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17th March 2018 GemBookEater
The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

IMG_2690"One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid." The blurb of this book really doesn't give much away... so let me correct that for you (without spoilers of course!) When widowed merchant Jonah Hancock takes possession of a mermaid he suddenly finds himself thrust into the world of high society pleasure seekers. He becomes obsessed with an innocent looking girl at the famous Mrs Chappell's house, but Angelica is in love with another and won't even look at him unless he finds her a mermaid too. We follow Angelica and Jonah through their highs and lows as they get closer and drift apart again as they discover the true meaning of love, forget it and try to remember it again, whilst trying to find a permanent place within the privilege and pomp of London society. I waited an age to read this book and then I almost gave up halfway through. For me, believable characters are key and there was something not hanging together for me in Angelica's character - I couldn't quite believe her. But I decided to give it another 30 pages and suddenly there was a peace of information that made Angelica click with me. Then her character began to grow and the twist began which made for absorbing reading. I'm glad I persevered, the second half of the book was masterful, but if Angelica's character had been revealed a little earlier I would have loved the whole thing. 3.5 Bites   NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

11th March 2018 GemBookEater
Holy Rascals Advice for Spiritual Revolutionaries by Rami Shapiro

IMG_2633 This is a book for those that believe in a higher power but are somewhat disillusioned by religion. As the blurb says 'God is real. Everything we say about God is made up. Holy Rascals is a rousing call to anyone ready to go beyond “isms” and ideologies, and live in the world as a liberating force of justice, compassion, and joy.' Inside it reminds us that twenty-five hundred years ago Diogenes exclaimed, “I am not an Athenian or a Greek but a citizen of the world.” Today many of us are struggling to make those words our own. "We have come to the point in history when anyone who is only Japanese or American, only Oriental or Occidental, is only half human. The other half that beats with the pulse of all humanity has yet to be born." HUSTON SMITH, The World’s Religions. But for you to really get the feel of this book and whether you are or want to be a 'Holy Rascal', the best way is to quote from it directly. “Holy rascals are spiritual culture jammers who use humor, play, creativity, and critical thinking to reveal the human origins of religions— and how religions mask their true origins behind the conceit of divine origins,” The book is in three parts, part one is about the making of a holy rascal and the great task of “freeing religion from the parochial and for the perennial.” Part two explores the art of “hacking the holy,” or pulling back the curtain on religion’s fear-based mechanisms of control. Part three presents some of the provocative tools and one-of-a-kind practices of the holy rascal, with guidance for creating your very own “rascally” ways." To be honest I found it a bit repetitive, but I loved the way it presented erudite and profound ideas with childlike joy and enthusiasm - it made it very accessible. If you are religious - read this. if you're not religious - read this! Throughout there is no pressure or suggestion that anyone should change their religion (or lack of) only that we should live it in love, compassion and joy. 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.

10th March 2018 GemBookEater
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

IMG_2677In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. The charismatic Jean De Men has led the survivors to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. But the survivors are not unchanged, evolution has been turned on its head: the survivors have become sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin. Jean de Men is not just charismatic though, he is crazy. He turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule - galvanised by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her. This is a hypnotic book whose characters live on the edge of desperation and are all the stronger for it. It encompasses great themes, what it means to be human, whether humanity can recreate the planet it is so busy destroying, the fluidity of sex and gender and how love is tied by neither, and the role of art. This has been a hotly anticipated book, and now I've read it I think it will be I a hotly anticipated film. It is wonderful, not just for the fantastic images and epic struggles within, but for the love between Christine and Trincula (who instantly became one of my favourite characters ever written) and the love between Joan and Leone. 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.

25th January 2018 GemBookEater
Chocky by John Wyndham

161849I had a deep love for the TV series of this book when it screened in the 80's. I've always remembered it, though with that feeling that it might not live up to being revisited the way many things from our childhoods don't. But reading the book would be alright wouldn't it? Books are always better after all! This is all about Matthew, a normal 11-year-old boy living with his parents and little sister in Surrey in that golden age when the space race was powering up. Matthew is too old for an imaginary friend. Yet when his parents keep finding him talking and arguing with a strange presence whom Matthew calls Chocky, that's what they believe it must be…at first. But Chocky is oddly sinister, and keeps asking Matthew all sorts of complicated questions about the world and making him behave in unusual and erratic ways. Then Matthew suddenly does something heroic, well beyond his capabilities; the media become interested and the interest in Matthew widens. His parents refer him to a psychologist. Who is Chocky? And what could he or she want with their son? Well I don't know if the book is better than the series, a little part of me will always love my memories  of it. But Wyndham is a great writer. I loved the book. Chocky is a fascinating character and this story had many surreptitious feminist principles which, when this was published 50 years ago this year, were far from widely held. The thought of so many young boys reading this and absorbing the belief that women could be equal to men and that gender is a social construct is a joyous thing. Apparently Spielberg bought the rights to this ten years ago - I hope he goes ahead with directing it. It's more relevant than ever and I trust him with my memories. 5 Bites

20th January 2018 GemBookEater
The Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden

cover119981-mediumLast year BookEater Tam raved over Katherine Arden's debut (and this books' prequel) The Bear and the Nightingale. I added it to my 'to be read' pile straight away but I saved reading it until I knew that this book was within my grasp! As soon as I had my preview copy on my kindle I dug in. BookEater Tam's review was right on the money and I loved the first book. This second novel moves to Moscow, where Vasya’s older sister lives the life of a princess, gilded and luxurious but constrained by the walls of a tower which no maiden or woman of high birth must leave. Vasya’s brother, the monk known as Aleksandre Lightbringer is also there - a favourite at the court of the Grand Prince. Moscow is plagued by power struggles and  bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. The Prince, Aleksandre and a retinue of trusted companions set out to destroy the bandits but on route they meet a young man riding a magnificent horse who has rescued three of the stolen girls. But this is no boy, it is Vasya. Her brother must protect her identity until he can get her to safety. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, he realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical... This book was just as good as the last, Arden has created a magical world and the medieval Russian themes running through it add a wintery fairytale element. Lit by ice and spiced with smoke. The characters are wonderful- the villains are evil but their motivations make sense. The heroes are flawed and Vasya makes some mistakes fuelled by pride and ignorance, but ultimately they are all trying to do the best they can in a society that holds them back. I reall hope there’s a third book in this series but if the author veers off in a different direction I’ll be happy to read whatever she writes. 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.

14th January 2018 GemBookEater
Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

IMG_2681A woman named Amanda lies in a fever in a rural hospital clinic,  A young boy, David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child. David is prompting Amanda to recount the events that led to her illness, constantly pushing her to fix on the 'important moment', the moment when the 'worms' got in. Yet for Amanda what is important is where her young daughter Nina is. She talks a lot about the 'rescue distance', something most parents are constantly measuring and recalibrating as their children grow. How far away from you are they? Are they close enough to rescue should danger befall them? As David continues to push her, the horror of the thing that has befallen them is exposed, is there any way back through it? Can Amanda get back to being within rescue distance of Nina? Samanta Schweblin is a fairly new voice on the Spanish literary scene, her short stories have won critical acclaim but this is her first novel. It was rightfully shortlisted for the Man Booker international prize as it is incredibly evocative. Reading it you feel like you are in a fever dream, nothing is quite where it should be and memories are more vivid than the world around you. This lends itself perfectly to the strange, creeping, psychological menace. I can't tell you more of the plot without ruining it for you, but I would definitely recommend you read it if you like books that are a bit weird and that don't necessarily tie up every loose end for you. This is like that, it's a melody in a minor key that will keep surfacing in your mind like a memory of illness and loss. It is a tale of maternal love and the power and desperation of family. Some praise must also go to the translator Megan McDowell. 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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