Two years ago, my younger sister, Carolyn, lent me her copy of The Fault in Our Stars. I trust her judgement, and read it knowing it would not be easy, and that I would likely be in pieces at the end. It was not easy, and I blubbed like you wouldn’t believe. It was with some trepidation then that I accepted this book from her, especially as it came with the caveat “it’ll make you cry even more than The Fault in Our Stars”. It didn’t, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that this is a devastatingly lovely book. Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet properly for the first time when they are both standing on the ledge of their High School’s bell tower. This morning, like every morning, Finch has asked himself whether today is a good day to die. He is prone to periods of being asleep, this last episode has lasted throughout Thanksgiving and into the New Year. He contemplates different ways of killing himself, intrigued by the suicides of famous people. Violet’s life turned upside down when her older sister died in a car crash the year before. The grief of losing her sister, and the pressure of being the person who survived has caused her to withdraw into herself. She no longer feels comfortable in her friends company, and has lost her ability to write which had been such an integral part of her. After Finch helps Violet down from the ledge, a friendship develops between the two. A love of words and an innate understanding of what the other is going through creates a bond between them, and in each other’s company, they discover that some days can be perfect. This is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, beautifully written with some wonderful insights. At times it borders on inspirational poster territory, but there is a realness about it that reins it back in. There is such juxtaposition between the characters, which seems to mirror the difference between life and death. There is poetry at times within the prose, assisted by the quoting of The Waves by Virginia Woolf which plays a big part within the book. This is a book to make you think about mental illness, the way we deal with it individually and as a society. There is a difference between how Finch and Violet are treated by their high school counsellors, with more sympathy being afforded to Violet because there has been a trigger to her depression. But it is also hopeful in its own way. A lovely book, which deserves a moment of contemplation once the last page has been read. Carolyn says: "This is such a wonderful book, so beautifully written. Jennifer Niven has really captured the thoughts and feelings of a depressive and how it effects those around them. However, she doesn't portray them in a negative way, which is inspiring. It truly is a great read and I would recommend it to anyone." 4 Bites from me. 5 Bites from Carolyn!
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Considering I am such a vocal fan of Terry Pratchett, it’s odd that it has taken me such a long time to get to this book. I think that I am saving each book of his, like a fussy collector. Anxious about reading them because I know that for each one I start, there will be one less Terry Pratchett book which I will ever read for the first time. It’s hard knowing that his publications are finite. But then you fall upon a line which could only have been written by Sir Terry, and it sings from the page. In a future not too distant from our present, Earth is a very different place. In fact, it is many different places. Following the events of what has come to be known as Step Day, humans have discovered that parallel versions of Earth exist just a step away from the original, or Datum Earth as it is now known. Using a device called a Stepper, invented by missing physicist Willis Linsay, humans can move to Earths east or west of Datum, into the Long Earth and unclaimed territory just like the pioneers of the old west. For Joshua Valiente, stepping isn’t just about discovery. It is a form of escape. Like millions of children across the world, he made his own Stepper on Step Day, before the world knew what the device did and what the ramifications would be. Finding himself in another world, he saved the lives of nearby children who found themselves in the same situation. But Joshua discovered he could step without his Stepper. Fifteen years later and only a handful of people know his secret: Madison Police Officer Jansson who found Joshua wondering the streets of Datum Earth on Step Day, and is now investigating Long Earth crimes within the area which would be Madison on the Datum; and Lobsang, a legally sentient computer who happens to be the reincarnation of a Tibetan motorcycle repairman. And Lobsang has a proposition for Joshua: to join him aboard his stepping airship called the Mark Twain and travel further through the Long Earth than anyone has before. This is a fun collaboration between Pratchett and Stephen Baxter, and the first in a five book series. Like all good Sci Fi and Fantasy fiction, complex themes are considered within the book, such as overpopulation, individuality and Homo Sapian’s need to explore and discover. Disappointingly, I found the middle of the book dragged a little. As Joshua and Lobsang step across countless Earths there is period where not much happens, but towards the final third the tension starts to ramp up a little. I found some of the characters reactions a little unrealistic at times, with conversations seeming to move from calm and considered, to angry in the space of a sentence. But overall I found the concept interesting and the characters fascinating enough to keep me gripped. The fact that I was up in the air whilst reading it added to this. Not aboard the Mark Twain and stepping across the Long Earth however, just on a bog standard Ryanair flight. Still, it’s a start. 3 Bites.
I’m going to start this review with a little warning: I am making a gross assumption that everyone knows the story of Anne Boleyn, so there are a few spoilers within the next 500 words. If you aren’t aware of her history, this book is a fairly good place to start, but you might not want to read much further. You have been warned! There is something about Anne Boleyn that has held our attention for nearly 500 years. Part of it is the mystery that surrounds her. As Alison Weir writes in her author’s notes at the end of this book, there are not many surviving examples of Anne’s own letters. What we know about her comes from the words of others, whose opinions of her were none too favourable. In this book, Weir gives her a voice. There is a lot of history to pack in, especially when the author is as well versed as Weir is. The book begins with an eleven year old Anne being offered a place in the household of Margaret, Regent of the Netherlands. Unfortunately, because there is so much to fit in, most of the book seems to skip from one event to the next. There is no time to draw breath, no time to really develop much more than a two dimensional understanding of the characters. We are informed constantly of Anne’s dislike of adultery, she shuns the advances of Thomas Wyatt, not wishing to become his mistress. She harbours a hatred for the King for denying her marriage with Harry Percy. There is no mention of a desire for power or fame before Henry begins to make his advances, and as such it seems like a different Anne Boleyn who decides that she wants to be queen more than she wants to marry for love. Hints are dropped early with Henry Norris making her "heart jolt" from the moment she sees him and Anne being aware of the good looks of her brother. Despite knowing Anne’s fate, there was still a big part of me that hoped things might end differently. But it wasn’t to be. Alison Weir is excellent at the emotional parts. I could feel Anne’s heartbreak and fear with each miscarriage. And once Anne is arrested on charges of high treason, time and the writing seem to slow down. Emotions run high and the last part of the book goes into the depth and description that were missing throughout the rest. Alison Weir says she wanted to portray Anne as “flawed, but very human”, and she does this well. Anne is progressive, has been influenced by strong female leaders such as Margaret of Austria and Marguerite of Valois. In some ways she is ahead of her time: keen to shape the kingdom and assist with state matters in a very obvious way. Any book on Anne Boleyn is going to rely on the author’s own interpretation, but this one, based on many years of study, is an interesting portrayal. 3 Bites This book is the second in Alison Weir's Six Tudor Queen series. Kathryn of Aragon: The True Queen is out in paperback now. I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in return for an honest review. The Book Eaters always give honest reviews.
Admit it, every reader has a secret hankering to own their own book shop, I know I do! So when I friend of mine told me she was planning on opening one I practically begged to help her set it up ... ok, not practically, embarrassingly! Luckily I had some time off which coincided with her getting the keys to her new shop and she took pity on my BookEating self and said I could help out a bit. So here's the secrets behind the glamour! [caption id="attachment_5412" align="alignleft" width="300"] What a lovely logo! Designed by Craig Grew of Kea Kreative[/caption] The book shop is Woodbridge Emporium ... a lovely and unique venture. My friend, Jules Button, has owned successful retail businesses before so I have absolute faith in her abilities. She knew straight away that this wasn't a venture that would be successful without a good team and she got that into place immediately. Her daughter Jessie is the shop manager, she also has two other staff members that she's worked with before and knows she can trust. Together the team span the generations and have a wealth of knowledge and variety of expertise so they should be able to serve every customer well. But of course the staff is only one part of the experience and what customers really want is to find things they want to buy! Jules realised that she would need to offer more than books if she was going to have a profitable shop. This was already a bookshop before she took it on but it sadly wasn't very successful and taking on a failing business is an obvious risk. She needed to offer something completely different than was there before, but without putting off the customers that had stayed faithful! In a previous shop she had sold a selection of Mind Body & Spirit books so she already knew that the profit margin on books is much smaller than on most retail items. She began by adding in a gift section, this ties in nicely both with the books - as people often by books as gifts - and with the range of cards and wrapping papers already offered. But her knowledge of the local area also led her to adding in an extra range - high quality loose teas! There are quite a few coffee shops and suppliers in the area but nowhere to get loose teas locally. And as we all know there's nothing better than a book in one hand and a cup of tea in the other! [caption id="attachment_5411" align="alignright" width="200"] Image shamelessly stolen from The Woodbridge Emporium's Facebook Page, pop over there to see more of the behind the scenes work to opening a book shop![/caption] There was a lot of hard work to be done before re-opening. Some of the problems the shop was suffering from before were cosmetic, I had been an occasional customer but the building always had a slightly damp and dingy feeling to it which made it hard to feel comfortable in for long. It doesn't have big windows like most shops so there is little natural light. So the first thing the team did was to refresh the decor - outside the door and window frames were painted in the bright red and black of the new brand colours, the counter was moved to a new location, the old carpets were ripped out and replaced them with a light laminate wood floor, they repainted the walls in a bright white, added more shelves, added a red trim to each bookshelf, used blackboard paint and chalk to make directional signs and got a lot of extra lighting put in. Now it's easy to read the blurbs on the backs of the books! The other major task was to go through the stock that came with the business and this was the part she let me help with. The first day she set me to going through the books in the stock room to see which were worth keeping, which might sell well online and which should be given away. I quickly discovered that there were some books that were unlikely to sell particularly in the quantities there were. Jules wisely decided that these could go into lucky dips for customers on the opening weekend. After the back up stock was sorted I was allowed out to play with stock already on the shelves. You know when you go into a book shop that you'll find different genres on different shelves, but have you ever stopped to think how long it takes to get those shelves so neatly ordered? The Woodbridge Emporium has around 10 thousand books, which is about average for an independent book shop, I organised and reorganised those books four times in the run up to the opening! I promise it's not because I'm an idiot but until the first organisation was done it was impossible to see where we had too many books or where we didn't have enough. And as we were adding new genres and wanted the shop to have a natural flow so that lovers of one genre might notice books nearby that might also appeal to them, we had to play around quite a bit to get it looking good! For the record though, as an avid bookshelf organiser I loved every second of organising those shelves! [caption id="attachment_5416" align="alignleft" width="225"] I am in this picture but hiding behind people! Quite a turnout for a grey day in a small town, proof that people want independent book shops![/caption] By now the shop was almost unrecognisable but Jules knew that more was needed to make sure the business would be a success. Publicity is vital for any new venture and Jules made sure there was plenty of it. She started a Facebook page and Twitter account before opening to keep potential customers up to date with developments, spoke to the local press and organised a big launch! [caption id="attachment_5415" align="alignright" width="200"] Local author and actor Hugh Fraser with owner of Woodbridge Emporium Jules Button[/caption] The shop was opened in the presence of the towns Mayor and Mayor-in-waiting by local author and actor Hugh Fraser. There were balloons, free gifts a chance to sample the teas and the wonderful Hugh (best known as Captain Hastings in Poirot) stayed all day signing his books. (Read our review of his first book here.) Jules has since also been featured in the Bookseller Magazine. The Woodbridge Emporium has been open for two weeks now and I've had the pleasure of popping in to help out a couple more times, yesterday I asked her what the perils and pleasures of the experience had been to date. It was no surprise to me that she admitted one of the biggest perils for any bookshop owner is the cost of the stock and the small profit margins available. The cost of stock is quite substantial and like any other business she has staff costs and rates etc to spend on top of that. But what heartens me most is what she told me the biggest pleasure has been. She's run lovely local retail businesses before but even though that's true she said she's never experienced the amount of support that she has with this venture. Customers have had wonderful things to say but she's also received a lot of industry support. Publishers and authors have been in touch to offer help with events, suppliers have gone the extra mile and so have the Booksellers Association. All in all she's very happy to have her own book shop and we're very happy too! [caption id="attachment_5414" align="alignleft" width="850"] Me helping in the shop![/caption]
I was thrilled to discover Marge Pierce when Woman on the Edge of Time was recently re-issued. I loved it (read more here) so when I saw that Ebury was re-publishing Body of Glass as He, She and It I jumped at the chance of getting a review copy! This is another dystopian novel, originally published in 1993 it is once again a little scary how many of the things predicted in this already exist. Marge Pierce was clearly keeping on top of the latest tech when she wrote this! She writes about the middle of the twenty-first century. Life has changed dramatically after climate change and a two week war that utilised nuclear weapons. The population is much smaller and concentrated mainly in a few domed hubs. But some things don't change and Shira Shipman is a young woman whose marriage has broken up, on top of that her young son has been awarded to her ex-husband by the corporation that runs her zone. Despairing she has returned to her grandmother's house in Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There she is employed to work on socialising a cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions - and the ability to kill. This is quite a different book from Woman on the Edge of Time, in some ways it's a mirror image of it. Here the whole book is set in the future but there is reference to the distant past through a story told to the cyborg, whereas the other book has a woman travelling from now to the future. The futures are also mirrored - this is truly a dystopian vision whereas the other was utopian. But what doesn't change is the quality of writing which creates an envelope around you so you feel completely immersed in the world. Although this is a deeply moral tale, asking us to question what makes us human and how we treat others, it is also a cracking good story! Full of tension, corporate intrigue, blackmail, badass modified humans, bombs, and of course a mother desperate to be reunited with her toddler son. Back when it was first released it won the Arthur C Clark Award. Definitely worth reading! 5 Bites!
I love it when I find a book which almost completely consumes me. The feeling of not being able to put it down, of sneaking a read whenever you can. This is what this book did to me. I had it downloaded on every Kindle app I could, even finding myself reading it on my phone as I was walking to work. Luckily, those situations ended up being accident free- Don’t try it at home, kids! This is the story of Susan Trinder, orphan and thief who has been bought up in the careful protection of Mrs Sucksby. She knows she is special, Mrs Sucksby has told her so, and raised her as if she were Mrs Sucksby’s own daughter. All she knows of her own family is that her mother was hanged for murder. But Mrs Sucksby and the other inhabitants of Lant Street are the only family she needs, and she would do anything for them. When the enigmatic and high born thief known as Gentleman arrives at Lant Street, he has a proposition for its residents. And Sue is just the person to help him. Christopher Lilly is a scholar whose life work consists of putting together a bibliography of all the books he owns. His neice, Maud, helps him in this work and has been trapped with her uncle in his house in the village of Marlow for most of her life. Maud is an heiress, an orphan whose money will only be released once she is married. Gentleman has tricked his way into Lilly’s home, claiming to be able to help him mount his collection. His aim: to make Maud fall in love and elope with him. For this, he needs help. Sue will be employed as Maud’s lady’s maid and gently convince her that Gentleman loves her, and that marriage to him is what Maud wants. Once married, Gentleman will have his new wife committed to an asylum and then share his new found wealth with those at Lant Street. Simple. This story has more twists and turns than the streets of Victorian London’s East End. It was brilliant. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the rug was swept out from underneath me. It’s the kind of book you want someone else to read, just so you can call them and shout “OMG!” down the phone at them. It was all incredibly believable. The characters individual and real, from Sue, Maud and Gentleman, right down to the servants with only a few lines who maintain Lilly’s house, Briar. I only have one negative thing to say, and that’s that some of the descriptions of body language and reactions bordered on cliche at times. But this had no impact on how much I wanted to read it. The plot pulls you along at breakneck speed, leaving you feeling exhausted at the end. You might be interested to know that the book has recently been adapted into the film “The Handmaiden” by Korean director Park Can-wook. If you do read it, remember I’m available on our Twitter and Facebook pages for any OMG moments you might have! 4 bites
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