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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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Gather The Daughters – Jennie Melamed

Published July 25, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

For fans of Emma Cline’s THE GIRLS and Emily St John Mandel’s STATION 11, this dark, unsettling and hugely compelling story of an isolated island cult will get under your skin.

GATHER THE DAUGHTERS tells the story of an end-of-the-world cult founded years ago when ten men colonised an island. It’s a society in which men reign supreme, breeding is controlled, and knowledge of the outside world is kept to a minimum. Girls are wives-in-training: at the first sign of puberty, they must marry and have children. But until that point, every summer, island tradition dictates that the children live wildly: running free, making camps, sleeping on the beach. And it is at the end of one such summer that one of the youngest girls sees something so horrifying that life on the island can never be the same again.

What did I think?:

Tinder Press are fast becoming one of my favourite publishers, they are bringing out some outstanding books this year so thank you so much to them and to Caitlin Raynor for sending me an advance copy of this unbelievable dystopian story in exchange for an honest review. Gather The Daughters is released today and believe me, you simply must get your hands on it because the narrative and indeed, the world that Jennie Melamed has created is truly stunning and you won’t regret a second you spend reading it.

The story is set on an island which is quite isolated from the rest of the world both physically, separated by a band of water and literally as the way of life experienced by the islanders is not exactly conventional. The society is patriarchal and there are very clear rules about what women can and cannot do, say, be exposed to etc according to “the ancestors,” whose strange rules are law and should never be questioned or disobeyed. There are strict guidelines about not touching daughters in the families until they have entered their summer of fruition i.e. got their first period. It is after then that they are married off and treated as little more than breeding machines with the sole purpose of increasing the population of the colony. However, every summer, the children are let loose on the island to run wild, play, have fun, fend for themselves and enjoy the small freedom that they have before entering a life of drudgery. It is during this one summer that one small girl, Caitlin witnesses something shocking happening on the island and from then on, nothing will ever be the same again.

Wow. Just wow. I could already tell when I read the synopsis that this was a book I simply had to get my hands on and I was over the moon when it surpassed my already very high expectations. The writing is wonderfully sublime, the world-building one of a kind and the characters – like a dream come true. We hear from multiple daughters of the island including Caitlin herself, and the brilliant Janey whose actions when she hears what Caitlin has seen have huge consequences for everyone on the island. Some of the things that happen in this novel are truly horrific, others are nail-biting and it makes for the most amazing debut piece of fiction that I have read in a long, long time. Jennie Melamed has created such a frightening dystopian society that makes you think, gets deep under your skin and has a unique style and voice all of its own. This is an author to watch out for I’m certain and I cannot wait to see what she comes up with next – I’ll be first in the queue to read it although I might have to fight for my place when everyone else reads this too!

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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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

See What I Have Done – Sarah Schmidt

Published May 5, 2017 by bibliobeth

What’s it all about?:

Haunting, gripping and gorgeously written, SEE WHAT I HAVE DONE by Sarah Schmidt is a re-imagining of the unsolved American true crime case of the Lizzie Borden murders, for fans of BURIAL RITES and MAKING A MURDERER.

‘Eerie and compelling, Sarah Schmidt breathes such life into the terrible, twisted tale of Lizzie Borden and her family, she makes it impossible to look away’ Paula Hawkins

When her father and step-mother are found brutally murdered on a summer morning in 1892, Lizzie Borden – thirty two years old and still living at home – immediately becomes a suspect. But after a notorious trial, she is found innocent, and no one is ever convicted of the crime.

Meanwhile, others in the claustrophobic Borden household have their own motives and their own stories to tell: Lizzie’s unmarried older sister, a put-upon Irish housemaid, and a boy hired by Lizzie’s uncle to take care of a problem.

This unforgettable debut makes you question the truth behind one of the great unsolved mysteries, as well as exploring power, violence and the harsh realities of being a woman in late nineteenth century America.

What did I think?:

First of all, the biggest thank you to the lovely Georgina Moore from Headline and Tinder Press who were kind enough to send me a copy of this astounding debut novel in return for an honest review. To be honest, I’m not sure where to start with this book – I have so much to say and it invoked so many different feelings in me that I’m wary of this review turning into an incoherent gush fest! See What I Have Done is unlike any novel I’ve read before and will probably ever read. The characters, the structure of the plot and especially the stunning writing style all completely blew me away and I still find myself thinking about it days after finishing.

Sarah Schmidt has chosen to focus on a real and rather shocking event that played out in the late nineteenth century involving a young girl called Lizzie Borden who was the main suspect in a double murder of her father and his wife, her stepmother Abby Borden. You may be familiar with the old schoolyard rhyme:

“Lizzie Borden took an axe and gave her mother forty whacks. When she saw what she had done, she gave her father forty-one.”

Now in reality, Lizzie was actually acquitted of their murders. Apparently it was thought that the killings were so brutal that no well brought up, middle-class young lady would have been capable of such an act. Sarah Schmidt has chosen to fictionalise Lizzie’s story from a number of perspectives that is, from the point of view of her sister Emma who was not present in the house at the time of the killings, the Irish maid Bridget who at the time had an uneasy relationship with Mrs Borden, a mysterious young man called Benjamin and from Lizzie herself. Each perspective is startlingly honest and intimate and we get a fantastic insight into the strained relationships between different family members, the sadness and frustration of living in a house with difficult and occasionally spiteful parents and the innermost thoughts of a troubled mind.

See What I Have Done is a raw and disturbing read that instantly draws you in with its delicious (yet at the same time disgusting) imagery forged by beautifully descriptive writing and fascinating character studies that have you questioning everybody and everything. It seems like everyone has motive for killing the Borden’s but which one of these individuals had the strength and audacity to wield the axe at the end? As a reader, we’ve got an idea of whom as we draw towards the conclusion but the author will still have you thinking of alternative things that could have happened if others were in the vicinity at the right time. What did I love most about this novel? Apart from the writing style which I could wax on about for days, I enjoyed how she explored the relationship between Lizzie and her older sister Emma which was terribly co-dependent on Lizzie’s part, despite the fact she was supposed to be in her thirties. Her child-like voice, the decisions she made, and the actions she chose added the creep factor to the proceedings and made her an utterly mind-blowing character to read about.

Even the simple act of several characters eating a pear sent shivers down my spine, it was written in such a crystal clear way that played on each one of your senses to the extreme where you could smell the sickness in the house, taste the mutton soup and swallow the pear. If I could sum up my feelings on See What I Have Done (which would be tricky!) I would say: I was nauseated and amazed, disgusted but filled with awe, taken aback but hugely delighted and urge everyone with every fibre of my being to READ THIS BOOK. Sarah Schmidt has a new, ardent fan right here that has “seen what she has done,” loved every minute of it and simply cannot wait to see what she does next.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

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Strange Girls And Ordinary Women – Morgan McCarthy

Published March 10, 2016 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

They say you know instinctively who to trust.

Alice is normal; she’d never do anything rash. But when she sees her husband one day with a younger girl, she knows at once that he’s having an affair. And it must be stopped.

Vic loves her friend Michael, more than he knows. He wants happiness, and thinks he’s found it with the magnetic Estella. But Vic feels sure she can’t be trusted – and she needs to make Michael see that too.

They don’t know Kaya; her life is tougher than they can imagine. But Kaya’s a survivor, and she’s determined to find a way out of her miserable world.

Three women, three lives that come crashing together in this dark, lyrical and utterly enthralling story of warped perceptions, female intuition and ‘the other woman’.

What did I think?:

First of all, many thanks to Book Bridgr (the fantastic site which provides books to eager book bloggers like myself) and to Tinder Press for allowing me to read a copy of this intriguing novel in return for an honest review. I’ve never read anything by the author, Morgan McCarthy before and I’m always keen to try new authors especially those that capture my attention with an eye-catching title and a tag-line that states: “We all see what we want to see.”

Strange Girls and Ordinary Women is a story told in three separate parts from three very different and independent women, the style of which took a little while to get used to but once I got each character established in my head I really enjoyed reading about each one individually. We have Alice, a “normal” housewife who is married to Jasper but her world is about to change forever when suspecting him of having an affair, she follows him and sees him meeting a younger woman. Then there is Vic, British born but living in Madeira where she manages a hotel that was formerly owned by her parents. Vic has had quite an interesting life and flirted quite seriously with Catholicism when she was younger, led into it by her childhood friend Kate who then passed away. When Vic’s oldest and very good friend Michael moves back to the island, Vic is ecstatic but less so about his girlfriend Estella as she has strong suspicions that there is something not right about her. Finally, my favourite character of the book – Kaya who has had a tough childhood trying to look after her alcoholic mother, Louise. Attempting to sever some ties and reclaim control over her life, Kaya moves in with a friend and makes money by stripping in an exclusive club. This is merely a short-term measure however as Kaya has many plans and ambitions for her future, things that may come to fruition when one of her rich (and married) client takes a fancy to her.

When you first begin this book, you wonder how there could be a connection between three such different women but there is a definite link that once discovered will have you quickly thumbing through the pages to determine how it will all be resolved! Each woman has something about them that kept me wanting to read and those that seem predictable turn out to be quite the opposite in the end. I probably enjoyed Kaya’s story more than the other two women but they all managed to surprise me in some shape or form. The author also cleverly mixes in an open ending for the grand finale so the reader is left to make up their own mind about the direction some of the characters may have taken. Anyone who finds this particular style frustrating will probably not enjoy this but I personally found it quite refreshing and I enjoyed making up alternate futures for them all! For my first book from this particular author, it was a good solid read with some lovely prose and interesting ideas and I shall certainly be checking out more books in her back catalogue.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars

 

The Good Children – Roopa Farooki

Published February 20, 2015 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Leaving home is one thing. Surviving is another.

1940s Lahore, the Punjab. Two brothers and their two younger sisters are brought up to be ‘good children’, who do what they’re told. Beaten and browbeaten by their manipulative mother, to study, honour and obey. Sully, damaged and brilliant, Jakie, irreverent and passionate. Cynical Mae and soft-hearted Lana, outshone and too easily dismissed.

The boys escape their repressive home to study medicine abroad, abandoning their sisters to their mother and marriages. Sully falls in love with an unsuitable Indian girl in the States; Jakie with an unsuitable white man in London. Their sisters in Pakistan refuse to remain trophy wives, and disgrace the family while they strike out to build their own lives.

As they raise their own families, and return to bury the dead, Sully and Jakie, Mae and Lana, face the consequences of their decisions, and learn that leaving home doesn’t mean it will ever leave them.

THE GOOD CHILDREN is a compelling story of discipline and disobedience, punishment and the pursuit of passion, following the children of a game-changing generation and the ties that bind them across cultures, continents and decades. Painful and sweet, tough and surprising, it is a landmark epic of the South Asian immigrant experience.

What did I think?:

First of all, a big thank you to Book Bridgr and Tinder Press for allowing me to read a copy of this fantastic novel. The author, Roopa Farooki has been long-listed twice for the Orange Prize (now Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction) for her novels, Bitter Sweets and The Flying Man and after reading this beautifully written tale of how a mother’s love affects her children in different ways, I can definitely see why. It tells the story of four siblings – two boys, Sully and Jakie and two girls, Mae and Lana who grow up in 1940’s Lahore, Pakistan during the time of the partition under an authoritarian and controlling mother whose behaviour to her children is a mixture of emotional, mental and physical abuse as she tries to bring them up as “good” children.

Sully and Jakie are sent overseas to America and London respectively to become doctors and are each very successful in their field but the looming shadow of their past and their mother’s influence haunts both and ends up influencing their life decisions. Sully ends up marrying a very “unsuitable” Indian girl and Jakie falls in love with an Irish man in a time when homosexuality was still very much frowned upon. The fact that he is a Pakistani doctor in the NHS in the 1950’s also makes his life very difficult, as racial prejudice was rife and he faces challenges every day both in his career and his love-life which also proves to be a rocky road. Mae and Lana, the girls left behind are expected to make good marriages because of the status of their own family and the disappointment of their mother in her sons who appear to have failed her. Both girls succeed in marrying well initially but have their own problems and indeed tragedies within the marriages. The siblings return home twice – for their fathers then their mothers funeral where it becomes obvious how much power their past has over them and how it has affected their whole lives as a result.

The novel is split up into different sections allowing the reader to “hear” from each character individually and covers the time period 1938-2009. I loved hearing from each character although I don’t feel we got to hear as much from the second daughter, Lana which was a shame. However, what I did hear was wonderful. As the oldest son, Sully probably struggles the most with his mother’s influence which seems to affect his whole personality and as a result, sadly, his marriage. Jakie, as I mentioned before has enough to deal with as regards racial and homophobic prejudice but his relationship with Frank, a challenging yet loveable character is also threatened. I really enjoyed reading about Mae who I felt was the strongest and most independent sibling of them all. I gave a little cheer every time she was able to stand up to her mother or when she decided to forge her own path in life, going against everything her culture (and mother) dictated. One of the many beautiful things about this novel has to be the powerfulness of the characters. In fact, once I finished, I felt like I knew them intimately and felt connected to their struggles. I think the author also tackles a range of difficult subjects, like family values, culture, homosexuality, racism (to name a few), with ease and finesse which left me with a lot to think about long after I had finished. I will definitely be reading more from Roopa Farooki and I hope this book gets the acclaim it deserves.

Would I recommend it?:

But of course!

Star rating (out of 5):

four-stars_0

Season To Taste Or How To Eat Your Husband – Natalie Young

Published October 28, 2014 by bibliobeth

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What’s it all about?:

Always let the meat rest under foil for at least ten minutes before carving… Meet Lizzie Prain. Ordinary housewife. Fifty-something. Lives in a cottage in the woods, with her dog Rita. Likes cooking, avoids the neighbours. Runs a little business making cakes. No one has seen Lizzie’s husband, Jacob, for a few days. That’s because last Monday, on impulse, Lizzie caved in the back of his head with a spade. And if she’s going to embark on the new life she feels she deserves after thirty years in Jacob’s shadow, she needs to dispose of his body. Her method appeals to all her practical instincts, though it’s not for the faint-hearted. Will Lizzie have the strength to follow it through? Dark, funny and achingly human, Season to Taste is a deliciously subversive treat. In the shape of Lizzie Prain, Natalie Young has created one of the most remarkable heroines in recent fiction.

What did I think?:

A big thank you to the lovely people at Book Bridgr and Tinder Press/Headline for allowing me to read this very dark and unique novel. The title kind of says it all so no spoilers there! In short, it is about a fifty-something woman called Lizzie Prain whom after thirty years of marriage decides to take a shovel to her husband’s head. The only problem now is, what to do with the body? Ah, yes the obvious solution – eat it. In this way, the power in the relationship which often lay on her husband’s side could be taken back and she could regain control over her life. Her husband’s sudden disappearance may pose certain questions, but if she pretends that he has run off with another woman, everything should be perfect. What Lizzie doesn’t realise is how difficult eating her husband will be so she writes a list of notes to help her along the way. For example ideas for various dishes using the human meat, reminders of how awful her marriage had become, positive reinforcements and advice to herself should the police come knocking. For example:

81. Your husband’s will now be in your mouth and oesophagus, your gullet, stomach and intestines.

82. If you have managed to go to the loo yet, he will have also come out already as waste. 

83. Look at the poo.

Hopefully, this gives you a good idea about how grim this novel actually is. And this is one of the tamer quotes! As Lizzie continues to eat her husband piece by piece, organ by organ (yes, even the eyeball gets a “look” in!) she focuses on her end-goal. This is to escape to Scotland and start a new life where no one knows her or that she ever had a husband at all. However a problem arises in the form of Tom who works at the local garden centre and almost instantly befriends Lizzie. His grandfather is a bit suspicious about where Lizzie’s husband has disappeared to and on top of that her new friend Tom actually wants to come into her house and sit in the kitchen. With bags of a dismembered body hanging around? That could be a tricky one.The question is, will Lizzie succeed in her mission and escape to Scotland? Or will somebody find out what has happened and bring her to justice?

I found this novel absolutely fascinating and at the same time, incredibly disgusting. I think it has to be the darkest thing I have ever read and although I’m not a squeamish type at all I found myself wincing and feeling nauseated at particular moments. The “hand,” dinner was probably the worst for me but there is certainly grimness to be found on almost each page. Did I enjoy it? For the most part, I have to say I did. It felt like a very unique read and I did enjoy the numbered lists that Lizzie made for herself. As to a motive for killing her husband, there isn’t really one I don’t think – perhaps a temporary moment of insanity would explain things a bit better. Although, perhaps the author isn’t trying to give Lizzie a motive, maybe she suggests that we never know what we may be capable of? This is a dark and very gory read so definitely NOT for those of a nervous or delicate disposition! Personally, it kept me intrigued right through to the end and I’m quite excited to see what this author does next.

Would I recommend it?:

Probably!

Star rating (out of 5):

3-5-stars