Stranger – David Bergen

Published November 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Íso Perdido, a young Guatemalan woman, works at a fertility clinic at Ixchel, named for the Mayan goddess of creation and destruction. Íso tends to the rich women who visit the clinic for the supposed conception-enhancing properties of the local lake. She is also the lover of Dr. Mann, the American doctor in residence. When an accident forces the doctor to leave Guatemala abruptly, Íso is abandoned, pregnant. After the birth, tended to by the manager of the clinic, the baby disappears.

Determined to reclaim her daughter, Íso follows a trail north, eventually crossing illegally into a United States where the rich live in safe zones, walled away from the indigent masses. Travelling without documentation, and with little money, Íso must penetrate this world, and in this place of menace and shifting boundaries, she must determine who she can trust and how much, aware that she might lose her daughter forever.

In David Bergen’s Stranger, with its uncanny lake, human monsters, and a stolen child, an ageless story is freshly recast in a modern setting, where themes of dislocation and disruption, exploitation and vulnerability, rich and poor collide. Intense and beautifully rendered, Stranger is a powerful and affecting novel for our times.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Duckworth Overlook Publishers for allowing me to read a copy of this touching novel in return for an honest review. This book is fairly short at 272 pages but manages to pack in a great deal within its pages and at times, I was extremely moved by what I read. It’s quite a hard book to classify genre wise – there is a contemporary edge, a vague mysterious undertone and it even read like a thriller in parts but overall I found it to be a very positive reading experience and I instantly felt a connection with the main character and the plight that she suffers.

Our protagonist for the journey is Íso Perdido, a young woman working in a fertility clinic in Guatemala who embarks on an affair with one of the American doctors working there, Dr Mann. Awkwardly, she ends up treating his wife who confides in her that her and Dr Mann have been trying to conceive a child for many years unsuccessfully. It is not long before Dr Mann returns to America in the company of his wife and leaves Íso in a difficult situation as she finds out that she is pregnant. However, things take a turn for the worse when Íso gives birth and shortly afterwards her baby disappears. Once she is told what has happened, she is determined to retrieve her child by any means necessary even if that involves illegal border crossings, homelessness, hunger and precarious situations. These are all things she must suffer if she is to have any chance of bringing her baby back home where she belongs.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this novel but on reading the synopsis my interest was certainly piqued. Parts of it made for incredibly tough reading on a personal level as it deals with some issues that I have had the bad luck to suffer with myself, but I do love books that manage to speak to my emotions and that was certainly the case with Stranger. I loved Íso as a character – not at the start, I have to admit, I was internally screaming at her not to get involved with a married man but when she goes through the unbearable loss of her child, I almost wept for her. She became at this time a character I could definitely get on board with. Determined, ruthless and hell-bent on getting her daughter back regardless of any danger to herself, are all admirable qualities to read about and only served to make me more interested in how her story would end. There were points of the narrative I almost had to suspend my disbelief to be perfectly honest but generally, this was a great story that explored some important issues of fertility, culture, immigration and the extreme lengths a mother would go to for her child.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Advertisements

Blog Tour – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Published November 7, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone around the bend and burned the house down.

In Shaker Heights, a placid, progressive suburb of Cleveland, everything is meticulously planned – from the layout of the winding roads, to the colours of the houses, to the successful lives its residents will go on to lead. And no one embodies this spirit more than Elena Richardson, whose guiding principal is playing by the rules.

Enter Mia Warren – an enigmatic artist and single mother- who arrives in this idyllic bubble with her teenage daughter Pearl, and rents a house from the Richardsons. Soon Mia and Pearl become more than just tenants: all four Richardson children are drawn to the alluring mother-daughter pair. But Mia carries with her a mysterious past, and a disregard for the rules that threatens to upend this carefully ordered community.

When the Richardsons’ friends attempt to adopt a Chinese-American baby, a custody battle erupts that dramatically divides the town and puts Mia and Mrs. Richardson on opposing sides. Suspicious of Mia and her motives, Mrs. Richardson becomes determined to uncover the secrets in Mia’s past. But her obsession will come at unexpected and devastating costs to her own family – and Mia’s.

What did I think?:

Little Fires Everywhere has been out in America for some time and has had so many excellent reviews from bloggers/book tubers whose opinion I trust. Little, Brown publishers has actually brought forward the release date of this novel because of the hype it has been getting, Reese Witherspoon has even optioned the book for an upcoming television adaptation. After the huge success of the Big Little Lies adaptation that she was involved in producing, I’m one hundred percent certain it’s going to be fabulous. So when the publishers contacted me and invited me to be part of the UK blog tour, I quite literally jumped at the chance and I’m so glad I did. Little Fires Everywhere is a novel that deserves all the hype and much more. I don’t often go on Twitter and wax lyrical about how great a book is that I’m currently reading but with this one, I simply had to. This novel is quite simply unputdownable and I have to admit, I neglected so many other things I could have been doing just to lose myself in the wonder of Celeste Ng’s writing and intriguing characters.

Little Fires Everywhere is primarily a novel about families but the issues explored in this astounding novel run much deeper than that. It’s the story of the Richardson family – Elena, her husband Bill and their four children Lexie, Trip, Moody and Izzy in a community that is proud of its impeccable values. Everything is run like clockwork, there are certain rules to abide by and standards to uphold including what colour to paint your house and where exactly to put your rubbish bins! However, Elena’s perfect world is shaken to the core when she decides to take on a “deserving” tenant from a lower socio-economic background and Mia Warren and her teenage daughter Pearl come whirling like a typhoon into their lives.

This is also the story of a little Asian baby who is abandoned by a fire station, then adopted by a rich couple in the community as all chaos breaks loose when the child’s birth mother begs for her to be given back and Mia and the Richardson’s end up on opposing sides of the argument. Much more than this, Little Fires Everywhere is a tale of motherhood, the secrets we keep from those we love the most, the dramatic fallout when secrets come to light and how money can sometimes buy you a completely different (but not necessarily better) life.

I could go on and on about the plot of this novel but I really want everyone to read it and find out for themselves. It covers so many more issues and themes than I’ve discussed here and many times as I was reading, I felt I had to put the book down briefly just to fully absorb everything the author was telling me. At times, I was personally invested in what happened to some of our characters and at these points, it was an emotional, quite heart-rending experience. My favourite thing about this book however was the characters who are just drawn with such exquisiteness they could almost leap off the page and be real people. They’re not perfect by any stretch of the imagination (which would really annoy Elena who strives for perfection at all times!) but that just makes them more believable and instantly more interesting to read about. I haven’t read Celeste Ng’s first novel, Everything I Never Told You, but after the sheer gorgeousness of this novel, I think you can guess what I will be buying ASAP!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

imagesCAF9JG4S

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Celeste Ng is the author of the novel Everything I Never Told You, which was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award, the John Creasey (New Blood) Dagger Award, and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio, in a family of scientists. Celeste attended Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award. Her fiction and essays have appeared in One Story, TriQuarterly, Bellevue Literary Review, the Kenyon Review Online, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize.

Currently, she lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Find Celeste on GoodReads at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/164692.Celeste_Ng

On Twitter at: @pronounced_ing

On her website at: http://www.celesteng.com

Thank you once again to Grace Vincent and Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. Little Fires Everywhere will be published in the UK on 9th November 2017 in hardback and will be available from all good book retailers. The blog tour is running from Monday 6th November until Tuesday 14th November so don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers stops for some more fantastic reviews!

GoodReads link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35221049-little-fires-everywhere

Amazon UK link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Little-Fires-Everywhere-Celeste-Ng/dp/1408709716/ref=tmm_hrd_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=1509560237&sr=1-1

Is Monogamy Dead? – Rosie Wilby

Published November 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘My favourite way to learn is when a funny, clever, honest person is teaching me – that’s why I love Rosie Wilby!’ – Sara Pascoe

‘Bittersweet, original, honest and so funny.’ – Viv Groskop

In early 2013, comedian Rosie Wilby found herself at a crossroads with everything she’d ever believed about romantic relationships. When people asked, ‘who’s the love of your life?’ there was no simple answer. Did they mean her former flatmate who she’d experienced the most ecstatic, heady, yet ultimately doomed, fling with? Or did they mean the deep, lasting companionate partnerships that gave her a sense of belonging and family? Surely, most human beings need both.

Mixing humour, heartache and science, Is Monogamy Dead? details Rosie’s very personal quest to find out why Western society is clinging to a concept that doesn’t work that well for some of us and is laden with ambiguous assumptions.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the author, Rosie Wilby for allowing me to read a copy of Is Monogamy Dead?, a beautifully honest part-memoir and part humorous philosophical musings on the nature of friendships, love, monogamy and relationships in the modern world. I’m delighted to provide an honest review and really enjoyed Rosie’s candid thoughts on all these topics and much more. It made me look at social media and dating apps in a whole different light, provided a whole new vocabulary to get to grips with (breadcrumbing anyone?!) and really made me think about what I look for in a relationship versus what my partner might want. It turns out he wants the same as me (phew!) but Rosie definitely made me question what might be going on in someone else’s head and opened up that window of communication where we could talk more honestly about our relationship and where we saw it going.

Rosie is an award-winning comedian, musician, writer and broadcaster based in London and much of the book was quite nostalgic for me as I used to live in London and continue to work there on a daily basis. From describing her current relationship with Jen which troubles her at times because she is so unsure about where it is going, Rosie takes us back to her very first relationship, the first time she fell in love, the girl that changed her outlook briefly for the worse regarding relationships and where she finds herself now. Interspersed with this are her thoughts on monogamy and what that means to people in a relationship, how much potentially easier an “open relationship,” could be where both parties get exactly what they want and still have someone to come home and cuddle on a night, and how technology and expectations have upped the ante in the way we meet and date people.

Of course, I have gay and bisexual friends but I feel like I have got much more of a personal insight into the world of lesbian relationships from Rosie Wilby than I ever would have done from my friends. Well, some things you just don’t ask, right? I loved how sincerely she talked about her past relationships. her current situation and her potential future and my heart broke a little when she and Jen decided to “consciously uncouple,” even though it was obviously the best thing for both parties concerned! I was also fascinated when she described those intimate, very intense female friendships that you form on occasion that are so strong that when they fall apart spectacularly it is almost like a break-up. I’ve certainly had a few of those in my past and I remember how devastating the feeling was.

With Is Monogamy Dead?, Rosie takes us into her confidence, tickles our funny-bone with the things she says and certainly had me rooting for her, hoping that she would find her own happy ending, whatever that might look like to her. If you like your non-fiction with a bit of an edge and a whole lot of heart this is definitely the book for you.

Rosie is appearing at Write Ideas Festival in Whitechapel, London on Sunday 19th November from 13:00-14:00 to talk more about Is Monogamy Dead? Tickets are free but you must register if you’re interested!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rosie-wilby-is-monogamy-dead-tickets-37755301122

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Best New Horror by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts

Published November 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s Best New Horror all about?:

Best New Horror follows the editor of a horror magazine as he tries to track down the author of a short story he has recently read and loved so that he can publish it in the next edition of his magazine.

What did I think?:

I’m familiar with Joe Hill for three reasons, the first two being the most important – his wonderful novels Heart-Shaped Box and Horns. Thirdly, only three words are necessary – Stephen King’s Son. If you’re a die-hard King fan like I am, surely you’re going to be curious about his son’s writing? I was but put off reading him for so long as I specifically didn’t want to compare him directly to his old man and wanted to enjoy him as a brilliant author in his own right. What better way to enjoy some more Joe Hill than to pop his short story collection, 20th Century Ghosts into my Short Stories Challenge when a slot opened up?

So, after the five star rating that I’ve given his previous two novels, I have to admit my expectations were sky high. Overall, I wasn’t disappointed by the first story, Best New Horror although it didn’t initially clamour for my attention like his novels have done. Our main protagonist, Eddie Carroll receives a letter in the post one day from a friend with a short story that he simply has to read, the suggestion being that he could publish it in the next issue of his magazine, Best New Horror. Eddie sits down to read the short story by Peter Kilrue, entitled “Buttonboy,” and although the subject matter is distressing, disturbing and beyond disgusting he can’t help but be entranced by what the author has to say. He is determined to publish the story but wants to contact the author first so sets off on a journey to track him down, becoming embroiled in a horrific situation that encompasses what “Best New Horror,” might actually mean.

This story felt quite different to other pieces of short fiction I’ve enjoyed in the past. For one thing, it’s a story within a story which felt quite unique and exciting. The author actually transcribes the “Buttonboy” story for us as Eddie reads it so we can find out as a reader exactly what makes it such a traumatic but interesting reading experience. It’s every bit as awful as Eddie’s friend has suggested it is, I found the use of buttons especially gruesome and haven’t been able to stop thinking about it, but it is how Joe Hill manages the story afterwards that is the most fascinating part. En route to find and connect with Peter, Eddie ends up in a horror story of his very own and it almost feels like one of those classic horror films where your inner self is screaming to the person on screen: “Don’t go in there! Don’t do that! Get away!” and I loved the eerie sentiment that the author brought to the situation and the characters. It’s not a story for everyone, the “Buttonboy” story might offend a few people if you’re sensitive to the horror genre but I think it was quite a fun look at horror turned on its head and what we classically find frightening in the genre.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

NEXT SHORT STORY: The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Five

Published November 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from: http://www.creativindie.com/how-to-make-money-by-publishing-and-selling-short-stories-and-short-books-on-amazon/

Hello everyone and welcome to the fifth part of my Short Stories Challenge in 2017. My fourth part was quite like the third, up and down. I had a huge disappointment with a short story by Daphne du Maurier which was Monte Verità but I also got some lovely surprises in the form of The House On The Hill by Kate Mosse and The Man In The Ditch by Lisa Tuttle. Here’s what I’ll be reading in the next few months:

Best New Horror by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

The Moons Of Jupiter by Alice Munro from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

The Man Who Would Not Shake Hands by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Unplugged by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Wisht by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

The Man From Mars by Margaret Atwood from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives Of Women.

Seeing Double by Sara Maitland from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

Freaks: A Rizzoli & Isles Short Story by Tess Gerritsen (stand-alone).

High House by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

The House – Simon Lelic

Published November 4, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

What if your perfect home turned out to be the scene of the perfect crime?

Londoners Jack and Syd moved into the house a year ago. It seemed like their dream home: tons of space, the perfect location, and a friendly owner who wanted a young couple to have it.

So when they made a grisly discovery in the attic, Jack and Syd chose to ignore it. That was a mistake.

Because someone has just been murdered. Right outside their back door.

And now the police are watching them…

What did I think?:

I remember reading one other novel from Simon Lelic in my pre-blogging days which was called Rupture or alternatively A Thousand Cuts and really enjoyed it, giving it four stars on GoodReads so goodness knows why it’s taken me so long to get round to another one of his books! I borrowed The House from my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads after a bookish trip to Bath when she was reading it and she had so many different facial expressions and reactions whilst she was reading that I was instantly intrigued and begged to borrow it from her. The House has everything you would want from a gritty thriller – unreliable narrators, suspense, mystery, twists and turns and a gripping plot that makes it pretty much impossible to put the book down.

One of my favourite things about this novel is the way in which it is initially written. We hear in alternate chapters from a couple, Jack and Sydney as they recount recent events in their lives that began with them buying a house in London and ended with a murder and the suspicion of the police landing firmly on their doorstep. We learn a little bit about their past lives, in particular Sydney’s traumatic childhood which led to her abusing drugs and unable to trust anyone until she meets the love of her life, Jack. We also learn how they came to buy the house in London, their concerns and misgivings about the process and, crucially, the gruesome discovery that they find when they begin living there which precipitates a host of other events leading to the turbulent situation that the couple find themselves in at the present moment.

I don’t want to say too much about the plot as the beauty of this novel is to go in knowing as little as possible to make the surprises the author springs upon the reader as deliciously astonishing as possible. Luckily, Chrissi didn’t tell me anything (she’s good like that!) but as soon as I saw some of her facial expressions, as I mentioned, I knew I was in for quite the ride and I was right. Simon Lelic writes a fascinating tale where you have no idea what on earth is happening, who to trust/believe and what the possible outcome of such a situation could be and he had me on tenterhooks from the very beginning to the very satisfying conclusion. For me, Sydney felt slightly more fleshed out as a character and I found her back story to be incredibly powerful and moving, especially one scene in particular involving a male character in her life and a gun which sent shivers down my spine. Reading The House has made me definitely want to seek out the author’s other two novels and additionally, makes me hugely excited for anything else he publishes in the future.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Before This Is Over – Amanda Hickie

Published November 3, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

How far will a mother go to save her children? A twisting, edge-of-your seat drama that you’ll never forget.

BEFORE THIS IS OVER by Amanda Hickie is a powerful, thought-provoking drama that looks at one family in the heart of a devastated community and compels us to ask: how far would I go to save my children? ‘Shatteringly suspenseful…it’s impossible not to be super-glued to the page’ Caroline Leavitt, New York Times bestselling author of PICTURES OF YOU

A normal family. A quiet, leafy street. A terrifying epidemic.

It’s been coming for a while: a lethal illness. With sons of five and fourteen to look out for, Hannah has been stockpiling supplies, despite everyone telling her that it’s unnecessary.

Then it arrives.

At first there are a few unconfirmed cases. Then a death. Now the whole city is quarantined. But Hannah’s family is not yet safe behind their locked front door…

Basics soon become luxuries, and neighbours become hazards. There are power cuts, food shortages and an ever-growing sense of claustrophobia. How will the family cope?

How would you cope?

How far would you go to protect your children? 

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Headline publishers for reaching out and asking me if I’d like to read a copy of this novel, originally published in Australia under the title An Ordinary Epidemic in exchange for an honest review. As soon as I read the synopsis, I knew I had to have it. I love stories similar in vein to Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel or an old classic, The Stand by Stephen King where a catastrophic world event explores how people in the modern day would cope. By and large, Before This Is Over fulfils all the briefs required of this type of novel – it’s entirely believable and it shows the extremes that people will go to when placed under extreme pressure if the lives of their loved ones are at risk.

The deadly event that I mentioned in this novel is in fact a virus (known as Manba), very similar in symptoms to our ordinary flu virus but fatal to the vulnerable (in particular the very old or the very young). However, this virus does not like to discriminate and spreads astronomically around the globe from the first reported cases across the other side of the world in Manchester, England to thousands of people becoming infected and succumbing to death on a daily basis in Sydney where our story is set. We follow one family, Hannah and Sean and their two boys, teenager Zac and five year old Oscar as the virus switches from being a background worry to a very real and terrifying presence in their lives. Industrious Hannah gives in to her extreme paranoia and has already started stock-piling foods in her pantry so they are quite well prepared when the family ends up barricaded within their own home. Before This Is Over follows the family over a period of seven weeks as their food supply dwindles, the water and electricity is turned off and they end up with a very tenuous connection to the outside world, struggling to survive.

As a survival story, this is a brilliant, realistic portrayal of how our contemporary life can be easily threatened with the removal of merely a few home comforts, many of the things that we take completely for granted. For example, a regular varied food supply, mobile phones and the ability to charge them, fresh water, a working fridge and the means to cook our meals and of course, our source of endless information and connection to others – the Internet. It made you think about how you would cope if you were placed in a similar situation and the thought of having to manage without basic necessities such as toilet paper is quite frankly, terrifying for me! If I’m being completely honest, I have to agree with a few other reviews I’ve seen and mention that I found some of the characters supremely irritating. I didn’t agree with a lot of the choices that Hannah and Sean made for their family and I found Hannah especially quite grating at times to read about, particularly in her attitude and lack of compassion to those around her that weren’t her immediate family. However, who knows how we would all individually react if we were placed in that situation and surely we would want to protect our own? I’m not sure….I’d love to know if anyone felt the same way. Apart from that minor niggle, this is a fascinating look at how one small family unit cope with such a frightening, life-altering event and I’m very glad I read it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars