Hodder and Stoughton

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The White Road – Sarah Lotz

Published May 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A cutting-edge thriller about one man’s quest to discover horror lurking at the top of the world.

Desperate to attract subscribers to his fledgling website, ‘Journey to the Dark Side’, ex-adrenalin junkie and slacker Simon Newman hires someone to guide him through the notorious Cwm Pot caves, so that he can film the journey and put it on the internet. With a tragic history, Cwm Pot has been off-limits for decades, and unfortunately for Simon, the guide he’s hired is as unpredictable and dangerous as the watery caverns that lurk beneath the earth. After a brutal struggle for survival, Simon barely escapes with his life, but predictably, the gruesome footage he managed to collect down in the earth’s bowels goes viral. Ignoring the warning signs of mental trauma, and eager to capitalize on his new internet fame, Simon latches onto another escapade that has that magic click-bait mix of danger and death – a trip to Everest. But up above 8000 feet, in the infamous Death Zone, he’ll need more than his dubious morals and wits to guide him, especially when he uncovers the truth behind a decade-old tragedy – a truth that means he might not be coming back alive. A truth that will change him – and anyone who views the footage he captures – forever.

What did I think?:

First of all a huge thank you to Veronique Norton at Hodder and Stoughton books for sending me a copy of this amazing novel, the first I’ve read from Sarah Lotz in exchange for an honest review. I just have to say, I’ve been really lucky recently with books, the last couple I’ve read have been absolute blinders and that includes The White Road which I can’t recommend highly enough. I have a copy of the first book in Sarah’s duology which begins with The Three on my shelves and I was unsure when I was going to get to it. However, after reading the stunning piece of work that is The White Road, it has certainly jumped up a few places on my TBR! It was a thrilling, white-knuckle ride of a novel that will be hard to forget and I’ve already started recommending it to friends and family, I was that blown away.

Our main character is Simon, who runs a website with his friend, Thierry that mainly focuses on him having to complete dangerous challenges. When we first meet him, he is exploring the Cwm Pot caves which have been forbidden to adventurous cavers for a while but Simon manages to find a rather eccentric and quite mentally unstable guide to show him down there so he can get some video footage for his site. Unfortunately, Simon barely escapes with his life but the footage he does manage to get is phenomenally successful and paves the way for another mad-cap idea – climbing Mount Everest. He has heard that there are many dead bodies up on the mountain that are never removed because of the dangers of doing so and he believes if he can get some evidence of this, his site can finally end up making a lot of money.

What I found most wonderful about this story is that we also get the perspective of a seasoned mountain climber, Juliet who is attempting to achieve her dream and climb Mount Everest amidst many of her own personal demons. This section is made all the more special by the fact that we get her diary entries that follow each day on the mountain, information on her past and why she is so determined to succeed and worst of all, the terrifying state of mind that she gets into when she believes she is not alone on her journey which leads to multiple crossings out in her diary, paranoia and hallucinations.

I’m not going to say too much more for fear of spoilers but I must urge everyone to read this book, honestly. I would have been perfectly happy if the story had been all about Simon who, although rather unlikeable and cock-sure in the beginning, really drags the sympathy out of you as you witness his struggles and, indeed abject terror when he finally realises what he has got himself into. Yet then Sarah Lotz hits it out of the park with a wonderful second perspective, narrated some years earlier of another climber, Juliet and how her experience of climbing Mount Everest affected her life. Whatever you think this book is going to be, let me guarantee you it’s not. It’s terrifying, chilling, gorgeously written and so beautifully descriptive I just kept reading certain passages over and over again. At times, I felt I was on that mountain or in that cave with Juliet and Simon. I felt their fright, their despair. I saw what they saw (or didn’t see?) and I felt cold and cramped with them when the going got tough. Please – if you read one book this year that I’ve written a review about, let it be The White Road and then come and talk to me about it as I’m still reeling from the whole experience.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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He Said/She Said – Erin Kelly

Published April 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Who do you believe?

In the hushed aftermath of a total eclipse, Laura witnesses a brutal attack.

She and her boyfriend Kit call the police, and in that moment, it is not only the victim’s life that is changed forever.

Fifteen years on, Laura and Kit live in fear.

And while Laura knows she was right to speak out, the events that follow have taught her that you can never see the whole picture: something – and someone – is always in the dark…

What did I think?:

First of all, the hugest of thank yous to the team at Hodder and Stoughton and Louise Swannell for kindly sending me a copy of He Said/She Said in return for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, I have nothing but gushing praise for this fantastic and thrilling novel! I have read one of Erin Kelly’s other books, The Poison Tree in my pre-blogging days and I remember thoroughly enjoying it but reading this, her most recent book, made me a devoted fan of her writing. Have you ever read a book that gripped you so entirely that you became really cross when you had to stop and do menial, everyday things? If this has been the case with you, dear reader, prepare yourself for not being able to do ANYTHING ELSE while reading He Said/She Said.

The story is about a couple called Laura and Kit, the latter of whom is a keen eclipse chaser and travels all around the world over a number of years to be present at each phenomenal event, weather permitting. When Kit and Laura first meet, she is aware of his eclipse obsession and begins to get in the spirit of things herself, watching her first eclipse with Kit at a festival devoted especially to the event in Cornwall, 1999. It is at this festival however, that both Laura and Kit witness something terrible. Laura is unlucky enough to witness the majority of the situation, Kit only sees the aftermath but it is something that haunts them well into their adult life together and in the present time, where Laura is pregnant. The couple have changed their names and are terribly careful to not leave any online presence – this means no photos, certainly no social media and Laura is suffering from crippling anxiety precipitated from the events that began all those years ago. However, why are they going to all this effort to hide themselves? What exactly happened in Cornwall in 1999 that has affected them so greatly?

I don’t want to go in to too much more detail but I really hope that has whetted your appetite and curiosity. It certainly did the job for me and I was hooked pretty much from the very first chapter. We hear from multiple perspectives, both Kit and Laura’s and across two time periods, the present (2015) and the past (1999). It’s a beautiful and effective way by the author of demonstrating a very slow, methodical reveal of what happened to Laura and Kit to have made them go to the extremes and terror they now live under. It’s also a fascinating character study and I loved the tricks that Erin Kelly used to make you convinced (or not so convinced as the case may have been!) about the personality of a particular individual. I also believe an audible gasp when finishing the novel has got to be a good sign, right? Yes, that happened. Now all I can do is beg you all to read this novel and discover the magic that the author weaves for yourself.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Small Great Things – Jodi Picoult

Published April 9, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Ruth Jefferson is a labor and delivery nurse at a Connecticut hospital with more than twenty years’ experience. During her shift, Ruth begins a routine checkup on a newborn, only to be told a few minutes later that she’s been reassigned to another patient. The parents are white supremacists and don’t want Ruth, who is African American, to touch their child. The hospital complies with their request, but the next day, the baby goes into cardiac distress while Ruth is alone in the nursery. Does she obey orders or does she intervene?

Ruth hesitates before performing CPR and, as a result, is charged with a serious crime. Kennedy McQuarrie, a white public defender, takes her case but gives unexpected advice: Kennedy insists that mentioning race in the courtroom is not a winning strategy. Conflicted by Kennedy’s counsel, Ruth tries to keep life as normal as possible for her family—especially her teenage son—as the case becomes a media sensation. As the trial moves forward, Ruth and Kennedy must gain each other’s trust, and come to see that what they’ve been taught their whole lives about others—and themselves—might be wrong.

With incredible empathy, intelligence, and candor, Jodi Picoult tackles race, privilege, prejudice, justice, and compassion—and doesn’t offer easy answers. Small Great Things is a remarkable achievement from a writer at the top of her game.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to the lovely people at Hodder & Stoughton for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review, apologies that it’s taken me so long to write up my thoughts on this thought-provoking and emotionally raw novel! I have to say, I loved the way Small Great Things was marketed in the initial stages. It was sent to me without a title, author, cover image or even blurb on the back. All we were asked to do as reviewers was #readwithoutprejudice. Sorry the image is a little small but you can hopefully see that it’s purely just a black and white cover with very little information about what the story might be about. This was a really new and fascinating way to read a novel and I was excited to see if I could guess the author based on the content.

Did I guess it? Funnily enough, I did! I have been a fan of Jodi Picoult for a while, in fact one of my favourite books of all time is My Sister’s Keeper which my sister Chrissi Reads and I re-read fairly recently for our Banned Books series. Saying that, I haven’t read one of Jodi’s books for a little while but it was comforting to realise once I had finished that she hasn’t lost her touch with approaching controversial topics and family dramas in an open, honest and often nail-biting way. In Small Great Things, we are thrust into the world of Ruth Jefferson, a black labour and delivery nurse who is shocked to her core when some white supremacist parents explicitly request that she should not be permitted to touch their newborn child. When the child in question becomes gravely ill and requires resuscitation, Ruth hesitates briefly and this leads to her being blamed for the child’s death which goes to court in a dramatic showdown between Ruth, her white lawyer Kennedy McQuarrie and the child’s mother and father who strangely enough have appointed a black lawyer for themselves to prosecute Ruth.

The story is told from multiple perspectives (one of my favourite devices used by an author) and we hear not only from Ruth herself but from her lawyer Kennedy and interestingly, from the white supremacist father, Turk where we get a fascinating insight into his past, revealing how he came to hold the extreme views that he does at the time of his son’s death. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jodi Picoult book without a courtroom drama and she is one of the few authors excepting John Grisham who writes this part of the narrative  in such a compelling way, making it impossible to put the book down.

As I mentioned before, the author courts controversial topics with ease, grace and dogged determination and I always enjoy finding out the topic she will be getting her teeth into next. Without a doubt, Jodi Picoult is like a dog with a bone when she talks about racism through the eyes of her black character, Ruth and I was slightly concerned that writing as a white woman, Ruth’s voice might not feel particularly authentic but I had absolutely no further concerns once I started to read from her perspective. All the characters, even those minor ones that we rarely see were drawn perfectly and were incredibly believable, especially the villain of the piece, Turk whose back story was particularly intriguing. At times, I have to admit it may have come across a bit “Racism For Beginners,” but despite that I still think it’s a book that needs to be read and such a prominent issue both now and in our past.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

 

Blog Tour – My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises – Fredrik Backman

Published April 19, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

The hilarious, heart-breaking new novel by the author of the international bestseller A MAN CALLED OVE.

‘Granny has been telling fairy tales for as long as Elsa can remember. In the beginning they were only to make Elsa go to sleep, and to get her to practise granny’s secret language, and a little because granny is just about as nutty as a granny should be. But lately the stories have another dimension as well. Something Elsa can’t quite put her finger on…’

Elsa is seven years old and different. Her grandmother is seventy-seven years old and crazy. Standing-on-the-balcony-firing-paintball-guns-at-men-who-want-to-talk-about-Jesus-crazy. She is also Elsa’s best, and only, friend. At night Elsa runs to her grandmother’s stories, to the Land of Almost-Awake and the Kingdom of Miamas. There, everybody is different and nobody needs to be normal.

So when Elsa’s grandmother dies and leaves behind a series of letters apologizing to people she has hurt, it marks the beginning of Elsa’s greatest adventure. Her grandmother’s letters lead her to an apartment building full of drunks, monsters, attack dogs, and totally ordinary old crones-but also to the truth about fairytales and kingdoms and a grandmother like no other.

My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises is told with the same comic accuracy and beating heart as Fredrik Backman’s bestselling debut novel, A Man Called Ove. It is a story about life and death and one of the most important human rights: the right to be different.

What did I think?:

After reading and thoroughly enjoying Fredrik Backman’s debut novel, A Man Called Ove, I was delighted when Sceptre Books offered me the opportunity to be part of a blog tour for his second novel, My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises (also known as My Grandmother Asked Me To Tell You She’s Sorry). Many thanks to them for a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Before starting, I had no idea how much this book was going to affect me and I’m thrilled to say it didn’t disappoint on any level and I now have every intention of reading everything this author will ever write!

There are a number of weird and wonderful characters in this novel whom we learn more and more about as the story progresses but there are a few real stars that shine so brightly from within the pages that it becomes impossible not to fall in love with them. Our main characters are a seven year old girl called Elsa and her seventy-seven year old grandmother, both true forces to be reckoned with. Poor Elsa is not having the best of times, her parents are divorced and she feels increasingly excluded from their lives – her father with his “new” family that often seem to take precedent over her, and her mother and partner George who are just about to have a new baby themselves.

Both her mother and father although separated both go through life requiring order and perfection and Elsa’s personality is often in direct contrast to this, taking more after her grandmother who zips through life defying authority (and pretty much everyone) in an eccentric little whirl of chaos. For her grandmother, this includes smoking like a chimney in all the forbidden places, urinating with the toilet door open and throwing turds at police officers so she often gets in a world of trouble but her grand-daughter is always by her side, loving and worshipping her. Elsa is quite a precocious child who has an unshakeable habit of correcting people’s grammar and saying exactly what she thinks and unfortunately this leads to her having no friends and being constantly bullied at school. Her grandmother is her superhero and invents a fairy-tale world, The Land Of Almost Awake for Elsa to help her escape when things get a bit too much.

Tragically, Elsa’s grandmother passes away but before she dies she concocts a treasure hunt for Elsa which involves Elsa finding letters that she has placed in strategic places and delivering them to their recipient. Each letter takes the form of an apology and through each one, Elsa finds herself learning more about the important people in her grandmother’s life and indeed, much more about her grandmother herself who has amassed a multitude of secrets in her exciting and bizarre life. Making many more friends along the way, Elsa discovers that the characters in their exclusive fairy-tale kingdom may actually exist and may need her just as much as she comes to need them.

This was such a beautiful read taking me through a roller-coaster of emotions, alternately sniggering then coming close to tears. I loved the closeness of the relationship between Elsa and her grandmother and fell head over heels in love with their eccentric personalities but will also have a special soft spot for a very important dog…I’m sorry – “wurse,” who definitely had a personality all of his own and gave Elsa such comfort and support as she came to terms with the loss of her grandmother. My own rather vivid imagination was given such a treat with the creation of a fairy-tale kingdom and it was lovely to see the blurred lines between fantasy and reality as the author laid bare the people behind the fairy-tales. The humour throughout the novel was impeccable and the characters so wonderfully realised that I instantly felt that I knew them all personally. I’ll be picking up Backman’s next novel for sure and highly recommend his work for anyone that enjoys flawed, intensely loveable characters and skilful story-telling.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

The lovely people at Sceptre Books have allowed me to host a giveaway for My Grandmother Sends Her Regards and Apologises and two lucky people will win a copy of the novel. Interested/intrigued? Enter below! Good luck everyone.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

A huge thank you to everyone involved in this blog tour, I’ve had a great time doing it. Why not check out the rest of the stops on the tour where you’ll find some fantastic reviews from my fellow bloggers? My Grandmother Sends Her Regards And Apologises was released by Sceptre Books and is available from all good bookshops now.

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Plague Land – S.D. Sykes

Published April 20, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Oswald de Lacy was never meant to be the Lord of Somerhill Manor. Despatched to a monastery at the age of seven, sent back at seventeen when his father and two older brothers are killed by the Plague, Oswald has no experience of running an estate. He finds the years of pestilence and neglect have changed the old place dramatically, not to mention the attitude of the surviving peasants.

Yet some things never change. Oswald’s mother remains the powerful matriarch of the family, and his sister Clemence simmers in the background, dangerous and unmarried.

Before he can do anything, Oswald is confronted by the shocking death of a young woman, Alison Starvecrow. The ambitious village priest claims that Alison was killed by a band of demonic dog-headed men. Oswald is certain this is nonsense, but proving it by finding the real murderer is quite a different matter. Every step he takes seems to lead Oswald deeper into a dark maze of political intrigue, family secrets and violent strife.

And then the body of another girl is found.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks Love Reading UK and Hodder & Stoughton for giving me the opportunity to read this intriguing debut novel in exchange for an honest review. S D Sykes delves into the realm of medieval fiction and takes the reader back to the 14th Century, where the bubonic plague or “Black Death” had swept England with horrific consequences leaving many dead – in some accounts, up to one third of Europe’s entire population. Oswald de Lacy is preparing to take holy orders but when the plague strikes, claiming his father and brothers as its victims, Oswald is sent back to his home very reluctantly to take his position as Lord of Somerhill Manor.

Oswald was never prepared to be Lord – after all, he had two older brothers, but at the tender age of seventeen must take command as trouble is brewing and his people are looking to him for decisions, leadership and comfort. A young girl has been brutally murdered and the local priest, Cornwall, who has a lot of sway over the local villagers is insisting that she has been killed by demons with the heads of dogs. Oswald is a sensible man and does not believe in the existence of such creatures but understands the superstitious worries of the peasants and is determined to solve the mystery and ease the fears of his people. When a second girl’s body is found, Oswald realises he has become part of a dark and grisly puzzle that he must get to the bottom of. Yet is he fully prepared for what he may unearth?

S D Sykes writes a compelling piece of historical fiction that takes the reader back to a different time where you can experience the 14th Century in all its unadulterated glory. It is obvious how much research the author has carried out to convey this period of time so distinctly and I loved being part of Oswald’s journey as he tried to solve the mystery. I have to admit, I wasn’t sure about his character at first as he appeared a bit too reluctant to assume his position but he acts just as a seventeen year old apprentice monk would do if his whole world was turned upside down, I suppose! The author also writes some fantastic “love to hate” characters such as Oswald’s mother and sister, whom I just wanted to shake at times and the intriguing and pompous priest Cornwall. Many characters are not what they seem and the ending reveals a wealth of secrets that I certainly wasn’t expecting. As a debut novel and a work of historical/medieval fiction this is a fascinating read that I think fans of Karen Maitland will enjoy and I look forward to seeing what this author does next.

Plague Land is out in hardback now and available in paperback from 21st May 2015 from all good book retailers.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars