Talking About ‘The Couple Next Door’ with Bibliobeth!

The Couple Next Door

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Your neighbour told you that she didn’t want your six-month-old daughter at the dinner party. Nothing personal, she just couldn’t stand her crying.

Your husband said it would be fine. After all, you only live next door. You’ll have the baby monitor and you’ll take it in turns to go back every half hour.

Your daughter was sleeping when you checked on her last. But now, as you race up the stairs in your deathly quiet house, your worst fears are realized. She’s gone.

You’ve never had to call the police before. But now they’re in your home, and who knows what they’ll find there.

What would you be capable of, when pushed past your limit?

CHRISSI: What was your first impression of this book?

BETH: I was really pleased to see The Couple Next Door on Richard and Judy’s Summer Book Club this year, I’d heard a little bit about the book and it falls into a genre that I really like to read so I was excited to get started. It was an incredibly quick read and I surprised myself with how quickly I managed to read it but the story was quite gripping and that urged me to keep on reading instead of putting the book down.

BETH: Anne initially blames Marco for their daughter’s disappearance. Do you agree with her?

CHRISSI: I think Anne and Marco were equally to blame, as Anne agreed to leave the baby. It wasn’t as if Marco forced her to go next door. Anne had her own mind and could’ve said no. She decided to go with Marco to the party, so no… I don’t agree with Anne.

CHRISSI: Which characters, if any, do you sympathise with in this novel?

BETH: This is a really difficult question because, to be honest, I don’t think the whole novel had a hugely likeable character in it for me. That’s not a bad thing at all as I often find myself enjoying books more if there’s an unreliable narrator or a character that is written in such a way that it makes it difficult for you to like them or understand their motivations. This is certainly true of The Couple Next Door. The main couple in the novel leave their baby in the house alone to go to a party next door, taking just the baby monitor with them and taking turns to check on her every so often. At the end of the night, she has disappeared. Obviously this is a terrible thing to happen and I did automatically sympathise with the situation they found themselves in but also found I blamed them a little for what had occurred.

BETH: How do you think Anne’s struggles with post natal depression play into her feelings about the loss of her daughter?

CHRISSI: I think Anne’s struggles with post natal depression really do play into her feelings about the loss of her daughter. Anne is obviously struggling with her mental health and that’s going to affect how she feels about the loss of her daughter. Anne really starts to struggle with her emotions and really question whether she did something wrong, whilst checking on her daughter. I was actually questioning it too. I found Anne’s post natal depression made her a really unreliable narrator.

CHRISSI: Discuss the moral dilemma around the decision to leave the baby in the house next door.

BETH: As I mentioned in the previous novel, Anne and Marco have left their baby behind while attending a party at their next door neighbours and the worst possible case scenario has happened – their daughter has disappeared. It did seem to be more of a dilemma for the mother, Anne to leave her child behind. The host of the party next door Cynthia made it quite clear that her baby was not welcome at the party and Anne’s husband, Marco did a good job of persuading her that everything would be okay. After all, they had the baby monitor and they would keep going back to check on her. Obviously the chances of anything like this happening to your child are very slim but you just need to look at the famous Madeline McCann disappearance to understand that while unlikely, parents shouldn’t even dare take the chance of assuming that “everything will be fine.”

BETH: Did you enjoy the twists and turns in this novel?

CHRISSI: I did. I like a thriller to have twists and turns and The Couple Next Door certainly delivered. I loved the pace of the story and even though I kinda guessed where it was going, it didn’t ruin it for me!

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I felt it compared very well. I enjoyed the plot, disliking the characters, the slight twists and turns and how everything was wrapped up at the end. It was certainly fast paced and kept me reading and as a mystery and thriller it does what it says on the tin. I loved how everything was slowly revealed and although I’m afraid I kind of guessed where it might be going I still enjoyed the story as a whole.

BETH: Would you read another novel by this author?

CHRISSI: I would. I enjoyed the writer’s style and thought it was a gripping read!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- A Snicker Of Magic

A Snicker of Magic

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

Midnight Gulch used to be a magical place, a town where people could sing up thunderstorms and dance up sunflowers. But that was long ago, before a curse drove the magic away. Twelve-year-old Felicity knows all about things like that; her nomadic mother is cursed with a wandering heart.

But when she arrives in Midnight Gulch, Felicity thinks her luck’s about to change. A “word collector,” Felicity sees words everywhere—shining above strangers, tucked into church eves, and tangled up her dog’s floppy ears—but Midnight Gulch is the first place she’s ever seen the word “home.” And then there’s Jonah, a mysterious, spiky-haired do-gooder who shimmers with words Felicity’s never seen before, words that make Felicity’s heart beat a little faster.

Felicity wants to stay in Midnight Gulch more than anything, but first, she’ll need to figure out how to bring back the magic, breaking the spell that’s been cast over the town . . . and her mother’s broken heart.

Thoughts:

I saw this book around everywhere a few years back, but for some reason never got around to reading it. I’m pleased that we picked it for our kid-lit challenge. It’s a really cute, magical realism, middle grade read. I don’t think it will be for everyone, but I do believe so many readers will enjoy it!

A Snicker of Magic is about a girl named Felicity who sees words everywhere. She sees them above people, in the air, around the house etc. Felicity lives with her family, but they travel around a lot as her mum can’t settle down for some unknown reason. Felicity and her sister just want to call somewhere home. When they arrive in their mum’s hometown, they wonder if it’ll be the place they finally settle down in. The town has history. It used to contain magic, and some residents believe it still contains ‘a snicker of magic’. As Felicity gets to know the residents, she finds out there’s more to the town and her family than first meets the eye.

This story is incredibly cute. I thought it was so easy to read and the magical realism was fun. It doesn’t have major amounts of plot development, it’s more about the characters. This didn’t bother me though as I liked to read about the characters and their back story.

Natalie Lloyd’s writing is descriptive and whimsical. I think you’ll either really enjoy it or it’ll frustrate you. It really depends on your taste. I think it’s so worth checking out though!

For Beth’s wonderful review, please check out her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
Yes! 3.5 stars

Reading next in Beth and Chrissi do Kid-Lit Challenge (May):
The Sea of Monsters- Rick Riordan

Banned Books #34 Habibi by Craig Thompson

Banner made by Luna @ Lunaslittlelibrary

Welcome to April’s edition of Banned Books, where Beth and I read a banned book, once a month! This month was Habibi by Craig Thompson.

Habibi

Synopsis:

Sprawling across an epic landscape of deserts, harems, and modern industrial clutter, Habibi tells the tale of Dodola and Zam, refugee child slaves bound to each other by chance, by circumstance, and by the love that grows between them. We follow them as their lives unfold together and apart; as they struggle to make a place for themselves in a world (not unlike our own) fueled by fear, lust, and greed; and as they discover the extraordinary depth—and frailty—of their connection.
 
At once contemporary and timeless, Habibi gives us a love story of astounding resonance: a parable about our relationship to the natural world, the cultural divide between the first and third worlds, the common heritage of Christianity and Islam, and, most potently, the magic of storytelling.

Habibi by Craig Thompson
First published: 2011
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: nudity, sexually explicit and unsuited for age group

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH: As a fairly recent release (2011), there aren’t going to be many differences in my opinions as I don’t really believe attitudes have changed that much in the past six years or so. I’m finding expressing my opinions about this graphic novel quite difficult and apologies if my words aren’t coherent! I have such mixed views on this book, you see. The good, the bad and the downright ugly. Can I see why it was challenged/banned? Well, er….yes I kind of can. This is NOT to say that I agree with banning books, not in the slightest! I can however see why this book may have been controversial. There are a LOT of adult themes in the books that may not be suitable for younger readers mainly involving rape and graphic sexuality. Of course the book should be available to read but perhaps not in settings where much younger children have access to it.

CHRISSI: Like Beth, I don’t agree with banning books as I don’t think people should be ‘told’ what they can and cannot read. However, this book is one of those books that it’s easy to see why it’s challenged. It’s certainly controversial and it deals with many contentious issues. There’s some quite graphic sexuality, nudity and rape which isn’t suitable for younger readers in my opinion. I’m not sure if this book is intended to be for adults, but that’s certainly what it came across to me. A work of adult literature!

How about now?

BETH: See previous answer! So the reasons for banning/challenging this graphic novel are nudity which there is an abundance of. Seriously, every other page seems to have a naked character on it (probably 95% of them are female, I have to say which I’m not going to even get into but which made me slightly uncomfortable for my own feminist sensibilities). Then there’s the fact it’s sexually explicit and that is certainly the case. Naked bodies are not a bad thing don’t get me wrong but some of the sexual scenes which mainly involve sex that is non-consensual are incredibly graphic. Finally, it states that it’s unsuited for the age group. Here’s where I have a bit of confusion. I don’t know what age group it’s actually meant to be aimed at? Yes, it’s a graphic novel which may make you automatically think of younger readers, however the themes are so adult that it cannot be anything but an adult read.

CHRISSI: I can see why it’s challenged. I read a wide range of literature, but this one made me feel particularly uncomfortable and that’s quite something!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: First of all, this book is absolutely beautiful. It’s a beast at about 700 pages long but don’t be intimidated by it’s size, I read it quite easily in two sittings in the space of a couple of hours. The illustrations are fantastic and some parts of the story I really enjoyed but other parts….I could just see why it may be offensive, especially to some cultures and religions. I didn’t really enjoy the stories within stories that talked about the similarities between Christianity and Islam as religions either which is strange as I normally like that sort of thing. In this novel however, it just made the narrative feel quite bumpy – if that’s the right word!

CHRISSI: Despite my uncomfortable feeling whilst reading this book, it didn’t take me long to read at all. I found it interesting in parts and offensive in others. It was a mixed bag for me, like Beth, but I’m leaning more towards not enjoying the reading experience.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: I’m going to say maybe as I think some people will love it, other people will not so much. It’s a Marmite kind of book!

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- Others might enjoy it,  but it was too much for me.

Talking About ‘Lying In Wait’ with Bibliobeth

Lying in Wait

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

The last people who expect to be meeting with a drug-addicted prostitute are a respected judge and his reclusive wife. And they certainly don’t plan to kill her and bury her in their exquisite suburban garden.

Yet Andrew and Lydia Fitzsimons find themselves in this unfortunate situation.

While Lydia does all she can to protect their innocent son Laurence and their social standing, her husband begins to falls apart.

But Laurence is not as naïve as Lydia thinks. And his obsession with the dead girl’s family may be the undoing of his own.

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of this book?

BETH: I thought it was a unique premise for crime fiction. From the very beginning, we know exactly what happened on the night of Annie’s murder even down to whom was responsible for the crime. The novel follows how the murderer(s) try to cover up their tracks to resist detection over a number of years. We get multiple perspectives across two very different families (the perps and the victim’s family) across an extended period of time. It was a different way to approach a novel in this genre and I enjoyed being part of the author’s little secret as we saw the repercussions of the crime on many different people including the murderer themselves.

BETH: Discuss the relationship of Lydia with her son Laurence.

CHRISSI: Ooh, good question. I think Lydia’s relationship with Laurence is incredibly intense. Lydia has a hold over Laurence. He is her everything. Lydia’s relationship with her son grows stronger over time and I think it becomes more damaging over time too. The relationship is certainly not healthy. As a reader, we get to see the cracks in the relationship grow over time. The ending as well… phew!

CHRISSI: Liz Nugent is a radio and TV scriptwriter – do you think that affects the way that she writes her novels?

BETH: I wasn’t actually aware of that but looking back on it, it really comes across in the way that she writes. You can almost imagine each scene as being part of a movie or play and I would love to see it being adapted for film! It wouldn’t be hard, the author has provided everything in such clear detail and although I wouldn’t say it is necessarily “action-packed,” there is no need at all for this story to have a fast pace. It’s almost like a character study and is slowly chilling.

BETH: Many of the characters in this novel are not particularly likeable. Do you need to be able to empathise with characters in a book to enjoy it?

CHRISSI: Definitely not! I actually think it’s fun not to like characters. Maybe that’s a little warped of me? I don’t know. However, I absolutely loved hating some of the characters, especially Lydia, the mother. She was completely warped but I loved reading about her. Lydia’s narration was fascinating to me. The way she thought…wow!

CHRISSI: Discuss how the author structures the novel to build the tension.

BETH: I think it helps the novel to have the story told from multiple perspectives. From Lydia and her son Laurence (who were especially fascinating to read about) to Karen and the effect that her sister’s murder has on the entire family. You would come to the end of a particular perspective and there may be a slight cliff hanger but then perspectives switch and you read from someone else’s point of view. This means that the reader has to wait a little while before resuming the original thread they were reading and believe me, the wait is always worth it!

BETH: What was most enjoyable about this book for you?

CHRISSI: It’s hard to pinpoint what I enjoyed about this book. I didn’t read the synopsis before going into it, which I like to do with books like this. I just like to read it and see how it unfolds. I think the characters were fascinating, I enjoyed the multiple narration and I loved how messed up it became. I have to say, I think Laurence and Lydia made this book for me.

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: Easily rises to the top of the pack in my opinion. I wasn’t sure how much I was going to like knowing everything about a murder at the beginning of the novel but the author manages to make this story so compelling with such fascinating characters that I was utterly hooked for the entirety of it. I’m actually really keen now to read Liz’s debut novel, Unravelling Oliver which I’ve heard great things about but if it’s anything like this one I know I’m going to love it.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would! I am also intrigued to read her debut novel, because I found her writing style to be incredibly engaging.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Of course!

Banned Books #33- Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Banner made by Luna @ Lunaslittlelibrary

Welcome to March’s edition of Banned Books (a little late, sorry!) where Beth and I have read Fun Home by Alison Bechdel.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
First published: 2006
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2015 (source)
Reasons: violence and other (“graphic images”)

Do you understand or agree with any of the reasons for the book being challenged when it was originally published?

BETH:  This is one of those books where I don’t necessarily agree with the reason for challenging/banning it but I can understand why someone may have had problems. I don’t think a book should ever be banned outright and people should always have access to it but in some cases, it might not be suitable for younger readers. There is however one reason I’d like to point out as I’m confused about it – the violence part. Now I’ve just finished this graphic novel/memoir and I really am racking my brain to remember any specific incidence of violence. There is a couple of slight incidents at the beginning where Alison’s father hits her or her brothers but it isn’t portrayed terribly graphically which I was a little relieved about as that would hit a bit too close to the bone for me.

CHRISSI: I can somewhat understand why this book has had some issues. There’s some er… rather risque moments that I can imagine would be a bit difficult to handle in the classroom. That’s not to say that I don’t think it should be challenged and banned completely, but from a teaching perspective… I wouldn’t dream of having this in the library unlike some of the other books that we’ve read for this feature.

How about now?

BETH: This book is now over ten years old and still reads as very contemporary so I don’t think attitudes would have changed too much in that short period of time. I was surprised at the graphic sexual imagery that there is, I wasn’t really expecting that and although I wasn’t personally offended by it it might be a bit too much for very young readers. It shows a lesbian scene and I was quite pleased that this kind of thing is being included in graphic novels. The other graphic image is of a naked male corpse which again I wasn’t perturbed by but might frighten those of a more sensitive disposition. 

CHRISSI: I’d have to agree with Beth, there are some images that might be a bit too much for some. I’m happy that it’s an LGBT graphic novel/memoir, but the male corpse was a little bit too much for me!

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: Unfortunately I was really disappointed by this book. I thought Alison Bechdel certainly led an interesting life, being brought up in a funeral home with a gay father and coming out as homosexual herself later in life made for a fascinating read. However, I didn’t really get on with the story as a whole, the literary references to Proust and Fitzgerald seemed a bit over the top and unnecessary at times and I would have enjoyed it more if she had specifically focused on the relationship between herself and her late father.

CHRISSI: Beth asked me what I thought of it before she started it and I didn’t want to spoil her reading experience. However, I really didn’t like this book. I thought it was going to be really interesting, it certainly has potential to be a fantastic read but I felt the story as a whole didn’t gel well for me. I was bored at points which isn’t what you want from a book.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably not.
CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- This book didn’t capture my attention.

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- Awful Auntie

Awful Auntie

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Previously reviewed by the same author:
Gangsta Granny
The Boy In The Dress

Synopsis:

From larger than life, tiddlywinks obsessed Awful Aunt Alberta to her pet owl, Wagner – this is an adventure with a difference. Aunt Alberta is on a mission to cheat the young Lady Stella Saxby out of her inheritance – Saxby Hall. But with mischievous and irrepressible Soot, the cockney ghost of a chimney sweep, alongside her Stella is determined to fight back… And sometimes a special friend, however different, is all you need to win through.

Thoughts:

As many regular readers of my blog know, I’m a primary school teacher, so I really enjoy this kid-lit challenge, because it helps me find new material for my class. With my class (which reminds me, I must sort some reviews!) we’ve read The World’s Worst Children and Billionaire Boy, we’re currently reading Gangsta Granny, so you might say in one way or another I’m making my way through David’s books.

David Walliams does come into some criticism in the teaching world, because his books aren’t technically brilliant and can be a little samey. However, those complaints don’t come from me. I absolutely adore his books. They make my class smile, laugh out loud and read more of his books. If any author can encourage children to read (no matter who they are) I’m a very happy teacher.

This book is actually quite dark! It involves an awful auntie determined to get the deeds to Saxby Hall. To get this, she has carried out something terrible and she’s determined to get her niece Lady Stella Saxby to sign over the deeds. Alongside a cockney ghost named Soot, Stella refuses to back down and fights back against her auntie.

I absolutely loved the characters in this book. Stella was a great heroine! She was clever, brave and determined to keep what was hers. Aunt Alberta was Trunchbull-esque in her manner. She really was an awful auntie. She was pure evil and I love characters like that. I also enjoyed the characters of Gibbon and Soot.

I don’t know whether this would be too dark for some younger children. There’s death, car crashes, murder, poison, torture… I know we can’t protect children from everything but I don’t know if some of it was too much. I feel some of David’s other books were more heart-warming than this one. However, I don’t think that should put you off. Awful Auntie’s themes might go over the heads of many young children. I’d just approach it with caution if you have sensitive children.

For Beth’s wonderful review, check out her blog HERE.

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Reading next in the Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit Challenge (April):
A Snicker of Magic- Natalie Lloyd

Talking About ‘Lie With Me’ with Bibliobeth!

Lie With Me

How did I get it?:
I borrowed it from Beth!

Synopsis:

“I suppose what I am saying is, how much do we collude in our own destruction? How much of this nightmare is on me?

You can hate and rail.
You can kick out in protest.

You can do foolish and desperate things, but maybe sometimes you just have to hold up a hand and take the blame.”

Breathless.
Claustrophobic.
Unsettling.
Impossible to put down.

CHRISSI: What was your first impression of this book?

BETH: To be perfectly honest, it wasn’t a great first impression! It was quite a slow start to the story although I had read some GoodReads reviews that mentioned that it got a lot better so I was kind of prepared for this. I was hopeful that it would pick up though and once our main character, Paul finally goes away on holiday with the woman he is seeing, the tension and action crept up a notch.

BETH: The (female) author has chosen to write from a male point of view. How well do you think she achieved this?

CHRISSI: Interesting question. I didn’t even think to take note of the fact that she was writing from a male point of view. To me, that says Sabine Durrant pulled it off. It never even crossed my mind that it was a female writing from a male point of view. Well done, Sabine!

CHRISSI: This novel is built on tension. Discuss how the author builds the tension and structures the novel.

BETH: I’m very wary of giving spoilers but I’ll do my best! I think the opening of the novel is absolutely brilliant. Let’s just say that Paul is in a place that we don’t expect him to be in (being deliberately vague, sorry!) and after this initial chapter, the story goes back in time to the events that occurred in the build up to the situation he now finds himself in. So we know where he ends up but we have no clue initially how on earth he got there! He seems, by all accounts to be a “normal,” man (apart from his compulsive lying, that is) and it makes the reader really rack their brains to try and figure out how and why he got where he ended up.

BETH: Discuss where the line falls between a few acceptable fibs and harmful lying. Is it ever ok to tell a small lie?

CHRISSI: Ooh, another good question. Lies are so difficult, because I would say that you shouldn’t lie if it is going to affect another person. However, sometimes I feel that some individuals need to be protected by a little white lie. It made me think though, is that okay? Is it okay to alter the truth a little to protect someone you care about? Argh, I really don’t know. In the end, the truth often comes out, so is it better to tell the truth from the start even if it causes some hurt? Harmful lying is obviously always a no, no for me, but ‘acceptable fibs’… hmm. It depends on your definition of acceptable. Some might consider something acceptable that others don’t. Ooh, such a good discussion subject and I haven’t even really come up with a decent response. All I’ll say is that line is very very unclear.

CHRISSI: Without spoilers- discuss the ending of the novel – did you see the twist coming?

BETH: Not really, no. I knew something wasn’t right with certain characters but I hadn’t figured out exactly what was going on. It was a big surprise when it came and I was shocked how it ended up. Did he deserve it? Some people might say yes, he wasn’t a very likeable character to say the least! However, what he ends up suffering is incredibly extreme in comparison to what he did wrong in my opinion. Loved the twist though, I’m really glad I didn’t predict it!

BETH: This novel has quite a slow pacing to it, did this affect your enjoyment of the story?

CHRISSI: To be honest, yes it did. I am not a fan of a slow paced novel, especially when I have a lot going on. I like to be picking up a book and immediately flying through the pages. I want something to get back to and want to get back to without worrying that I’m going to be bored. I just don’t think this book’s pacing worked for me, although I know some people really enjoyed it and got over the slow pace.

CHRISSI: How does this book compare to others in its genre?

BETH: I thought this book was quite different to other psychological thrillers that I’ve read and I thought it was quite brave in a lot of ways. It read to me almost like a literary psychological thriller (no offence meant to other psychological thrillers). I just mean that the pacing compared to other thrillers was quite slow and you usually find with other books in the genre it’s all quite action-packed and not really focused on character development, unlike Lie With Me. By the end of the book, I actually thought it was the most interesting novel in the genre that I’ve read for a long time and has stayed with me for a while, always a good sign that a book’s got under your skin!

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I’m not sure. It would depend on the subject matter. I thought it was interesting enough, but the pace did affect my enjoyment.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes!