literary fiction

All posts tagged literary fiction

The Last Banquet – Jonathan Grimwood

Published July 5, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Jean-Marie Charles d’Aumout is many things. Orphan, soldier, diplomat, spy, lover. And chef.

This is his story.

We meet Jean-Marie d’Aumout as a penniless orphan eating beetles by the side of a road. His fate is changed after an unlikely encounter finds him patronage and he is sent to military academy. Despite his frugal roots, and thanks to it and courage in great measure, he grows up to become a diplomat and spy.

Rising through the ranks of eighteenth-century French society, he feasts with lords, ladies and eventually kings, at the Palace of Versailles itself.

Passionate love, political intrigue and international adventure abound in Jean-Marie’s life, but his drive stems from a single obsession: the pursuit of the perfect taste. Three-Snake Bouillabaisse, Pickled Wolf’s Heart and Flamingo Tongue are just some of the delicacies he devours on his journey toward the ultimate feast.

But beyond the palace walls, revolution is in the air and the country is clamouring with hunger of a different kind.

What did I think?:

The Last Banquet, translated by Maria Maestro was recommended to me on a reading spa I went to at the wonderful Mr B’s Emporium Of Reading Delights with Chrissi Reads. To be honest, considering that eye-catching cover, it’s the sort of book that would have intrigued me enough to pick it up but I’m not sure on the synopsis alone whether I would have been compelled to follow through and read it. Luckily, the book-seller who encouraged me to give it a try was incredibly persuasive and I became excited to find out what it was all about. To be fair, the intricate details of the narrative within this novel haven’t completely stayed with me but generally, this book is a literary marvel. The way it’s written is so sumptuously detailed that for any lovers of language, it’s truly a joy to read. It’s not for the faint-hearted, (which I’ll go into a bit later) but it’s a surprisingly compulsive read and I found myself hanging on every word the author had written, the sure sign of a hooked reader!

Jonathan Grimwood, author of The Last Banquet.

In a nutshell, The Last Banquet focuses on one male lead, Jean Marie Charles d’Aumout who is found by the Regent of France in the late 1700’s on a roadside feasting on some beetles whilst his parents lie dead in a looted house nearby. The Regent takes pity on the young boy and takes him under his wing, sending him to a school and then to a prestigious military academy where he mixes with the aristocracy. This is the story of how Jean Marie rises from a penniless existence to the ranks of the wealthy as he takes his fascination that began with tasting beetles to whole new levels, continually on the quest for a more interesting and exclusive taste. Meanwhile, the French Revolution looms terrifyingly in the background, threatening the rich and entitled, and Jean Marie begins to understand the true nature of love and trust.

Our story covers the period of the French Revolution from 1789-1799.

This was such an interesting novel that I really didn’t expect to enjoy as much as I eventually did. From the very first moments, when we are introduced to Jean Marie eating stag beetles at the side of the road, I was instantly curious to see how the story was going to play out and of course, completely disgusted! My mum actually tells a story of when I was a young girl and she pulled half of a stag beetle from my mouth: (“It’s back legs still wriggling!” she delights in telling me!) and I don’t even want to think about where the rest of that beetle went! UGH. The fact that I find all kind of insect life absolutely grotesque in my adult years means that I wonder now whether the taste of that beetle put me off for life? Haha! Anyway, our lead character certainly doesn’t have any problems in that department regarding tasting the weird and wonderful. He will try anything and everything, despite the species and this is where my warning in the first paragraph comes into effect. If you think you might be slightly queasy regarding this subject, be warned indeed. Included in the text are multiple recipes for Jean Marie’s concoctions, including graphic details on how exactly they should be cooked.

Some parts are horrible, I have to admit but at the same time, the dark side of my brain was fascinated by his life, his strange obsession for new tastes (which does stray into the sexual as an adult as well), and how his happiness seems to hinge on this very unique quest of his. It is an odd book in this regard and I think you have to be pretty open-minded to see past this slight freakishness and appreciate the novel for what it is – something a bit different which is beautifully written and definitely has an edge over other books in the genre. The author did go to some unconventional places, that’s for sure but you know what? I actually respect and admire him all the more for being brave enough to do that and writing a book that I’m more likely to think about and want to re-visit years down the line. Despite our male lead’s quirks, he is an endearing and engaging character and because you follow him from such a young age and see his rise in society, you really want to know how it’s all going to turn out for him.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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Mini Pin-It Reviews #21 – Four Random Books

Published June 28, 2018 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone and welcome to another mini pin-it reviews post! I have a massive backlog of reviews and this is my way of trying to get on top of things a bit. This isn’t to say I didn’t like some of these books – my star rating is a more accurate reflection of this, but this is a great, snappy way of getting my thoughts across and decreasing my backlog a bit. This time I’ve got four random books for you – please see my pin-it thoughts below!

1.) Tamar – Mal Peet

What’s it all about?:

When her grandfather dies, Tamar inherits a box containing a series of clues and coded messages. Out of the past, another Tamar emerges, a man involved in the terrifying world of resistance fighters in Nazi-occupied Holland half a century before. His story is one of passionate love, jealousy, and tragedy set against the daily fear and casual horror of the Second World War — and unraveling it is about to transform Tamar’s life forever.

From acclaimed British sensation Mal Peet comes a masterful story of adventure, love, secrets, and betrayal in time of war, both past and present.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

2.) 1222 (Hanne Wilhelmsen #8) – Anne Holt

What’s it all about?:

1222 is the story of how a small group of people find themselves stuck in a hotel during an apocalyptic snow storm. Following a dramatic train derailment at Finse, the conflict between the survivors escalates while a furious hurricane threatens the unprotected village. Nobody is there to help, and there is no way out of the inferno for the survivors hiding out. On the first night at the hotel, a man is found shot and murdered. The victim is Cato Hammer, a priest known nation-wide for his ability – and desire – to get in the papers. Hanne Wilhelmsen, retired Inspector at the Oslo Police, is drawn into a race against time, a murderer, and the worst storm in the Norwegian alps on record. She loses the first round. Soon, another one of God’s servants is murdered, when an icicle cuts through his body…

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

3.) The Panda Theory – Pascal Garnier

What’s it all about?:

Gabriel is a stranger in a small Breton town. Nobody knows where he came from or why he’s here. Yet his small acts of kindness, and exceptional cooking, quickly earn him acceptance from the locals.

His new friends grow fond of Gabriel, who seems as reserved and benign as the toy panda he wins at the funfair.

But unlike Gabriel, the fluffy toy is not haunted by his past . . .

Pascal Garnier is a leading figure in contemporary French literature, in the tradition of Georges Simenon. He lived in the Ardèche. Pascal Garnier died in March 2010.

Would I recommend it?:

Not sure.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

4.) Scribbles In The Margins – Daniel Gray

What’s it all about?:

We lead increasingly time-poor lifestyles, bombarded 24/7 by petrifying news bulletins, internet trolls and endless noises. Where has the joy and relaxation gone from our daily lives? Scribbles in the Margins offers a glorious antidote to that relentless modern-day information churn. It is here to remind you that books and bookshops can still sing to your heart.

Warm, heartfelt and witty, here are fifty short essays of prose poetry dedicated to the simple joy to be found in reading and the rituals around it. These are not wallowing nostalgia; they are things that remain pleasurable and right, that warm our hearts and connect us to books, to reading and to other readers: smells of books, old or new; losing an afternoon organising bookshelves; libraries; watching a child learn to read; reading in bed; impromptu bookmarks; visiting someone’s home and inspecting the bookshelves; stains and other reminders of where and when you read a book.

An attempt to fondly weigh up what makes a book so much more than paper and ink – and reading so much more than a hobby, a way of passing time or a learning process – these declarations of love demonstrate what books and reading mean to us as individuals, and the cherished part they play in our lives, from the vivid greens and purples of childhood books to the dusty comfort novels we turn to in times of adult flux.

Scribbles in the Margins is a love-letter to books and bookshops, rejoicing in the many universal and sometimes odd little ways that reading and the rituals around reading make us happy.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

COMING UP NEXT TIME ON MINI PIN-IT REVIEWS: Four YA Novels.

Blog Tour – The Leavers by Lisa Ko

Published April 27, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

One morning, Deming Guo’s mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant named Polly, goes to her job at the nail salon and never comes home. No one can find any trace of her.

With his mother gone, eleven-year-old Deming is left with no one to care for him. He is eventually adopted by two white college professors who move him from the Bronx to a small town upstate. They rename him Daniel Wilkinson in their efforts to make him over into their version of an “all-American boy.” But far away from all he’s ever known, Daniel struggles to reconcile his new life with his mother’s disappearance and the memories of the family and community he left behind.

Set in New York and China, The Leavers is a vivid and moving examination of borders and belonging. It’s the story of how one boy comes into his own when everything he’s loved has been taken away–and how a mother learns to live with the mistakes of her past.

This powerful debut is the winner of the 2016 PEN/Bellwether Prize for fiction, awarded by Barbara Kingsolver for a novel that addresses issues of social justice.

What did I think?:

The debut novel from author Lisa Ko has already got a lot of attention and immediately pricked up my interest. As mentioned above it has already had the honour of becoming the winner for the 2016 PEN/Bellweather Prize for fiction and it was also a finalist in the prestigious National Book Award. Then when Oprah’s Book Club called it “imperative reading,” I knew I had to seek this book out as soon as it was published over here in the UK. You can imagine how delighted I was when this book ended up finding me! The lovely Grace Vincent from Little, Brown publishers invited me to take part in this blog tour celebrating the book’s release and kindly coordinated sending over a review copy in exchange for an honest review.

Being completely honest, this book took me a little while to get into. However, I’m not sure if that was a personal thing (as I was on holiday at the time and had multiple distractions to tear me away). Nevertheless, as soon as I forced myself to read fifty pages without stopping or looking up, by the end of this time, I was irrevocably caught up in the fascinating story of both Peilan Guo, a Chinese-born young woman who is compelled to escape overseas to America as a young woman whilst pregnant with her first child, fearing both the strict Chinese regulations about pregnancy, desperate not to get married to the father of the baby and her constant feelings that things are missing from her life.

This story is also about Peilan’s son, Deming Guo, the relationship between the mother and son and how this changes mainly due to two major events. This includes Peilan having to send Deming back to her father so that she can make enough money to pay off a huge amount borrowed from a loan shark just to get over to America. He comes back to her when he is old enough to go and school and little by little he slowly manages to trust and respect her as his mother. Then something horrendous happens when Deming is a little older. Peilan goes to work one day and never returns. There are rumours that she has left Deming and all her friends, including her partner, Leon and has no plans to return. Deming ends up fostered to a white American couple, Peter and Kay who try to be loving parents towards him but cannot fit the huge hole Deming has in his heart where he, like his mother, also feels like he cannot fit in or succeed in life anywhere he might go.

I’m going to stop there as I don’t want to give too much away but I have to stress how much I enjoyed this novel once I really got into the meat of the narrative. Of course, Deming and Peilan were the real stars of the show but I also enjoyed the background appearances of Leon, his sister Vivian and her son Michael whom Deming lives with when his mother is still there and for a short while before she disappears. I don’t think I’ve read too many books about the immigration experience (although I am aware of some I should definitely get to), but this novel really opened my eyes about the struggles these poor people have, the choices they are forced to make, the conditions they might live under and the little prospects they face for the future if they make a bad decision.

I was furious at Peilan at the start for abandoning her son, especially when you see how much pain Deming goes through as a teenager and then a young adult. He thinks if he does certain things in his present, his mother might return to him. Then, on the other hand, he thinks he has obviously done bad things in his past to push her away to never return. However, things are not always as they seem and it was fantastic to read a novel with not only a dual narrative but that skips around time periods, just to give a sweet little taster of what might be happening until the final difficult details all come out. This was an illuminating with at some points, heart-breaking passages that has made me appreciate the suffering of immigrants a whole lot more. It made me wish we could have a whole re-think of the system, here and abroad – this is especially topical as to what is going on in the news at the moment and I have a new found respect for anyone just trying to make a better life for themselves and their family.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5)

four-stars_0

AUTHOR INFORMATION

I’m the author of THE LEAVERS, a novel that won the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction and was a finalist for the 2017 National Book Award in Fiction. Set in New York and China, THE LEAVERS follows one young man’s search for his mother, an undocumented Chinese immigrant who disappears when he’s 11 years old, after which he is adopted by a white family. It’s the story of one mother and her son: what brings them together and takes them apart.

I’m a believer in the long game: I started writing stories when I was 5 years old and published my first book at 41.

Find Lisa on her Goodreads page at: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/15053129.Lisa_Ko

on her website at: http://lisa-ko.com

and on Twitter @iamlisako

Thank you once again to Grace Vincent and Little, Brown publishers for inviting me to take part in this blog tour, I’ve had a wonderful time doing it. The Leavers was published on the 26h April 2018 by Dialogue Books and will be available as both a paperback and an e-book. If you fancy some more information don’t forget to check out my fellow bloggers stops for some more fantastic reviews!

Link to The Leavers on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30753987-the-leavers?ac=1&from_search=true

Link to The Leavers on Amazon UK: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Leavers-Winner-Bellweather-Prize-Fiction/dp/0349700524/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1524767801&sr=8-1&keywords=the+leavers

The Children Act – Ian McEwan

Published April 8, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A fiercely intelligent, well-respected High Court judge in London faces a morally ambiguous case while her own marriage crumbles in a novel that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

Fiona Maye is a High Court judge in London presiding over cases in family court. She is fiercely intelligent, well respected, and deeply immersed in the nuances of her particular field of law. Often the outcome of a case seems simple from the outside, the course of action to ensure a child’s welfare obvious. But the law requires more rigor than mere pragmatism, and Fiona is expert in considering the sensitivities of culture and religion when handing down her verdicts.

But Fiona’s professional success belies domestic strife. Her husband, Jack, asks her to consider an open marriage and, after an argument, moves out of their house. His departure leaves her adrift, wondering whether it was not love she had lost so much as a modern form of respectability; whether it was not contempt and ostracism she really fears. She decides to throw herself into her work, especially a complex case involving a seventeen-year-old boy whose parents will not permit a lifesaving blood transfusion because it conflicts with their beliefs as Jehovah’s Witnesses. But Jack doesn’t leave her thoughts, and the pressure to resolve the case – as well as her crumbling marriage – tests Fiona in ways that will keep readers thoroughly enthralled until the last stunning page.

What did I think?:

I’ve had a bit of a strange relationship with Ian McEwan as a writer. One of my all time favourite books is the gorgeous Atonement (which I’m just about to re-read) but other books that I’ve read by him before I started blogging have left me rather dissatisfied – for example, Saturday and Solar, both of which left me wondering what all the fuss was about. How did The Children Act measure up? Well, it sits itself quite firmly somewhere in the middle. It doesn’t reach the dizzying heights of Atonement but was certainly interesting enough to keep me turning the pages and is a relatively short read at a mere 240 pages. I had some small issues with the characters and the narrative which I’ll go into a bit later but generally, I had a fairly enjoyable experience when reading it.

This is the story of Fiona Maye, a well respected High Court judge who comes up against traumatic circumstances in both her personal and professional life. At home, her husband has just asked her permission to have an affair (whilst continuing to be married to her) and understandably, Fiona has reacted badly to his suggestion leaving their relationship on very fragile territory. At work, she is about to become embroiled in one of the toughest cases of her career when a seventeen year old boy who is critically ill with leukaemia steadfastly refuses to have a blood transfusion that will save his life on the grounds that he is a Jehovah’s Witness and it is against his beliefs. Fiona becomes quite personally invested in Adam’s story as she fights to get a High Court order insisting that his wishes should be over-ruled on account of his being under eighteen. Alongside the stress of her job, her marriage is disintegrating before her eyes and Fiona must decide whether she wants to save her relationship with her husband, Jack as well as Adam’s life.

Personally, I found this novel to have both good and bad parts and even now, I’m struggling to decide on an overall rating. I did find the story fascinating and was intrigued enough as to care about how it was all going to work out for each individual character however I don’t feel there was anything particularly unique within the plot. In other words, I do feel like this story has been played out before by other authors so there was nothing too novel that really shocked me or completely captured my attention. I enjoyed how the author chose to tell The Children Act from the point of view of a woman, and a high powered one at that (thumbs up, Ian McEwan) however, I worry that sometimes she didn’t come across in the best light and left me feeling slightly cold. She was obviously a strong, independent woman and I just wish that she had made firm decisions regarding her marriage and her work that reflected all that strength. Finally, I did feel that Ian McEwan was taking a bit of a pop at religion which didn’t sit well with me. I’m not particularly religious and certainly don’t enjoy being preached at, nevertheless I respect that other people have beliefs and ideals, even if I don’t necessarily agree with them myself.

You might think with all this criticism I didn’t rate this novel at all! However, I did honestly enjoy what the author did in such a brief narrative. The courtroom scenes were particularly fascinating and kept me gripped. I did find parts of it problematic of course, but if I compare it to other novels that I’ve read so far (save for Atonement which is all kinds of wonderful!) I do rate this higher. There is no denying that the author can write beautifully and he does know how to spin a good yarn that I’m certain other people will be fawning over much more than myself.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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!

The Clay Girl – Heather Tucker

Published March 15, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Vincent Appleton smiles at his daughters, raises a gun, and blows off his head. For the Appleton sisters, life had unravelled many times before. This time it explodes.

Eight-year-old Hariet, known to all as Ari, is dispatched to Cape Breton and her Aunt Mary, who is purported to eat little girls . . . With Ari on the journey is her steadfast companion, Jasper, an imaginary seahorse. But when they arrive in Pleasant Cove, they instead find refuge with Mary and her partner Nia.

As the tumultuous ’60s ramp up in Toronto, Ari is torn from her aunts and forced back to her twisted mother and fractured sisters. Her new stepfather Len and his family offer hope, but as Ari grows to adore them, she’s severed violently from them too, when her mother moves in with the brutal Dick Irwin.

Through the sexual revolution and drug culture of the 1960s, Ari struggles with her father’s legacy and her mother’s addictions — testing limits with substances that numb and men who show her kindness. She spins through a chaotic decade of loss and love, the devilish and divine, with wit, tenacity, and the astonishing balance unique to seahorses.

The Clay Girl is a beautiful tour de force that traces the story of a child, sculpted by kindness, cruelty and the extraordinary power of imagination, and her families — the one she’s born in to and the one she creates.

What did I think?:

I really don’t know where to start with this review and I’m really hoping my ramblings make some sort of sense but we’ll see how we go. The Clay Girl was the last book that I predicted I would give five stars to in my Five Stars TBR Prediction post after I had seen so many positive reviews and couldn’t resist it after reading those powerful first few sentences of the synopsis. It didn’t end up being a five star read for me personally, I had a few teeny weeny little issues with it that prevented me giving it the big five but interestingly enough, it’s a book that has stayed with me ever since I finished reading it. It’s up there with some of the most creative and quirky writing styles that I’ve ever had the pleasure to come across and although the subject matter at points made for a very difficult reading experience, I’m infinitely glad that I put myself through it.

This novel tells the story of Ari (Hariet by birth but her mother made a spelling mistake when naming her) and her imaginary seahorse companion, Jasper. Ari relies on Jasper to keep her company, keep her strong and keep her sane through her traumatic childhood with an abusive father and an alcoholic mother. After her father dies, she is peddled off to her Aunt and her partner to live and she begins to feel she could at last be happy but unfortunately, not for long. Her mother regains custody of her and she is forced to re-enter a world of indifference and neglect with a mother who just couldn’t care less. At first, she has another person in her life to make things a bit brighter but when fate shows its hand again, Ari is once again left in a circle of abuse with another “father figure” to make her and her siblings life a living hell. Ari depends on her seahorse Jasper, her vivid imagination and huge strength of character to make it through the precarious nature of her childhood to a place where she can finally escape back to her aunts and be happy once more.

I think that’s pretty much all I want to say about the plot but I just want to reassure readers that even though it sounds like a cycle of unrelenting misery for our female protagonist (and to be honest, it kind of is!), the gorgeous language that Heather Tucker uses to tell Ari’s story makes this awful story well worth the heart-ache. The things that Ari goes through from childhood right through adolescence and early adulthood are tricky to read about but the journey she goes through as a person makes it well worth your time. This isn’t going to be a book for everyone, I have to say. The narrative can be very strange and confusing at times, even the way sentences are structured and grammar is used and sometimes I felt like I had to go back and re-read whole chunks of it as I wasn’t fully concentrating at the time of reading it. However, if you’re in the mood for something a bit different with a stunning literary edge, I would highly recommend trying The Clay Girl and seeing what you think. The stranger, dream-like, more hazy parts of the narrative didn’t pull me in as much as I would have hoped but I have to admit, I would read anything Heather Tucker writes purely for the beautiful way she uses words.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Look out for my Five Star TBR Predictions – Round Two coming soon to bibliobeth.

The Book Of Strange New Things – Michel Faber

Published March 11, 2018 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A monumental, genre-defying novel over ten years in the making, Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things is a masterwork from a writer in full command of his many talents.

It begins with Peter, a devoted man of faith, as he is called to the mission of a lifetime, one that takes him galaxies away from his wife, Bea. Peter becomes immersed in the mysteries of an astonishing new environment, overseen by an enigmatic corporation known only as USIC. His work introduces him to a seemingly friendly native population struggling with a dangerous illness and hungry for Peter’s teachings—his Bible is their “book of strange new things.” But Peter is rattled when Bea’s letters from home become increasingly desperate: typhoons and earthquakes are devastating whole countries, and governments are crumbling. Bea’s faith, once the guiding light of their lives, begins to falter.

Suddenly, a separation measured by an otherworldly distance, and defined both by one newly discovered world and another in a state of collapse, is threatened by an ever-widening gulf that is much less quantifiable. While Peter is reconciling the needs of his congregation with the desires of his strange employer, Bea is struggling for survival. Their trials lay bare a profound meditation on faith, love tested beyond endurance, and our responsibility to those closest to us.

Marked by the same bravura storytelling and precise language that made The Crimson Petal and the White such an international success, The Book of Strange New Things is extraordinary, mesmerizing, and replete with emotional complexity and genuine pathos.

What did I think?:

I was already predisposed to like this novel after adoring Michel Faber’s (arguably) most famous novel, The Crimson Petal And The White some years ago, which has an immovable place on my favourites shelf. I was so sure that I was going to love The Book Of Strange New Things in turn, that I gave it a spot as the fourth book in my Five Star TBR Predictions post and I’m delighted to confirm that I ended up giving it the full five stars, it deserved nothing less. This is a gorgeous, sweeping, slow-burner of a novel that has elements of science-fiction due to where it is set but is completely literary in its execution. I went into it expecting something similar to The Sparrow, which I also thoroughly enjoyed and essentially, got a much more profound narrative where it seems that every word the author has written has been chosen deliberately and methodically to capture the reader’s attention and hook you for the entire length of the tale.

It’s the story of happily married couple, Peter and Bea who are separated for a time when Peter is chosen by USIC, an elusive and mysterious company who have developed a base on another planet where they are carrying out scientific research into the land and its inhabitants – Oasis and the alien dwellers, the Oasans. The Oasans have had two preachers go missing in strange circumstances while learning about the Christian way of life and have now demanded a new preacher to teach them the ways of the Bible otherwise they will not provide the humans on Oasis with any of the food they so desperately need and that the Oasans are in charge of developing. This is where Peter comes in. He is to be the new preacher and at once, strikes up a friendly relationship with the Oasans, builds a church for them, learns how to recognise each one by their quite strange facial features, teaches them about God and provides a conduit for them to receive much needed medicines from the pharmacist on the base.

Meanwhile, at home in England, Bea isn’t dealing with things too well. Not only is she missing her husband and the strong relationship that they have but the world they know appears to be falling apart. There are environmental disasters, rationing, disease, violence, all things that make her question why her husband would leave her behind when her life is clearly threatened. Meanwhile, on Oasis, Peter is becoming more obsessed with his work with the Oasans, not eating or drinking properly and losing touch with reality on a regular basis. He attempts to keep in regular contact with Bea via a messaging service but before long, their relationship becomes incredibly fractured and unpredictable with both losing faith in each other. With the world that Peter used to know slowly disintegrating and his relationship appearing to go the same way, is there a way back for the couple? Or is preaching the word of God and his new flock all that Peter now wants from his life?

I have to say, when I found out that religion played a heavy hand in this novel, I was intrigued as to how it would come across. I’m not particularly religious, although I love learning about different religions and find the issue of faith quite a fascinating one. Peter and Bea are both very religious people, that is true but I found their stories endlessly interesting, particularly Peter who has quite the murky past before he discovers God. This novel does focus on faith quite a lot, obviously that’s Peter’s job and what he’s sent to Oasis to do but this novel is so much more than just religion. It’s a story about relationships and how the strength of them can be tested if a couple is placed in extreme circumstances without much communication and a hell of a lot of stress. I also loved the otherworldly nature of Oasis, and the strange alien inhabitants that I instantly wanted to know more about whilst always feeling an odd sort of mistrust and unease at the way they lived their lives.

The Book Of Strange New Things is such a unique, brilliant read for anyone with an interest in speculative fiction that is nothing short of literary genius. I may have wanted to throw a few things at Peter whilst I was reading and I was desperate to get more chapters from the perspective of Bea, stuck in England in horrific circumstances but each page I read of this story was perfection and I can’t recommend it enough. It fully deserves a place on my favourites shelf alongside The Crimson Petal And The White and I can’t wait to read something else by Michel Faber soon. I’m devastated to learn that this novel is to be his last as I think the literary world has just lost an enormous writing talent.

With a huge thank you to Crown Publishing (Hogarth) and Netgalley for the review copy.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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