I love it when Joanne M Harris draws out beautifully human stories from myths, legends or folk tales and she's done it again with this book! It starts with a rhyme from the Child Ballads. If like me you've never heard of the Child Ballads let me share with you what I discovered about them, they are not what I first supposed - rhymes sung by children like Oranges and Lemons. They are 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland, anthologized by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century. Many of them are difficult to date but it seems that most of them have been in existence since at least the 16th Century. And to be fair probably most have been sung by children down the ages just as much as adults! Harris has picked ballads from this collection and drawn them together to tell a circular coming of age story full of love, loss and revenge around a nameless wild girl. It starts with ballad 295; "I am as brown as brown can be, And my eyes as black as sloe; I am as brisk as brisk can be, And wild as forest doe. Our brisk, brown hero is one of the 'travellers', able to slink into the skin of birds and mammals and travel with them through the surrounding countryside. On her travels she sees a charm tied in a yew tree beckoning the love of a prince and steals it, mocking the milk blonde country maid for her simple desires. But then she meets the prince and they fall in love the way that only teenagers can. But to be with him she must become named and tamed. The tale follows their love through the seasons of the year, full of the conflict between youth and wisdom, love and jealousy, freedom and belonging. It is beautifully, poetically written and in the way of all good mythologies shows you a secret place in your own soul when freedom and belonging join to make you whole again. Five Bites NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.
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Brothers John and William are travelling through a plague ridden country in December 1348. John, finding a baby still alive next to orphan-making corpses, finds his heart too moved by pity and piety to leave the baby to die. Despite the risks that William reminds him of. William's words are terrifyingly prophetic and soon the brothers fear that they will die and go to Hell. But then a strange voice offers them a choice - die at home with their families (probably infecting them too) or to live another six days searching for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last. They choose the future and wake the next day in 1447. The day after that in 1546 and so on. Every day brings new shocks and and challenges as they are confronted with changing technology, landscapes and religious and social convictions. With so much confusion can they redeem themselves before the six days are up? This book couldn't possibly be what it is if it hadn't been written by the author described by The Times as ‘the most remarkable historian of our time’. This is Ian Mortimer’s first work of historical fiction and his knowledge marries perfectly with a stunningly clever and well executed story. Though John and William were born centuries ago and are very different from each other, they are both likeable, relatable characters. Obviously the settings and descriptions of each time period are accurate but Mortimer infuses them with colour and life too. I found myself talking about this book a lot while I was reading it - always a sign of a good read. This is definitely in my top five books of the year and deserves every one of it's Five Bites! I'm hoping Ian Mortimer continues to explore fiction. NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews.
Nadia and Saeed first meet at an evening class. They live in an unnamed city in an unnamed country “still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” Their relationship is at once modern and yet conservative, and each is still learning about the other when the fighting intensifies. Militants wage war on the government and people are killed, or disappear. Whole neighbourhoods are razed to the ground. Saeed's mother is amongst the dead, and this horrific event leads Nadia and Saeed to discuss the risks of staying in their home city and the possibility of finding safety elsewhere. All over the world, doors have opened. Doors of darkness which lead to other cities, other countries. Swathes of people have begun moving west, and Nadia and Saeed decide to join them. Risking their lives to travel through the doors, they arrive first in Mykonos, then London, and join fellow refugees settling in abandoned houses in the capital. But building a life and a home proves to be much more difficult. There is a dystopian, magical realism element to this book. The world it is set in is not completely our own: doors allow people to move from country to country in the blink of an eye; London is a city divided, where migrants shelter in houses abandoned by their owners whilst the refugees themselves are abandoned by humanity. Like all good fiction, it holds up a large mirror to our own world and the story it tells is one which is being played out across the globe right now. This is a book about what drives people to make the journey and what happens once the journey is done. It’s about trying to settle into a new country when the country itself is trying to reject you. It’s about the impact this has on a relationship. It’s about being forced to leave your home and giving up all you were just to stay alive. It would be easy to read this review and imagine a heavy book, full of despair. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The writing is beautiful. Elegant, yet simple. Vignettes of the lives of fellow travellers who have passed through the doors are dotted within the main story of Nadia and Saeed. They are never more than a few pages long and we never learn the names of these characters, but their stories are full of hope which is the lingering emotion left after the last page. 4 Bites
Mary gets home from work one day, not long after her husband has moved out, to find a magnificent fox on her lawn. His ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise - she is entranced. Somehow his wild presence has bought magic back into her very controlled life and she longs to see him again. She begins to leave food out for him and he begins to leave her gifts too. Gradually he makes himself at home. Much to the consternation of her neighbours who start to plot getting rid of him. Then one day it seems he has left a very unusual gift. A gift that changes everyone's lives. This is an unusual book - I wasn't exactly sure by the end of it what had happened and what hadn't. But in that lies it's brilliance. it explores the nuances between sanity and madness, civilisation and savagery, right and wrong, love and abuse. I was sucked into this from the first page and as soon as i'd finished it I put it straight into my re-readables pile -who knows? Maybe next time I'll even figure out what actually happened! 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
The blurb for this book is brilliant so instead of trying to create a new and more accurate one for you as I usually do I'm just going to let you read the original... "Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour's Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing. And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary's old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past - with fatal consequences. In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem's adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour's destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept." I had this on my kindle for an age before I finally got round to reading it. I'm not sure why exactly but I had a strong feeling Id enjoy it and I just wanted to wait until the 'right' time to read it! When I finally did start it I was both annoyed at myself for waiting so long and also a little bit smug that I still had it there to read. As gothic mysteries go this is close to perfect. The writing is erudite and laced with regret, the villain so evil that reproach slides off him like slime down a sewer and the settings are darkened with soot and scented by sewers. The main characters are complex and all seem to have shameful secrets clipping their wings. Yet even with it being as gothic mystery as a gothic mystery could be, it is not cliched. There is sympathy and understanding for the other characters and a sense of realism that makes the reader believe this could really have happened. It's a very visual book too and would make a great film to watch in the autumn or winter with a crackling fire and a hot chocolate with a nip or two of something stronger in it! Treat yourself! 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.
Because of my joint love of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, (I know right. Been keeping it pre-tty quiet over the last three years.) my Twitter feed is happily full of Tweets from Neil Gaiman and Rob Wilkins about the filming of the new TV adaptation of Good Omens *. This is exciting for many reasons: A) It’s a TV adaptation of Good Omens B) It features the most amazing casting ever known in any TV or film ever. Ever.** C) See points A and B. It is no surprise therefore, that I have picked up my battered copy to read again, read it in two days and am now wishing even more that no crazy world leader starts WW3 before 2018 which is when the show will hit our screens. So, to recap…the end of the world is nigh (in the book that is). In fact the world will end “on a Saturday. Next Saturday in fact. Just after tea.” Crowley and Aziraphale know this, because they are a demon and angel respectively and are therefore aware of the ineffable plan. They have also been keeping an eye on the Antichrist for the last eleven years, after he was swapped with a child at a hospital run by satanic nuns. Unfortunately, baby switching is a complicated affair, and the child Crowley and Aziraphale have been keeping tabs on is not the Antichrist at all, just a normal human child. The real Antichrist is being brought up in the quintessentially english village of Lower Tadfield, where the weather is always correct for the time of year, and a gang of four children are having a pretty perfect childhood. Anathema Device knows about the upcoming apocalypse. She is a witch and the descendent of Agnes Nutter (also a witch) who produced the only truly accurate book of prophecies. Anathema also knows that on the day of the apocalypse, Witchfinder Private Newton Pulsifer will crash his car outside her cottage. And of course, the Four Horsemen know. And they are getting ready to ride. This book contains the best of both authors. As you would expect, it’s laugh out loud funny with Pratchett’s characteristic foot notes, and a disagreement between Heaven and Hell about who created Milton Keynes with neither wanting to take responsibility. But, like their other works, there is a serious side too. The book explores free will and our relationship with religion; the Four Horsemen are Horsemen for the modern age, with Famine a businessman who has created a range of diet products and fast food with absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, which eventually cause the consumer to starve. I have been unable to eat at a fast food chain without remembering this for the last twenty years. I love this book. I will love it always. It has stuck in my conscious since I first read it, to the point where overtime I’m on the M25 I think about it (If you haven't read it, this will make sense when you do.) I can’t wait to see it on the small screen! 5 Bites (But you knew that, didn’t you?!) Did you know that Radio 4 adapted it too? It was awesome! ** David Tennant AND Michael Sheen! Miranda Richardson! Jack Whitehall! Jon freakin’ Hamm!
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