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The Wages Of Sin – Kaite Welsh

Published August 14, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Sarah Gilchrist has fled London and a troubled past to join the University of Edinburgh’s medical school in 1882, the first year it admits women. She is determined to become a doctor despite the misgivings of her family and society, but Sarah quickly finds plenty of barriers at school itself: professors who refuse to teach their new pupils, male students determined to force out their female counterparts, and—perhaps worst of all—her female peers who will do anything to avoid being associated with a fallen woman.

Desperate for a proper education, Sarah turns to one of the city’s ramshackle charitable hospitals for additional training. The St Giles’ Infirmary for Women ministers to the downtrodden and drunk, the thieves and whores with nowhere else to go. In this environment, alongside a group of smart and tough teachers, Sarah gets quite an education. But when Lucy, one of Sarah’s patients, turns up in the university dissecting room as a battered corpse, Sarah finds herself drawn into a murky underworld of bribery, brothels, and body snatchers.

Painfully aware of just how little separates her own life from that of her former patient’s, Sarah is determined to find out what happened to Lucy and bring those responsible for her death to justice. But as she searches for answers in Edinburgh’s dank alleyways, bawdy houses and fight clubs, Sarah comes closer and closer to uncovering one of Edinburgh’s most lucrative trades, and, in doing so, puts her own life at risk…

An irresistible read with a fantastic heroine, beautifully drawn setting, fascinating insights into what it was like to study medicine as a woman at that time, The Wages of Sin is a stunning debut that heralds a striking new voice in historical fiction.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Tinder Press for approving my request on NetGalley to read this extraordinary novel in exchange for an honest review. I saw Wages of Sin initially on Twitter and it ticked all the boxes for me as a reader. It’s a work of historical fiction (tick), set in Edinburgh (tick) in the Victorian era (tick) that involves a strong female lead character (tick) dealing with a mysterious murder (tick). With so much going for it, there is always the anticipation that it might not be as great as it sounds but luckily I had no worries at all on that account. This book was a fantastic and thrilling debut novel and a truly fascinating look into women in science at a time when it was slightly frowned upon in an arrogantly patriarchal society.

Our main character is Sarah Gilchrist, a highly intelligent woman who dreams of being a doctor but has to leave London after a scandal threatens her standing in the world. She becomes a medical student in Edinburgh and has to struggle on a daily basis with not only the derision of the male students but also the attitudes of her fellow women scholars who become suspicious of her past. Sarah works her fingers to the bone – studying, completing practical and written assessments for her training and then (if that wasn’t hard work enough) assisting a friend at her medical clinic, helping the poor, needy and often “women of ill repute.”

This is where she comes across Lucy, a prostitute who comes in begging for help with an unwanted pregnancy, of course completely illegal in these times. She is turned away only to turn up dead on the anatomy table the next time Sarah sees her. Sarah feels devastated at what has happened but also determined to unearth the secrets of her death, especially when she suspects foul play and discovers tenuous links between Lucy and a professor at the medical school. However, she is treading on very dangerous grounds as some people may desire the secrets that died with Lucy to remain buried and may not necessarily welcome Sarah’s interference.

The Wages Of Sin was an exciting, roller-coaster ride of a novel that had me hooked from page one. Kaite Welsh writes with such a canny eye for detail that you can sense everything in the narrative – the smells, the sounds, the sights and it is brilliantly gritty and difficult to put down once started. Sarah was a fantastic character who was flawed but inherently such a good person and I loved her dogged determination in getting at the truth behind an obviously grisly murder. One of my favourite things about this novel though had to be learning about what female medical students had to suffer when studying to become doctors. They went through abominable treatment being mocked on a daily basis for their choice of career and the lack of confidence in what they could achieve was quite honestly, disgusting. Thank goodness times have changed! For a debut novel, this is an amazing piece of work and so beautifully written. I thoroughly enjoyed every page and cannot wait to see what Kaite Welsh does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

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The End We Start From – Megan Hunter

Published August 2, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

In the midst of a mysterious environmental crisis, as London is submerged below flood waters, a woman gives birth to her first child, Z. Days later, the family are forced to leave their home in search of safety. As they move from place to place, shelter to shelter, their journey traces both fear and wonder as Z’s small fists grasp at the things he sees, as he grows and stretches, thriving and content against all the odds.

This is a story of new motherhood in a terrifying setting: a familiar world made dangerous and unstable, its people forced to become refugees. Startlingly beautiful, Megan Hunter’s The End We Start From is a gripping novel that paints an imagined future as realistic as it is frightening. And yet, though the country is falling apart around them, this family’s world – of new life and new hope – sings with love.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Picador for approving me to read this short but powerful novel on NetGalley in return for an honest review. The End We Start From was subject to a ferocious bidding war following the London Book Fair and I first came across it on Twitter where it seemed to be everywhere. There were even some that thought it might be long-listed for the Man Booker Prize this year. This is why I’m a bit concerned that my review might fall firmly into the realm of the “unpopular opinions.” Don’t get me wrong, the writing is absolutely incredible, so lyrical and beautiful and I was so excited by the synopsis of the book but something just fell a little flat for me. I’m a little relieved to find that I’m not the only one that felt this way (from looking at reviews on GoodReads) but I can’t help but feel that I was missing something and that it’s the sort of book I should have just loved.

We don’t know when the story is set, we are never told. We can assume it’s a dystopian future where (possibly climate change?) has precipitated catastrophic weather changes in the United Kingdom, leading to extreme flooding and the majority of the population having to flee London for dryer areas, many ending up in refugee camps until the waters subside. This is the situation that our narrator, her husband and their newborn son find themselves in. After the chaos of the floods lead to the disappearance/deaths of her husband’s parents, our narrator finds herself then separated from her husband and stuck in a camp where she must form new alliances and find a way of living. Her sole focus is obviously the survival and upbringing of her infant son.

It’s hard to describe this novel in more detailed terms. When I first began, I was very intrigued, especially when our narrator is left on her own with her son. Then, it almost became a meditation on motherhood and the stages that her son goes through as he starts to develop in a strange new world where food and shelter is not guaranteed and the future is uncertain. The characters are referred to just by an initial, so our narrator’s husband is R, her son is Z, etc. I was never quite sure whether this worked for me. It stripped the characters of all their individuality (which may have been the point!) but I never felt like I could connect with them or learn much about them as a result. The author uses quite short, snappy sentences to tell the story which are nothing short of stunning and so poetic and gorgeous but everything was just too vague and detached for me to fully invest with the narrative.

We never know what exactly has happened to the world to cause these  disastrous events, there is no dialogue between any of the characters and at no time did I ever feel really involved with our narrator and her situation. After all the hype this book has got, I have to say I’m a bit disappointed, it really wasn’t for me. The rating I have given it is purely for the beauty of the writing alone, plot wise I was expecting so much more. I’m sure there are people out there that will absolutely lap this novel up and perhaps I need to read it again and just appreciate the language used and the structure of the sentences which the author definitely does have a huge talent for – who knows? If you’ve read it, I’d love to know what you thought!

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe.

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley – Hannah Tinti

Published July 24, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Bursting with imaginative exuberance, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY by Hannah Tinti has been described as ‘One part Quentin Tarantino, and one part Scheherazade‘ (Ann Patchett) and will appeal to fans of The Sisters Brothers or The Watchmaker of Filigree Street.

After years spent living on the run, Samuel Hawley moves with his teenage daughter Loo to Olympus, Massachusetts. There, in his late wife’s hometown, Hawley finds work as a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school and grows curious about her mother’s mysterious death. Haunting them both are twelve scars Hawley carries on his body, from twelve bullets in his criminal past – a past that eventually spills over into his daughter’s present, until together they must face a reckoning yet to come. Both a coming of age novel and a literary thriller, THE TWELVE LIVES OF SAMUEL HAWLEY explores what it means to be a hero, and the price we pay to protect the people we love.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Tinder Press for approving me on NetGalley for this fantastic novel in exchange for an honest review. Honestly, this story was one amazing, crazy ride and I loved every moment of it. When I first saw the title of this book, I immediately compared it in my mind to The First Fifteen Lives Of Harry August which was a book I reviewed with my sister Chrissi Reads and is also one of my all-time favourite books. Let me just say that The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley is nothing like Harry August when we consider the subject matter but it’s just as thrilling and written just as beautifully and is definitely a book I would re-read in the future.

This novel focuses on two main protagonists – widower Samuel Hawley and his daughter Loo whom he is raising on his own after his wife, Lily died shortly after Loo was born in a terrible accident on a lake. The “twelve lives” of the title are actually twelve bullets that have struck Samuel at different points in his life in various places in his body. We, the reader learn the story behind each individual bullet, how Samuel came to be shot and what the consequences were for him. Interspersed with the bullet stories is also the story of Samuel’s relationship with his wife Lily and, after she gave birth to his daughter, the story of Samuel and Loo. Samuel has made a lot of mistakes in his life (well….come on, he’s been shot twelve times?!) but he has a fierce love for his daughter and would go to the ends of the earth to protect her. Unfortunately, this means he always has to sleep with one eye open as his chequered and colourful past is threatening to catch up with him.

I don’t know exactly what I was expecting from this novel but it certainly wasn’t this and I was delighted to discover a gritty, exciting and incredibly unique plot with fascinating characters that make it difficult to put the book down. In the synopsis, it’s compared to Quentin Tarantino and Scheherazade by Ann Patchett and I couldn’t have put it more perfectly myself. There are violent, bloodthirsty and graphic scenes combined with moments of such tenderness that it almost feels like you’re reading a very modern day fairy tale minus the magical realism. Samuel and Loo were such intriguing characters to read about and although they were both flawed and a bit kooky I literally didn’t want to let them go by the end of the novel. On the strength and pure beauty of Hannah Tinti’s story-telling I will one hundred percent read anything she writes and now can’t wait to read her debut novel The Good Thief.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Leopard At The Door – Jennifer McVeigh

Published July 12, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

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

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

What did I think?:

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

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

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

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

Quieter Than Killing (DI Marnie Rome #4) – Sarah Hilary

Published June 30, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

It’s winter, the nights are dark and freezing, and a series of seemingly random assaults is pulling DI Marnie Rome and DS Noah Jake out onto streets of London. When Marnie’s family home is ransacked, there are signs that the burglary can have only been committed by someone who knows her. Then a child goes missing, yet no-one has reported it. Suddenly, events seem connected, and it’s personal.

Someone out there is playing games. It is time for both Marnie and Noah to face the truth about the creeping, chilling reaches of a troubled upbringing. Keeping quiet can be a means of survival, but the effects can be as terrible as killing.

What did I think?:

If you’re a crime fiction lover and haven’t read any Sarah Hilary can I just ask why on earth not? With the fourth offering in the author’s DI Marnie Rome series that began with Someone Else’s Skin, and continued with No Other Darkness and Tastes Like Fear, Sarah Hilary has cemented herself in my eyes as the queen of British crime and with each successive novel, her writing, characters and plot just keep getting better and better. Thank you so much to Headline publishers via NetGalley for allowing me to read a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review. In Marnie Rome’s London, the seedy and grittier side of our capital city is brought to life in an explosion of colour but grounded so deeply within reality that you could almost imagine that you were reading about the neighbours next door rather than fictional characters.

Marnie Rome and her wonderful sidekick Noah Jake are back and have a new case to solve. Horrific assaults are happening all over London but the strange thing about these vicious attacks is that the victim in each case has a criminal record themselves or a record of having wronged someone in their past. Marnie and her team immediately hit on the idea of a vigilante attempting to dole out justice for past crimes in the strangest and most brutal way possible. There are a few very important alternative threads to this story however. A ten year old boy has been kidnapped and is being held hostage at an unknown address by an unknown perpetrator. Furthermore, Marnie’s childhood home has been burgled with the tenants living there at the time subjected to a nasty beating, leading to them being hospitalised. In this convoluted plot and intricate web of secrets, violence and manipulation how are all these threads linked and why is Marnie and her personal life being dragged into the battle?

If I had to compare this book to the previous two novels in the Marnie Rome series I would say that Quieter Than Killing is slightly slower in pace but this is in no way, shape or form an insult to the writing. In fact, I loved that we got to learn so much more about our characters as individuals, with their own problematic families and personal lives. This novel exudes more of a quiet menace that is simply delicious to experience and although it could easily be read as a stand alone, I highly recommend reading the series from the beginning to get the full flavour of our character’s back stories which is hugely important for the plot. Once again, I adored the relationship between Marnie and Noah (please don’t ever break them up Sarah!) and just feel these characters keep getting stronger, more “real,” and infinitely more intriguing where I just keep wanting more. I’m eagerly anticipating the fifth book in the series which I’m certain will be another belter and I can’t wait to become immersed in Marnie’s world once more.

To read my interview with the wonderful Sarah Hilary, please see my post HERE.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession (Six Tudor Queens #2) – Alison Weir

Published June 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession by bestselling historian Alison Weir, author of Katherine of Aragon: The True Queen, is the second captivating novel in the Six Tudor Queens series. An unforgettable portrait of the ambitious woman whose fate we know all too well, but whose true motivations may surprise you. Essential reading for fans of Philippa Gregory and Elizabeth Chadwick.

‘Weir is excellent on the little details that bring a world to life’ Guardian

The young woman who changed the course of history.

Fresh from the palaces of Burgundy and France, Anne draws attention at the English court, embracing the play of courtly love.

But when the King commands, nothing is ever a game.

Anne has a spirit worthy of a crown – and the crown is what she seeks. At any price.

ANNE BOLEYN. The second of Henry’s Queens. Her story.
History tells us why she died. This powerful novel shows her as she lived.

SIX TUDOR QUEENS. SIX NOVELS. SIX YEARS.

What did I think?:

Alison Weir has been for the longest time now in my eyes, the queen of historical non-fiction and I was delighted when she began writing historical fiction especially as her new project is focused on one of my favourite time periods in history – the Tudor period in England. This will take the form of six novels over six years, one for each wife of the inimitable Henry VIII. The first book, Katherine Of Aragon: The True Queen came out last year and was utterly brilliant so I was incredibly excited to be approved by NetGalley to read the second novel, Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession when it was published in May of this year. Thank you so much to them and the publishers, Headline for this opportunity and for a copy of the novel in return for an honest review.

Anne Boleyn: A King’s Obsession was everything I was hoping it would be coupled with being a huge surprise and delight to read. Drawing on new research available, the author shows us a different side to Anne, certainly a shocking turnabout from how she is often portrayed in history. It’s true that Anne Boleyn doesn’t have the best reputation in the world. She embarked on an affair with Henry VIII while he was still married to Katherine Of Aragon, an affair that continued for many, many years and led to a number of upsets and permanent changes in England as a result of their relationship, particularly in Henry’s break with the Roman Catholic church. Henry was finally set free of the shackles of his marriage to Katherine, which he had become convinced was an abomination in the eyes of God as she had been originally his deceased brother Arthur’s wife. These shackles were not removed willingly however by Katherine, she was determined until her last breath that she was the true Queen of England and their marriage was right and lawful and it was only her death that allowed Henry and Anne to become (legally) husband and wife.

It is not too long however before Henry once again begins to question the validity of his marriage with Anne. She has given him one child, Elizabeth but no male heirs that he was so desperate for and certain that Anne would provide. Then the rumours start to circulate. From musicians in Anne’s chamber, to old flames and even her own brother, Henry is persuaded into believing that the innocent girl he met and fell in love with may not be so innocent as he thought.

I’m presuming we all know how the story ends? I have to say, even though I knew exactly what was going to happen, I still felt an odd sort of hope of a reprieve for Anne at the very end. It’s quite silly really, especially when I have read a couple of different accounts (fiction and non-fiction) of the events and it ends the way it truthfully did all those years ago. However, I became so attached to Anne as a character that it was hard to let her go at the end. She was a flawed, stubborn and sometimes quite precious person but I admired her ambition and determination and the way she took quite a feminist stance on a few issues, entirely alien at that time of history, something I had no idea about and found a very welcome addition to the story. Let’s just talk about her opinions and feelings towards Henry as well? Let me just say I did not see that coming! In other accounts I have read, Henry and Anne are both deeply in love with each other. So, to have it suggested that this may not necessarily have been the case was fascinating and very exciting to read as a result. Alison Weir exhibits a true mastery in re-telling the stories of the Tudor reign and her Six Tudor Queens series is really exceeding all my expectations. Do I really have to wait a whole year before reading about the next wife, Jane Seymour?

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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April 2017 – Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC Month

Published April 1, 2017 by bibliobeth

Hello everyone! Every other month I alternate what I’m reading quite specifically between three things. It’s either Chrissi Cupboard Month where I try my best to get through all the books my sister and fellow blogger Chrissi Reads lends me (and that’s a lot!). Then there’s Real Book Month where I try and read all the physical books just waiting to be devoured on my bookshelves (also a LOT!) Finally, there’s Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC Month where I try and catch up on all those ARC/review copies sent to me by authors, publishers, NetGalley and Book Bridgr. (A LOT!) April is going to be one of the latter months and here’s what I’m looking forward to getting to this month:

Hangman by Stephan Talty

(received from Book Bridgr)

Me, Myself And Why by Jennifer Ouellette

(received from NetGalley)

When We Go Missing by Kristen Twardowski

(received from author)

The Book Of Life by Deborah Harkness

(received from Book Bridgr)

The Strangler Vine (Avery & Blake #1) by M.J. Carter

(received from NetGalley)

The Accidental Life Of Greg Millar by Aimee Alexander

(received from author)

Some of these books I’ve been meaning to get to for the longest time and this month it shall finally be done! Really looking forward to all of these, I think I’ve picked an interesting selection. Have you read any? What did you think? Chat to me in the comments!