health education abroad, including Central Asia and Russia.

Find Elizabeth on Goodreads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/17679768.Elizabeth_J_Hall

Elizabeth’s website is http://www.elizabethjhall.com/

Thank you once again to Anne Cater for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Love And Death In Shanghai was published on the 18th January 2018 and is available as a paperback and an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out the rest of the stops on this blog tour for some amazing reviews!

Link to Love And Death In Shanghai on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/38352086-love-and-death-in-shanghai

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Love-Death-Shanghai-Elizabeth-Hall/dp/1999784278/ref=tmm_pap_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=

Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine – Gail Honeyman

Published May 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Eleanor Oliphant has learned how to survive – but not how to live

Eleanor Oliphant leads a simple life. She wears the same clothes to work every day, eats the same meal deal for lunch every day and buys the same two bottles of vodka to drink every weekend.

Eleanor Oliphant is happy. Nothing is missing from her carefully timetabled life. Except, sometimes, everything.

One simple act of kindness is about to shatter the walls Eleanor has built around herself. Now she must learn how to navigate the world that everyone else seems to take for granted – while searching for the courage to face the dark corners she’s avoided all her life.

Change can be good. Change can be bad. But surely any change is better than… fine?

What did I think?:

If you haven’t read this book yet and have been umming and aahing about picking it up, please finish your current read and read it next! I put off reading this book for the longest time, even after it won the Costa Award for Best Debut Novel and even still when it was long-listed for The Women’s Prize For Fiction this year. I have heard so many rave reviews and sometimes all the hype can make me steer clear of a book rather than gravitating towards it. After all, what if it isn’t as good as everyone says? What if I’m the lone wolf in a sea of popular opinion? I’m delighted to tell you, I’m most definitely a sheep. I ADORE THIS BOOK. Janel from Keeper Of Pages (please follow her, she’s one of my blogger bezzies and a wonderful reviewer!) finally convinced me to pick this novel up in our second buddy read this month and like The Fireman last month, we both can’t speak highly enough of it. Please check out her awesome review HERE. This novel has the strange accolade of being heart-breaking and heart-warming at the same time. It made me laugh, it brought me close to tears and finally, now I see what all the fuss is about.

Gail Honeyman, author of Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine.

So, is Eleanor Oliphant Completely Fine? Well, no she’s not. You know that very British thing that most of us do when we’re feeling rubbish and yet someone asks us how we are and we say: “Fine, thank you,” when we’re clearly not?! This is poor Eleanor. Her life consists of working nine to five, five days a week in an accounting firm in Glasgow. She barely interacts with anybody except to do her job and her social awkwardness and blunt way of speaking does not endear her to her co-workers. In fact, she becomes quite the figure of fun. As soon as Friday hits, Eleanor grabs a couple of bottles of her favourite vodka, shuts herself up in her house and doesn’t speak to another living soul until Monday morning when the whole cycle starts again. This is until she meets Raymond who works in IT at her company and they both help a stranger when he falls ill in public. From here on, Eleanor’s life changes dramatically and will never be the same again. She begins to realise she is not in the slightest “fine,” and never wishes to be so miserable or lonely again.

Glasgow, Scotland where our story is set.

I can’t even deal with how many emotions this book evoked from me. I felt an instant connection when I realised it was set in Scotland, as my veins do run blue with Scottish blood but besides the setting, this is such a stunning piece of debut fiction that it took my breath away. Beginning in quite a melancholy way, where we see the loneliness and hopelessness of our female lead’s life was gut-wrenching to say the least. However, then it changes and the story is so very uplifting that it made me cheer silently multiple times as I got to know Eleanor, broke my heart for her, rooted for her and at the end, felt real and definite hope for her future. Eleanor is a complex character that really gets under your skin. Because of her past, she is not aware of the intricate niceties of interacting with other people and can come across rude, abrupt and brutally honest.

I couldn’t believe some of the things that she came out with sometimes, there were plenty of laughs but I remember at the same time shaking my head in disbelief and sadness at her naivety when facing the modern world. Things like smartphones, going to gigs and getting her nails done are big deals for Eleanor and as she continued to force herself into new, sometimes scary situations, I couldn’t help but smile at the endearing nature of it all. You don’t find out what has happened in Eleanor’s past until quite late on in the novel and although Janel and I desperately wanted to know what had gone on with her, I completely believe this was the perfect way to structure the book. You fall in love with Eleanor first as a character and it only makes it more heart-breaking when the trauma of her past is finally revealed in full, horrific detail.

Please do me a favour and read this book if you haven’t already. Eleanor is such a special character and both her and her story will play on my mind for a long while to come.

Thank you once again to Janel for an amazing buddy reading experience!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

 

The Sealwoman’s Gift – Sally Magnusson

Published May 21, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In 1627 Barbary pirates raided the coast of Iceland and abducted some 400 of its people, including 250 from a tiny island off the mainland. Among the captives sold into slavery in Algiers were the island pastor, his wife and their three children. Although the raid itself is well documented, little is known about what happened to the women and children afterwards. It was a time when women everywhere were largely silent.

In this brilliant reimagining, Sally Magnusson gives a voice to Ásta, the pastor’s wife. Enslaved in an alien Arab culture Ásta meets the loss of both her freedom and her children with the one thing she has brought from home: the stories in her head. Steeped in the sagas and folk tales of her northern homeland, she finds herself experiencing not just the separations and agonies of captivity, but the reassessments that come in any age when intelligent eyes are opened to other lives, other cultures and other kinds of loving.

The Sealwoman’s Gift is about the eternal power of storytelling to help us survive. The novel is full of stories – Icelandic ones told to fend off a slave-owner’s advances, Arabian ones to help an old man die. And there are others, too: the stories we tell ourselves to protect our minds from what cannot otherwise be borne, the stories we need to make us happy.

What did I think?:

The Sealwoman’s Gift had been on my radar for a little while after I saw it being advertised as a highly anticipated read for this year from some of my favourite book-tubers. I mean, that gorgeous cover is enough to draw you in and make you want to read it, right? Then when I found out that it was a re-imagining of an actual historical event that happened in Iceland in the 17th century which tore apart countless families, I knew it was something I had to get my hands on. I am trying to be good at the moment with a book-buying ban and a determination not to buy hardbacks on the cards, so I was delighted when Two Roads Publishers via Book Bridgr sent me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. It came at a time when I really needed cheering up so a huge thank you to them. Generally, I found this novel to be a solid, beautifully written story that at points, was comparable to being told an old folk-tale. Of course, the fact that this event actually occurred makes this tale all the more intriguing and I thoroughly enjoyed Sally Magnusson’s fictional version of it that was quite obviously extensively researched.

Sally Magnusson, author of The Sealwoman’s Gift.

The event I’m referring to is one many people may not be overly familiar with. It happened in 1627 and involved a host of pirates who attacked the coast of Iceland, removing many men, women and children from the nearest towns, sailing them back to Algiers and selling them all into slavery. We follow one woman in particular, Ásta, who is pregnant at the time of the raid and is captured along with her husband, Ólafur and most of her children. Ásta ends up being separated from her husband and this is the story of how she copes in the house she is sold into, her relationship with her children and her absent husband and especially, how she changes as a person when she is wrenched away from a much simpler life and everything she has ever known.

The beautiful Westman Islands, mentioned by Ásta in the novel.

I always worry when I fall in love with a book’s cover that the inside won’t match the outside, so as to speak. Luckily, I had no worries on this account with The Sealwoman’s Gift. I was absolutely captivated by Ásta’s tale and the people that she met along the way, particularly in Algiers where the course of her life changes forever. I have to admit to being slightly nervous when I saw the cast of characters in the front of the novel, especially the Icelandic names which I’m not too familiar with. However, there was no need to panic, the book is written in such a way that you can easily get your head round who is who in a very short amount of time. I also loved the inclusion and translation of some common Icelandic words which just added to the other-wordly, beautifully alien and very unique feel of this story.

This isn’t just a narrative that re-hashes a moment in history, this is also a story about the relationships between families and between husband and wife and how they are altered when one or both of the parties goes through a life changing event, experiencing new things outside their humdrum, ordinary existence and developing into a different person as a result. The author uses one character in the novel to bring a folk/fairy-tale element to the proceedings when Ásta is warned about her future by one of the more superstitious islanders. I loved how this was incorporated into the tale and it gave the reader something to look back on and analyse when our female lead’s life takes a more dramatic turn.

This is a debut novel that drops you right into Iceland’s past authentically and evocatively and having been to Iceland myself, I could picture everything in full, glorious detail. I’ll certainly be watching out for what Sally Magnusson does next, her writing is too gorgeous to miss out on.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Time Traveler’s Wife – Audrey Niffenegger

Published May 18, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A funny, often poignant tale of boy meets girl with a twist: what if one of them couldn’t stop slipping in and out of time? Highly original and imaginative, this debut novel raises questions about life, love, and the effects of time on relationships.

Audrey Niffenegger’s innovative debut, The Time Traveler’s Wife, is the story of Clare, a beautiful art student, and Henry, an adventuresome librarian, who have known each other since Clare was six and Henry was thirty-six, and were married when Clare was twenty-three and Henry thirty-one. Impossible but true, because Henry is one of the first people diagnosed with Chrono-Displacement Disorder: periodically his genetic clock resets and he finds himself misplaced in time, pulled to moments of emotional gravity in his life, past and future. His disappearances are spontaneous, his experiences unpredictable, alternately harrowing and amusing.

The Time Traveler’s Wife depicts the effects of time travel on Henry and Clare’s marriage and their passionate love for each other as the story unfolds from both points of view. Clare and Henry attempt to live normal lives, pursuing familiar goals—steady jobs, good friends, children of their own. All of this is threatened by something they can neither prevent nor control, making their story intensely moving and entirely unforgettable.

What did I think?:

I’ve mentioned in a recent post that I’ve started doing a new “thing.” I am currently trying to make my way through a humungous TBR by reading one fiction book, one non fiction book and an old favourite (because the books on my favourites shelves are becoming sadly neglected for all the new, shiny ones!). The Time Traveler’s Wife is one of my all-time favourite reads that I gave five stars on when I first read it and was curious to find out if it still remained a favourite or whether I would have to send it on its merry way to the charity shop. Luckily, I adored it and it still remains a firm favourite with that five star rating fully intact, however it came with a host of problems that I had forgotten about and not anticipated. I’m about to get a bit personal now so if that isn’t your bag, you don’t have to keep reading, I won’t be offended, I promise!

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler’s Wife with a quote from the novel that really resonates with me.

Urrrgh, okay. Here we go. So I’ve alluded in past posts that it’s been one hell of a year. Well, actually one hell of an eighteen months and that’s because in the past nine months alone, I’ve had two miscarriages, three surgeries, a scare when they thought I had a brain tumour (I’m fine!) and now, there will be further investigations in the hospital as this brings my total miscarriage count to three. That’s a very brief summary but things have been absolutely mental and obviously quite traumatic, I haven’t had the easiest time physically or emotionally and my second one was particularly horrific. Is there a point Beth? Does this relate to the book in any way, shape or form? Oh dear, I do love a bit of rambling in my reviews don’t I?! We’ll get to the point in the next paragraph.

Sad but true. And we NEED to start talking about it. 

If you haven’t managed to get round to this gorgeous book yet, let me give you a quick summary. It’s essentially a love story between Henry and Clare. I know, I know, I don’t normally “do” romance but this one captured my heart completely. Henry is a time traveller which he discovered from a very young age. He jumps backwards and forwards in his lifespan and always arrives naked, which as you can imagine, can be quite tricky depending on the location he arrives in! Henry meets Clare as a child during one of his journeys and immediately recognises her as the woman he is married to in the future. Audrey Niffenegger then tells their story which jumps about as Henry travels, from their very first meeting, to when they fall in love and begin a physical relationship, to their marriage and life together as husband and wife. Obviously during this time, Henry is still time travelling but each journey becomes more and more dangerous as they fight to find a doctor that will firstly believe them and secondly attempt to find a cure. Added to this is their desperate fight to have a child which is hampered by Clare suffering multiple, very traumatic miscarriages that makes them think the “time travel” gene is preventing them from having a family of their own and a happy, “normal” ending.

Rachel McAdams and Eric Bana as Clare and Henry in the 2009 film.

So for some reason, when I first decided to re-read my old favourites, I had completely forgotten about what the character Clare goes through regarding the miscarriages and the struggle to have a child. As soon as I realised and remembered whilst reading, I automatically had a feeling of dread. Could I handle this? Everything was so raw at the time with my own situation, I wasn’t sure if I was going to be strong enough. Happily, I coped just fine and although it was an emotional reading experience and I did shed a few tears, it actually made my re-read even more memorable and special as I could really sympathise with the female lead. Aside from this, The Time Traveler’s Wife is just such a fantastic, exciting and moving read where you become instantly invested in the characters, their story and just hope against all hope for a happy ending for them. I’m not going to give away the ending for those who haven’t read it yet but I think it was pretty damn perfect in my opinion. There was love, there was hope and there was sadness. Everything wasn’t wrapped up with a neat little bow but I definitely felt optimistic for our characters future. Please read this if you haven’t so far, it’s a stunning story that took my breath away both the first and second time I read it and it’s one I’ll certainly be reading again in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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