Talking about The Sea Sisters with Bibliobeth

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

Synopsis:

Two sisters, one life-changing journey…

There are some currents in the relationship between sisters that run so dark and so deep, it’s better for the people swimming on the surface never to know what’s beneath . . .

Katie’s carefully structured world is shattered by the news that her headstrong younger sister, Mia, has been found dead in Bali – and the police claim it was suicide.

With only the entries of Mia’s travel journal as her guide, Katie retraces the last few months of her sister’s life, and – page by page, country by country – begins to uncover the mystery surrounding her death.

What she discovers changes everything. But will her search for the truth push their sisterly bond – and Katie – to breaking point?

The Sea Sisters is a compelling story of the enduring connection between sisters.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: What were your initial thoughts about Mia’s death?

BETH: We know about Mia’s death right from the beginning of the novel, so I’m not worried about spoilers here! I felt saddened by her death, as the reader can see this is a fact that will not change through the novel, no matter what the circumstances are. What was intriguing for me was the mystery surrounding her death – why was she there when she was meant to be in Australia? And was it suicide? If so, why did she kill herself? There are so many questions to be answered, and I enjoyed the whole uncertainty of the situation that the author presents.

BETH: What did you think about the relationship between Katie and Mia? Did you think it was a typical sister relationship?

CHRISSI: I do think that it was, in the main part, a normal relationship. I think Katie as the older sister, felt like she had to look out for Mia and was responsible for her actions, especially after the death of their mother. Some of the things Mia had done could be interpreted as selfish, another thing I think sometimes the younger sister is.. (I think I’m admitting there that I’m selfish..at times! At times!)

CHRISSI: Did you like how the story alternated between point of views or did you prefer one sister to another?

BETH: As Katie hops from country to country following her sister’s Mia journey according to her journal, in order to find some answers, we get their alternate points of view, which I loved. I enjoyed reading about both sisters, probably because they were like chalk and cheese, and felt the author captured their different characters perfectly.

BETH: How well do you think the author set the scene in terms of places?

CHRISSI: The aspect of the book that stands out for me the most is the use of the sea. I don’t feel I really knew a lot about most of the places that Katie/Mia visited. I found Bali to be the best for setting the scene. I think it’s probably because that’s where the most memorable and sad thing happened.

CHRISSI: Do you think Katie made the right decision to travel where Mia did?

BETH: Most definitely! I think it helped her to come to terms with the loss of her sister, gave her some answers that she desperately needed (even if it was hurtful in the process!) and gave her those once in a lifetime experiences which changed her as a person.

BETH: On page 24, Mia writes: “People go travelling for two reasons, because they are searching for something, or because they are running from something. For me, it’s both.” What does she mean by this?

CHRISSI: Ooh tough question. I think Mia didn’t know who she really was and always felt like an outsider in her family. I think she wanted to run away from that feeling, and by running away she hoped she’d discover who she was.

CHRISSI: Is the sea significant in this story?

BETH: The sea is incredibly significant and symbolises many things for both sisters. For Katie, it is vast and terrifying, and for Mia, it is an adventure, and something to be enjoyed. The sea is also an entity that divides both sisters when they are on opposite sides of the globe.

BETH: How do you think Katie changed as a person through her journey to find out what had happened to Mia?

CHRISSI: Something that really stood out for me during this book, was that both sisters were feeling guilt in some way or another. I think Katie had to make a journey where Mia was to deal with her grief and find out answers that would otherwise plague her. I think Katie grew as a person as she accepted home truths. Her time apart from her fiancé also gave her room to decide what she really wanted.

CHRISSI: Is there too much drama in this book for it to be believable?

BETH: There is a lot of drama, and some excellent twists and turns, as we find out more about what has happened to Mia. I have to say I was a little surprised by the ending, as it seemed like a lot was going on, and I’m not sure if it was entirely believable but it didn’t affect my enjoyment of the story.

BETH: Was the ending satisfactory?

CHRISSI: There was SO much going on towards the end of the book. I wasn’t sure it was ever going to tie up, but it did. I was satisfied with the explanation of Mia’s death.

Would we recommend it?:

CHRISSI: Of course!
BETH: Of course!

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Talking About The Girl Who Fell From The Sky with Bibliobeth

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How did I get it?:
 I borrowed it from Bibliobeth.

Synopsis:

Marian Sutro is an outsider: the daughter of a diplomat, brought up on the shores of Lake Geneva and in England, half French, half British, naive yet too clever for her own good. But when she is recruited from her desk job by SOE to go undercover in wartime France, it seems her hybrid status – and fluent French – will be of service to a greater, more dangerous cause.

Trained in sabotage, dead-drops, how to perform under interrogation and how to kill, Marian parachutes into south-west France, her official mission to act as a Resistance courier. But her real destination is Paris, where she must seek out family friend Clément Pelletier, once the focus of her adolescent desires. A nuclear physicist engaged in the race for a new and terrifying weapon, he is of urgent significance to her superiors. As she struggles through the strange, lethal landscape of the Occupation towards this reunion, what completes her training is the understanding that war changes everything, and neither love nor fatherland may be trusted.

 The Girl Who Fell from the Sky is both a gripping adventure story and a moving meditation on patriotism, betrayal and the limits of love.

CHRISSI: What were your first impressions of the book?

BETH: This book started off really well for me, I really liked the character of Marian/Anne-Marie, she was independent and strong-willed, all good things in a female character! I was intrigued by the premise of the novel, and thought the parts where she was training to be a spy, well-written and exciting. Personally, further through the novel, I felt a bit of a loss of connection to Marian, almost like the reader didn’t really know her properly and this was slightly frustrating for me.

BETH: How did you feel about our main character, Marian? Did she seem real and believable?

CHRISSI: At the beginning I really warmed to her, I thought she was going to be strong female protagonist, but I feel along the way that I began to become bored with her character. It was, like you mention, that there was a loss of connection to the character. I think she felt real, but I’m not so sure about believable. We didn’t know enough about her for her to be believable.

CHRISSI: You’ve read The Glass Room by the same author, how does this book compare?

BETH: I absolutely loved The Glass Room, and was not surprised that it was long-listed for the Man Booker prize. However, for some reason, this novel didn’t live up to my somewhat high expectations. In fact, I felt it could almost have been written by a different author. I am willing to try another Simon Mawer book though, mostly down to how great I thought The Glass Room was.

BETH: Did you feel that her character changed through the novel? What do you think of her actions?

CHRISSI: I felt that Marian became a bit of a flaky character. I didn’t understand why she made some of the judgments she did. I also didn’t like the way she endangered herself by disobeying instructions. She became less real. I think she was a much stronger character at the start of the novel.

CHRISSI: Did you feel drawn in by the plot or did you have to force yourself to read it?

BETH: At the beginning, I was definitely drawn in and intrigued by what was going on. I enjoyed the Foreword of this book also, where the author writes a short paragraph about how many women spies infiltrated France to assist the war effort. Further on though I thought the book lost some of its initial “bounce,” and became a bit monotonous.

BETH: How do you think this book compares to other novels set during the time of World War II?

CHRISSI: I think other novels set during the time of World War II are superior to this one. However, I feel like The Girl Who Fell From The Sky is much more than a war story. I think it raises questions about love and duty.

CHRISSI: The book was set in different locations. Do you feel like this affected the book or helped move the plot along?

BETH: I liked the different locations in the book although I thought the author could have told us a little more about the setting i.e. slightly better descriptions rather than focusing solely on the characters. I feel like this would have made it seem more realistic as during reading it, it didn’t seem like it was a different location, it could have been the same place or anywhere, if that makes any sense!

BETH: Has reading this novel changed your opinion of any of the events of World War II?

CHRISSI:  Not really. I think it covered a lot of ground that has been covered in other World War II books.

CHRISSI: Were you satisfied with the ending?

BETH: I think the ending was one of the better parts of the novel. It seemed like it was going to head in one direction, but then there is a small surprise. I feel this made it more exciting and made you wonder about a future for our characters.

BETH: Would you read another book by this author?

CHRISSI: I want to try The Glass Room as I’ve heard a lot of good things!

Would we recommend it?:

CHRISSI: It’s not for me! I thought that Simon Mawer had an interesting writing style, but the plot didn’t grab me enough to keep me interested. It’s a shame, as I think it really started off well. 
BETH: Yes!

Talking about The Light Between Oceans with Bibliobeth

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Synopsis:

After four harrowing years on the Western Front, Tom Sherbourne returns to Australia and takes a job as the lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock, nearly half a day’s journey from the coast. To this isolated island, where the supply boat comes once a season and shore leaves are granted every other year at best, Tom brings a young, bold, and loving wife, Isabel. Years later, after two miscarriages and one stillbirth, the grieving Isabel hears a baby’s cries on the wind. A boat has washed up onshore carrying a dead man and a living baby.

Tom, whose records as a lighthouse keeper are meticulous and whose moral principles have withstood a horrific war, wants to report the man and infant immediately. But Isabel has taken the tiny baby to her breast. Against Tom’s judgment, they claim her as their own and name her Lucy. When she is two, Tom and Isabel return to the mainland and are reminded that there are other people in the world. Their choice has devastated one of them.

M. L. Stedman’s mesmerizing, beautifully written novel seduces us into accommodating Isabel’s decision to keep this “gift from God.” And we are swept into a story about extraordinarily compelling characters seeking to find their North Star in a world where there is no right answer, where justice for one person is another’s tragic loss.

The Light Between Oceans is exquisite and unforgettable, a deeply moving novel.

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: Did you believe in Tom and Isabel’s relationship at the beginning?
BETH: Good question! I have to say, I kind of didn’t. I need to read something that for me is quite believable and it seemed that they got together just a little bit too fast. Okay, he was seconded on Janus Rock for three years before they decided to get married, so in that way they waited, but during that time, they didn’t have a chance to get to know each other properly, in my opinion.

BETH: What did you think of the title of this novel? How does it reflect the story to come?
CHRISSI: I’m not sure what I expected from reading the title. I didn’t expect the story to have some philosophical aspects. I kind of think in a cringey way that Lucy/Grace was the light between the two families.

CHRISSI: Is the use of Janus Rock effective as a setting?
BETH: I thought the island of Janus was so beautiful as a setting, with the lighthouse towering over. For me, there was a lot of potential solitude and loneliness expressed by this island, but I loved how they had the oceans on both side, jobs to do including animals to look after that kept them busy, and were able to walk around the island and admire the scenery.

BETH: How do you think Tom’s early experiences as a soldier affected his character and his actions through the novel?
CHRISSI: I think Tom was completely shattered by his experiences as a soldier. I got the feeling that he didn’t believe he should be alive when his friends weren’t. I think he felt like he should be isolated, so he took the lighthouse keeper position. I think his relationship with Isabel made him more content, but then when Lucy/Grace came along he started to question what was right and wrong to do in his situation. I think he wanted to make Isabel happy, so he kept the baby, because Isabel was what was constant in his life and he didn’t want change again. I think feeling like a family unit made Tom feel complete again.

CHRISSI: Do you think Isabel was justified for feeling angry at her husband for doing what he thought was right?
BETH: Yes, I think so. The woman had just had three miscarriages, she was completely isolated from her friends and her parents on the island for emotional support, and I think any mother would react the way she did.

BETH:What did you think of Isabel as a character?
CHRISSI: Tough one. I thought she fell in love so quickly at first that I was a bit dubious. I really felt for her when she went through her miscarriages. I also felt sorry for her because she was so isolated from everyone. I felt joy for her when she got what she wanted, but then overall I don’t think she came across as very likeable. She was intense.

CHRISSI: If you were in the position of decided whether Lucy-Grace should go back to her family or not, what do you think you’d do? (Given the emotional impact on Lucy-Grace)
BETH: Hard one. If a child spends her early formative years with two people who she learns to trust and love, and those people in turn learn to become the child’s parents, taking her away can do more damage than good. However, you have to look at the other side, that she should be with her biological mother, and is young enough that she would be likely to forget most of her early years.

BETH: How do you think that you would cope living on an island like our characters?
CHRISSI: I think that would entirely depend upon who I was with. I think I’d quite like it to start with, but I would need my luxuries for sure. So it couldn’t be a deserted island. I think after a few weeks I would start to feel incredibly isolated. I’m not sure I could do it long-term!

CHRISSI: What did you think of Tom and Isabel’s relationship at the end?
BETH: I actually thought their relationship at the end was a lot more believable. They seemed more like ordinary couples who have had issues in their relationships and are trying to work through them. I especially warmed to Tom during this period, where he was trying to help Isabel through a tough period.

BETH: Was this novel what you expected?
CHRISSI: I thought it was a lot slower than I expected, but once I got into it, it was incredibly easy to read. I enjoyed it, but I didn’t adore it.

Talking About ‘Natural Causes’ with Bibliobeth

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

Synopsis:

A young girl’s mutilated body is discovered in a sealed room. Her remains are carefully arranged, in what seems to have been a cruel and macabre ritual, which appears to have taken place over 60 years ago.

For newly appointed Edinburgh Detective Inspector Tony McLean this baffling cold case ought to be a low priority -but he is haunted by the young victim and her grisly death.

Meanwhile, the city is horrified by a series of bloody killings. Deaths for which there appears to be neither rhyme nor reason, and which leave Edinburgh’s police at a loss.

McLean is convinced that these deaths are somehow connected to the terrible ceremonial killing of the girl, all those years ago. It is an irrational, almost supernatural theory.

And one which will lead McLean closer to the heart of a terrifying and ancient evil . .

Thoughts:

CHRISSI: Did you find the characters believable?

BETH:  Very much so. Our main character, Inspector McLean is not really one of those detectives that get a bit tiresome after a few crime novels that usually have an alcohol dependency problem! Instead, he seems quite human and “real,” and although he has had a troubled past, the reader grows to care about him and root for him capturing the baddie. I loved the way the author referred to one of the police officers as Grumpy Bob, and from then on only refers to them in those two words. I would have liked to see a bit more detail on the other characters, but this is a series, so maybe their time will come!

BETH: This novel is set in present-day Edinburgh, how effective was the use of setting to tell the story?

CHRISSI: I think Edinburgh is a beautiful place to set a story. I might be a bit biased there, because I have a lot of love for Edinburgh. I think Edinburgh is such a great place because it has such a lot of history.  So for me, it was an effective setting.

CHRISSI:  Did the plot pull you in, or did you feel forced to continue reading it?

BETH: The opening chapter is a bit of a blinder, and I challenge anyone to not want to continue reading after they start! The plot itself had many twists and turns, and there was certainly plenty to keep me interested, with a higher than average body count. I did feel when there was a slight drag to the novel, another body turned up to speed things up a little.

BETH: On the question of gore, how much is too much? Did this author get it right?

CHRISSI: I think this is a hard question because for every reader it’s going to differ. I think people with a very weak stomach may be put off. But on the other hand, you might wonder what on earth is going to happen next which was what happened with me. I did find the deaths to be quite graphic, but the deaths didn’t repeatedly happen so for me, the gore was balanced enough! For another reader though, the first chapter alone might be too much for them. It depends on the strength of your stomach or the vividness of your imagination.

CHRISSI: Did your opinion of the book change as you read it?

BETH: I don’t think so, it was easy to read, and kept me on the edge of my seat at times, but at other moments I felt like things might be getting overly complicated – it all worked out in the end though.

BETH: How did you find the more supernatural elements of the story? 

CHRISSI: For some reason, the supernatural elements of the story didn’t quite sit right with me. They seemed a little out of place. Luckily though, they’re not imperative to the story (yet, who knows if they will become imperative as the series progresses!) so you can take them or leave them when reading.

CHRISSI: The author adds his original opening chapter at the end of the book. Which one did you think was better? Do you think the opening chapter has enough to hook you into the story?

BETH: Hmm, I liked both equally I think, except that one was slightly more gruesome than the other. As mentioned above, I think the opening chapter has all the elements a good crime novel should have for an introduction to the events to come, and it definitely intrigued and interested me enough to want to read on.

BETH: How well did you feel the author did in writing his female characters?

CHRISSI: I think James Oswald’s strength lies in writing male characters. I didn’t think that the female characters were as well developed, but that might be something that changes as the series progresses.

CHRISSI: How did Natural Causes compare to other books in the genre?

BETH:  James Oswald is definitely an author to watch out for in the future. Stuart MacBride thinks he’s good, so that’s good enough for me! To compare it to other books in the genre, I think it stands well. Great characterisation, good plot, a bit of mystery, a nicely wrapped up ending, and PLENTY of gore-filled Hannibal Lecter-like moments.

BETH: Would you read the next book in this series?

CHRISSI: I don’t think I would unless you told me it was really good. I have nothing against the book, but I don’t feel compelled to read the next in the series.

Talking about ‘Close Your Eyes’ with Bibliobeth

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

Synopsis:

When Geniver Loxley lost her daughter at birth eight years ago, her world stopped… and never fully started again. Mothers with strollers still make her flinch; her love of writing has turned into a half-hearted teaching career; and she and her husband, Art, have slipped into the kind of rut that seems inescapable. For Art, the solution is simple: Have another child to replace Beth. For Gen, the thought of replacing her first child feels cruel, nearly unbearable. A part of her will never let go of Beth, no matter how much she needs to move on.

But then a stranger shows up on their doorstep, telling Gen the very thing she’s always desperately longed to hear: that her daughter was not stillborn, but was taken away as a healthy infant. That Beth is still out there, somewhere, waiting to be found. A fissure suddenly opens up in Gen’s carefully reconstructed life, letting in a flood of unanswerable questions. How could this possibly be true? Where is Beth? And why is Art so reluctant to get involved?

As Gen delves into the darkest parts of her past, she starts to realize that finding the answers might open the door to something even worse, a truth that could steal everything she holds close. Even her own life.

With searing emotional insight, Sophie McKenzie weaves a breathless thriller that digs in its hooks without mercy and twists without warning, confirming her place among today’s most exciting new voices in psychological suspense.

Thoughts:

This time round, Bibliobeth and I decided to pick three of the reading group questions each to ask each other. Here are our thoughts.

CHRISSI: As Geniver is a first-person narrator, we experience everything from her perspective. How does this bias your perception of people and situations from the beginning? Does it ever make you doubt her decisions?

BETH: Obviously with Geniver being the narrator, we see all situations from her point of view. The reader sympathises with her over her agonising struggles when losing the baby, then we see her confusion and paranoia when it turns out that her baby may still be alive. We see other characters like her husband Art and her friend Hen through her eyes, so we are never really very sure how the other character is feeling, what they are thinking etc. Being the narrator, you do “root for her,” so as to speak, but at points I did feel like the story would be more effective as a dual (or more!) narrative to get the whole picture. However, I believe we were meant to be as much in the dark as Geniver was, so the mystery could unravel more slowly.

BETH: When we first meet Lorcan he comes across as charming but untrustworthy. By the end of the novel his true character is revealed. Discuss his role in the novel.

CHRISSI: I honestly thought that Lorcan was going to be a dodgy character. When he started to help Geniver I began to think that perhaps he had something to do with the baby and was leading her onto a path of destruction. I think his role in the novel, for me, was to give a level of uncertainty about his interest in Geniver.

CHRISSI: A well-respected businessman who clearly adores his wife, how does your opinion of Art change during the course of the novel? How does the author achieve this?

BETH: I think my opinion pretty much stayed the same for Art. We know that he is a high flying sort with a keen nose for business, and is somewhat of a rising star when we see his excitement over meetings with the Prime Minister. We also find out that he has a few skeletons in his closet, and many secrets to be unearthed. He clearly loves his wife, that much is obvious, but can we trust him?

BETH: The child’s narrative that intersperses the story is a mystery until the very end. Who did you think it was? Discuss how the reveal of the child’s identity and his specific loyalties change the way you think about the novel.

CHRISSI: I didn’t really guess who the child narrative was until it was revealed. I think I probably would’ve if I was more focused on it, but it didn’t exactly grab me. That was until the very end. I think the reveal of the child’s identity gave the novel a really creepy feel. I think it also sets itself up for a sequel.

CHRISSI: Throughout the novel there is an underlying tension and sense of paranoia. How does the author create this?

BETH: The paranoia is this novel is there right from the beginning. We meet Gen and Art at an IVF appointment very early on in the book, as they have been trying for another child for a long time. Even at this early a stage, the reader gets a sense of how fragile and vulnerable Gen is as she does not seem able to communicate her feelings about IVF to her husband which leaves the door wide open for mis-trust and paranoia. I didn’t really feel the tension mounting until about halfway through, which was for me when things really kicked off, doubts set in, and the story became unputdownable.

BETH: Both Morgan and Art are severely affected by their childhood relationships with their father. How much does this early trauma contribute to their life decisions and personalities? Does the knowledge of their difficult childhoods make you more understanding of their adult actions?

CHRISSI: I think their trauma with their father really did contribute to their decisions. They are both quite messed up characters. Knowing what happened to them does make you understand their adult actions but not excuse it!

I hope you enjoyed reading our thoughts on Close Your Eyes. I do recommend this book, it’s not perfect, but once it picks up it is a gripping read!

Tigers In Red Weather

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How did I get it?:
I borrowed it!

Synopsis:

Nick and her cousin, Helena, have grown up sharing sultry summer heat, sunbleached boat docks, and midnight gin parties on Martha’s Vineyard in a glorious old family estate known as Tiger House. In the days following the end of the Second World War, the world seems to offer itself up, and the two women are on the cusp of their ‘real lives’: Helena is off to Hollywood and a new marriage, while Nick is heading for a reunion with her own young husband, Hughes, about to return from the war.

Soon the gilt begins to crack. Helena’s husband is not the man he seemed to be, and Hughes has returned from the war distant, his inner light curtained over. On the brink of the 1960s, back at Tiger House, Nick and Helena–with their children, Daisy and Ed–try to recapture that sense of possibility. But when Daisy and Ed discover the victim of a brutal murder, the intrusion of violence causes everything to unravel. The members of the family spin out of their prescribed orbits, secrets come to light, and nothing about their lives will ever be the same.

Thoughts:

This is the first book in the Richard and Judy Summer Book Club selection. I was excited to read it after my sister thoroughly enjoyed it. For me, Tigers in Red Weather starts incredibly slowly and continues with quite a slow pace, but I think it’s well worth reading. I couldn’t believe that this was Liza Klaussman’s debut novel. Her writing seems incredibly established.

Tigers in Red Weather is centred around cousins Nick and Helena. There are five sections which focus on different characters and span 20 years, looking at events through the eyes of the central characters. I didn’t think any of the characters were particularly likeable. Perhaps I’m just getting more critical? I did find some of the characters incredibly intriguing though. They were written so well, they were vivid and very ‘real’. Tigers in Red Weather definitely has a dark undertone. I loved the atmosphere that built throughout the story. I think Ed is the most intriguing and disturbing character. I thought the chapter narrated by Ed was the best and the most gripping.

I’d definitely read more from Liza Klaussman. This is certainly a debut to be proud of!

Would I recommend it?:
Yes!

Reading next:
The Son- Michel Rostain