Talking About Last Letter Home With Bibliobeth!

Last Letter Home

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

On holiday with friends, young historian Briony Andrewsbecomes fascinated with a wartime story of a ruined villa in the hills behind Naples. There is a family connection: her grandfather had been a British soldier during the Italian campaign of 1943 in that very area. Handed a bundle of letters that were found after the war, Briony sets off to trace the fate of their sender, Sarah Bailey.

In 1939, Sarah returns with her mother and sister from India, in mourning, to take up residence in the Norfolk village of Westbury. There she forms a firm friendship with Paul Hartmann, a young German who has found sanctuary in the local manor house, Westbury Hall. With the outbreak of war, conflicts of loyalty in Westbury deepen.

When, 70 years later, Briony begins to uncover Sarah and Paul’s story, she encounters resentments and secrets still tightly guarded. What happened long ago in the villa in the shadow of Vesuvius, she suspects, still has the power to give terrible pain. 

CHRISSI: What were your initial impressions of this book? Did it hook you from the start or did it take you a while to get stuck into the story?
BETH: I have to admit, like a lot of books in the past (and very recently!) I judged this book by the cover again. WHY do I keep doing that?! I thought it looked like a bit of a fluffy, contemporary romance which is a genre I’m not really into but I was willing to give it a chance, especially when you told me that you thought I would enjoy it and that it had a historical edge that reminded you of one of my favourite ever books, The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons. However, I do have to be honest and say I wasn’t initially hooked by the beginning. When a narrative flows across two time periods, I often find myself preferring the historical tale and this was the same initially speaking, for Last Letter Home too.
BETH: In one of the very first scenes, Briony in contemporary times is trolled for some remarks she makes on feminism on a TV show. How do you think this affects her self esteem initially in trying to find information out about her mysterious grandfather?
CHRISSI: I think initially, Briony was really knocked by the after effects of the TV show. It takes her a while to get over how she was treated in the aftermath. Trolls are evil and can totally affect your self-esteem and self-worth, so this was utterly relatable. I feel like Briony was quite unstable at the start of the story and deeply affected. However, getting stuck into finding out more information about her grandfather draws Briony out of her shell and begins to give her some self belief. She has determination, that’s for sure.
CHRISSI: Do you think the dual timeline worked for this story?
BETH: At the beginning, it took a little while for me to get into it. I kept getting the main character in the contemporary time period, Briony messed up with Sarah in the historical period and it took me a little while to get their stories and who they’re involved with in the present time straight in my mind. However, once I had got this sorted, I really enjoyed how the dual time periods told such a fascinating story (from BOTH women’s points of view) and there were certainly secrets revealed that I wasn’t anticipating.
BETH: Were you aware at any points of the men “not to trust” and the men “who could be trusted,” in the narrative? Was it interesting to see the parallels between Briony and Sarah’s own lives?
CHRISSI: I’m always wary of characters in books which might say something about me. I was sure that Paul could be trusted as he seemed to be such a sweetheart. I loved reading about his interactions with Sarah. I really enjoyed the dual narrative of this story. It was interesting to see how Briony and Sarah shared many qualities with one another. They were both persistent, driven characters in their own time. I also liked how both story lines had elements of betrayal and deceit within them.
CHRISSI: Did you have a favourite narrative?
BETH: The historical narrative was hands down my favourite narrative. Although its not as overtly romantic as The Bronze Horseman, I can really see why you made that connection. I felt so awful for Sarah and her love interest in the novel, the strange triangle she found herself in and how other people’s attitudes at the time affected how she should be behaving/where she should be looking for a husband. I only wish we had heard more about her younger sister, who I found an incredibly intriguing character.
BETH: Sarah and her younger sister both have to deal with death at quite a young age – how do you think they cope with this as individuals?
CHRISSI: Good question! Sarah definitely dealt with the death in the family better than her younger sister. Sarah became really supportive towards her family. Sarah’s sister very much closes herself off from talking about death. She appears to be coping less well but I can’t say too much without spoilers! 🙂
CHRISSI: Did you feel like the chapters based during WWII were realistic?

BETH: I did. It wasn’t overtly graphic but it felt really authentic. It was simply the story of how normal people cope in extraordinary circumstances when food is reduced, danger is prominent and they are forced to live their lives they may not necessarily have imagined living them. One of the stand on scenes in the entire novel for me has to be when Paul is sent away to Italy as part of the war effort and has to witness a very difficult event, something that ends up changing his life forever.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I think it would depend on the subject matter. I did really enjoy Rachel Hore’s writing and the story was interesting, but she wasn’t an author that I’d read automatically when her book released.

Would we recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

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Banned Books #49- Julie Of The Wolves

For July’s Banned Book we read Julie Of The Wolves. Apologies for the late posting of this feature. It took a while for the book to arrive!

Julie of the Wolves (Julie of the Wolves, #1)

Click on the book to learn more about it!

First published: 1972
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2002 (source)
Reasons: unsuited to age group, violence.

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

BETH: Sigh. As I’ve mentioned in past Banned Books posts, sometimes I can see why people have issues with some of the books we review for this feature. Not that I think they SHOULD be challenged/banned but I can see why they might be offensive or problematic. Then there’s other books that we read and throughout the book, I’m struggling to see how anybody could have a problem at all, especially when I look at the reasons behind the challenge. Julie Of The Wolves was one of these latter books for me, I read through it thinking: “Aha! NOW I’m going to find out why there are issues!” And nope, I didn’t. Not even once. Even when I think about back in the early seventies when this was first published – could there have been reasons then? You’ve guessed it – no. I normally like to try and guess the potential reasons and I’m always, always wrong. With Julie Of The Wolves, I couldn’t find a single one!

CHRISSI: I am genuinely confused as to why this book is challenged. I didn’t find it at all offensive. I really am stumped with this one. As for one of the reasons being violence? Really? Children see more violent things on the news which is actually happening in day to day life sometimes so close to them. Video games are a hell of a lot more violent too. I really didn’t see this book as particularly violent. Hunting and death do occur within the story, but it makes sense to the story and most people could rationalise that…

How about now?

BETH: This book is now over forty years old and as it was only challenged/banned in 2002, I don’t believe attitudes have changed much either in the years post publication or since 2002 to the present day. Particularly with these reasons they are giving – I mean, come on! Unsuited to age group?! Where were the unsuitable parts, please someone tell me because I feel like I’m going mad. Seriously. It’s marketed as young adult (possibly even middle grade fiction) and at no point did I feel like this was either too traumatic or indeed too violent for the younger audience. There is hunting and death, sure but it’s necessary for our character to survive out in the Arctic conditions for goodness sake. I honestly think there are many more children’s books (hello Watership Down!) that are more emotionally affecting than this one. *rolls eyes.*

CHRISSI: Definitely not. Again… I’m baffled why this book is challenged. I don’t mean to repeat myself too much but I think the hunting and death in the story is relative to the plot. Children aren’t precious snowflakes. I’d say that from middle grade up they can handle a story like this when worse things are happening in the world that they constantly see, read and hear about.

What did you think of this book?:

BETH: I thought it was an okay read! I enjoyed Julie’s relationship with the wolves (as a big fan of White Fang when I was younger) and the description of the harsh environment she had to survive in was beautifully done. It was a quick and easy book to get lost in and I thought the illustrations were particularly lovely but I felt Julie’s time spent with her people wasn’t as engrossing or as well written as the parts when she has to get by on her own.

CHRISSI: I wasn’t captivated like I wanted to be. I really liked the illustrations and thought that was a nice touch to the story. I actually wish there were a few more illustrations because I didn’t think the writing of the setting was as evocative as it could have been, especially if we are thinking that children are the target audience for this book. I’m glad that I read this book but it’s not one that will particularly stick with me.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Maybe!

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- I wasn’t captivated but I could appreciate the story!

Talking About ‘The Party’ with Bibliobeth!

The Party

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Martin Gilmour is an outsider. When he wins a scholarship to Burtonbury School, he doesn’t wear the right clothes or speak with the right kind of accent. But then he meets the dazzling, popular and wealthy Ben Fitzmaurice, and gains admission to an exclusive world. Soon Martin is enjoying tennis parties and Easter egg hunts at the Fitzmaurice family’s estate, as Ben becomes the brother he never had.

But Martin has a secret. He knows something about Ben, something he will never tell. It is a secret that will bind the two of them together for the best part of 25 years.

At Ben’s 40th birthday party, the great and the good of British society are gathering to celebrate in a haze of champagne, drugs and glamour. Amid the hundreds of guests–the politicians, the celebrities, the old-money and newly rich–Martin once again feels that disturbing pang of not-quite belonging. His wife, Lucy, has her reservations too. There is disquiet in the air. But Ben wouldn’t do anything to damage their friendship. Would he?

CHRISSI: I know you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover but what were your initial impressions of this book from its cover?

BETH: I have a confession to make. I do that judgey thing and judge a book by its cover. I have been proved wrong in the past – for example, I really didn’t like the cover of Me Before You by Jojo Moyes and as you know Chrissi, I adore that book. What can I say? I think a cover really sells a book and if you can market it “prettily,” you’re onto a winner (with me at least!) I have to admit for this cover? I just found it a little bit dull and unfortunately, it didn’t inspire me to read the book at all. In fact, if I saw it in a bookshop I wouldn’t pick it up on the basis of this cover alone. Luckily what was inside proved to be much more fascinating in the outside so time and time again, I must not judge!!

BETH: What did you make of Martin’s relationship with his wife, Lucy?

CHRISSI: Oh good question! I felt a bit sorry for Lucy actually. I feel like she always came second for him. He was far more concerned with his friendship with Ben than his relationship with his wife. She must have seen his neediness for his friend and wondered why that wasn’t there in their relationship. I felt like she was so loyal to him despite him constantly pushing her boundaries.

CHRISSI: How can we tell Martin is an unreliable narrator?

BETH: From the very beginning. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that when we first meet Martin, he is being questioned in a police station. That isn’t to say he’s done anything wrong, there was an “incident” at a party and he is being asked what he knows. We soon find out what’s gone on in due course. As a reader, it does make you think what could have happened though, especially with the evasive way he is answering some of the questions…..
Then we get more information about his childhood and his relationship with the host of the party and the way he talks to and reacts to certain people makes him all the more intriguing.

BETH: Can money buy you happiness? Does being part of a wealthy elite change the way the Fitzmaurices behave to others not in their circle?

CHRISSI: I don’t think money can buy you happiness. I think it can help your life and help to reach the goals you may have for yourself. I definitely felt like the Fitzmaurices behaved in an incredibly entitled manner. They were obsessed with the power money held over others. Martin certainly enjoyed the high life when he was with Ben. I don’t think they were very kind to others in a lower class than themselves.

CHRISSI: To what extent did the narrative structure (where the bulk of the plot takes place over the course of one evening with flashbacks to the past) heighten the tension?

BETH: I love narratives like this. We hear about the present time, where as I mention, Martin is being questioned about what happened on that night, then it flits back and forward from the present day, to episodes where Martin is at school and as a young adult. As a reader, I wanted to get back to the questioning parts to try and get a clue about what exactly had happened but at the same time I wanted to get back to Martin’s past too as there’s definite clues there about his relationships and the reasons why they end up the way that they do.

BETH: Did you anticipate where this story would lead? Were you surprised by the outcome?

CHRISSI: I wasn’t really sure where this book was going to go. I did love the element of mystery. I also loved how I thought I was steps ahead and knew what was going on, but I wasn’t always right. For me, the ending was a little abrupt and it left me wondering what was going on or going to happen.

CHRISSI: Does this book fit into a genre?

BETH: This is such a hard question! On Goodreads it’s defined into quite a few categories – mystery, thriller and contemporary to name a few but I think it falls quite nicely into literary fiction too. It certainly has aspects of all of these genres, the intrigue where we don’t know what’s going on, a modern setting and a thrilling plot where we’re never quite sure of our characters’ motives.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I would! I did enjoy reading it, even if it felt a little slow in places for me.

Would WE recommend it?:

BETH: Of course!

CHRISSI: Yes! 3.5 stars

Top Ten Tuesday Throwback- My Ten Favourite (Predominantly) Book Blogs

Top Ten Tuesday was created by The Broke and the Bookish in June of 2010 and was moved to That Artsy Reader Girl in January 2018. It’s all about love of lists, love of literature and bringing bookish people together. 

The topic has changed since I scheduled this post but I’m going to stick with it!

This week’s Top Ten post is a throwback freebie, where we are free to post about a topic that has been done in the past. I’ve done this topic before, but I wanted to talk about some other blogs I love. I have mentioned a few of these in the past, but there’s some new (to me) blogs on here that I adore.

I could have picked SO many more than ten as I have so many blogs that I consistently read and enjoy. Here they are in no particular order…

What did you pick for your Top Ten freebie this week? Feel free to leave a link to your post and I’ll stop by!

Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit- The Wide Window (A Series Of Unfortunate Events #3)

The Wide Window (A Series of Unfortunate Events, #3)

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Previously reviewed by the same author:
The Bad Beginning
The Reptile Room

Synopsis:

Dear Reader,

If you have not read anything about the Baudelaire orphans, then before you read even one more sentence, you should know this: Violet, Klaus, and Sunny are kindhearted and quick-witted; but their lives, I am sorry to say, are filled with bad luck and misery. All of the stories about these three children are unhappy and wretched, and this one may be the worst of them all. If you haven’t got the stomach for a story that includes a hurricane, a signalling device, hungry leeches, cold cucumber soup, a horrible villain, and a doll named Pretty Penny, then this book will probably fill you with despair. I will continue to record these tragic tales, for that is what I do. You, however, should decide for yourself whether you can possibly endure this miserable story.

With all due respect,

Lemony Snicket

Thoughts:

We have been visiting A Series of Unfortunate Events as part of our kid-lit challenge for the past 2 years. It was a given that the third book would be on the list for this year. I really enjoyed this one. Beth and I didn’t read these books growing up and I’m sad that we didn’t. I totally think we would’ve loved them. I know my nephew enjoys the Netflix show and I’m somewhat intrigued to watch it… but I always feel I should read the books first. I know, I know… I’m weird.

I loved following the Baudelaire siblings tale in this latest instalment. It’s as dark and as sinister as the other two books. Violet, Klaus and Sunny are taken to live with another relative that they hadn’t met before. They come across the terrible Count Olaf once more…in disguise. It is a completely strange story which I’m absolutely captivated by. It’s so over the top but so wonderful at the same time.

The adult characters in this book seem to make awful decisions but I think that’s almost the beauty of the book? It shows children that adults don’t always make the right choices. They can be scared and unsure too.

In the previous two books, the constant defining of words within the narration bugged me, but it wasn’t really in this book. However the meaning of what Sunny babbled was suggested by the author. This didn’t grate on me as much as the defining did, but reading from an adult’s eyes, it does come across as a little repetitive. This is my only complaint really about the story, which otherwise I think is a delightful reading experience!

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

Would I recommend it?:
Of course!

Next up in the Beth and Chrissi Do Kid-Lit Challenge (June):
The Face On The Milk Carton- Caroline B.Cooney

Banned Books #47 – Blood and Chocolate

Welcome to this month’s edition of Banned Books. This month we read Blood and Chocolate by Annette Curtis Klause.

Blood and Chocolate

First published: 1997
In the Top Ten most frequently challenged books in 2001 (source)
Reasons: 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:  With most Banned Books we discuss on this feature I normally get quite cross about a reason for challenging/banning it as I don’t agree with banning books generally. Monitoring them for certain age groups sure but an outright ban? No. Or if they did, they should come up with MUCH better reasons than the ones above. When this book was originally published in 1997, I was a teenager and things weren’t that much different than nowadays (apart from the lack of social media/full use of the internet). As a result, I think the reasons that this book was challenged are ludicrous. I wouldn’t say it was sexually explicit at all. There’s no lurid sex scenes or even sexual descriptions. It’s far more suggestive than that. The characters talk about sex and want to have sex but then again, what teenager isn’t curious about that with hormones going wild? I cringed quite a bit when reading this book, I’m afraid to say, especially when certain kisses were described and there were a lot of “throaty chuckles,” and “head tilts,” which did make me feel slightly ill. However I wouldn’t say any of these incidents were explicit in the slightest.

CHRISSI: I had to chuckle a little bit when I read Beth’s answer to this question. Ha! It certainly wasn’t a “throaty chuckle” though. As for whether I agree with the reason for this being banned/challenged? No. I don’t. I think there’s much worse out there and this book is quite tame compared to some teenagers can come across. Do I think it should be read by teenagers? Not really… and that’s because I believe there’s much stronger literature out there for them to read now. I don’t mean stronger/more intense content. I mean stronger storylines… ‘

How about now?

BETH: As I mentioned, I don’t think attitudes have changed that much in the last twenty years, to be honest with the internet and explosion of social media, if anything these days I’m seeing an increase in teenage sexuality. They have access to much more detailed information than kids in the eighties/early nineties and have learned to channel their attractiveness to the opposite/same sex through “selfies.” Is this novel inappropriate for the age group concerned? No, I don’t think so. It appears to be marketed as a young adult story and that’s exactly what it is. There’s a bit of swearing, some violence and issues with relationships but nothing I would denounce as inappropriate.

CHRISSI:  I definitely don’t think this book should be challenged. It totally wasn’t for me, so I don’t feel as passionately about it as I have done other books in this feature. It was a total cringefest for me as a reader. However, if this book floats teenagers/young adults boat then they should totally be given the chance to read it. There’s nothing ‘shocking’ in there, in my opinion…so why not?

What did you think of this book?:

BETH:  Oh dear. I’m afraid I didn’t enjoy this book at all. I was actually glad it was a relatively quick read as by the time I realised I didn’t like it, I was just wishing for it to be over. I don’t think it helps when you despise a main character as much as I did our female lead, Vivian. Now I like unlikeable characters, of course. But I think you have to dislike them for the right reasons. When there’s a female character that’s supposed to be our heroine and you can’t stand her, well…..me and the book just aren’t going to get on I’m afraid. I couldn’t relate to her either as my adult self or my teenage self, her arrogance knew no bounds and sometimes, the way she treated other characters in the novel was despicable. As for other characters, we really didn’t have much to choose from, they all felt flat and one-dimensional and intensely unbelievable in my opinion. As for the plot, it was predictable, I didn’t see the point of some decisions the author made and that ending…..just WHY?

CHRISSI: I went into this book with low expectations after reading some of Beth’s texts and tweets. I really did try to give this book a decent go, but I was infuriated by Vivian and her mother quite early on in the book. Vivian was such an unlikeable character, but it was no surprise really considering what her mother was like. I’m not one to be put off by an unlikeable character, but Vivian really grated on me. She was arrogant from the very beginning and I didn’t see any character development. Arrogant until the end of the story. Meh. I did not enjoy this book.

Would you recommend it?:

BETH: Probably not.

CHRISSI: It’s not for me!- I was infuriated by the main character and couldn’t get past that.

Talking About ‘The Wildflowers’ with Bibliobeth!

The Wildflowers

How did I get it?:
I bought it!

Synopsis:

Tony and Althea Wilde. Glamorous, argumentative … adulterous to the core.

They were my parents, actors known by everyone. They gave our lives love and colour in a house by the sea – the house that sheltered my orphaned father when he was a boy.

But the summer Mads arrived changed everything. She too had been abandoned and my father understood why. We Wildflowers took her in.

My father was my hero, he gave us a golden childhood, but the past was always going to catch up with him … it comes for us all, sooner or later.

This is my story. I am Cordelia Wilde. A singer without a voice. A daughter without a father. Let me take you inside.

CHRISSI: What were your initial impressions when you looked at the cover of this book?

BETH: I thought it was pretty, I liked the night sky and the hint of wild flowers (which are mentioned quite a lot in the novel as well as being the surname of the family). However, I don’t think it gave you much idea of what the story within contained. Sometimes this can be a good thing and you are pleasantly surprised by what you find but generally speaking, I like my covers to have a tiny hint of connection with the narrative.

BETH: This novel is told from multiple perspectives. How did you find this worked for the story?

CHRISSI: I have to admit that I often struggle with multiple perspectives. It can be really hard for a writer to engage every reader with every perspective. I did find it hard to enjoy one particular perspective. I do think this somewhat hampered my enjoyment of the book, because I found myself skimming the parts of the perspective that I didn’t enjoy that much. That’s not a reflection on the author’s writing, it’s just that one perspective didn’t work for me… tricky! However, I do think it worked to have multiple perspectives for this story to really delve into the plot.

BETH: What did you make of Madeline’s relationship with the Wilde children, Ben and Cordelia?

CHRISSI: Ooh, I thought Madeline’s relationship with them was fascinating. Madeline made such an impact in their lives right from the get go. I thought her relationship was particularly obsessive, bordering on stalker-like. It was interesting to read her diary entries to see just how much she picked up on about Ben and Cordelia. It did leave me feeling a little uneasy though. I feel like we really got to know who Madeline really was through her diary entries.

CHRISSI: To be born with exceptional talent can be a blessing and a curse. How are the characters in The Wildflowers affected and afflicted by theirs?

BETH: Good question. The Wildes are an infamous family in the small town on the Dorset coast where they have a country home. Both Tony and Althea, the mother and father in the equation are both actors. Tony, at first is the most popular and incredibly sought after for work in London but Althea comes into her own during the story. The daughter, Cordelia is at times, transfixed by her parents success and in the end, she becomes a famous singer and the brother, Ben a respected director. For all parties concerned, their fame and fortune has a detrimental effect on family life, their health, their relationships with each other and with people outside the family circle and leads to multiple secrets and betrayals.

BETH: There are unlikeable characters in this novel. How did you enjoy reading about them?

CHRISSI: Some unlikeable characters are awesome to read about. I love it when I hate an unlikeable character. It means the author has really got under my skin and I think that’s quite a talent. I wasn’t a fan of Ben and Cordelia’s parents. I thought they were incredibly self-obsessed. This is one of those stories though, that as it progresses, you begin to somewhat understand why the characters have behaved in the way that they did. Madeline, however obsessed she was, fascinated me!

CHRISSI: If Aunt Dinah’s letter had been found when it was written, how would it have impacted Tony’s life? Which events might have played out differently? And why?

BETH: It would have completely turned Tony’s life upside down – in a good way. Unfortunately it is not found until a long time later when Tony is unable to do anything about what Aunt Dinah says in the letter. By then, he has made countless mistakes, wrecked his close relationships which has led to certain members of the family becoming estranged. He would have been comforted by what he found in the letter I think and his whole life, including his relationship with his wife would have been very, very different.

CHRISSI: Did this book surprise you in any way?

BETH:  A little bit, yes. I anticipated some big twists and turns and there were certainly plenty of those. Unfortunately, I did have a little inkling of what was to come so I wasn’t completely surprised with one of the big reveals. My biggest surprise was probably an incident with Tony as a young man and his Aunt Dinah’s friend Daphne. I couldn’t quite work out why this event was in the novel and I wondered if it was entirely necessary?

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I have read a few books by Harriet Evans before and I would do again in the future. I used to be quite the fan but my reading tastes have changed over time. It was nice to go back to her writing after quite a break from it!

Would we recommend it?:

BETH:  Yes! 3.5 stars

CHRISSI: Yes!