October 2017 Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC Month

All posts tagged October 2017 Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC Month

Rivals Of The Republic (Blood Of Rome #1) – Annelise Freisenbruch

Published November 26, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

IN THE ABSENCE OF HONOURABLE MEN, WHO WILL DEFEND ROME?

The body of a Vestal Virgin is dragged out of the River Tiber…

A senator bleeds to death in his bath…

And as the authorities turn a blind eye, Hortensia, daughter of the capital’s most celebrated orator, feels compelled to investigate a trail of murders that lead to the dark heart of Rome.

Flying in the face of her husband’s and father’s attempts to protect her, rebelling against the constraints imposed upon her sex, she is drawn ever deeper into the corrupt underworld that lurks in the shadows cast by the city’s all-powerful elite.

When fires begin to rage in the slums and more key witnesses are silenced, only one man can save Hortensia from becoming the next victim of a conspiracy to destroy the Republic: Lucrio, the damaged ex-gladiator to whom she already owes her life. Then the secrets of his own tragic past threaten to subsume them both…

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Duckworth Overlook Publishers for sending me a copy of the first novel in the Blood Of Rome series in exchange for an honest review. Ancient Roman history has always been one of my favourite things to read about and when I heard that this novel focused on actual figureheads of Rome in 70 BC combined with some crime fiction elements, I jumped at the chance to read a review copy. Overall, I thought this was a fascinating insight into Rome in the days when gladiators were still thrown to the lions, conspiracy was rife, the fight for ultimate power over the city was a constant seesaw of favour, women did not have a strong voice and, for many citizens in the country, standards of living were brutal.

Annelise Freisenbruch sets us up with the most wonderful female protagonist – determined and independent Hortensia, daughter of a famed public speaker in Rome and not adverse to a bit of public speaking herself, despite the controversy it causes in the novel. The story is set with two deaths, a senator who appears to have committed suicide in his bathtub and a Vestal Virgin who appears to have drowned. The difference between this and many other tales in the crime fiction genre is that we immediately know who the villains of the piece are, but what the author does very skillfully is ever so slowly revealing to us the reasons behind why their dastardly plans.

Hortensia becomes quickly embroiled in an intricate plot focused on corruption, greed, desire and above all, power and with the help of a gladiator called Lucrio and the Chief Vestal Virgin Cornelia, begins to unravel the more sinister side of Rome, exposing the lengths some men will go to to get exactly what they want. However, Lucrio too has some huge secrets in his past and this all ties in very neatly so that he can help his mistress, prevent the murderer from striking again and wreak his much longed for revenge.

It is obvious from the very start of this novel that the author has carried out meticulous research on these characters of Rome and she certainly knows her stuff. The characters, especially Hortensia and our villains (which I won’t spoil!) practically leap off the page with their vibrancy and I was certainly entranced by the complex plot but above all, the beautiful description of daily life in Ancient Rome. I think it’s fair to say that there were some points of the narrative that were slower than others but generally this was a highly enjoyable read. I adored the scenes in the court where Hortensia finally gets to show what she is made of and yes, I even did a little “silent cheer,” at her triumphs. If you’re at all interested in Rome or enjoy historical fiction with a slight gritty edge I would say definitely give this book a shot.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

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What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah

Published November 21, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

A stunning collection of short stories from Caine-Prize shortlisted and Commonwealth Writer’s Prize winner Lesley Nneka Arimah, WHAT IT MEANS WHEN A MAN FALLS FROM THE SKY is a debut with all the imagination of Helen Oyeyemi’s The Icarus Girl and the toughness of Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan novels.

‘When Enebeli Okwara sent his girl out in the world, he did not know what the world did to daughters’. The daughters, wives and mothers in Lesley Nneka Arimah’s remarkable debut collection find themselves in extraordinary situations: a woman whose mother’s ghost appears to have stepped out of a family snapshot, another who, exhausted by childlessness, resorts to fashioning a charmed infant out of human hair, a ‘grief worker’ with a miraculous ability to remove emotional pain – at a price. What unites them is the toughness of the world they inhabit, a world where the future is uncertain, opportunities are scant, and fortunes change quicker than the flick of a switch. Characterised by their vividness, immediacy and the author’s seemingly endless ability to conjure worlds at once familiar and unsettlingly different, this collection showcases the work of an extraordinarily talented writer at the start of a brilliant career.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the wonderful Tinder Press for approving my request to read this absorbing and captivating short story collection on NetGalley, it has within it some of the best short stories I’ve read this year. I had seen the buzz about this book on Twitter, loved the sound of it and although I could have put it as the next book to read in my Short Stories Challenge, I honestly couldn’t wait that long to read it. As it is, I devoured the entire twelve stories within twenty-four hours and am already considering reading them again shortly, that’s how much of an impact they had on me.

I’m not going to talk about all of the stories in this collection, merely the ones that had the desired effect but, to be honest, I’m really going to have to whittle them down even further as this collection is so fantastic that there was only one tale that I didn’t believe was as fantastic as the rest and as someone who has had quite a lot of experience with short stories now, that is a rare thing indeed! The first story, The Future Looks Good (described more than adequately in the synopsis) hit me like a ton of bricks. From the very first line: “Ezinma fumbles the keys against the lock and doesn’t see what came behind her:,” to the startling, literally jaw-dropping ending, I knew I had fallen head over heels in love with this author, her writing and this collection. It takes quite a lot to make me gasp out loud when I’m reading and the reaction I had to this first story even had my boyfriend slightly worried!

Right away, I knew I was reading something special. However, now the bar was set extraordinarily high for the rest of the book and I always feel slightly nervous when this kind of thing happens, rare though it is. The rest of the stories didn’t have exactly the same effect I have to say, but that does not mean they were in any way inferior, just clever and more subtle. Windfalls is about a mother who deliberately places her daughter in harm’s way, hoping that she gets injured so that she can sue and claim money is one of the darkest, most warped pieces of fiction I’ve ever read but it was utterly compelling, even as I felt sickened by this so-called “mother.”

Then there is Who Will Greet You At Home, a fantastical story about a woman who makes babies out of a range of materials for “Mama” to breathe life into them in exchange for some of her emotions, namely joy. Making babies like this is a regular practice for girls in this world but they are advised never to make a baby out of human hair. So can you then guess what our protagonist does? Say no more. Then there is the emotional Second Chances, where we follow a young woman struggling with the grief for her dead mother, especially when her mother’s ghost makes a return to the house as if nothing had ever happened. The only story in this collection that I didn’t connect with is What Is A Volcano which reads almost like a fairy-tale (so you’d think I would love it, right?) about a war between the God of Ants and the Goddess of Rivers. As with the others, it was beautifully written with such stunning imagery but for some reason I didn’t gel with it as much as I did with the other eleven tales in this book.

One of the things that I adore so much about this collection is that these stories cross the boundaries between a variety of genres. We have family drama – including relationships between parents and children and the heart-break that can follow estrangement, dystopia and the imaginings of a future world where mathematicians can cure grief, magical realism where childlessness is solved by making a baby out of whatever materials you can find around the house and finally, the historical past of a country. Each of our protagonists is engaging and interesting and you really do want to learn about their lives, even if by reading it stirs up such a hornets nest of emotions that it makes you quite dizzy (yet strangely hungry for more) which was certainly the case here. I also loved that the stories were either set in Nigeria (past, present or future) or in America about the Nigerian immigrant experience which, personally speaking, made each tale so much more fascinating.

As I’ve written this review, I’ve actually changed my rating on Goodreads. I originally awarded it four (more like four and a half) purely because of the story I didn’t quite get on with. However, just writing this review has made me realise that I need to give this collection five stars – indeed, I’d give it six if I could. Lesley Nneka Arimah is such a talented and exhilirating new writer that I’m almost bursting with desperation for her to write something else just so I can indulge myself in her writing for the first time once more.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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The Art Of Hiding – Amanda Prowse

Published November 20, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

What would you do if you learned that the life you lived was a lie?

Nina McCarrick lives the perfect life, until her husband, Finn, is killed in a car accident and everything Nina thought she could rely on unravels.

Alone, bereft and faced with a mountain of debt, Nina quickly loses her life of luxury and she begins to question whether she ever really knew the man she married. Forced to move out of her family home, Nina returns to the rundown Southampton council estate—and the sister—she thought she had left far behind.

But Nina can’t let herself be overwhelmed—her boys need her. To save them, and herself, she will have to do what her husband discouraged for so long: pursue a career of her own. Torn between the life she thought she knew and the reality she now faces, Nina finally must learn what it means to take control of her life.

Bestselling author Amanda Prowse once again plumbs the depths of human experience in this stirring and empowering tale of one woman’s loss and love.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to Lake Union Publishing for auto-approving me on NetGalley for this contemporary novel, my first by Amanda Prowse and I was instantly intrigued by the synopsis and the fact that some of it was set in Southampton, a city I know very well through living there for about ten years, going to college and university and getting my first “proper” job out of university there and making some of the best friends I’ve had in my life. By and large I found this to be an enjoyable novel however I’m sorry to say I wasn’t blown away by the narrative. There is nothing wrong with the writing, it’s merely a case of personal preference and I know this book has some fantastic ratings on Goodreads from reviewers who have loved it so please don’t take my word as gold.

It’s the story of Nina, who lives a charmed and privileged life in a huge, luxurious house in an area where places to lives are much sought after and the quality of life is excellent. Her two boys, Connor and Declan attend private school, are doing well academically and have vast numbers of friends. Basically, they are all deliriously happy in their lives and you can almost smell the imminent tragedy just waiting in the wings. Tragedy it certainly is, in the form of Nina’s husband Finn being killed in a car accident. He was the sole bread-winner in the house and took charge of all the finances but Nina isn’t too worried until she is given the devastating news that the family is actually millions of pounds in debt and almost everything they own, including their gorgeous house, has to be taken away from them in lieu of payment.

Nina and her sons are forced to leave their beautiful surroundings and exclusive school and move back to her childhood home, a council estate in one of the less affluent areas of Southampton. The rest of the story follows Nina and her boys as they struggle with their grief for their father, adjust to a completely new way of life where their next meal may not necessarily be the most opulent of offerings and learn to pull together as a family and embrace this horribly difficult period of their lives. Nina herself must come to terms with the fact that she might not ever have really known her husband and learn how to be independent and stand on her own two feet, finding a job, loving and protecting her sons and learning how to make them all a happy family once more.

Let me assure everyone who might be dumbfounded that I didn’t enjoy this book that there are actually a lot of positive things about it and many reasons why other people will love it. Whilst I didn’t particularly warm to the character of Nina, I appreciated the horrific situation she found herself in and the strong moves that she made in order to protect her children, which obviously was going to be her number one priority. Also, there is a moment in the story where you think the author is going to take it a perhaps more obvious, clichéd way in terms of Nina meeting someone. I fully admit, I was all ready to roll my eyes and put the book down in disgust but she really surprised me. She didn’t make it an ultimate cheese-fest, she didn’t make it all about Nina finding another man and instead, deliberately made it much more about Nina looking out for her children, becoming a woman that doesn’t necessarily need to fall conveniently into another relationship. God, I appreciated that!

To be perfectly honest, I can’t say too many negative things about this book. I disliked Finn as a character intensely – I found him controlling and manipulative but my heart still broke a little bit for Nina as she began to see his true colours after his death and realise how much she had been missing out on as she stayed at home where she had little input in many situations. Personally, the mystery behind the huge debt that Finn accrued through the business and his death (which could have been seen as mysterious) wasn’t explored as much as I might have liked and I didn’t feel I connected with many of the characters. Mostly, I think this story was just missing a little something for me, a certain “oomph,” something I can’t quite put my finger on but it just meant that as I read it, I never felt particularly excited. I’d love to know what you think if you’ve read it, please feel free to disagree with everything I’ve said, after all we all get something different out of every book we read, right?

Would I recommend it?:

Maybe!

Star rating (out of 5):

3 Star Rating Clip Art

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead – Charlie Laidlaw

Published November 15, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

With elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead shows how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, and how sometimes we can get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions. It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… Or does God have a higher purpose after all?

At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decision to make and that maybe she needs to find a way home.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the author Charlie Laidlaw for reaching out to me via email and offering me the chance to read this wonderful novel in return for an honest review. To be perfectly honest, as soon as he mentioned “a modern retelling of The Wizard Of Oz,” I was pretty much sold and when it arrived, I was completely charmed by the cover (yes, that’s a little hamster’s face in a spaceship!) but was even more delighted by the story that I found within.

Set in Edinburgh and North Berwick, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead is the story of Lorna Love who steps out in front of a car on the same day of the 7/7 bombings in London in 2005. She wakes up in what she believes to be a hospital bed but she is astounded to discover that she’s actually dead and in heaven, more specifically HVN, aboard a spaceship where they have a serious hamster problem as they continue to breed and nibble through the wiring of the ship (See, the hamsters were relevant!). Lorna has always been an agnostic but this idea of heaven is like something she could never have imagined. All the inhabitants choose to look like a celebrity of their choosing, for example, her nurse looks like Sean Connery and the chain-smoking woman who helps her adjust to life after death Irene, is a dead ringer for Kate Winslet.

When Lorna comes face to face with Captain God she learns that there is a real purpose to her being there and a reason why he has chosen her out of many people to live in the ship with the lure of being able to eat and drink whatever she wants when she wants, choose from a range of designer clothes that she never would have been able to afford on Earth and be able to transform her face and body to match any celebrity that might take her fancy. (Kate Winslet is quite popular, it turns out). However, until she recovers all her memories of her life, God will not tell her why she is there. We then follow Lorna’s life from childhood and adolescence to adventures with her best friend, the outgoing Suzie, her meaningful (and not so meaningful) relationships with men, how she juggles a menial job that she hates in a supermarket with training to be a solicitor and the struggles she has faced throughout her life. As Lorna looks back over significant events in her life, she begins to appreciate just how wonderful living is after all.

I have to admit, when I started this novel, I wasn’t too sure about whether I was going to enjoy it. I loved the fact it was set in Scotland being a Scots girl myself, and I instantly warmed to Lorna, a fantastic character who makes some bad decisions in her life but is so wonderfully endearing and an all round “good egg” that you can’t help but admire her. However, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead was a whole lot darker and infinitely more humorous than I first gave it credit for and by about one hundred pages in, I was completely hooked. This book was poignant, heart-warming and made me feel quite nostalgic as I look back over my life so far, the paths I’ve chosen to take and the people I’ve met (good and bad) along the way. It’s a quirky look at an alternative life after death and the highly charged emotional parts are perfectly balanced with some fantastic comedy moments. If you’re in the mood for something a bit different that warms the cockles of your heart this is definitely the book for you.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Stranger – David Bergen

Published November 8, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Íso Perdido, a young Guatemalan woman, works at a fertility clinic at Ixchel, named for the Mayan goddess of creation and destruction. Íso tends to the rich women who visit the clinic for the supposed conception-enhancing properties of the local lake. She is also the lover of Dr. Mann, the American doctor in residence. When an accident forces the doctor to leave Guatemala abruptly, Íso is abandoned, pregnant. After the birth, tended to by the manager of the clinic, the baby disappears.

Determined to reclaim her daughter, Íso follows a trail north, eventually crossing illegally into a United States where the rich live in safe zones, walled away from the indigent masses. Travelling without documentation, and with little money, Íso must penetrate this world, and in this place of menace and shifting boundaries, she must determine who she can trust and how much, aware that she might lose her daughter forever.

In David Bergen’s Stranger, with its uncanny lake, human monsters, and a stolen child, an ageless story is freshly recast in a modern setting, where themes of dislocation and disruption, exploitation and vulnerability, rich and poor collide. Intense and beautifully rendered, Stranger is a powerful and affecting novel for our times.

What did I think?:

First of all, a huge thank you to Duckworth Overlook Publishers for allowing me to read a copy of this touching novel in return for an honest review. This book is fairly short at 272 pages but manages to pack in a great deal within its pages and at times, I was extremely moved by what I read. It’s quite a hard book to classify genre wise – there is a contemporary edge, a vague mysterious undertone and it even read like a thriller in parts but overall I found it to be a very positive reading experience and I instantly felt a connection with the main character and the plight that she suffers.

Our protagonist for the journey is Íso Perdido, a young woman working in a fertility clinic in Guatemala who embarks on an affair with one of the American doctors working there, Dr Mann. Awkwardly, she ends up treating his wife who confides in her that her and Dr Mann have been trying to conceive a child for many years unsuccessfully. It is not long before Dr Mann returns to America in the company of his wife and leaves Íso in a difficult situation as she finds out that she is pregnant. However, things take a turn for the worse when Íso gives birth and shortly afterwards her baby disappears. Once she is told what has happened, she is determined to retrieve her child by any means necessary even if that involves illegal border crossings, homelessness, hunger and precarious situations. These are all things she must suffer if she is to have any chance of bringing her baby back home where she belongs.

I really didn’t know what to expect from this novel but on reading the synopsis my interest was certainly piqued. Parts of it made for incredibly tough reading on a personal level as it deals with some issues that I have had the bad luck to suffer with myself, but I do love books that manage to speak to my emotions and that was certainly the case with Stranger. I loved Íso as a character – not at the start, I have to admit, I was internally screaming at her not to get involved with a married man but when she goes through the unbearable loss of her child, I almost wept for her. She became at this time a character I could definitely get on board with. Determined, ruthless and hell-bent on getting her daughter back regardless of any danger to herself, are all admirable qualities to read about and only served to make me more interested in how her story would end. There were points of the narrative I almost had to suspend my disbelief to be perfectly honest but generally, this was a great story that explored some important issues of fertility, culture, immigration and the extreme lengths a mother would go to for her child.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

Is Monogamy Dead? – Rosie Wilby

Published November 6, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

‘My favourite way to learn is when a funny, clever, honest person is teaching me – that’s why I love Rosie Wilby!’ – Sara Pascoe

‘Bittersweet, original, honest and so funny.’ – Viv Groskop

In early 2013, comedian Rosie Wilby found herself at a crossroads with everything she’d ever believed about romantic relationships. When people asked, ‘who’s the love of your life?’ there was no simple answer. Did they mean her former flatmate who she’d experienced the most ecstatic, heady, yet ultimately doomed, fling with? Or did they mean the deep, lasting companionate partnerships that gave her a sense of belonging and family? Surely, most human beings need both.

Mixing humour, heartache and science, Is Monogamy Dead? details Rosie’s very personal quest to find out why Western society is clinging to a concept that doesn’t work that well for some of us and is laden with ambiguous assumptions.

What did I think?:

First of all, thank you so much to the author, Rosie Wilby for allowing me to read a copy of Is Monogamy Dead?, a beautifully honest part-memoir and part humorous philosophical musings on the nature of friendships, love, monogamy and relationships in the modern world. I’m delighted to provide an honest review and really enjoyed Rosie’s candid thoughts on all these topics and much more. It made me look at social media and dating apps in a whole different light, provided a whole new vocabulary to get to grips with (breadcrumbing anyone?!) and really made me think about what I look for in a relationship versus what my partner might want. It turns out he wants the same as me (phew!) but Rosie definitely made me question what might be going on in someone else’s head and opened up that window of communication where we could talk more honestly about our relationship and where we saw it going.

Rosie is an award-winning comedian, musician, writer and broadcaster based in London and much of the book was quite nostalgic for me as I used to live in London and continue to work there on a daily basis. From describing her current relationship with Jen which troubles her at times because she is so unsure about where it is going, Rosie takes us back to her very first relationship, the first time she fell in love, the girl that changed her outlook briefly for the worse regarding relationships and where she finds herself now. Interspersed with this are her thoughts on monogamy and what that means to people in a relationship, how much potentially easier an “open relationship,” could be where both parties get exactly what they want and still have someone to come home and cuddle on a night, and how technology and expectations have upped the ante in the way we meet and date people.

Of course, I have gay and bisexual friends but I feel like I have got much more of a personal insight into the world of lesbian relationships from Rosie Wilby than I ever would have done from my friends. Well, some things you just don’t ask, right? I loved how sincerely she talked about her past relationships. her current situation and her potential future and my heart broke a little when she and Jen decided to “consciously uncouple,” even though it was obviously the best thing for both parties concerned! I was also fascinated when she described those intimate, very intense female friendships that you form on occasion that are so strong that when they fall apart spectacularly it is almost like a break-up. I’ve certainly had a few of those in my past and I remember how devastating the feeling was.

With Is Monogamy Dead?, Rosie takes us into her confidence, tickles our funny-bone with the things she says and certainly had me rooting for her, hoping that she would find her own happy ending, whatever that might look like to her. If you like your non-fiction with a bit of an edge and a whole lot of heart this is definitely the book for you.

Rosie is appearing at Write Ideas Festival in Whitechapel, London on Sunday 19th November from 13:00-14:00 to talk more about Is Monogamy Dead? Tickets are free but you must register if you’re interested!

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/rosie-wilby-is-monogamy-dead-tickets-37755301122

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

October 2017 – Book Bridgr/NetGalley/ARC month

Published October 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!) October is going to be one of the latter months and here’s what I’m looking forward to getting to this month:

Stranger – David Bergen

(courtesy of Duckworth Overlook Publishers)

What It Means When A Man Falls From The Sky – Lesley Nneka Arimah

(courtesy of Tinder Press via NetGalley)

The Things We Learn When We’re Dead – Charlie Laidlaw

(courtesy of author)

Rivals Of The Republic – Annelise Freisenbruch

(courtesy of Duckworth Overlook Publishers)

The Art Of Hiding – Amanda Prowse

(courtesy of Lake Union Publishing via NetGalley)

Is Monogamy Dead? – Rosie Wilby

(courtesy of author)