February 2015 “Real Book” Month

All posts tagged February 2015 “Real Book” Month

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/

 

The Tale Of The Duelling Neurosurgeons: The History Of The Human Brain As Revealed By True Stories Of Trauma, Madness and Recovery – Sam Kean

Published November 15, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

From the author of the best-seller The Disappearing Spoon, tales of the brain and the history of neuroscience.

Early studies of the functions of the human brain used a simple method: wait for misfortune to strike-strokes, seizures, infectious diseases, lobotomies, horrendous accidents-and see how the victim coped. In many cases survival was miraculous, and observers could only marvel at the transformations that took place afterward, altering victims’ personalities. An injury to one section can leave a person unable to recognize loved ones; some brain trauma can even make you a pathological gambler, paedophile, or liar. But a few scientists realized that these injuries were an opportunity for studying brain function at its extremes. With lucid explanations and incisive wit, Sam Kean explains the brain’s secret passageways while recounting forgotten stories of common people whose struggles, resiliency, and deep humanity made modern neuroscience possible.

What did I think?:

I couldn’t resist The Duelling Neurosurgeons when I saw it, it’s got everything I could possibly ask for from a popular science book. Firstly, it focuses on arguably the most exciting and mysterious organ in the human body – the brain, which has always fascinated me ever since I studied a module on neuroscience as part of my first degree. Secondly, it combines triumphs (and disasters) of neurosurgeons through history and provides case studies of “real,” patients, some of whom left me dumbfounded. For example, the blind man who travelled the world by using echolocation and textbook studies such as Phineas Gage who received such a traumatic brain injury that it ended up changing his entire personality. Finally (and perhaps one of the things that excited me the most), Sam Kean introduces each chapter by providing a little puzzle or “rebus” to illustrate what the content of that particular chapter might be about.

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This was so much fun and I was quite strict with myself, not going on to read the chapter until I had figured out the rebus. This proved quite frustrating with some of the trickier images!

Why The Duelling Neurosurgeons? Well, it all starts in 1559 where King Henri II of France receives a traumatic injury to his brain after a jousting accident. The two most prominent brain doctors of the day, Paré and Vesalius (who also founded what we know now as modern anatomy) were called to his bedside and although some of their methods for treating the king were quite primitive, essentially they both led the way for further experimentation and brain surgery today. For example, Paré was quite keen on strange concoctions and compresses, one in particular consisted of egg yolk, turpentine, earthworms and dead puppies. Each to their own I guess?!… He also devised a strange experiment that allowed him to differentiate between fatty tissue and brain tissue in a frying pan where fat was seen to liquefy and brain would shrivel.

There is a wealth of interesting information from case studies put forward in this book but I’ll just mention a couple of my favourites. The section on phantom limbs, where someone who has recently had a limb amputated can still feel pain in the area that the limb used to be was fascinating but did you know that some women who have had complete hysterectomies can still have phantom menstrual pains? Or there are even such things as phantom teeth, phantom penises and phantom erections? The topics covered by the author are intriguing, informative and endlessly thought-provoking. In fact, I’ve never had so much fun before reading a popular science book. I have the author’s first two books to read on my Kindle – The Disappearing Spoon and The Violinist’s Thumb and if they’re half as entertaining as this one was, I’m in for a treat. Highly recommended for anyone who wants to know more about this surprising and brilliant organ.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

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

 

The People In The Trees – Hanya Yanagihara

Published November 7, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

In 1950, a young doctor called Norton Perina signs on with the anthropologist Paul Tallent for an expedition to the remote Micronesian island of Ivu’ivu in search of a rumored lost tribe. They succeed, finding not only that tribe but also a group of forest dwellers they dub “The Dreamers,” who turn out to be fantastically long-lived but progressively more senile. Perina suspects the source of their longevity is a hard-to-find turtle; unable to resist the possibility of eternal life, he kills one and smuggles some meat back to the States. He scientifically proves his thesis, earning worldwide fame and the Nobel Prize, but he soon discovers that its miraculous property comes at a terrible price. As things quickly spiral out of his control, his own demons take hold, with devastating personal consequences.

What did I think?:

Hanya Yanagihara is probably best known at the moment for her second novel, A Little Life, which was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2015 and is on my “to read very very soon” list. However, I first came across her with her debut novel, The People In The Trees which was recommended by a fabulous podcast I listen to called Books On The Nightstand. I don’t know what I was expecting from this novel, but it gave me everything I could ever want and much more besides. This is a fictionalised account of the actual Nobel Prize winning scientist Daniel Gadjdusek who was imprisoned for child molestation in his later years but our main character, Norton Perina gets his Nobel Prize in a very different and often fantastical way.

When the novel begins, Perina is writing his memoir from prison which is presented with footnotes throughout from his friend, colleague (and now apparently, editor). The reader already realises that Perina is somewhat of an unreliable narrator but his story is presented so succinctly and scientifically that it’s hard to figure out our feelings about the man. After a short introduction to his childhood, we are led into the meat of the beast – that is, Perina’s expedition in the 1950’s to a distant island (also fictional) called Ivu’ivu were he and his colleagues discover a new tribe of people that seem to possess the secret to immortality. Their secret lies in the belly of a large turtle native to the island that when members of a tribe eat it, they can prolong their life by up to six times longer than your average human. The only problem is that as their bodies continue to live on, their minds deteriorate drastically leading them to be expelled from the tribe.

Perina is you can imagine is fascinated and excited by what he discovers and decides to make his life’s work studying these people whom he classes as “The Dreamers,” due to their fragile mental state. This causes him to make questionable moral decisions both on and off the island that might not win him any friends but gains him his own laboratory, plenty of facilities for experimentation, his own staff, a Nobel Prize and a relatively clear conscience. He then makes the strange decision to adopt some of the children off the island as the years roll by, to a total of around forty by the time he is arrested and charged. The reader is then left to make up their own mind about his character, his choices and our own moral leanings on a variety of issues, some more controversial than others, but all lead to a lot of thinking about the foibles of human nature.

This was such a terrific book. I was worried at the beginning as it started off a bit slow and I had a bit of trouble getting to grips with what was happening but it wasn’t long before I got in the swing of the very unique style of writing. I wasn’t sure what to make of the footnotes at first but again, after a little while I felt it added an extra individuality to the novel. The characterisation was incredible, particularly of our main character Perina who is one of the most unlikeable characters I’ve ever come across but ever so readable. I just had to know what happened to him. His life’s work is tainted with controversy and I found myself getting angry with some of his character traits or decisions he made or even one case where he stood back and watched an event that was particularly awful. You’ve got a bit of everything in this novel – racism, colonialism, abuse and the ageing process amongst many others that would be a dream for a book club to discuss. This is a beautifully descriptive and gripping story from a novelist that is destined for huge things. Now her second novel A Little Life is receiving bags of critical acclaim which I have to say I’m not surprised about based on the beauty of this novel and I can’t wait to get started on it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children (Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children #1) – Ransom Riggs

Published October 25, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A mysterious island. An abandoned orphanage. A strange collection of curious photographs.

A horrific family tragedy sets sixteen-year-old Jacob journeying to a remote island off the coast of Wales, where he discovers the crumbling ruins of Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. As Jacob explores its abandoned bedrooms and hallways, it becomes clear that the children were more than just peculiar. They may have been dangerous. They may have been quarantined on a deserted island for good reason. And somehow—impossible though it seems—they may still be alive.

A spine-tingling fantasy illustrated with haunting vintage photography,Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children will delight adults, teens, and anyone who relishes an adventure in the shadows.

What did I think?:

I remember when I first saw this in the bookshop and I knew immediately that I had to have it. For a book like this I don’t think a digital copy would suffice as it has an amazing collection of vintage photographs of some very odd (and intensely creepy) children. They are photographs that you could look at for hours and it wasn’t until it was pointed out to me by someone else that I realised the girl on the front cover was actually levitating. Scary! It has had a bit of a mixed reception from reviewers and it seems you either love it or hate it, there doesn’t seem to be any middle ground. I am firmly in the “love it,” category and thought the photographs brought an extra intrigue and strange beauty accompanied by some great and at times chilling writing by Ransom Riggs.

Our main character is Jacob, a sixteen year old boy whom when the story begins has a beautiful relationship with his grandfather. He tells Jacob fantastical stories of when he was a boy and to escape the Holocaust, being Jewish, he was sent to an island off the coast of Wales and was kept safe in a home with many other children, managed by a kindly but firm headmistress, Miss Peregrine. The stories he tells Jacob are magical and other-worldly as there’s something a bit different about all these children in the home – they are gifted in some way and he has many old photographs he shows Jacob to back up his tales. As Jacob grows older, so too does his grandfather (obviously) and his stories become wilder and harder to believe… he appears to be warning Jacob about something but Jacob starts to question whether his grandfather is telling the truth or if he has been listening to make-believe all his life and his grandfather is merely a lonely, senile old man.

Then something terrible happens – Jacobs grandfather is murdered. Jacob is stuck, still not knowing what to believe and it is suggested that if he sees the place where his grandfather spent the years during World War II, it might help him to come to terms with his grief. What Jacob is not expecting as he wanders round the deserted children’s home is for the children to actually exist in the here and now and for there to be a very good reason for them to have been hidden away in the first place. This is something Jacob becomes involved in beyond all belief, something that may endanger his life.

I had an inkling when I first picked up this book that I was going to love it and I was right on that account but I wasn’t prepared for how much the book was going to affect me. Like Jacob, I had a very close relationship with my grandfather who sadly passed away just before I became a teenager but the pain of losing him never really goes away. So, even though Jacob was yes, slightly brattish at the beginning of the novel, I felt an instant connection with his character and he proves himself through the story to be more than he first appears.

One of the best things about this book has to be the beautiful, frightening photographs which fascinated me from the beginning and I felt it brought an extra cherry on the top of a very unique and captivating story. The children are amazing but for anyone who hasn’t read this yet I don’t want to give anything away, I’ll just say, each one of them brought something special to the narrative and I really enjoyed reading about their special gifts. Now, I’m just excited about two things. First, the sequel, Hollow City which I simply have to make time for on the strength of this novel and secondly, the film adaptation which I am really looking forward to, especially as it is directed by Tim Burton, who I know will do an amazing job.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Fifty Shades Of Feminism – Lisa Appignanesi, Rachel Holmes and Susie Orbach (Editors)

Published October 7, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The antidote to the idea that being a woman is all about submitting to desire. There are many more shades than that and here are fifty women to explore them.

Fifty years after the publication of The Feminine Mystique, have women really exchanged purity and maternity to become desiring machines inspired only by variations of sex, shopping and masochism – all coloured a brilliant neuro-pink?

In this volume, fifty women young and old – writers, politicians, actors, scientists, mothers – reflect on the shades that inspired them and what being woman means to them today.

Contributors include: Tahmima Anam, Joan Bakewell, Bidisha, Lydia Cacho, Nina Power, Shami Chakrabarti, Lennie Goodings, Linda Grant, Natalie Haynes, Siri Hustvedt, Jude Kelly, Kathy Lette, Kate Mosse, Bee Rowlatt, Elif Shafak, Ahdaf Soueif, Shirley Thompson, Natasha Walter, Jeanette Winterson – alongside the three editors.

What did I think?:

I attended a meeting recently in London for The Fawcett Society which campaigns for equal rights for women in the UK on issues such as pay, pensions, poverty, justice and politics. The meeting featured talks by popular authors Kate Mosse and Lisa Appignanesi, both of whom were truly inspirational and we had an opportunity to buy their books afterwards over drinks and nibbles, obviously an opportunity I jumped at! Fifty Shades of Feminism appealed to me immediately as it features short essays from fifty women all from different cultures, religions and professions on what feminism means to them personally.

Generally speaking, the book was fantastic although certain essays spoke more to me than others, but they were all interesting and it was fascinating to read all their points of view. It was only after I finished the book that I realised that feminism and equality for women is still such a real issue today obviously enough for some developing countries where religion and culture may be an issue, but certainly still today in Western society. Equality is STILL a huge problem in certain industries, some of which may be a surprise like in the literary world, but others like law and politics perhaps less so and where women are sorely under-represented.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a bit of a myth or stereotype about feminism in that we are all butch, angry man-haters. Yes, there will always be extremes of the scale but this book proves the stereotype completely wrong. There’s something for everyone in this book and it ranges in emotion from melancholy and serious to very humorous. Jeanette Winterson writes a very funny piece on the porn industry for example which had me chuckling and shaking my head in disbelief at the same time. Jane Czyzselska, the editor of Diva magazine wrote a wonderful piece about the stigma she receives for being a heterosexual-looking lesbian which proves that prejudice is rife even within the gay community. I was a bit shocked by this particular article and perhaps a bit naïve as I did not think that this sector (who are often subject to gross mistreatment themselves) would be so discriminatory.

Other favourites included Sandi Toksvig’s essay which explored the reasons why women continue to wear high heels that cause them pain and rip their feet to shreds and the final entry written by Alice Stride who won a competition to write a short piece for the book. She wrote a short rant about how she convinced her younger sister not to shave off all of her pubic hair just to make it more appealing to men. It was hilarious, poignant and very, very honest and I challenge anyone to read it on public transport while maintaining a straight face. I failed miserably of course!

This is a book I will definitely be keeping and it’s the sort of book that you can just dip in and out of at your own leisure. It was only after I had finished it that I realised that equality for women is still a contentious issue and we need to carry on fighting for the female sex not only here, but round the world so that we are no longer seen as “the second” and inferior sex. My only slight niggle is that I would have loved to see a few opinions from men for comparison and because I realise there are some wonderful male feminists out there who support the cause. Apart from that, it’s a brilliant read that I would recommend to anyone interested in the topic and for all young girls everywhere as a must read.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

All The Birds Singing – Evie Wyld

Published October 6, 2015 by bibliobeth

17283744What’s it all about?:

Jake Whyte is the sole resident of an old farmhouse on an unnamed British island, a place of ceaseless rains and battering winds. It’s just her, her untamed companion, Dog, and a flock of sheep. Which is how she wanted it to be. But something is coming for the sheep – every few nights it picks one off, leaves it in rags.

It could be anything. There are foxes in the woods, a strange boy and a strange man, rumours of an obscure, formidable beast. And there is Jake’s unknown past, perhaps breaking into the present, a story hidden thousands of miles away and years ago, in a landscape of different colour and sound, a story held in the scars that stripe her back.

All the Birds, Singing tells the life of an outsider. With extreme artistry and empathy, it reveals an existence of diurnal beauty, incremental horrors, stubborn hope and tentative redemption. The result is a novel of indelible emotional force.

What did I think?:

I had already heard a lot about All The Birds, Singing before I picked it up in a bookshop, attracted by the gorgeous cover as well as all of the positive reviews I had read. The author, Evie Wyld received much critical acclaim with her debut novel After The Fire, A Still Small Voice which won the John Llewellyn Rhys prize in 2009 and this, her second novel, won the Encore Award in 2013, the prestigious Miles Franklin award in 2014 as well as being long-listed and short-listed for many other awards. To say I was excited about reading it is an understatement and I certainly wasn’t let down. Take one of the opening sentences for instance:

“Another sheep, mangled and bled out, her innards not yet crusting and the vapours rising from her like a steamed pudding.”

Delightful? Maybe not. Intriguing? Most definitely. Read on? For sure! Our main character is the reclusive Jake Whyte whom when we meet her has re-located from her native Australia to a remote island just off the main coast of England to try her hand at sheep farming and more importantly, escape a troubled past. The author sets her story out in such an interesting way – the first chapter is Jake in the present time where she is dealing with a strange dilemma. Someone or something is killing off her sheep in a brutal manner and after confirming that the local teenagers are not to blame, she begins to worry that a different and perhaps dangerous creature is to blame.

Then we have the second chapter which focuses on Jake’s life in Australia and details one of the reasons that she had to leave and is so closed-off and anti-social today. From this moment onwards her story is told in alternate chapters, her present life in England working forwards in time and the chapters in Australia are told in reverse. i.e. most recent then going backwards in time. Sounds a bit complicated and it confused me at first but when I had both stories or both “lives,” sorted in my head I thought it was a very unique way to tell a story and I’m already looking forward to re-reading it to pick up on things I may have missed.

The reader soon finds out that Jake has had an incredible, troubling and at times, heart-breaking past which explain her personality and general character at the present time. There are so many mysteries to solve as a reader that inspired me to read on – what on earth happened to Jake in Australia? Why is she so reclusive and what happened to her back to leave it so horrifically scarred? Her life up until her re-location has been challenging and always mysterious and even as the book ended I wasn’t sure that I had all the answers especially with the ending being as ambiguous as it is. However, I have enjoyed reading some of the comments and theories by other readers on GoodReads and I do believe that a lot of things are left up to the reader and their imagination to decide although the author does leave us a few tidbits or clues along the way.

This was such an excellent read and deserves all the praise and awards that come its way. I loved unravelling the whole mystery of Jake’s life and despite a slightly frustrating ending it was a beautiful piece of writing that confirms Evie Wyld as a talented and promising author for the future. The prose is lyrical and irresistible and the author does not shy away from gritty, frightening and bold statements and situations. There is one particular instance I am thinking about that involves one of my worst fears, spiders, that will remain etched in my memory forever because of this book and still gives me the shivers just to think about months down the line! I’ll certainly be reading her debut novel and will watch out for anything else she does on the strength of All The Birds, Singing.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Night Film – Marisha Pessl

Published October 2, 2015 by bibliobeth

18770398

What’s it all about?:

A page-turning thriller for readers of Stephen King, Gillian Flynn, and Stieg Larsson, Night Film tells the haunting story of a journalist who becomes obsessed with the mysterious death of a troubled prodigy—the daughter of an iconic, reclusive filmmaker.

On a damp October night, beautiful young Ashley Cordova is found dead in an abandoned warehouse in lower Manhattan. Though her death is ruled a suicide, veteran investigative journalist Scott McGrath suspects otherwise. As he probes the strange circumstances surrounding Ashley’s life and death, McGrath comes face-to-face with the legacy of her father: the legendary, reclusive cult-horror-film director Stanislas Cordova—a man who hasn’t been seen in public for more than thirty years.

For McGrath, another death connected to this seemingly cursed family dynasty seems more than just a coincidence. Though much has been written about Cordova’s dark and unsettling films, very little is known about the man himself.

Driven by revenge, curiosity, and a need for the truth, McGrath, with the aid of two strangers, is drawn deeper and deeper into Cordova’s eerie, hypnotic world.

The last time he got close to exposing the director, McGrath lost his marriage and his career. This time he might lose even more.

Night Film, the gorgeously written, spellbinding new novel by the dazzlingly inventive Marisha Pessl, will hold you in suspense until you turn the final page.

What did I think?:

I hadn’t actually heard any hype about this book prior to it being released and I haven’t read the authors debut, Special Topics In Calamity Physics, but when I saw this book in Foyles I knew I had to have it. The author uses so much extra information to tell the story that I can only imagine how much research she had to do to pull it all together! We have photographs, author created web pages, newspaper clippings, interview transcripts and even an mobile phone app that when certain images are scanned, provides more content to enhance our reading experience. The writer Joe Hill compares the novel as a “multimedia presentation,” and we are bombarded with so much additional information that before long it felt like the events I was reading about had actually happened.

Ashley Cordova, daughter of the notorious and reclusive horror film maker Stanley Cordova has been found dead and the verdict is suicide. Our main character, journalist Scott McGrath is extremely suspicious that she took her own life. He has had dealings with Cordova before where he was determined to expose Cordova, shaming him very publicly in court. It was a case he lost and his reputation as a journalist was called into question, his career shattered and his marriage left in pieces. Scott is certain that there is nothing “accidental,” about the way Ashley died and assembles a motley crew of two, cloakroom attendant and wannabe actress Nora who checked Ashley’s coat the night she dies and Hopper, who went to camp with Ashley when he was a teenager to investigate the Cordova family like never before.

Scott soon finds there is much more to the Cordova brand then he had ever imagined. A plethora of mysterious deaths, whispers of the macabre and accusations of Satanism surround the acclaimed director, whose cult films became so horrifying that they were viewed underground by particular invite. Then we have the fact that all the actors and actresses who appeared in Cordova films are decidedly mute about the whole business and the director himself has not been seen in public since 1977. Scott’s initial frustration and desire for revenge quickly turns into a deadly game and an intoxicating mystery that I was unable to put down.

This is a hefty read, 640 pages in the paperback edition but never one I regretted starting. In fact, I was so invested in the story and so curious about how the pieces would all slot together that the pages whizzed by and I managed to finish it within a couple of days. I haven’t actually had a look at the additional content on the phone app, but the extra parts in the book made my experience of reading it quite special and unique. The author has clearly put a lot of work in when designing the photographs and other written transcripts and it all felt so authentic as if there was a cult film director out there called Stanley Cordova! It’s not perfect and the author tends to use her italics a bit too enthusiastically which became slightly annoying but I felt this was only a minor niggle considering the bounty we get as a reader in return. I shall definitely be checking out Marisha’s debut novel and if it’s anything like this I’m in for a treat!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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More Than This – Patrick Ness

Published September 25, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

A boy drowns, desperate and alone in his final moments. He dies.

Then he wakes, naked and bruised and thirsty, but alive.

How can this be? And what is this strange deserted place?

As he struggles to understand what is happening, the boy dares to hope. Might this not be the end? Might there be more to this life, or perhaps this afterlife?

From multi-award-winning Patrick Ness comes one of the most provocative and moving novels of our time.

What did I think?:

More Than This was a book I read way back in February for my Real Books monthly challenge from one of my new favourite authors, Patrick Ness who at the moment can’t put a foot wrong with me. It’s a book I’ve been wanting to read for a while now, the simple but very appealing cover calling to me every time I saw it in bookshops. Then my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads read it and told me next to nothing about it, assuring me that it was the sort of book you just had to experience for yourself. Now having read it and knowing exactly what she’s talking about, I realise that it’s going to be very very hard to review!

The synopsis tells you absolutely everything that you need to know and actually very little about the story in general, which is a good thing and which is why I’m going to try and make this review as spoiler free as possible. Our main character is Seth and in his life before his death he was involved with Gudmund, the love of his life. By the way, can I just get a quick hooray for a lead gay character? Throughout the novel, we get little flashbacks of Seth’s life before his death (mainly through his dreams) and it is truly “tear your heart into little shreds and stomp on it for good measure” heart-breaking. When he “wakes,” he is naked, cold and appears to have been transported back to his childhood home before all the events that led up to his death went down. The strangest thing about this place he has arrived in is that it is deathly quiet and there is no sign of any other life apart from Seth itself, not even any animals. The place resembles a ghost town and is incredibly eerie. Is it an after-life? Is Seth in hell? He clearly remembers dying and then… this.

Luckily, Seth is not on his own for too long. There are two other teenagers, tough talking Regine with a harrowing back story and the boy she looks after, her little loyal shadow Tomasz who I fell in love with almost immediately. They are a great help to Seth as he struggles to adjust to this new place – scavenging clothes and food from shops, riding around on bicycles and an entity in a helmet that appears to be after the three of them, the creepy and other-worldly Driver. The three youngsters learn a lot about friendship, trust, love, loyalty, loss and life as they all get used to this new life but all three are going to have to cope with something a lot larger than they expected. That is, re-visiting events that happened to them in their past and discovering the true meaning of this thing we call existence.

Wow. Just wow. This book is so amazing on so many levels and I am in complete awe of the beauty and sheer mastery of Patrick Ness’ writing. It makes me angry when people are snobbish about the YA market and don’t give it a fair chance because along comes a book like this which just knocks you for six and re-defines the whole genre. It’s not going to appeal to everyone I don’t think, some may find it a bit too vague for their tastes and the ending is most definitely ambiguous if you don’t like that sort of thing. However, if you’re interested in all the big questions in life – why are we here, what is the point of life etc this book provides all the answers you need while still leaving you feeling like you’re not sure what just happened! The characters are beautiful, the plot is heart-rending and it gives the reader a little bit of everything for every kind of reader. You like dystopian? Yup, that’s here. How about a mystery? Oh yes. Fantasy? Science fiction? Even romance? You got it. Patrick Ness just keeps getting better and better in my opinion and I’m so glad I discovered him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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February 2015 – “Real Book” Month

Published February 1, 2015 by bibliobeth

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There’s nothing like the smell, feel and look of a real book to a bibliophile like myself. And now that February has rolled around, it’s time for another “Real Book” month where I will attempt to reduce the number of books crawling into every inch of my home. Hmm, there doesn’t seem to be much difference in my real books since the last time I had a real book month in August. Guess you just can’t stop a book addict!

More Than This – Patrick Ness

Night Film – Marisha Pessl

All The Birds Singing – Evie Wyld

Fifty Shades Of Feminism – Lisa Appignanesi

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children – Ransom Riggs

The People In The Trees – Hanya Yanagihara

The Bees – Laline Paull

The Tale of the Duelling Neurosurgeons: The History of the Human Brain as Revealed by True Stories of Trauma, Madness and Recovery – Sam Kean

The Ask And The Answer (Chaos Walking #2) – Patrick Ness

I am so excited by this list I can hardly type. Some of them have been on my TBR for a long time, like Fifty Shades of Feminism, Night Film and Miss Peregrine’s Home, others are from new favourite authors that I just HAD to include like More Than This and The Ask And The Answer by Patrick Ness and others are books I have acquired fairly recently and simply can’t wait to read. What do you think of my list, fellow book-lovers?