Women’s Prize for Fiction/Orange prize shortlist

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Book Tag – Shelfie by Shelfie #8

Published July 10, 2018 by bibliobeth

Image edited from: <a href=”http://www.freepik.com/free-photos-vectors/frame”>Frame image created by Jannoon028 – Freepik.com</a>

Hi everyone and welcome to a brand new tag – Shelfie by Shelfie that I was inspired to create late one night when I couldn’t sleep. If you want to join in, you share a picture (or “shelfie”) of one of your shelves i.e. favourites, TBR, however you like to organise them, and then answer ten questions that are based around that particular shelf. I have quite a large collection and am going to do every single bookshelf which comprises both my huge TBR and the books I’ve read and kept but please, don’t feel obliged to do every shelf yourself if you fancy doing this tag. I’d love to see anything and just a snapshot of your collection would be terrific and I’m sure, really interesting for other people to see!

Here are the other Shelfies I’ve done: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7

Anyway – on with the tag, here is the fifth shelf of my first bookshelf (I’ve chosen to split it up into two separate shelfies because of the sheer number of books, oops!). Here is the front shelf and we’re looking at the middle part of this image.

And here are the questions!:

1.) Is there any reason for this shelf being organised the way it is or is it purely random?

Finally we have a bit of organisation on my shelves! Just a little bit though, I didn’t want to go too mad…haha! This shelf has a couple of miscellaneous books at the far left and horizontally but generally we have a few books by Zoe Marriott (which I haven’t read yet, surprise surprise!). Then the rest of the shelf is all of my short stories collections which are either in use or lying in wait for my Short Stories Challenge.

2.) Tell us a story about one of the books on this shelf that is special to you i.e. how you got it/ a memory associated with it etc.

I don’t have too many strong memories associated with books on this shelf but I’m going to mention 20th Century Ghosts by Joe Hill. Anyone who has followed my blog for a while or knows me well is aware that I’m a huge Stephen King fan. I’ve only started getting into his son, Joe Hill’s writing recently and this was one of the first books that I bought of his. It’s currently active in my Short Stories Challenge – I think I’ve read two of the stories so far?

3.) Which book from this shelf would you ditch if you were forced to and why?

Sigh. I’m afraid I have a definite book in mind for this. It’s again another book active in my Short Stories Challenge, the collection by Helen Oyeyemi called What Is Not Yours Is Not Yours. I’ve only read one of the stories in the collection so far – Books And Roses but unfortunately I really wasn’t impressed and I was so disappointed, I’ve heard such wonderful things about her writing! I am definitely going to carry on with the collection for now but if I had to, that’s the book I would ditch.

4.) Which book from this shelf would you save in an emergency and why?

Purely for the cover alone it would be Angela Carter’s Book Of Fairy Tales. Look at it – it’s just gorgeous!!

5.) Which book has been on this shelf for the longest time?

I think that would be The Harmony Silk Factory by Tash Aw. I just haven’t managed to get round to it yet but it’s on the front shelf to remind me of its existence. Apparently!

6.) Which book is the newest addition to this shelf?

The newest addition and one I hope to read VERY soon (who am I kidding?!) is When I Hit You: Or, A Portrait Of The Writer As A Young Wife by Meena Kandasamy. It was short-listed for The Women’s Prize For Fiction this year and I’ve heard such amazing things.

7.) Which book from this shelf are you most excited to read (or re-read if this is a favourites shelf?)

My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. I’ve mentioned it before on the blog and I’ll probably mention it again before I blinking get round to reading it!! (*eye roll*).

8.) If there is an object on this shelf apart from books, tell us the story behind it.

There’s no room for any object on this shelf unfortunately, it’s double stacked as a lot of my shelves are!

9.) What does this shelf tell us about you as a reader?

Like other shelfies I’ve done, I think it demonstrates the variety of genres I enjoy although because I decided to be organised with this shelf, it says that I enjoy a short story or two!

10.) Choose other bloggers to tag or choose a free question you make up yourself.

I won’t tag anyone but if anyone wants to do this tag, I’d be delighted and I’d love to see your shelfie.

For other Shelfie by Shelfies round the blogosphere, please see:

Chrissi @ Chrissi Reads FAVOURITES shelfie HERE and her Shelfie by Shelfie 2 HERE.

Sarah @ The Aroma Of Books Shelfie 1A, 1B, 1C 1D

Dee @ Dees Rad Reads And Reviews Shelfie HERE

Jacquie @ Rattle The Stars Shelfie HERE

Stuart @ Always Trust In Books Shelfie #1 HERE.

Thank you so much to Chrissi, Sarah, Dee, Jacquie and Stuart for participating in Shelfie by Shelfie, it really means the world to me. Hugs!

If you’ve done this tag, please let me know and I’d be happy to add you to Shelfie by Shelfies round the blogosphere!

COMING SOON on bibliobeth : Shelfie by Shelfie #9

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Stay With Me – Ayobami Adebayo

Published February 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Yejide and Akin have been married since they met and fell in love at university. Though many expected Akin to take several wives, he and Yejide have always agreed: polygamy is not for them. But four years into their marriage–after consulting fertility doctors and healers, trying strange teas and unlikely cures–Yejide is still not pregnant. She assumes she still has time–until her family arrives on her doorstep with a young woman they introduce as Akin’s second wife. Furious, shocked, and livid with jealousy, Yejide knows the only way to save her marriage is to get pregnant, which, finally, she does, but at a cost far greater than she could have dared to imagine. An electrifying novel of enormous emotional power, Stay With Me asks how much we can sacrifice for the sake of family.

What did I think?:

Stay With Me was the first book on my Five Star TBR Predictions list, was short-listed for the Baileys Women’s Prize For Fiction last year and I had heard nothing but rave reviews about it, with some people suggesting it should have won. I can’t comment on that as I have yet to read the rest of the short-list for last year but when I saw the author speak at the short-list readings just prior to the winner being announced, I knew it was going to be an incredibly powerful and affecting read and in this, I was completely right. I have to say, I did approach this novel with a bit of nervousness. I knew that it was about a woman who is struggling to get pregnant and unfortunately, this chimes quite a melancholy note in my own life. I was concerned that reading it it would be too difficult for me, emotionally speaking and it might send me back to a “bad place,” I found myself in last year. Now after finishing it, I can proclaim it is probably a difficult read for any person who has found themselves in a similar situation but an intensely rewarding one. I cried with Yejide, felt the weight of her despair and sadness and did not find myself wholly surprised at the lengths she went to in her struggles to have a child.

It’s quite difficult to talk in great length about this book without giving away any spoilers but I’ll just give you a vague idea of what it’s about, in case you haven’t managed to read it yet. It’s about a married couple, Yejide and Akin who have been together for some time and as you might have guessed, are struggling to have a baby together. They have decided to live a monogamous lifestyle, despite the expectations of their culture but Akin’s family, particularly his mother, are starting to get a little impatient and insist that he takes a second wife in order to give him a much longed for child. Of course, this is devastating for Yejide and the novel follows her as she confronts the idea and then the reality of this new wife, whilst doing everything she possibly can under immense pressure to provide the baby everyone is expecting of her. This leads to her experimenting with fertility concoctions that she drinks, visiting healers and opening her mind to spirituality, all with the dogged determination to become pregnant whatever the cost and oust the cuckoo from her nest.

There were parts of this book that were so visceral and utterly heart-breaking that occasionally I had to put the book down and take a break from it for a little while. However, there was no time at all that I didn’t want to go back to it. I fell in love with Yejide and had to know how her story continued, how much this strong woman could actually go through and keep living and how her story ended. Interspersed with snippets of Nigeria’s unstable political climate in the 1980’s, this story felt raw, painful and undeniably real. This is a story of secrets and lies with twists that will take your breath away and periods of intense grief that will touch your heart. It’s a stunning piece of writing that I cannot believe came from a debut novelist. Ayobami Adebayo is a literary force to be reckoned with and I have no doubt that anything she writes in future will be touched with gold.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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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):

The Bees – Laline Paull

Published November 13, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The Handmaid’s Tale meets The Hunger Games in this brilliantly imagined debut.

Born into the lowest class of her society, Flora 717 is a sanitation bee, only fit to clean her orchard hive. Living to accept, obey and serve, she is prepared to sacrifice everything for her beloved holy mother, the Queen. Yet Flora has talents that are not typical of her kin. And while mutant bees are usually instantly destroyed, Flora is reassigned to feed the newborns, before becoming a forager, collecting pollen on the wing. Then she finds her way into the Queen’s inner sanctum, where she discovers secrets both sublime and ominous. Enemies roam everywhere, from the fearsome fertility police to the high priestesses who jealously guard the Hive Mind. But Flora cannot help but break the most sacred law of all, and her instinct to serve is overshadowed by a desire, as overwhelming as it is forbidden…

Laline Paull’s chilling yet ultimately triumphant novel creates a luminous world both alien and uncannily familiar. Thrilling and imaginative, The Bees is the story of a heroine who changes her destiny and her world.

What did I think?:

I was first attracted to this book in Foyles where the beautiful bright yellow cover immediately attracted my eye but it was not until I read the intriguing synopsis that I knew I had to read it. Told from the point of view of a bee, Flora 717 is an unlikely heroine in a world that demands uniformity and perfection with no deviation from the norm allowed. It’s been described as a cross between The Handmaid’s Tale and The Hunger Games and I can easily understand the comparisons but I think it’s also similar to books such as 1984 and Brave New World as a fascinating look at how a society can be brain-washed into believing certain ideals for the greater good as they imagine it.

Flora 717 begins her life in the Hive as a sanitation bee, the lowest caste of all bees and nothing is expected of them except to make sure the Hive was clean at all times. However, it’s not long before the higher caste bees begin to realise that Flora is no ordinary bee. For a start, she can speak – a function not given to the lower castes as it is not usually required. She can also produce “flow,” the substance given to developing larvae and for a while Flora is put to work in the Hive nursery, feeding and taking care of the infants. She is then given the opportunity to become a forager i.e. searching outside the Hive for as much pollen as she can carry back and becomes rather good at it. Even her bumblebee dances which explain to the other foragers where to get the best pollen and warn of any potential dangers, are praised and looked forward to on a daily basis.

It is not long before Flora is admitted into the inner sanctum of the Hive, where the Queen resides, attended to by high priestess bees. Once again, her intelligence and talents surprise everyone and surpass everything ever seen before from regular bees. It looks like life can only get better for Flora with ears in such high places, then something happens that has the potential to threaten everything she has ever known. Flora cannot help her response to such a situation and, as a result, must try desperately to hide her secret as much as she can. This is dangerous territory, especially when their Holy Mother the Queen is having problems of her own in a sensitive area that involves the future of the hive. Furthermore, the Hive Mind will always seek out any mutant bees or rogue thoughts in their midst that cannot be controlled by the sweet pheromones pumped out by the Queen Bee.

This was a really interesting and unique read, a dystopian fantasy from the perspective of a creature we normally take for granted, the humble bumblebee. I loved Flora as a main character, she had just the right amount of tenderness and rebellion to make her exciting and so very readable. The author has clearly carried out astute research into the life of bees yet I still had to laugh at the mental images I was getting of these little insects, such as sweeping the floors and doing their little explanatory dances.

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Image courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com/royalty-free-stock-photography-dance-bumble-bee-image5957307

Never fear adrenalin junkies there are also plenty of action sequences in this novel as we see the Hive battle enemies such as mice, spiders and their old adversary the evil wasp! Then there are the princely male bumblebees which provided an extra bit of humour as they were preened and doted on by the females before finding their own mate outside of the Hive. To be honest, I don’t really have much to criticise about this book, it was slightly slow in the beginning but as I settled into the style of writing I began to love Flora and all she stood for. If you’re an animal lover or intrigued by the world of bees specifically, this is the perfect book for you. I learned a lot but I was also highly entertained which of course is the main thing!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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Image courtesy of http://www.dreamstime.com/stock-illustration-dancing-bumblebee-colored-cartoon-illustration-vector-image44156434

 

A Spool Of Blue Thread – Anne Tyler

Published October 22, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

‘It was a beautiful, breezy, yellow-and-green afternoon…’

This is the way Abby Whitshank always begins the story of how she and Red fell in love that day in July 1959. The whole family on the porch, relaxed, half-listening as their mother tells the same tale they have heard so many times before.

And yet this gathering is different. Abby and Red are getting older, and decisions must be made about how best to look after them and their beloved family home. They’ve all come, even Denny, who can usually be relied on only to please himself.

From that porch we spool back through three generations of the Whitshanks, witnessing the events, secrets and unguarded moments that have come to define who and what they are. And while all families like to believe they are special, round that kitchen table over all those years we see played out the hopes and fears, the rivalries and tensions of families everywhere – the essential nature of family life.

What did I think?:

This was my first Anne Tyler book and I was really looking forward to it having heard some great things from other reviewers and friends and noticing that it had been short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2015. It tells the story of the Whitshank family, four generations in fact and begins in 1994 where Abby and Red Whitshank have just received a queer telephone call from one of their sons, Denny who is calling to tell them that he’s gay. On hearing his father’s reaction, he hangs up on them and Abby is distraught, believing that he will now deliberately distance himself from them.

This is the first inkling we get as readers that Denny is a personality to be handled with kid gloves. He comes across as quite a bitter character (for reasons we are told later on in the novel) and is somewhat the black sheep of the family. He has never held down a “proper” job for a long period of time, tends to jump feet first into unsuitable relationships, manages to get someone pregnant at a young age and lives as far away as he possibly can from the family hub.

The hub for the family is a beautiful large house which was passed down to Abby and Red from his parents Linnie May and Junior, the latter restoring it to such a high quality for another family and then was delighted when the family could not stay there as he jumped at the chance to move himself and Abby in. The house is almost a character in itself as it shelters and protects the four generations of Whitshanks that stay there and if houses could talk…. it would be bursting with the secrets it knows.

Of course life is unpredictable and all families have their problems which is why the children get together to discuss what should be done about Abby and Red. Unfortunately their mother has been experiencing little episodes where she goes out wandering and then comes to with no recollection of what she has been doing and how she got there. All the children have their own personal issues or extenuating circumstances but it is finally decided that Stem, his wife Nora and their children will move into the house and assist Abby and Red as they see fit.

Out of the blue our black sheep Denny suddenly arrives at the house and he is incensed that he wasn’t included or considered in the discussions (even though the other children had no idea how to get hold of him!) and believes that he and not Stem should be the one to take care of his parents. Again, we find out the reasons behind this later on in the novel. So, the big house which should be filled with love and laughter is not exactly a warming and welcoming haven. Even Abby, a considerate and peaceful person is starting to get slightly irritated with Stem’s wife Nora taking over everything and it takes a lot to ruffle her feathers.

When Red experiences a mild heart attack the children find themselves in very different circumstances and there is an awful possibility that for the first time in their family, the large house may have to be sold. The author also takes us back in time before Abby and Red to explore the relationship between Red’s mother and father, Linnie May and Junior and, as with a lot of this novel, nothing is as it appears to be on the surface.

As this is my first novel by Anne Tyler, I don’t really have much to compare this with but what I did get was a beautiful family saga filled with substance and decorated with drama. It’s not fast paced by any means and if you’re looking for action, perhaps this isn’t your sort of book but I found it a pleasantly moving and captivating tale. The strength of this novel lies in the characters who when we leave them almost feel like old friends in that they are so authentic. I also loved that Anne Tyler wrote a novel where the family is not picture perfect – it made the characters themselves very relatable and filled the pages with the sort of tension and excitement that we see in our own families from year to year.

After taking a look at my trusty Kindle, I actually found a couple of Anne Tyler books that I had forgotten I had bought, hooray! So, I’ll definitely be reading some more of her work and I can finally say that now I see what all the fuss is about.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

NW – Zadie Smith

Published September 10, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

This is the story of a city.

The northwest corner of a city. Here you’ll find guests and hosts, those with power and those without it, people who live somewhere special and others who live nowhere at all. And many people in between.

Every city is like this. Cheek-by-jowl living. Separate worlds.

And then there are the visitations: the rare times a stranger crosses a threshold without permission or warning, causing a disruption in the whole system. Like the April afternoon a woman came to Leah Hanwell’s door, seeking help, disturbing the peace, forcing Leah out of her isolation…

Zadie Smith’s brilliant tragi-comic new novel follows four Londoners — Leah, Natalie, Felix and Nathan — as they try to make adult lives outside of Caldwell, the council estate of their childhood. From private houses to public parks, at work and at play, their London is a complicated place, as beautiful as it is brutal, where the thoroughfares hide the back alleys and taking the high road can sometimes lead you to a dead end.

Depicting the modern urban zone — familiar to town-dwellers everywhere — Zadie Smith’s NW is a quietly devastating novel of encounters, mercurial and vital, like the city itself.

What did I think?:

Zadie Smith takes us on a journey to North-West London, an area she has visited before in her debut novel White Teeth, making it quite a special place. In reality, there is nothing very pretty about the London she portrays, although I think she has captured the multitude of characters that we call Londoners beautifully and with real vision. As I began reading, I quickly realised that the book is divided up into sections, each portion favouring us with a different character as its focus, and we begin to know them more intimately as individuals. In the first section we meet Leah Hanwell, a woman in her mid-thirties who has a philosophy degree yet works in an office where she constantly feels out of place among the other workers who are African-Caribbean, who tease her mercilessly, mainly about her husband who is black and a hairdresser. The big problem in her relationship comes when Leah begins to question whether she wants a family, eyeing her friend Natalie’s family circle with envy and yet relief that she does not have that burden. It is written as a sort of stream of consciousness, and was quite novel to read even if it may have been a little hard to follow at times.

Natalie aka Keisha (as she was previously known), is a bit of an enigma, and it is not until we get to her section of the book that we begin to understand her a little better. She is Leah’s best friend from childhood although they seem to have grown apart in recent times.  During her childhood, and particularly her adolescence, she constantly felt a need to prove herself, due to both the poverty of her family, and expectations of society. She ends up becoming a fairly successful lawyer, with a husband and a family, but is she truly happy? The other two main characters are Felix, a reformed drug addict who is desperately trying to change the habits of his past, and Nathan, a school friend of Natalie and Leah’s, who has just spent a spell in prison. Both of the latter characters I would have loved to know a little more about as I found them intriguing. There is a particular sexual scene involving Felix that I can’t get out of my head – why did you put that horrible image there Zadie Smith?

In general, I did enjoy this book, which I am glad about as I didn’t really take to “On Beauty” and “Autograph Man” very much. It’s probably not a book I would re-read, but I would definitely recommend it to someone who has never read her before as her style of writing is incredibly unique and at times poetic. I enjoyed how each section was written in a different way and certain words and phrases were confidently attributed to the different ethnic types, giving a true and current picture of how London lives today.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Life After Life – Kate Atkinson

Published September 5, 2013 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

On a cold and snowy night in 1910, Ursula Todd is born, the third child of a wealthy English banker and his wife. Sadly, she dies before she can draw her first breath. On that same cold and snowy night, Ursula Todd is born, lets out a lusty wail, and embarks upon a life that will be, to say the least, unusual. For as she grows, she also dies, repeatedly, in any number of ways. Clearly history (and Kate Atkinson) have plans for her: In Ursula rests nothing less than the fate of civilization.

Wildly inventive, darkly comic, startlingly poignant — this is Kate Atkinson at her absolute best, playing with time and history, telling a story that is breathtaking for both its audacity and its endless satisfactions.

What did I think?:

I’ve been meaning to read some Kate Atkinson for a while, and when she was short-listed for the Woman’s Prize for Fiction 2013, for this, her latest novel, I thought this would be a good place to start. It is the story of Ursula who is born in 1910, and has a nasty habit of dying quite a lot. I say a lot, as each time she dies, she is reincarnated again (into the same family) but each time she is given a new shot at life, she gets that little bit further along by avoiding the incident that led to her death in the first place. Sounds confusing, but somehow, Kate Atkinson makes it work, but how she kept track of all the different strands I’ll never understand!

The deaths take a variety of forms, at different ages as mentioned – from the first where she is strangled by her umbilical cord during her mother’s pregnancy, to the Spanish flu and being killed by a bomb explosion during the Second World War. Each death brings originality and a new little curiosity to us as the reader, as we wonder how she will avoid the same fate next time round. Ursula is not completely aware that she is preventing her own death each time, but feels an ominous sort of dread. Some of the decisions she makes are quite small and not particularly life-changing, for example, simply deciding not to step out onto the roof as a child, saves her from her fate. Other decisions determine that she will never have the chance to be a mother. And, of course, what would her life have been like if she had the chance to meet Hitler in 1930 and shoot him?

I wasn’t sure about this book at first, but once I had read the first few chapters and got into the swing of things, I absolutely loved it and thought it was an incredibly unique way to tell a story. The characters were all fascinating, and some parts were truly gripping, having me turn the pages (okay, tap my Kindle) long into the night. Heart-breaking and poignant in parts and shocking and gritty in others as the war rages and Ursula joins a bomb raid rescue team. I don’t think I will ever forget the “corpse coming apart like a Christmas cracker” section…. but I’m not going to say any more, you’ll just have to read it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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