The Essex Serpent – Sarah Perry

Published July 17, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Set in Victorian London and an Essex village in the 1890’s, and enlivened by the debates on scientific and medical discovery which defined the era, The Essex Serpent has at its heart the story of two extraordinary people who fall for each other, but not in the usual way.

They are Cora Seaborne and Will Ransome. Cora is a well-to-do London widow who moves to the Essex parish of Aldwinter, and Will is the local vicar. They meet as their village is engulfed by rumours that the mythical Essex Serpent, once said to roam the marshes claiming human lives, has returned. Cora, a keen amateur naturalist is enthralled, convinced the beast may be a real undiscovered species. But Will sees his parishioners’ agitation as a moral panic, a deviation from true faith. Although they can agree on absolutely nothing, as the seasons turn around them in this quiet corner of England, they find themselves inexorably drawn together and torn apart.

Told with exquisite grace and intelligence, this novel is most of all a celebration of love, and the many different guises it can take.

What did I think?:

If you haven’t heard of The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry, where on earth have you been?! This gorgeous, one of a kind novel (with equally stunning cover art) has been critically acclaimed and nominated or won a host of awards including being long-listed for the Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction this year, nominated for best novel at the Costa Book Awards in 2016, winning the Waterstone’s Book Of The Year in 2016 and the British Book Award for Book Of The Year earlier this year. It was picked as one of the books for the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club recently and although it’s been languishing on my shelves for months now, I’ve finally had an opportunity to pick it up. All I can say is I have no idea why it took me so long! The Essex Serpent deserves all the praise and glory that it has had so far and is truly one of the most beautiful and special books that I’ve had the honour to read.

The scene is set in the 1890’s where a young woman, Cora Seaborne has just become widowed from her controlling, manipulative husband and relatively loveless marriage. Feeling like the entire world has been lifted from her shoulders, she decides to travel to Colchester with her son and good friend, Martha to explore one of her biggest passions – the natural world and fossil hunting. While she is there she meets local vicar, Will Ransome and his wife Stella who she develops a strong friendship with as they discuss science and faith, myths and legends. The village of Aldwinter has become subject to a terrifying prospect in recent times. Unexplained deaths and strange occurrences for the inhabitants of the village are being blamed on the return of a mythical creature, The Essex Serpent who appears to be terrorising the land and the people.

Will and Cora form an intense bond as The Essex Serpent continues to roam the land, Will believing that it’s a lot of superstition and nonsense and as the parish vicar, has the thankless job of trying to reassure and calm his flock. Meanwhile, Cora sees things scientifically and believes it may be the potential return of an ancient creature only previously captured in fossils and is determined to make history by cataloguing its existence. This story is about the relationship between Will and Cora, the differences between hard science and true faith and about love in all the ways that it happens upon us.

I have to admit, this story is a bit of a slow burner to begin with. Please, please stick with it though because by about one hundred pages through I was completely hooked. It’s a study on nature, the environment, superstition and logic and has some of the most beautifully descriptive writing that I’ve ever experienced. It gives you that cosy feeling that’s a rare experience which only happens with a very unique type of book – like you’re warm and cosy under a thick blanket with a cup of hot tea and you’re experiencing the happiest moment of your life. That’s exactly how I felt when reading this book. There are so many secondary characters as well as the wonderful Cora and Will to relish and each one of them was so perfectly drawn that I felt I knew them intimately as friends.

I also loved that there were a number of sub plots and extra things going on that felt equally important and connected to the main narrative like Dr Luke Garrett’s fight to control his feelings for Cora, the excellent passage where he performs open heart surgery for the first time and the wonderful Martha’s determination to improve living conditions for the poor people in Victorian London, parts of which really rang true when we think about conditions for those living in poverty today, horrifically enough! I really can’t gush enough about this extraordinary novel. It’s one that will stay with me for a long time and I feel lucky just to have had the opportunity to read it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Blog Tour – Ask No Questions by Lisa Hartley

Published July 16, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Some secrets were meant to stay hidden… Trust no-one

After an operation goes badly wrong, undercover specialist Detective Caelan Small leaves the Metropolitan Police for good. Or so she thinks. Then the criminal responsible is seen back in the UK.

Soon Caelan is drawn back into a dangerous investigation. But when the main lead is suddenly murdered, all bets are off. Nothing is as it seems. Everyone is a suspect – even close colleagues.

Someone in the Met is involved and Caelan is being told to Ask No Questions.

That isn’t an option: Caelan needs answers… whatever the cost.

The nerve-shredding new crime thriller from bestseller Lisa Hartley starts a must-read new series. Perfect for fans of Angela Marsons and Robert Bryndza, it will keep you guessing until the very end.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Faye Rogers for organising and inviting me to take part in this blog tour and to the publishers Canelo for sending me a complimentary copy of Ask No Questions in e-book format in exchange for an honest review. There was a time in my life when I pretty much used to read crime fiction exclusively before I branched out into reading other genres. However, I still love a good crime narrative and when I read the synopsis of this novel it sounded a bit different from the norm which is definitely something I am intrigued by so I was excited to give it a shot.

Our protagonist of the story is Detective Caelan Small, a police officer that specialises in undercover operations and is incredibly good at her job role – in fact, one of the best in the business. When we first meet her however, she is on hiatus after one of her past jobs went badly wrong. A small boy that she was attempting to save and a close colleague of hers was killed, the suspects managed to escape and are still at large and the repercussions of the events of that evening still haunt her. Even though she is on enforced leave, she is pulled back into the investigation when the suspect is seen once again in the UK. This time, Caelan is determined to complete the case, find out what went so horribly wrong previously and put the perps behind bars. It’s not that easy though and Caelan finds herself embroiled in a dramatic web of corruption, violence and lies. Worse still, the bodies are starting to stack up again and the finger of blame is being pointed firmly at Caelan leading to her being either a suspect for murder or in terrible danger herself.

Ask No Questions was an action-packed, roller-coaster ride of a story that left me hardly able to draw breath, there was so much going on. The plot is intricate and complicated but what I enjoyed most is that you never knew exactly what was going on right up until the end of the novel. Caelan Small isn’t your ordinary hard-boiled, bad ass female detective and this made her even more interesting to read about. She’s brave and at times, obviously reckless but she also has a strong moral sense of what’s right and wrong, a determination to see justice and a lot of heart which made her infinitely more human. If I had to criticise in any way, I might just say that it would have been nice to see a bit more of other characters which I didn’t think were fleshed out as much as Caelan was herself. Generally though, this was an exciting read with a strong plot and I’d be intrigued to find out more about Caelan as a character in future novels.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

AUTHOR INFORMATION

Lisa Hartley lives with her partner, son, two dogs and several cats. She graduated with a BA (Hons) in English Studies, then had a variety of jobs but kept writing in her spare time. In addition to this new series with Canelo she is also working on the next DS Catherine Bishop novel.

Website: http://www.lisahartley.co.uk/

Twitter: https://twitter.com/rainedonparade

Thank you once again to Canelo publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Ask No Questions was published on 10th July 2017 as an e-book and is available from all good book retailers now. Why not check out some of the other stops on the tour?

Goodreads Link: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/35486880-ask-no-questions

Amazon Link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/gp/product/B072X2MY21

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Published July 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s An Anxious Man all about?:

An Anxious Man follows our main character as he deals with financial difficulties on a family holiday.

What did I think?:

I’m always quite excited when this book rolls around in my Short Stories Challenge and it’s time to read a new story from it. I love how it’s packaged and how it’s compartmentalised i.e. divided into different sections with the headings “Stories To Read When…” An Anxious Man falls into the category “Stories To Read When It’s All Going Wrong,” which I have to laugh about – sounds slightly like my life right now! I was especially looking forward to seeing what it was all about as it won the National Short Story Award back in 2006 so I was gleefully anticipating great things. Unfortunately, I have to admit to being slightly disappointed. Don’t get me wrong, the author can write for sure, and knows how to spin a good yarn but I was left wanting more.

Our main character Joseph is on a family holiday with his wife Elise and their young daughter Darcy and is attempting to enjoy himself but he has a lot of things on his mind, namely money problems. He and his wife decided to invest an inheritance that she received and they thought they were making a wise decision but fairly recently, the markets have completely crashed and every day they seem to be losing more and more money. Joseph is beginning to feel very anxious at their predicament and makes superstitious bets with the world to prevent anything else going wrong in his life. It is only on meeting another couple on holiday that he begins to relax slightly when the husband of the two suggests that the markets might still pick up and they could recover their losses. However, the anxiety, obsessive thinking and worry are always there, affecting his life, his relationship with his wife and daughter and the way he views other people.

I was expecting so much more from this short story than I felt that I got from it. I don’t mind at all reading a story where very little happens, in fact I occasionally prefer an intimate character study over a thrilling plot if it is done correctly but I don’t really feel like I got enough of that in this narrative. I didn’t really care for Joseph, Elise or the other holidaying couple – in fact, the most interesting thing in the story might have to be a fight over a couple of lobsters and even then, I didn’t really feel as excited about that as I perhaps should have. I don’t think it was the financial aspects of the story that put me off, nothing too intricate or complicated in that way was discussed (which was a relief!). I’m trying to pin down exactly what it was and perhaps it was simply not being bothered about the characters? Who knows! The writing is obviously great, definitely award-worthy and one scene in particular when Joseph is swimming across a lake was especially beautiful but generally speaking, I just don’t think this story was my cup of tea.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Conclave – Robert Harris

Published July 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

SUNDAY TIMES BESTSELLER
Unputdownable’ Guardian
‘Gripping’ Sunday Times 

The Pope is dead.

Behind the locked doors of the Sistine Chapel, one hundred and eighteen cardinals from all over the globe will cast their votes in the world’s most secretive election.

They are holy men. But they have ambition. And they have rivals.

Over the next seventy-two hours one of them will become the most powerful spiritual figure on earth.

What did I think?:

I approached this new novel by Robert Harris with slight trepidation I have to admit, having not had the greatest experience with one of his previous novels, An Officer And A Spy, which was also a Richard and Judy Book Club pick here in the UK a little while ago. It’s not that I didn’t appreciate the writing, I did think it was very cleverly done and I ended up giving it a three star rating but unfortunately it didn’t blow me away. So when I saw the most recent Richard and Judy Summer Book Club list and saw another Robert Harris novel on there, I did feel a little bit wary and wasn’t really looking forward to it. Well. How wrong was I?! I was really shocked and delighted to discover that I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and it definitely makes me more eager to read some more of the author’s work, something I was not considering before this. It’s also why I always advocate giving an author a second chance, just because one book doesn’t particularly work for you doesn’t mean that another won’t be exactly the opposite.

I’m starting to ramble and digress slightly so let’s get back to what Conclave is all about. Conclave follows our main character, Cardinal Lomeli whom, as Dean over all the other Cardinals is tasked with leading proceedings when a current Pope passes away in order to choose another one. The whole procedure is shrouded in secrecy with the hundred-odd Cardinals being sequestered away, completely cut off from the outside world and forbidden to discuss the process in any huge detail with each other as they cast their votes, time and time again until a majority is announced that elects a new Pope.

Now you might think that this all sounds quite dull but believe me it’s not. Robert Harris manages to make the election process of a new Pope thrilling, mysterious and completely page turning as we learn about the main contenders for the big job as the holiest man on Earth and also rocks the boat slightly when Cardinal Lomeli discovers some inside and very damaging information about a couple of the contenders that threatens their journey to becoming the Holy Father. Alongside this is the arrival of a new Cardinal that is completely unprecedented by the others, and is a person the previous Pope chose to elect in complete secrecy for reasons unknown to apparently everyone. This is a story about religion, the loss of faith, the changes in Catholicism over the years, men’s pride, extreme ambition, what makes a good/bad man and the fight between duty and desire.

I was actually raised Catholic (although lapsed now!) and went through the whole process – church every Sunday, First Communion, Confirmation etc and although I was intrigued by the premise of this novel, I didn’t ever believe that reading a story about the election of the Pope could be so compelling. As I mentioned previously, I was completely taken aback by how much I enjoyed this novel and how surprised I was, especially in the directions the author chose to take the narrative. It’s a fascinating insight into Catholicism and faith but also with an amazingly human edge with real, flawed characters that you can really understand and believe in. You don’t have to be a believer to enjoy this novel at all but if you have any interest in how the process might work and enjoy a damn good mystery, this book is definitely for you. It takes twists and turns that you might never have imagined and I thoroughly enjoyed every word of it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Together – Julie Cohen

Published July 13, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

This is not a great love story.
This is a story about great love.

On a morning that seems just like any other, Robbie wakes in his bed, his wife Emily asleep beside him, as always. He rises and dresses, makes his coffee, feeds his dogs, just as he usually does. But then he leaves Emily a letter and does something that will break her heart. As the years go back all the way to 1962, Robbie’s actions become clearer as we discover the story of a couple with a terrible secret – one they will do absolutely anything to protect.

Perfect for fans of Jojo Moyes’s Me Before You, David Nicholls’s One Day and M L Stedman’s The Light Between Oceans.

What did I think?:

First of all, the hugest “thank you,” to Lauren Woosey and the lovely team at Orion books for sending me a copy of Julie Cohen’s new novel, Together in exchange for an honest review. I’ve only read one other of Julie’s novels, Dear Thing which was selected as part of the Richard and Judy Book Club here in the UK a little while ago and both myself and my sister, Chrissi Reads absolutely loved it. When I saw the advertisements for Together going around on Twitter (especially with this STUNNING cover), I knew I had to have it and am so grateful and excited for the opportunity to tell you all how madly I fell in love with these beautiful characters and their fascinating story.

The story is essentially a love story between Robbie and Emily which begins when they are older and going through some difficulties health-wise. The most brilliant thing about this narrative is however that the story begins here and then goes backwards in time so we see the entirety of their relationship, all their struggles and triumphs in reverse. We, the reader, find out very early on that there is a huge secret that the couple have kept throughout their time together, something that no one else knows and if anyone else finds out it has the potential to destroy them. As a result, Robbie and Emily keep quiet about the shadow in their past and just live each day together as a happy couple as their love continues to strengthen and grow. Of course, we eventually find out exactly what the secret is and it’s just as mind-blowing, devastating and heart-breaking as I could have anticipated that it might be.

Obviously, I’m not saying anything about the “big reveal,” but I just want to talk about how this book was presented to me by Orion Books which was completely wonderful. I read until a certain point in the narrative (perhaps about twenty pages from the end?) and then was asked to tweet how I felt at this period. The rest of the pages in the novel had been placed in an envelope and I then eagerly ripped it open, desperate to discover how the story would end and just what on earth was going on with our characters and their lives. Let me just say, it’s a goodie. No, that’s not even the word for it – it’s phenomenal, suck-your-breath in, gasp and hold it for a little while before you can breathe normally kind of good!

Throughout this novel, I completely fell in love with the characters of Robbie and Emily and the hardships they have been through as a couple. Of course by the end I was gaping in disbelief but in no way, shape or form did it change what I felt about the characters at all. I’m afraid they had already stolen my heart and I still continue to think about them and their story weeks after finishing the novel. I’m certain that one of the signs of a brilliant author is how much the narrative sticks with you after you’ve finished reading. If Together is anything to go by, I’m going to be thinking about Robbie and Emily for a long, long time. Julie Cohen’s delicious characterisation and beautiful writing style had me hooked from page one and I’m glad I had a day off when I began this novel as I didn’t put it down until I had finished it!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Leopard At The Door – Jennifer McVeigh

Published July 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

After six years in England, Rachel has returned to Kenya and the farm where she spent her childhood, but the beloved home she’d longed for is much changed. Her father’s new companion—a strange, intolerant woman—has taken over the household. The political climate in the country grows more unsettled by the day and is approaching the boiling point. And looming over them all is the threat of the Mau Mau, a secret society intent on uniting the native Kenyans and overthrowing the whites.

As Rachel struggles to find her place in her home and her country, she initiates a covert relationship, one that will demand from her a gross act of betrayal. One man knows her secret, and he has made it clear how she can buy his silence. But she knows something of her own, something she has never told anyone. And her knowledge brings her power.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Penguin UK who contacted me and asked me if I’d like to read a copy of Jennifer McVeigh’s second novel, Leopard At The Door in exchange for an honest review. I actually read Jennifer’s first novel, The Fever Tree, which it was picked for the Richard and Judy Book Club here in the UK a little while ago and enjoyed it so was delighted to discover that she had chosen to re-visit Africa as the setting for her second novel. One of my biggest enjoyments about reading is that I love to learn a little something along the way, whether that’s about a different country, religion, culture, moment of history etc and Leopard At The Door seemed to offer this opportunity so I gladly took it and began reading.

Our main character, Rachel spent her childhood in Africa but was shipped off back to England and boarding school when her mother sadly died. She spends six years over in England and never quite feels she belongs so when she turns eighteen she begs her father to return and eventually makes the long and arduous journey (as it was in the 1950’s). However, the beautiful country she left is not quite the safe and secure country that she remembers and holds dear. The British colonial rule in this time period has drummed up a great deal of tension between native Kenyans and white dwellers on the land. One particular group, the Mau Mau tribe are insisting that natives should swear an oath to their tribe and punish any loyal to the British or even the British themselves with violence, looting, burning of their dwellings and death. As well as this, Rachel has also to deal with a new family situation that she had not anticipated and a potential threat to her own safety when she falls for the “wrong” man.

There were a lot of things to like about this book. First of all as I’ve already mentioned, the setting which was written beautifully and did make me feel like I could have been there, picturing each scene as it happened. I would however have really love to have seen more background about the Mau Mau tribe and about the native Kenyan villagers as it was during these moments in the narrative when the story seemed to really come alive for me. Rachel was a good character and I did enjoy reading about her but I found her relationship with her father quite frustrating and also wished for some more scenes where it was just the two of them (without the lurking “evil stepmother” in the background!). The love interest was, I’m afraid to say, slightly predictable and I wasn’t quite sure if I believed it as it seemed to build up very suddenly after being relatively nothing at the beginning but perhaps that’s my cynical side talking. The villains of the piece were I must say, written very well and incredibly sinister and easy to hate. I think anyone with an interest in African history (especially where the British went over and ruined everything!) will enjoy this novel, for me I would have just loved to have seen it explored on a deeper level.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Short Stories Challenge 2017 – Part Three

Published July 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

Image from https://www.standoutbooks.com/how-publish-short-story/

Hello everyone and welcome to Part Three of my Short Stories Challenge this year. Part Two was again, very interesting with some really memorable stories read, namely The Birds by Daphne du Maurier and Gallowberries by Angela Slatter which were both fantastic and HIGHLY recommended. Here’s to finding some more great short stories and authors in Part Three!

An Anxious Man by James Lasdun from the collection Stories To Get You Through The Night.

Word Processor Of The Gods by Stephen King from the collection Skeleton Crew.

Hot Dog Stand by Dianne Gray from the collection Manslaughter And Other Tears.

Blue Moon by Lucy Wood from the collection Diving Belles.

Master by Angela Carter from the collection The Story: Love, Loss & The Lives of Women.

Possum by Matthew Holness from the collection The New Uncanny: Tales Of Unease edited by Sarah Eyre and Ra Page.

The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor by Arthur Conan Doyle from the collection The Adventures Of Sherlock Holmes.

The Heart Goes Last: Positron, Episode Four by Margaret Atwood (stand-alone).

The White Doe by Rosy Thornton from the collection Sandlands.

The Light Through The Window by Kevin Brockmeier from the collection Things That Fall From The Sky.