“Real Book” Month

All posts in the “Real Book” Month category

The King’s Curse – Philippa Gregory

Published October 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The final novel in the Cousins’ War series, the basis for the critically acclaimed Starz miniseries, The White Queen, by #1 New York Times bestselling author and “the queen of royal fiction” (USA TODAY) Philippa Gregory tells the fascinating story of Margaret Pole, cousin to the “White Princess,” Elizabeth of York, and lady-in-waiting to Katherine of Aragon.

Regarded as yet another threat to the volatile King Henry VII’s claim to the throne, Margaret Pole, cousin to Elizabeth of York (known as the White Princess) and daughter of George, Duke of Clarence, is married off to a steady and kind Lancaster supporter—Sir Richard Pole. For his loyalty, Sir Richard is entrusted with the governorship of Wales, but Margaret’s contented daily life is changed forever with the arrival of Arthur, the young Prince of Wales, and his beautiful bride, Katherine of Aragon. Margaret soon becomes a trusted advisor and friend to the honeymooning couple, hiding her own royal connections in service to the Tudors.

After the sudden death of Prince Arthur, Katherine leaves for London a widow, and fulfills her deathbed promise to her husband by marrying his brother, Henry VIII. Margaret’s world is turned upside down by the surprising summons to court, where she becomes the chief lady-in-waiting to Queen Katherine. But this charmed life of the wealthiest and “holiest” woman in England lasts only until the rise of Anne Boleyn, and the dramatic deterioration of the Tudor court. Margaret has to choose whether her allegiance is to the increasingly tyrannical king, or to her beloved queen; to the religion she loves or the theology which serves the new masters. Caught between the old world and the new, Margaret Pole has to find her own way as she carries the knowledge of an old curse on all the Tudors.

What did I think?:

I’ve got such fond memories of when I first became aware of Philippa Gregory. A friend introduced me to her Wideacre trilogy consisting of the books Wideacre, The Favoured Child and Meridon all of which I adored and then my sister introduced me to her Tudor books and this is when I fell in love with her as an author. I haven’t been reading her as prolifically as I once did as unfortunately I feel like her last few novels in the Cousins’ War series haven’t been as brilliant as I know she can write but I still hugely enjoy both her writing and her intense focus on the women that history hasn’t given an adequate voice.

Margaret Pole is one of those women and The King’s Curse tells her story. She is daughter of the Duke of Clarence, cousin to Elizabeth of York (Henry VIII’s mother) and in this novel, becomes lady in waiting to Henry VIII’s first wife, Katherine of Aragon and then warden to her first daughter, Princess Mary. You may all be aware of what happens to poor Queen Katherine so this story is a fascinating insight into Margaret’s feelings and loyalties to both her King and to the woman she adores like a sister. Margaret comes across as a strong, sensible woman whose own family’s safety and well-being is paramount in her mind but she also demonstrates a steadfast faith and respect for those that she binds herself to both in duty and in friendship. She doesn’t have an easy life and her morals and values are tested in the worst ways imaginable but by the end, she remains true to herself and those close to her and earns the reader’s instant respect and admiration.

As I mentioned before, I love how Philippa Gregory takes a forgotten woman of history and suggests how important they may actually have been in the grand scheme of things. I loved learning more about her and was especially intrigued by her fragile relationship with King Henry VIII as he views her and her family as an obvious threat to his throne. Even though Margaret is our main protagonist, we still hear a lot about what is happening at the Tudor court at that period of history i.e. the divorce of Henry and Katherine, the rule of Anne Boleyn and the dissolution of the Catholic church with Henry VIII attempting to replace the Pope as the supreme ruler in England. It’s obvious the author has done some meticulous research as she forged this story and although parts of it have already been told before, for example in The Constant Princess and arguably her most famous novel, The Other Boleyn Girl, it never feels tired, old or re-hashed as we hear about events from a completely different point of view. I don’t think I’ll ever get weary of reading about the Tudor dynasty, a period of our past where the characters are just so incredibly effervescent and fascinating and I’m looking forward to getting to her next novel: The Taming Of The Queen.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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The Paying Guests – Sarah Waters

Published September 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The “volcanically sexy” (USA Today) bestseller about a widow and her daughter who take a young couple into their home in 1920s London.

It is 1922, and London is tense. Ex-servicemen are disillusioned; the out-of-work and the hungry are demanding change. And in South London, in a genteel Camberwell villa—a large, silent house now bereft of brothers, husband, and even servants—life is about to be transformed, as impoverished widow Mrs. Wray and her spinster daughter, Frances, are obliged to take in lodgers.

With the arrival of Lilian and Leonard Barber, a modern young couple of the “clerk class,” the routines of the house will be shaken up in unexpected ways. Little do the Wrays know just how profoundly their new tenants will alter the course of Frances’s life—or, as passions mount and frustration gathers, how far-reaching, and how devastating, the disturbances will be.

Short-listed for the Man Booker Prize three times, Sarah Waters has earned a reputation as one of our greatest writers of historical fiction.

What did I think?:

I first came across the wonderful Sarah Waters in her novel Fingersmith that I read in my pre-blogging days and remains on my bookshelves as one of my favourite books. Goodness knows why it took me so long to get around to another one of her novels, I’ve had them on my TBR for ages! However, when The Paying Guests was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction in 2015 and I had heard nothing but rave reviews for it, I knew it was time to pick it up. To be perfectly honest, I don’t think I’ve come across a book for a long time that is so incredibly close to that five star, perfect read. The Paying Guests was a heady mixture of gorgeous writing, tantalising characters and a plot that shook me to my core with the unexpected nature of it all.

I’ll just briefly describe what the book is about and I’ll try to be as vague as possible as frustratingly, there’s a lot about this novel that I simply can’t tell you and I do very much hate spoilers in a review. It is the 1920’s, post war in Britain and Mrs Wray and her daughter Frances have realised that times have changed. They have lost all the men in their family – three sons to the war (their deaths having a daily, ruinous effect on the household) and Frances’ father who recently passed away and left the family in terrible debt. As a result, they are forced to take in lodgers or “paying guests” hence the title of the novel. The arrival of married couple, Lilian and Leonard Barber makes an enormous impact on both Frances and her mother and has dire consequences for the rest of their lives.

I simply can’t say anymore than that, I really want you to discover it all for yourself. There are twists and turns in the narrative that I have to say, I did not see coming and was absolutely delighted to discover a story with so much convoluted detail, both in plot and with Sarah Waters’ endlessly fascinating characters. Frances at first comes across incredibly prickly, bitter and difficult but as we get to know her better she becomes so intriguing and she still plays on my mind long after finishing the novel. Lilian too is beautifully drawn and just as captivating to read about, especially in the second half of the story where certain incidents precipitate a thrilling and tense situation where I had no idea how on earth Sarah Waters was going to wrap it up. The sheer allure of the writing, the atmosphere of post war London which the author captures to perfection, and these amazing characters means Sarah Waters is instantly pushed onto my list of favourite authors and I’ll certainly be getting to another one of her novels as soon as I can.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

Hollow City (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #2) – Ransom Riggs

Published September 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children was the surprise best seller of 2011—an unprecedented mix of YA fantasy and vintage photography that enthralled readers and critics alike. Publishers Weekly called it “an enjoyable, eccentric read, distinguished by well-developed characters, a believable Welsh setting, and some very creepy monsters.”

This second novel begins in 1940, immediately after the first book ended. Having escaped Miss Peregrine’s island by the skin of their teeth, Jacob and his new friends must journey to London, the peculiar capital of the world. Along the way, they encounter new allies, a menagerie of peculiar animals, and other unexpected surprises.

Complete with dozens of newly discovered (and thoroughly mesmerizing) vintage photographs, this new adventure will delight readers of all ages.

What did I think?:

Surely everyone has heard of the Miss Peregrine’s series by now? If not, I highly recommend it. The first book, Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children is the story of a young boy whom after looking at his late grandfather’s photographs is thrust into an unexpected adventure to an old house on a remote island with some very “peculiar” inhabitants. Like the first novel, Hollow City is filled with an array of weird and wonderful vintage photographs that the author Ransom Riggs came across from specialist collectors and he uses the photographs (and often the people within the pictures) to tell his story. I completely fell in love with this idea when I first heard about it and when flicking through them and seeing some of the oddest images I’ve ever come across, I instantly knew I was invested in the series.

Hollow City follows on where Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children left off but I don’t want to say too much about the plot for anyone who hasn’t read the first book in the series yet. Our teenage protagonist, Jacob Portman has left the orphanage on the island in very harrowing circumstances with a band of peculiar children and poor Miss Peregrine, who is in quite a different form, shall we say than how we expect her to be? Helped by their book and go-to guide Tales For The Peculiar, they enter a time loop and find themselves back in war-time London. Teaming up with a group of gypsies they must now travel to unknown places to find someone who can help Miss Peregrine whilst avoid being eaten by hollowgasts and ambushed by the vicious Wights.

The Miss Peregrine books is a series that just keeps getting better, in my opinion. It’s true, the eerie photographs do add a certain magic to the text – I mean, the girl on the front cover has a hole through her body, who wouldn’t be intrigued? However, the photographs are merely decorations to a gripping plot, some dastardly villains and some of the most compelling characters and creatures I’ve ever had the pleasure to read about. It’s filled with everything a great young adult novel should have i.e. action, drama, suspense, fantasy, darkness and above all, a beautiful quirkiness about it that really makes it stand out well above other books in the genre. When I’m reading a book, one thing I’m always looking for is for it to be memorable and for it to continue playing on my mind long after I’ve finished it. This series fulfils that brief and has gone far beyond the high expectations I already had for it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Wolf Winter – Cecilia Ekbäck

Published September 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A brilliantly written and gripping historical Nordic Noir thriller with all the intrigue and atmosphere of Burial Rites, the pent-up passion of The Piano and the suspense of The Tenderness of Wolves.

There are six homesteads on Blackasen Mountain.

A day’s journey away lies the empty town. It comes to life just once, in winter, when the Church summons her people through the snows. Then, even the oldest enemies will gather.

But now it is summer, and new settlers are come.

It is their two young daughters who find the dead man, not half an hour’s walk from their cottage.

The father is away. And whether stubborn, or stupid, or scared for her girls, the mother will not let it rest.

To the wife who is not concerned when her husband does not come home for three days; to the man who laughs when he hears his brother is dead; to the priest who doesn’t care; she asks and asks her questions, digging at the secrets of the mountain.

They say a wolf made those wounds. But what wild animal cuts a body so clean?

What did I think?:

There were so many things that immediately appealed to me when I first found this book and was determined to have a hard copy for my shelves. For example, the cover is incredibly simple yet very effective and I find it quite striking and eerie – a perfect accompaniment to the story within. Secondly, the synopsis for the novel really pulled me in and made it one of those books that I instantly had to bump to the top of my teetering TBR. In the end, I really enjoyed this debut novel from Cecilia Ekbäck, it is filled with suspense, is dramatic and atmospheric and has a sort of quiet dread or menace throughout the narrative that constantly thrilled and delighted me as I made my way through the story.

Our main character is Maija who comes to settle on the foreboding Blackåsen Mountain with her husband Paavo and her two daughters, Frederika and Dorotea. In the harsh climate of Swedish Lapland in 1717, each day surviving, foraging for food and maintaining their shelter in the harshest of conditions is a bonus and there is no room for idleness or hesitation when navigating through the ice, wind and snow. There are only five other homes on the mountain, the neighbours tend to keep to themselves and it is rare to see another person out and about on the land that isn’t your own family. When Frederika makes the shocking discovery of the body of Eriksson, one of their neighbours whilst herding goats one day, her whole world is turned upside down. The attack is put down to wolves but Maija is certain that no wolf on earth could have made the marks that present themselves on Eriksson’s body. Furthermore, when she tries to voice her worries she meets a wall of silence, not only from the other surrounding neighbours but from the authorities in the village down from the mountain. Someone out there is determined that secrets should stay buried and this may not bode well for Maija if she carries on fighting in pursuit of justice.

This is such a beautiful piece of Scandinavian fiction that I thoroughly enjoyed. I loved the historical setting and the mystery behind Eriksson’s death but what I loved most of all was the lyrical writing and the entire atmosphere of the novel which was set up so gorgeously I could almost feel the ice cold temperatures and the bitter wind as I was reading. Strong female characters are always an added benefit to a narrative and Cecilia Ekbäck treats us to two in the form of Maija and her daughter Frederika who were wonderfully persistent and brave and in Frederika’s case, wise beyond her years. I was also overjoyed by the superstitious elements that characterised parts of this novel which only served to make the setting bleaker, darker and infinitely more intriguing. It has an intricate plot, plenty of surprises along the way and is written so gorgeously that I could see myself reading it over and over again. I’ll certainly be watching out (with gleeful anticipation) for what this author does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Heart-Shaped Box – Joe Hill

Published August 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sooner or later the dead catch up.

When Judas Coyne heard someone was selling a ghost on the internet, there was no question. It was perfect for his collection of the macabre: the cannibal’s cookbook, the witch’s confession, the authentic snuff movie. As an ageing death-metal rock-god, buying a poltergeist almost qualifies as a business expense.

Besides, Jude thinks he knows all about ghosts. Jude has been haunted for years… by the spirits of bandmates dead and gone, the spectre of the abusive father he fled as a child, and the memory of the suicidal girl he abandoned. But this ghost, delivered to his doorstep in a black heart-shaped box, is different. It makes the house feel cold. It makes the dogs bark. And it means to chase Jude from his home and make him run for his life.

What did I think?:

Regular visitors might be aware of a teeny weeny love (obsession?) I have with Stephen King. Well, Joe Hill happens to be one of his children and I have had his debut novel on my shelves for the longest time, putting it off and then putting it off some more. Why did I do this? I have no idea when this book is just so damn GOOD! All I can think is that I had huge expectations and that’s really not fair to him as an author, his novels stand on their own as brilliant (occasionally terrifying) works of fiction. He shouldn’t be compared to his father in any way, shape or form and I’m not going to even go there. I’m just going to talk about how fantastic HE is.

Heart-Shaped Box is a dark, twisted little tale about a middle-aged rock star, Judas Coyne who has a fancy for the quirky, more unusual items out there on the web and his head is turned by someone selling a ghost in a heart-shaped box. However, purchasing it has to be one of the biggest mistakes in his life. Within the box is an old suit that contains the spirit of a very vengeful, very nasty man called Craddock McDermott that has a bone to pick with Judas. His step-daughter committed suicide after being in a relationship with Judas, a relationship that ended quite acrimoniously and obviously led her to taking her own life. Now Craddock is back from the dead, apoplectic with rage, determined to avenge his step-daughter and for Jude and anyone who stands in his way there’s going to be hell to pay.

Great premise right? With a synopsis like that, I was expecting great things and Joe Hill delivered on every single level. The plot was fast, exciting and ever so gritty and at points, the twists and turns that this narrative took and the things Craddock subjected Jude and his girlfriend Georgia to were truly hideous and terrifying in equal measure. I also loved the creation of the characters who weren’t necessarily the easiest people to like – frankly, I despised Jude at the start and found Georgia irritating and a bit of a brat… but Joe Hill completely changed my mind round and I found myself championing both of them until the bitter end. Craddock was also an amazing villain – insane, petrifying, disgusting, all these things but utterly, completely brilliant. Some reviewers are not so keen on this book as I am and praise Joe Hill’s later books – Horns, NOS4R2 and The Fireman more than this, his debut novel. Well, all I can say is if this isn’t his best, boy am I in for a treat when I read his next book! (P.S. I have already read his second novel, Horns – review coming soon and spoiler alert, it’s completely fantastic!!)

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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A Little Life – Hanya Yanagihara

Published August 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

When four classmates from a small Massachusetts college move to New York to make their way, they’re broke, adrift, and buoyed only by their friendship and ambition. There is kind, handsome Willem, an aspiring actor; JB, a quick-witted, sometimes cruel Brooklyn-born painter seeking entry to the art world; Malcolm, a frustrated architect at a prominent firm; and withdrawn, brilliant, enigmatic Jude, who serves as their center of gravity. Over the decades, their relationships deepen and darken, tinged by addiction, success, and pride. Yet their greatest challenge, each comes to realize, is Jude himself, by midlife a terrifyingly talented litigator yet an increasingly broken man, his mind and body scarred by an unspeakable childhood, and haunted by what he fears is a degree of trauma that he’ll not only be unable to overcome—but that will define his life forever.

What did I think?:

If you’ve not heard of A Little Life before now where the devil have you been? Critically acclaimed, this incredibly powerful novel was short-listed for the prestigious Man Booker Prize, the Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction and the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction in 2015, was a finalist for the National Book Award in the same year and won the Kirkus Prize in Fiction, also in 2015. I jumped on the bandwagon a bit later (as usual!) in February of 2016 but because of my back-log in reviews I’m only getting round to reviewing it now. There is also the minor fact that I can’t seem to form any coherent thoughts about it without wanting to turn into a blubbering mess but we’ll leave that to the side for now!

A Little Life is not an easy read, far from it and as a result may not be for everyone. There are trigger warnings for physical and sexual abuse but the entire novel felt like an insanely emotional roller-coaster for me. The story follows four friends in New York and we learn a little bit about each of their lives and the bonds of friendship that tie them all together. However, we mainly hear from Willem and more specifically Jude, the latter of whom has undergone major trauma and suffering in his past – trauma that still deeply affects him in his everyday life, threatens to spoil his future happiness and has the potential to ruin relationships with those dearest to him. Throughout the novel, we learn more about what Jude’s mammoth struggles, both in the past and in the present, learn more about him as an individual and, in the end, suffer with him as it seems like his disturbing past will be a cross to carry for the rest of his life.

As I mentioned earlier this book is incredibly harrowing and deals with some intensely difficult subjects. If you find abject misery and trauma hard to read about, this book might not be for you. I hesitate to say that I “enjoyed” this book, enjoy is not quite the right word as the topics I read about were so awful at times I found it hard to keep turning the pages. It’s quite strange, by about fifty pages in, I honestly couldn’t see what all the fuss was about and was seriously considering putting it down. Yet by about one hundred pages, I was completely invested in the characters and their lives and if someone had tried to tear the book out of my hands, there might have been trouble! This might sound very silly but it’s a novel where when I finished it, I actually felt changed as a person and that feeling has stayed with me over a year later as have the characters of Willem and Jude. I can’t stop thinking about them or about the fact that I know what it feels like now to have your heart break into pieces when you read an astounding story such as this.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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August 2017 – Real Book Month

Published August 1, 2017 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 of the titles my sister Chrissi Reads and I bought recently on our trip to the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. This is what I’ll be reading:

The Rithmatist (The Rithmatist #1) – Brandon Sanderson

What’s it all about?:

The Rithmatist, Brandon Sanderson’s New York Times bestselling epic teen adventure is now available in paperback.

More than anything, Joel wants to be a Rithmatist. Rithmatists have the power to infuse life into two-dimensional figures known as Chalklings. Rithmatists are humanity’s only defense against the Wild Chalklings. Having nearly overrun the territory of Nebrask, the Wild Chalklings now threaten all of the American Isles.

As the son of a lowly chalkmaker at Armedius Academy, Joel can only watch as Rithmatist students learn the magical art that he would do anything to practice. Then students start disappearing—kidnapped from their rooms at night, leaving trails of blood. Assigned to help the professor who is investigating the crimes, Joel and his friend Melody find themselves on the trail of an unexpected discovery—one that will change Rithmatics—and their world—forever.

New York Times Book Review Notable Children’s Book of 2013.

The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers #1) – Becky Chambers

What’s it all about?:

When Rosemary Harper joins the crew of the Wayfarer, she isn’t expecting much. The Wayfarer, a patched-up ship that’s seen better days, offers her everything she could possibly want: a small, quiet spot to call home for a while, adventure in far-off corners of the galaxy, and distance from her troubled past.

The crew is a mishmash of species and personalities, from Sissix, the friendly reptilian pilot, to Kizzy and Jenks, the constantly sparring engineers who keep the ship running. Life on board is chaotic, but more or less peaceful – exactly what Rosemary wants.

Until the crew are offered the job of a lifetime, tunneling through space to a distant planet. They’ll earn enough money to live comfortably for years… if they survive the trip.

But Rosemary isn’t the only person on board with secrets to hide, and the crew will soon discover that space may be vast, but spaceships are very small indeed.

The Immortals – S.E. Lister

What’s it all about?:

Rosa Hyde is the daughter of a time-traveller, stuck in the year 1945. Forced to live through it again, and again, and again. The same bulletins, the same bombs, the same raucous victory celebrations. All Rosa has ever wanted is to be free from that year — and from the family who keep her there. 
At last she breaks out and falls through time, slipping from one century to another, unable to choose where she goes. And she is not alone. Wandering with her is Tommy Rust, time-gypsy and daredevil, certain in the depths of his being that he will live forever.
Their journeys take them from the ancient shores of forming continents to the bright lights of future cities. They find that there are others like them. They tell themselves that they need no home; that they are anything but lost.
But then comes Harding, the soldier who has fought for a thousand years, and everything changes. Could Harding hold the key to staying in one place, one time? Or will the centuries continue to slip through Rosa’s fingers, as the tides take her further and further away from everything she has grown to love?
The Immortals is at once a captivating adventure story and a profound, beautiful meditation on the need to belong. It is a startlingly original and satisfying work of fiction.

Deathless (Leningrad Diptych #1) – Catherynne M. Valente

What’s it all about?:

A handsome young man arrives in St Petersburg at the house of Marya Morevna. He is Koschei, the Tsar of Life, and he is Marya’s fate. For years she follows him in love and in war, and bears the scars. But eventually Marya returns to her birthplace – only to discover a starveling city, haunted by death. Deathless is a fierce story of life and death, love and power, old memories, deep myth and dark magic, set against the history of Russia in the twentieth century. It is, quite simply, unforgettable.

Dreamwalker (Ballad Of Sir Benfro #1) – James Oswald

What’s it all about?:

The dragons of Glwad are dying. Persecuted for over two millennia, they’re a shrunken echo of the proud creatures they once were. And yet in new life springs hope: Benfro, son of Morgwm the Green, the first male kitling in a thousand years. Long ago dragons wrought a terrible wrong to the land, and now is the time for redemption.

Every young boy in the Twin Kingdoms dreams of being chosen for one of the great orders, and Errol Ramsbottom is no different. He longs to be a Warrior Priest of the High Ffrydd, riding to glorious victory in battle. But you should be careful what you wish for; it might just come to pass.

For almost a century there has been an uneasy truce between the Twin Kingdoms and the godless Llanwennogs to the north, but as King Diseverin descends ever further into drunken madness, his ruthless daughter Beulah takes up the reins of power. A time of war looks set to descend upon Gwlad, and it will surely draw everyone, man and dragon both, into its cruel game.

The booksellers in Mr B’s Emporium are so fantastic that they sold every single book to us, I honestly am looking forward to each and every one of them. I’m probably most excited for The Long Way To A Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers as it has been absolutely everywhere and I’ve been meaning to get to it for the longest time but I’m also quite excited to read some Brandon Sanderson after seeing some book tubers raving about him. Also, Deathless is based on a Russian fairy tale…yep, sold sold sold! Have you read any of these? I’d love to know what you think!