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22nd November 2017 GemBookEater
The Night Brother by Rosie Garland

cover102770-mediumSiblings Edie and Gnome delight in the streets of late nineteenth-century Manchester. They fight and argue as all siblings, but Edie can never resist Gnome's outrageous schemes and always ends up climbing out of the bedroom window with him at night for adventures. But as they get older and Gnome continues to revel in the night-time,  Edie's life is lived during the day. Gradually she forgets the brother she never sees as the demands of scraping a living become bigger. She wakes exhausted each morning with a sickening sense of unease and confusion. But then she falls in love and Gnome reappears, jealous and wanting to destroy his sisters happiness. Can they learn to live together in harmony? This is an interesting novel and works on several different levels. The basics of it- writing, setting and character development Rosie Garland absolutely nails. To be honest I've never yet set foot in Manchester but I could feel the Edwardian version of the city around me all the way through.  The characters are believable and face some very interesting challenges which they respond to in a way that feels natural. But where things get really interesting is the actual story - there is more to Edie and Gnome than at first meets the eye and the novel explores gender and sexuality in an unusual way. There are a couple of places where it could have taken wrong turns and ended up exploiting those topics rather than exploring them. But each time it pushes towards the limits  it pulls itself back, exposing naive opinions and then redressing them. In the end it's about more than girl versus boy and becomes a story about being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. And of accepting the whole of others. 5 Bites NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

19th November 2017 GemBookEater
Sea – The Huntress Triology by Sarah Driver

1cover104570-mediumThis is the first book in a new fantasy adventure trilogy for young readers (aged 9+) and the publishing company clearly had a lot of faith in it as it was pushed hard when it was released. The blurb recommends it fans of Philip Pullman and Frances Hardinge amongst others. As usual I'll be completely honest - it is a good book, but not quite in the league of Phillip Pullman or Frances Hardinge. But don't let that put you off buying it for the young person in your life - it's still a good read! It follows the story of Mouse. Since her mother died she has looked after her little brother Sparrow and dreamt of taking over as captain of the Huntress - the ship her mother steered that is currently captained by her Grandmother. Her Dad has also gone missing and now Sparrow is in danger. Sarah Driver has written a powerful character and a strong adventure. But what really makes this book special is Mouse's voice. It's written in first person and the language just captures you and takes you hostage from the first moment.  Although Mouse is female this is a book that will appeal to boys too - it has pirates and pterodactyls after all! It's also  packed with high stake risks and the feeling of kids against the adults with the kids managing to outsmart the adults. This feels authentic as mostly the kids win because they don't believe that they are limited in the same way that adults believe they are. When kids enjoy a book they always want more so that fact that this is the start of a trilogy is brilliant, and as of writing this the second book is already out. I'm not sure when exactly by so far there's between about 9 months between each so hopefully it'll be out Summer 2018. 4 Bites NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

18th November 2017 GemBookEater
The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood

1cover120428-mediumMad-doctor Nathaniel is obsessed with the beautiful Mrs Harleston - but is she truly delusional? Or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered . . . ? Overshadowed by his father's suicide, Nathaniel Kerner finds it hard to find work in his chosen field of ailments of the mind. Reluctantly he takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, only to find the proprietor is more interested in his growing collection of skulls than helping his patients - fame seems unlikely to find Nathaniel here. His only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Adelina - Vita - Harleston: she is interesting because she doesn’t really seem mad at all - her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions - but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible. Nathaniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Vita, and when an opportunity presents itself to have her mesmerised he leaps at it, imagining seeing papers in journals with his name attached. But the session doesn’t go well and the next morning Vita has vanished and it seems Nathaniel may have been tricked into aiding her escape. Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of séances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Vita and save her. But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded - whether of the body or the mind . . . I really enjoyed Alison Littlewood's The Hidden People last year so was thrilled to see another new release from her. Although set in the same era this is quite a different book, this is freezing fog in winter at 4pm as opposed to a hot lazy 4pm in August. Although both are mysterious, this is one where you can't really see what's going on four paces in front of you. And although both are a little creepy - this is skin shivering creepy whereas the other is beguilingly creepy. I'm starting to think that Alison Littlewood is the modern day successor to Wilkie Collins, The Hidden People feels similar to The Moonstone and this feels like the Woman in White - the stories are different, there's no plagiarism, they are not re-writings in any way. But if you like Wilkie Collins my guess is you'll like Alison Littlewood. 5 Bites NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

15th November 2017 GemBookEater
The Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

witch of NapoliIn 1899 Spiritualist séance's are sweeping through Europe. But men of science are ready to denounce every act as trickery and fraud. When skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi sees a photo of Alessandra Poverelli levitating  a table in Naples he immediately goes to investigate. But then she materializes the ghost of his dead mother. He can't explain it, and as a man of science he refuses to dismiss it out of hand instead asking if she will be willingly investigated by him and on a tour of the Continent,where the scientific and academic elite of Europe will be invited to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers. As disdainful as she is of his scepticism she agrees. After all his fee is very generous and will help her escape her sadistic husband. I won't tell you what happens, we BookEaters try not to do spoilers too often after all! But it was certainly captivating. Here is a writer who know how and when to add conflict but without stretching the bounds of believability. All the characters rang true - in fact the character and basic storyline is based on a real life Spiritualist sensation of the era - Eusapia Palladino and the author has drawn on writings about her from that time. The tricks that many spiritualists used are detailed throughout and if you're anything like me you might keep changing your mind about whether Alessandra is genuine or a con artist throughout the book. As the author is an investigative journalist examining the paranormal, it's not surprising that this book shows excellent research, what is surprising is how well-written it is. It's a self-published book, but don't let that put you off, this is a lot better than a lot of the books I've read lately. 4.5 Bites  

12th November 2017 GemBookEater
The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

IMG_2631Two people were born on the 2nd March 1975, one in Eritrea one in London. Thirty years later Yonas has to leave Eritrea  and travels to England as a refugee, when he arrives he has to 'work off his debt' in a factory and so fails to register as a refugee. His asylum case lands on Jude’s desk. Opening the file, she finds a patchwork of witness statements from those who met Yonas along his journey: a lifetime the same length of hers, reduced to a few scraps of paper. Soon, Jude will stand up in court and tell Yonas’ story. His life depends on how she tells it. I have to admit I wasn't sure about this when I first opened it. It starts with Jude opening the file but it is told in second person and frankly that was a bit weird. However, I soon got past that and as I started reading Yonas' story I became fully absorbed in it and found myself reading it at every opportunity. Yonas' journey is horrifically compelling, all the more so for the flashes of joy and hope he finds in the simplest things, and for knowing that people are going through the same things day in day out. Once Yonas reaches England he develops a habit of keeping newspaper articles about refugees and immigrants. the author uses these at the start of every chapter. At first I felt it was a bit of a gimmick, but then the more you get to know Yonas, and the other people he meets in his situation, the more stark the comparison between the savage dehumanisation unleashed on these people by our media and their own gentle aspirations. Four Bites NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.

11th November 2017 Jeff Short
Dadland by Keggie Carew

1coverThe most extraordinary, exciting, moving, wonderful, enjoyable and unusual biographies I have ever read. Tom Carew served in the British army in WWll , like most others he never talked of his wartime activities, only to mention in passing that he parachuted behind enemy lines to help the resistance. When Tom was in his eighties and showing signs of dementia, his daughter Keggie decided to write the story of this charming and irrepressible man, before his memories were lost forever. Born into impoverished Irish gentility Tom Carew had a madcap childhood in both Ireland and England. Enlisting in the army at the start of WWll Tom was bored and frustrated with his role as an anti-aircraft gunner in Gibralter and jumped at the chance to volunteer for dangerous missions behind enemy lines. These dangerous missions known as “Jedburghs” consisted of three man teams parachuted into enemy territory to arm and train the resistance and carry out acts of sabotage by cutting road, rail and telephone lines, destroying arms and fuel dumps. Tom Carew and his team were so successful that no sooner had the Germans been pushed out of France than he was sent to repeat his success, this time against the retreating Japanese in Burma. The Jedburgh teams under Tom Carew fought alongside an army of Burmese resisters lead by Aung San (Father of the current Prime Minister Aung San Suu Kyi), who were fighting for Burmese independence. This rag tag army captured or killed over 17,000 Japanese as they tried to flee across the Chindwin River. Their own losses were minimal. However Tom himself not only had to fight the Japanese but also the insufferably arrogant British Colonial Administrators who were determined to thwart independence and resume their brutal rule in Burma. After a spell in military intelligence in Finland and Trieste he returned to peacetime soldiering but quickly became bored and resigned to seek his fortune as a civilian. To his horror he found himself unemployable, ex-military types were two a penny and jobs were scarce. Tom decided to live off his wits and his considerable charm. but most of his ventures failed leaving him in debt and on the brink of bankruptcy. Interweaving with Tom’s business failures were three marriages. First a wartime bride, the wife from hell. Second the lovely mother of his three children, whose mental health declined to the point where she was committed to a mental hospital. And number three, the evil step mother. Writing this biography was a voyage of discovery and endless surprises for Tom’s daughter Keggie. One of the reasons I enjoyed this book so much is that Keggie is not a professional writer, she wrote about her Dad from her heart. And I loved it. Five Bites.

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