Whitbread/Costa prize winner

All posts in the Whitbread/Costa prize winner category

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):

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H Is For Hawk – Helen Macdonald

Published May 16, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

When Helen Macdonald’s father died suddenly on a London street, she was devastated. An experienced falconer—Helen had been captivated by hawks since childhood—she’d never before been tempted to train one of the most vicious predators, the goshawk. But in her grief, she saw that the goshawk’s fierce and feral temperament mirrored her own. Resolving to purchase and raise the deadly creature as a means to cope with her loss, she adopted Mabel, and turned to the guidance of The Once and Future King author T.H. White’s chronicle The Goshawk to begin her challenging endeavor. Projecting herself “in the hawk’s wild mind to tame her” tested the limits of Macdonald’s humanity and changed her life.

Heart-wrenching and humorous, this book is an unflinching account of bereavement and a unique look at the magnetism of an extraordinary beast, with a parallel examination of a legendary writer’s eccentric falconry. Obsession, madness, memory, myth, and history combine to achieve a distinctive blend of nature writing and memoir from an outstanding literary innovator.

What did I think?:

Recently, I’m getting more and more interested in non fiction, although I have to remind myself to “get reading” it, I have far too many fiction books begging to be read on my shelves. I was aware of H is For Hawk when it first came out and then it won the Costa Award for Best Biography in 2014 so I was even more intrigued to read it. I remember going into bookshops multiple times, seeing it there, picking it up and then putting it back down again. After all, how interesting can a book about training a hawk really be? Then my boyfriend listened to it on audiobook and raved about how wonderful it was. That was it, determined. I HAD to pick it up and read it soon. Well, I finally got round to it recently and oh my goodness, why on earth did I wait that long?! This was a wonderful, touching and fascinating read that gave me a little fuzzy feeling inside and an instant admiration and respect for the author, Helen Macdonald.

The author of H is For Hawk, Helen Macdonald with her goshawk. I love this picture!

Yes, H is For Hawk IS about how Helen learns to train a goshawk with very little previous experience but this book is also about so much more. She originally gets her first goshawk, Mabel after the sudden death of her beloved father and whilst she is struggling with her grief, she finally realises one of her biggest dreams since she was a little girl, becoming a falconer. When she was younger, Helen loved to read the author T.H. White’s non fiction book entitled The Goshawk which described his own experiences as a novice training a bird of prey. She decides to re-visit that book as an adult whilst training Mabel and basking in the memories of her father and the reader is treated to parts of T.H. White’s own story as he battled with both a cranky, independent goshawk and the truth of his own sexuality which he was desperate to hide.

The goshawk (not Mabel, just a random one!) but an absolutely beautiful bird of prey, I’m sure you’ll agree.

I adored reading Helen’s story, from the minute she bought Mabel to the early days of training and the struggles with an incredibly fiesty, stubborn creature. Then there were both heart-breaking and heart-warming passages as Helen’s grief for her father threatens to overwhelm her, leading her to neglect her mental health, shut herself off from friends and social events and make her worry that she’ll never be able to connect with her strange new animal companion. Then there are the triumphs which quite honestly, brought a tear to my eye. I’m a huge animal lover anyway but there was a particular scene in H is For Hawk that really choked me up. Helen has been told that goshawk’s don’t really “play,” but one evening, Helen decides to throw a paper ball at Mabel and the goshawk begins to join in, tossing and crunching the ball and moving her head to stare at Helen through a paper tube, extremely happy and content. This was a huge breakthrough for both Helen and Mabel and it was a passage I had to read over and over again, it was too adorable for words and I loved seeing both Mabel’s personality coming out and Helen’s happiness in the goshawk’s reaction.

This is a far more emotional read than I was anticipating and really demonstrates the nature of grief, which rolls around like waves and may severely affect you some days more than others. I want to thank Helen from the bottom of my heart for being so honest about her suffering and am certain it will help other people going through the same thing, in that there is light at the end of the tunnel and the potential to be happy again. I’m also delighted to have found Mabel, such a huge character and beautiful creature that I’ll find difficult to forget, that’s for sure.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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/

 

Eve Green – Susan Fletcher

Published March 14, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Pregnant with her first child, Eve Green recalls her mother’s death when she was eight years old and her struggle to make sense of her parents’ mysterious romantic past. Eve is sent to live with her grandparents in rural Wales, where she finds comfort in friendships with Daniel, a quiet farmhand, and Billy, a disabled, reclusive friend of her mother’s. When a ravishing local girl disappears, one of Eve’s friends comes under suspicion. Eve will do everything she can to protect him, but at the risk of complicity in a matter she barely understands. This is a timeless and beautifully told story about family secrets and unresolved liaisons.

What did I think?:

I am a big fan of Susan Fletcher’s second novel The Oystercatchers (which I actually read before reading this) so I couldn’t wait to start this, especially as it was a Whitbread/Costa award winner. The story is mainly set around a specific period of Eve’s life, when she was eight years old, although the story flits back and forwards between this and the present day Eve who is expecting a baby. There are a multitude of issues explored, including her coming to terms with her mothers death, wanting to know more about her father, her relationship with her grandparents and the two men in her life Billy and Daniel, and the story of a missing girl. There is a danger because of this that the novel can appear quite busy, but I didn’t find this at all. In fact, it was pleasant to have so many themes and ideas and I think the author pulled it off well.

The writing is wonderful and almost like a stream of consciousness, but the descriptive kind that you can curl up with and just let the language flow over you. I found it incredibly easy to read, and although I preferred Oystercatchers as a novel, I appreciated the quiet brilliance of this debut which seemed effortless.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars