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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.

5th November 2017 GemBookEater
Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

19780099592761Re-reading the blurb after reading the book I have to say it is a close to perfect synopsis, so I'm not going to ruin it by remaking it I'm just going to give it to you verbatim; "It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone." The only thing that would have improved that blurb for me was if I had kept it in mind when I started reading the book! As this book came to me through NetGalley about 3 months before it's paperback release was due I straight away popped it in my 'to be read soon' but then didn't get round to it for two months as I had others I wanted to review first. Then when I picked it up and started reading I got drawn in straight away to the prologue... but actually the prologue isn't really relevant to the story itself. In fact I would recommend you skip it or read it at the end. Other than that this book is excellent. As soon as you start reading you feel a sense of unease and a creeping certainty that danger is near to Lizzie that stays with you regardless of the glittering political distractions and security of her family. This is how historical fiction should be. There is a conviction about the times that envelope the reader allowing you to feel as if you are there living through them with the characters. You feel the weight of the mud sucking at you as you try to walk, feel dizzied by the depths of the river crashing through the gorge below, feel the sting of the wind and the warmth of the hearth. The characters are well formed and the twists when they come are surprising but believable. I left it feeling I understood Georgian England better and respected the people of the time more. 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.

4th November 2017 GemBookEater
In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

IMG_2634It is the midst of winter 2016 and a huge storm is about to hit Brooklyn. 62 year old Lucia Maraz is alone in her cold apartment so she calls her landlord and colleague Richard Bowmaster to see if he wants to join her for soup, and because she’s scared. He brushes her off, terrrified of any potential intimacy. But in the middle of the night he calls her - a minor traffic accident he had earlier that day has led to a hysterical young Spanish speaker turning up on his doorstep and he needs her help. The young woman is Evelyn Ortega—an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. She took her bosses car to drive to the store without asking permission and the damage to it means he will know, he is a violent man. While these three very different people are trying to work out what to do for the best a new intimacy allows us to hear their life stories from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil. Along the waythe long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia sparks into life. This book has been described by other critics as mesmerising, and to be honest I think that description fits it really well. There are quite shocking twists and turns but there is something else in the writing that keeps you reading. It’s not just that you want to know if they’ll get themselves out of the tricky situation they’re in, it’s also that the characters are so real and so easy to care about that you want to spend time with them. All of them have suffered great tragedies in their pasts, and all have been changed by them and coped differently. There’s no element of magic realism as there is in some other of Allende’s, but the magic in this is real and it’s the magical redemption that giving and receiving love brings. 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.

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