Historical fiction

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Short Stories Challenge 2018 – Four Hundred Rabbits by Simon Levack from the collection The Mammoth Book Of Best British Crime Vol 7.

Published April 12, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s Four Hundred Rabbits all about?:

Four Hundred Rabbits tells the story of a midwinter festival to honour the Aztec gods in which a young man is drugged. As our protagonist investigates, we find out exactly what happened to him and why.

What did I think?:

Once again with my Short Stories Challenge, I’ve been introduced to an author that I’ve never heard of before and I love it for that! Simon Levack is a British author of historical mystery novels that so far, all feature the same character, Yaotl who is a slave in in Precolombian Mexico with the Aztec people. Almost immediately, I appreciated the detail that has gone into Four Hundred Rabbits and in it’s execution, it very much reminded me of the Matthew Shardlake series by C.J. Sansom (which I have fallen woefully behind on). Generally, I thought it was a decent enough tale and it was obvious that the author had created the plot meticulously however it didn’t blow me away. It was enjoyable but unfortunately, only okay in my opinion.

Our protagonist for the story is the same character featured in the author’s novels, a slave called Yaotl who used to be in the priesthood but was expelled and turned quite heavily to drink before he became apprenticed as a slave. In Four Hundred Rabbits, he is brought up before his master, Lord Feathered In Black and his assistance is demanded. In the corner lies the body of Black’s great-nephew, Heron in a drugged stupor. As Yaotl has had a lot of experience with different plants/drugs through his studies as a priest, Black wants him to investigate the incident and find the culprit so that he can be punished. We are taken to a world of strange religious rituals, where four hundred men compete to drink sacred wine through a hollow straw and it is by these means that Yaotl believes Heron has been poisoned. Why was he attacked in this way? Yaotl must find out before his master’s impatience runs out or before he becomes a target himself.

First of all, I really loved how unique this story felt, especially in comparison to every other tale in this collection. I certainly wasn’t expecting to be taken to another country, another culture and another point in time that is so vastly different from our contemporary world with different beliefs and ideals. I mentioned Shardlake earlier and the way Yaotl goes about his business of attempting to find the perp really reminded me of Matthew’s own investigations in the Sansom novels of King Henry VIII’s England. I was fascinated by how all the pieces of the puzzle came together although I still found it a bit difficult to realise the exact motives of our culprit. Although the writing was excellent, something didn’t fully connect with me unfortunately. Perhaps I was interested in Yaotl himself as a character and was far more intrigued about why he had been expelled from the priesthood rather than a young (rather obnoxious) young man being drugged during a festival. Maybe Yaotl is explored further in Levack’s novels and I’d certainly be curious enough to give them a try.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

NEXT SHORT STORY: 20th Century Ghost by Joe Hill from the collection 20th Century Ghosts.

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Hideous Creatures – S.E. Lister

Published April 4, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

An extraordinary, magical odyssey into the dark heart of the New World . . .

Arthur Hallingham is the youngest son of an English earl. He’s on the run from his former life – from a family where painful, half-understood secrets lurk.

Arthur travels on a slave ship to the coast of America. Amidst the teeming squalor and vaulting ambitions of the New World, he encounters Flora, the tough daughter of an outlaw, and Shelo, a native medicine man with mysterious powers who seems to have a plan for him.

The three set off on a journey through the thick forests and along the wide rivers of the lush southern wilderness. As they near their destination, Shelo’s terrible and destructive purpose is gradually revealed.

Hideous Creatures is a rich, beautiful and compelling novel that will appeal to fans of Audrey Niffenegger, Erin Morgenstern and Neil Gaiman, by a young debut author destined for literary stardom.

What did I think?:

Along with The Immortals by the same author, the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights recommended this book to my sister and I when we attended a reading spa (highly recommended by the way, if you’re ever in Bath, please do it!). Hideous Creatures is actually the author’s debut novel but I read the two books out of order as the story-line of The Immortals just appealed to me a bit more. Now that I’ve gone backwards and read the author’s first book second, I can really appreciate both the beauty of her prose and how far she has come as a writer since penning Hideous Creatures. In complete contrast to how I felt about The Immortals sadly, I was not a big fan of this novel. It boasts the author’s characteristic, quirky style and obviously beautiful way with language but unfortunately, I felt that was all it had going for it. I couldn’t connect with any of their characters and got slightly confused over their back stories. In truth, it was a bit of a slog to get through although I have to mention there are various things to appreciate along the way.

This is a novel about a young male protagonist, wealthy Englishman Arthur Hallingham who flees from his home after learning a terrible secret hidden within his family. He has always chased adventure and longed to see far off lands abroad so manages to secure passage upon a ship and ventures to the American wilderness. It isn’t long before he meets up with two other individuals, outsiders like himself and also people who are nursing a secret in their past. They are Shelo, native medicine man who performs a strange service for those who seek him out and Flora, daughter of an outlaw who comes into their group quite suddenly but ends up becoming an integral and very important part of their circle. Hideous Creatures follows their journey as Shelo continues to carry out his peculiar and terrifying rituals and Arthur ruminates on his colourful past in England.

I have to admit, when I started this book I was quite excited. Obviously I’ve mentioned the exquisite nature of the writing which anybody with a love for the clever way our language can be used will fall head over heels in love with. There is the beginning of Arthur’s journey on the ship and when he meets Shelo for the first time which was a fascinating aspect of the story (although a bit difficult to read as it did involve him being placed in an awful house which was used for illegal, brutal abortions). All of this (aside from the horrifying abortion aspect) was enjoyable and intriguing to read and I found myself wanting to know what would happen to Arthur, even if I didn’t particularly like him much as a character. Then we meet Shelo and again, I was curious, especially about this ritual he carries out on a nightly basis that leaves his clients screaming but strangely very satisfied! Finally, Flora appears and I did like her immediately as a fiery and independent female protagonist BUT I don’t feel the potential with her character was really reached and she just seemed to fade into the background which was a shame.

Generally, as the novel continued, I felt my enthusiasm for it wane even further and it wasn’t long before I found all the strange goings-on a little too hard to stomach. Not in the fact it was gruesome at all, but that I just didn’t feel I cared enough about any of the characters, their past secrets or what would become of them. I am bitterly disappointed, as I mentioned I loved the author’s second book, The Immortals so much but because of the strength of that novel, I would still be so excited to read anything else this author were to write in the future. Funnily enough, I’m still very glad I read this story, even though I didn’t end up loving it, it was worth it for the gorgeousness of the words alone.

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Hideous Creatures by S.E. Lister was the twenty-fourth book on my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!

 

Banned Books 2018 – MARCH READ – Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

Published March 26, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

An exciting, eye-catching repackage of acclaimed author Walter Dean Myers’ bestselling paperbacks, to coincide with the publication of SUNRISE OVER FALLUJA in hardcover.

A coming-of-age tale for young adults set in the trenches of the Vietnam War in the late 1960s, this is the story of Perry, a Harlem teenager who volunteers for the service when his dream of attending college falls through. Sent to the front lines, Perry and his platoon come face-to-face with the Vietcong and the real horror of warfare. But violence and death aren’t the only hardships. As Perry struggles to find virtue in himself and his comrades, he questions why black troops are given the most dangerous assignments, and why the U.S. is there at all.

Logo designed by Luna’s Little Library

Welcome to the third banned book in our series for 2018! As always, we’ll be looking at why the book was challenged, how/if things have changed since the book was originally published and our own opinions on the book. Here’s what we’ll be reading for the rest of the year:

APRIL: Saga Volume 3 -Brian K.Vaughan and Fiona Staples
MAY: Blood And Chocolate -Annette Curtis Klause
JUNE: Brave New World-Aldous Huxley
JULY: Julie Of The Wolves -Jean Craighead George
AUGUST: I Am Jazz– Jessica Herthel
SEPTEMBER: Taming The Star Runner– S.E. Hinton
OCTOBER: Beloved -Toni Morrison
NOVEMBER: King & King -Linda de Haan
DECEMBER: Flashcards Of My Life– Charise Mericle Harper
For now, back to this month:

Fallen Angels by Walter Dean Myers

First published: 1983

In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001  (source)

Reasons: offensive language

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  I’ve mentioned before how I like to go into our banned books completely blind about what the reason for challenging/banning it were and I always like to try and guess why people might not have deemed it appropriate. Well, when I looked at the reason for Fallen Angels being banned in 2001 (still can’t believe that was 17 years ago!!) I had to rub my eyes and look again to see if they’d missed anything. Yup, just offensive language. I have to admit, yes there was a tiny little bit of bad language in this book. It didn’t offend me however and it seemed realistic given the traumatic circumstances that the soldiers found themselves in at times. I’m going to draw from personal experience now and tell you about this lovely older lady I used to work with. Instead of swearing, she would substitute the word for a plant beginning with the same letter. For example, I’ll use the relatively tame: “Damn!” Instead of “Damn!,” she used to say, “Dandelions!” It used to make me smile, bless her heart. Anyway (and there is a point to this little tale) I can’t really imagine very young soldiers i.e. seventeen/eighteen year old getting in a horrific mess and saying “Oh, Fuschia!” or “Buttercup!!”

It felt real to me anyway and the utterances of “bad words,” was so few and far between that to be honest, I barely noticed it. I don’t personally make a habit of swearing on my blog, I know that some people would be offended by it and I would hate to offend anyone but I really do think teenagers/children hear worse things out on the streets/at school/on television than anything written in this book.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t really read up on the reasons why a book has been challenged. I just read it for myself and then try and work out if I knew why it was challenged. I did think the reason this book was challenged was because of the violence and racism casually littered into the story. Offensive language? Teenagers (and unfortunately younger children) hear much worse in their family homes/media/from their peers/music!

How about now?

BETH: As there’s only one reason why this book was challenged/banned, I want to just touch on reasons that I was surprised didn’t come up. We’ve been doing this Banned Books feature for a little while now and a lot of times, the theme of violence, overt sexuality or racism comes up as a reason for the book being thought inappropriate (by some!). Now there was less sexuality (although quite a bit of homophobia) but there was quite a lot of casual racism in Fallen Angels and definitely A LOT of violence. I mean, it’s set around a group of young soldiers in the Vietnam War so if you were expecting anything different, you’d be sorely wrong. As this book was mostly war and soldiers getting injured/dying, I have to say I was really surprised that this didn’t come up as a reason for challenging it? Not that I’m complaining, I don’t agree with banning any books of course, but if you were going to choose a reason…..CONFUSED.

CHRISSI: I’m confused too. I really didn’t think the swearing was that bad. I’ve read a lot worse language in some books. Of course, this book was about soldiers in Vietnam so there was bound to be violence, but I thought that was going to be the reasoning behind it. I’m genuinely baffled as to why the subject matter wasn’t questioned. If you’re going to challenge a book, challenge it for something more substantial than language. Pfft.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  Unfortunately, I didn’t get on with this book too well. Some of the scenes are incredibly powerful, especially when Perry and his friends are in the midst of fighting and generally, I find war horrifying anyway so it was always going to be quite an emotive read. However, I just felt like I wanted a bit more character development. I didn’t feel like we got to know any of the boys as well as we could have done if they weren’t fighting all the time. Yes, I get that it was meant to be about the Vietnam War and their traumatic experience of going to war so young but I just feel more could have been made of their characters.

CHRISSI: I was not a fan. Despite there being a war going on, I didn’t feel like much happened in the story. I don’t feel like I got to know any of the characters. I found myself skim reading it which isn’t a sign of a wonderful book…I do know that others would enjoy it. It just didn’t work well for me.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Not sure.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!

 3 Star Rating Clip Art
Coming up on the last Monday of April on Banned Books: we review Saga Volume 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples.

Nunslinger – Stark Holborn

Published March 24, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The year is 1864. Sister Thomas Josephine, an innocent Visitantine nun from St Louis, Missouri, is making her way west to the promise of a new life in Sacramento, California. When an attack on her wagon train leaves her stranded in Wyoming, Thomas Josephine finds her faith tested and her heart torn between Lt. Theodore F. Carthy, a man too beautiful to be true, and the mysterious grifter Abraham C. Muir. Falsely accused of murder she goes on the run, all the while being hunted by a man who has become dangerously obsessed with her.

What did I think?:

I’m not a big Western fan. I don’t really enjoy any films I’ve seen or read much literature around that genre. In fact, if anything came on the television vaguely resembling a Western (and I remember it usually being boring Sunday afternoons, when you were dreading the week ahead), I would switch off immediately or groan loudly, especially as a child. So why, you might ask was I drawn to a Western novel? Firstly, I read The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt a few years ago now, in fact it was the only other Western I have ever read. I ADORED it. With Nunslinger, I was anticipating a similar kind of thing and when I saw that gorgeous cover art and read that it followed a “gun toting nun” of all people, I couldn’t help but covet it. A huge thank you to the publisher, Hodder Books and Book Bridgr for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review when my curiosity finally got the better of me.

Was it worth it? Yes, yes, yes. Nunslinger is a fast-paced, dramatic and exciting tale that was exactly what I was looking for. It’s the story of Sister Thomas Josephine whom in the late 1800’s, travels to California from her convent in Missouri in order to carry on the Lord’s work. However, her life is changed forever when the wagon she is travelling in is attacked and she is abducted by deserter and outlaw, Abraham Muir. As they journey together and develop an uneasy, bordering on courteous relationship, our female protagonist is accused of murder, has a bounty put on her head, is chased by a number of unsavoury types across the desert and earns quite a reputation for herself as the “Six Gun Sister.” The narrative follows Josephine as she struggles to complete her mission alive, fights to clear her name and discovers a whole lot more about herself, her capabilities, her strengths and indeed, her weaknesses as a woman and as a person under the most dangerous of circumstances.

After I finished this novel, I read a little more into it, which I like to do if a book has had a profound effect on me. The author is quite an enigma, we don’t know if they are male or female or anything about their life and the whole anonymity of this just serves to make me more intrigued, why all the secrecy? Putting this to one side and no matter who the author is it doesn’t change the fact that this is one rollicking ride of a novel. It was originally made up of twelve novellas which were released separately and in hindsight, I’m quite glad I read it in its entirety. I’m quite an impatient person and you can tell where each novella originally ended, there is an enormous cliffhanger, presumably to keep the reader on tenterhooks awaiting the next instalment. I’ve seen some reviewers complain about this – comparing it to the over-dramatic tensions at the end of each chapter of a James Patterson novel but I have to disagree. There are quite a few cliffhangers (well, eleven of them to be precise as each novella ended) but I can see why this was done if each section was released in this way, maybe it was a good way to make sure the readers came back for more? Personally, it didn’t bother me at all and I quite enjoyed feeling like I was on a knife edge and the absurdity of the constant drama, but I suppose I can see why it might not please other readers.

With all this heightened tension and a plot that moves at the speed of light you might not think that this novel has anything to commend it all if you want a good literary narrative. However, you’d be surprised at the depths this story reaches in darkness, clever twists and wry humour. Perhaps not all the characters are developed as fully as I would have liked them to be but the character of our nun, Josephine more than makes up for that. She is kind, caring, intelligent but completely badass and very capable of taking care of herself and I loved the way she approached life and did what she had to do whilst trying to cause minimal damage to those around her. It made me slightly crazy how she could keep her faith and justify certain things she did to God (not being a particularly religious person myself) but she was such a fascinating person to follow, I could forgive her anything. There’s only one warning I should give for anyone reading this far and still interested – if you’re not a big fan of violence/gore this might not be the book for you, it has it in spades and doesn’t shy away from full, graphic details. In the same vein, if you’re like me and don’t think a Western would really be your bag, I urge you, don’t completely write this one off just yet. Nunslinger surprised me, shocked me and made me zip through the pages so quickly, you could almost believe it was half the number of pages it actually is. Why not give it a try?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Book Tag – Books Beginning With S.P.R.I.N.G.

Published March 21, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hi everyone and hope you’re all well! Today I’m celebrating Spring as yesterday was the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. I came up with this idea after seeing one of my favourite book tubers, Lauren from Lauren And The Books do a video at Christmas. She took each letter of the word CHRISTMAS and presented a title from her bookshelves that began with that letter. I’m going to nab that great idea and today I will be taking each letter of the word SPRING and showing you a book from my TBR that begins with that letter which I hope to get round to very soon. So without further ado, let’s get on with it!

S

What’s it all about?:

Martinique, 1765, and brothers Emile and Lucien are charged by their French master, Father Cleophas, with a mission. They must return to Grenada, the island they once called home, and smuggle back the 42 slaves claimed by English invaders at the hospital plantation in Fort Royal. While Lucien, barely in his teens, sees the trip as a great adventure, the older and worldlier Emile has no illusions about the dangers they will face. But with no choice other than to obey Cleophas – and sensing the possibility, however remote, of finding his first love Celeste – he sets out with his brother on this ‘reckless venture’.

With great characters, a superb narrative set up, and language that is witty, bawdy and thrillingly alive, Sugar Money is a novel to treasure.

I’m so excited to read this book after loving Jane Harris’ previous novels, The Observations and Gillespie And I. If you haven’t read her before, I highly HIGHLY recommend her. She writes such beautiful historical fiction you could almost believe you were right there with her characters.

P

What’s it all about?:

A fiercely imagined fiction debut in which two young women face what happened the summer they were twelve, when a handsome stranger abducted them 

Everyone thought we were dead. We were missing for nearly two months; we were twelve. What else could they think? –Lois

It’s always been hard to talk about what happened without sounding all melodramatic. . . . Actually, I haven’t mentioned it for years, not to a goddamned person. -Carly May

The summer precocious Lois and pretty Carly May were twelve years old, they were kidnapped, driven across the country, and held in a cabin in the woods for two months by a charismatic stranger. Nearly twenty years later, Lois has become a professor, teaching British literature at a small college in upstate New York, and Carly May is an actress in Los Angeles, drinking too much and struggling to revive her career. When a movie with a shockingly familiar plot draws the two women together once more, they must face the public exposure of their secret history and confront the dark longings and unspeakable truths that haunt them still. Maggie Mitchell’s Pretty Is beautifully defies ripped-from-the-headlines crime story expectations and announces the debut of a masterful new storytelling talent.

I love to support debut authors whenever I can and this synopsis looks too good to be true! I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of this novel from the publishers and I still cannot believe I haven’t got round to it yet.

R

What’s it all about?:

The twenty-one stories in Reader, I Married Him – one of the most celebrated lines in fiction – are inspired by Jane Eyre and shaped by its perennially fascinating themes of love, compromise and self-determination.

A bohemian wedding party takes an unexpected turn for the bride and her daughter; a family trip to a Texan waterpark prompts a life-changing decision; Grace Poole defends Bertha Mason and calls the general opinion of Jane Eyre into question. Mr Rochester reveals a long-kept secret in “Reader, She Married Me”, and “The Mirror” boldly imagines Jane’s married life after the novel ends. A new mother encounters an old lover after her daily swim and inexplicably lies to him, and a fitness instructor teaches teenage boys how to handle a pit bull terrier by telling them Jane Eyre’s story.

Edited by Tracy Chevalier, and commissioned specially for Charlotte Brontë’s bicentenary year in 2016, this collection brings together some of the finest and most creative voices in fiction today, to celebrate and salute the strength and lasting relevance of a game-changing novel and its beloved narrator.

I’ve been wanting to read this book for so long! Stories inspired by one of my all time favourite books (and definitely my favourite classic)? YES PLEASE.

I

What’s it all about?:

‘Even if medical tests cannot explain your pain or tiredness or disability, it does not lessen your suffering. The pain of medically unexplained illness is every bit as real as any other and, if anything, is multiplied by the lack of understanding.

Most of us accept the way our heart flutters when we set eyes on the one we secretly admire, or the sweat on our brow as we start the presentation we do not want to give. But few of us are fully aware of how dramatic our body’s reactions to emotions can sometimes be.

Take Pauline, who first became ill when she was fifteen. What seemed at first to be a urinary infection became joint pain, then food intolerances, then life-threatening appendicitis. And then one day, after a routine operation, Pauline lost all the strength in her legs. Shortly after that her convulsions started. But Pauline’s tests are normal; her symptoms seem to have no physical cause whatsoever.

Pauline may be an extreme case, but she is by no means alone. As many as a third of men and women visiting their GP have symptoms that are medically unexplained. In most, an emotional root is suspected and yet, when it comes to a diagnosis, this is the very last thing we want to hear, and the last thing doctors want to say.

In It’s All in Your Head consultant neurologist Dr Suzanne O’Sullivan takes us on a journey through the very real world of psychosomatic illness. She takes us from the extreme — from paralysis, seizures and blindness — to more everyday problems such as tiredness and pain. Meeting her patients, she encourages us to look deep inside the human condition. There we find the secrets we are all capable of keeping from ourselves, and our age-old failure to credit the intimate and extraordinary connection between mind and body.

Science/health books are amongst my favourite non fiction topics to read about (anything about animals coming a close second). This book speaks to me on a personal level as I struggle with a chronic invisible illness and have done for the past seven years. I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into this one.

N

What’s it all about?:

Historian Anna Bennett has a book to write. She also has an insomniac toddler, a precocious, death-obsessed seven-year-old, and a frequently absent ecologist husband who has brought them all to Colsay, a desolate island in the Hebrides, so he can count the puffins. Ferociously sleep-deprived, torn between mothering and her desire for the pleasures of work and solitude, Anna becomes haunted by the discovery of a baby’s skeleton in the garden of their house. Her narrative is punctuated by letters home, written 200 years before, by May, a young, middle-class midwife desperately trying to introduce modern medicine to the suspicious, insular islanders. The lives of these two characters intersect unexpectedly in this deeply moving but also at times blackly funny story about maternal ambivalence, the way we try to control children, and about women’s vexed and passionate relationship with work. Moss’s second novel displays an exciting expansion of her range – showing her to be both an excellent comic writer and a novelist of great emotional depth.

I have to admit, I bought this book a while ago for the cover initially, isn’t it gorgeous? Then I read my very first Sarah Moss, The Tidal Zone recently and absolutely loved it. I’m excited to get stuck in to more of her work.

G

What’s it all about?:

The first new collection in almost a decade from a bewitchingly original writer hailed by Michael Chabon as “the most darkly playful voice in American fiction.”

One of today’s most celebrated short story writers, Kelly Link creates brilliantly detailed, layered fictional worlds pulsing with their own energy and life. The situations are at first glance fantastical, but the emotional insights are piercing and the characters vividly real. In “The Summer People,” a young girl in rural Florida serves as uneasy caretaker to the mysterious, never-quite-glimpsed visitors who inhabit the cottage behind her house. In “I Can See Right Through You,” a one-time teen idol movie vampire takes a disturbing trip to the set where his former on- and off-screen love interest is shooting a bizarre new reality show; in “The New Boyfriend,” a suburban slumber party takes an unusual turn when the spoiled birthday girl opens her big present, a new animated doll. Funny, uncanny, always deeply moving, these stories demonstrate a writer of wondrous gifts operating at the height of her powers.

Another collection of short stories, this book was recommended to me in a book spa by the wonderful booksellers at Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights in Bath. I’ve never read any Kelly Link before and have heard such great things about her writing that this just needs to be done!

Well everyone, that’s the end of my Books Beginning With S.P.R.I.N.G. post! Hope you enjoyed reading it, I’d love to see books from your TBR that make up the word S.P.R.I.N.G. If you decide to do a post, please leave a link in the comments so I can check it out or leave your answers in the comments below, it would be fun to see. I’m hoping to get to all of these books in the next few months and then I’ll be showcasing my books beginning with S.U.M.M.E.R so watch out for that post, coming later this year!

Tangerine – Christine Mangan

Published March 20, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book—a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Little, Brown publishers for getting in touch with me via email and secondly, for allowing me to read an advance reading copy from this exciting new voice in crime fiction via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. As this book is released today (happy publication day!) I have seen relatively few reviews of it knocking around but comparison to Patricia Highsmith and Donna Tartt is never a bad thing and made me very keen to check it out and see if it stood up to the hype. It does, without a question. Tangerine is one of the most evocative and compelling debut thrillers I’ve had the pleasure to come across and it managed to lift me right out of a massive reading slump so of course, I thank the author for that! I also thank Christine Mangan for providing such a fascinating plot, interesting characters and although the reader is aware fairly soon what is happening in the novel, nothing can be taken for granted purely because of the unreliability of our narrators.

As with most thriller novels, I don’t want to give too much away but I’ll try to give you the bare bones of the synopsis if I can. This is the story of Alice Shipley who is living in Tangier, Morocco with her husband in unfortunately quite an unhappy marriage where she is forced to turn a blind eye to his numerous faults. The match was loosely arranged as very much one of convenience by her Aunt, who also happens to be her only guardian after Alice’s parents were killed in an accident. One day, an old college friend, Lucy Mason turns up unexpectedly on the doorstep of Alice’s apartment in Tangier and although in some ways, Alice is happy to see her friend, it takes her right back to an incident many years ago that the friends have never really discussed or come to terms with. Alice is thrown right back into that close, intimate relationship with Lucy until her husband abruptly disappears which causes both women to start re-examining everything, including each other.

One of the best bits about this novel, as I alluded to in the first paragraph is the unreliability of our two female protagonists. Both Alice and Lucy have their own issues in the past and these issues have continued into their present and still haunt them on a daily basis. It reminded me a little bit of those heady days of adolescence female friendships when things could get a little intense – obviously rarely to the extreme, but does anyone else remember the ferociousness of those feelings? This is what Tangerine felt like to me. At certain points of the narrative, I wasn’t quite sure what exactly was going on, basically with the fragility of both girls let me just say, things could have gone either way. As things started to unravel, piece by piece, we began to get a very unnerving picture of what is happening and how it may turn out for each character and it’s absolutely gripping. I read this book in under forty-eight hours, I found myself hooked and appalled in equal measure and it became completely necessary to keep reading until I knew how it was all going to end. Christine Mangan is a fresh and exhilarating new talent in the world of crime fiction, I adored every minute of this and can’t wait to see what she writes next, I’ll definitely be watching out for it.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The Witchfinder’s Sister – Beth Underdown

Published March 17, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

THE MOST THRILLING HISTORICAL DEBUT OF 2017

Based on the shocking true story of the infamous witchfinder Matthew Hopkins, this haunting and gripping novel is perfect for fans of The Miniaturist, Sarah Waters and The Essex Serpent.

‘The number of women my brother Matthew killed, so far as I can reckon it, is one hundred and six…’

1645. When Alice Hopkins’ husband dies in a tragic accident, she returns to the small Essex town of Manningtree, where her brother Matthew still lives.

But home is no longer a place of safety. Matthew has changed, and there are rumours spreading through the town: whispers of witchcraft, and of a great book, in which he is gathering women’s names.

To what lengths will Matthew’s obsession drive him?
And what choice will Alice make, when she finds herself at the very heart of his plan?

What did I think?:

I’ve been familiar with The Witchfinder’s Sister for a little while now after my sister and fellow blogger, Chrissi Reads read and reviewed it as part of a blog tour. So when Richard and Judy picked it for their Spring Reads 2018 here in the UK, I was intrigued to finally discover what it was all about, particularly when I re-read the synopsis and realised it was a work of historical fiction based on events that really happened and people that actually existed in history. I love a good historical fiction, particularly one that is based largely on fact and it promised to be an intriguing read that I was hoping would keep me captivated. Generally, this is a good read, especially for anyone interested in the time period when many women were accused of witchcraft and subjected to horrific tortures in order to prove their guilt. However, by the end, it just didn’t grab my attention as much as I would have hoped and unfortunately, I wasn’t as blown away by the narrative as I had expected to be.

The Witchfinder’s Sister is told primarily from the point of view of Alice Hopkins, who has recently lost her husband in a tragic accident and is forced to return home to her brother’s house whilst in the early stages of pregnancy to beg for his help and shelter. Alice hasn’t seen her brother, Matthew Hopkins for a while and they parted fairly acrimoniously last time they spoke, with Matthew not having many kind words to say about Alice’s choice of husband. However, when Alice is finally reconciled with him, she is surprised by just how much of a difference she sees in her brother. After hearing rumours from the servants, she finds out that Matthew is keeping a list of women in the town that he suspects to be witches. Worse still, he is heavily involved with the apprehension, questioning and indeed, torture of these alleged witches and is so determined to convict as many women as possible, it is frightening. This novel follows Alice and Matthew as the former tries desperately to talk sense into her brother and the latter becomes hell-bent on pursuing this path, for various hidden reasons of his own.

As a piece of historical fiction, The Witchfinder’s Sister is luminous in both detail and atmosphere and this all leads to an instantly compelling narrative. I really felt for Alice at the beginning of the novel, having lost the love of her life and being forced back into a situation that causes her great anxiety. Then we learn a little more about Alice and the number of pregnancies that she had which resulted in miscarriage, a topic which is sadly very close to my own heart. As the novel continued however, I found myself becoming quite frustrated with Alice, mainly because I felt she didn’t stand up to her brother enough (I do note that women were meant to be submissive in this time period but Alice did seem like she should have had enough fire in her belly to dispute Matthew’s goings-on!).

Furthermore, there was a point in the narrative where something quite supernatural occurs which I thought was quite an interesting direction to take the story. However, nothing more really happened in this vein and I wondered what the point was of having it within the tale in the first place. Aside from these minor issues, I did think this was a solid novel and the author sets the scene absolutely beautifully with intricate descriptions and the inclusion of some very interesting parts of Matthew’s notebook which I fully appreciated. I think fans of historical fiction or those that love a good “witchy” story will really enjoy this and I must assure you, I do think it’s a good read, it just wasn’t an amazing one for me, personally speaking.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Witchfinder’s Sister was the twenty-first book in my quest to conquer Mount Everest in the Mount TBR Challenge 2018!