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26th March 2017 Tamara Thomas
Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny won the CWA John Creasey dagger in 2006 with this - the first in the series about Chief Inspector Gamache. Seventy six year old Jane Neal has lived in the sleepy, remote village of Three Pines all her life. She knows everyone and as the retired school teacher many from the younger generations were taught by her. Life is peaceful in Three Pines, crime is rare, the local newspaper carries headlines about homemade patchwork quilts and people only lock their doors to prevent generous neighbours from gifting excess zucchini at harvest time. When Jane is found dead - shot by an arrow - the villagers are shaken out of their cosy world and secrets long hidden away tumble out into the light of day. Murder or freak accident in the woods, it’s up to Gamache to find out. [caption id="attachment_4963" align="alignleft" width="189"]The first in the series - click through link to Waterstones The first in the series - click through link to Waterstones[/caption] This is Gamache’s first visit to Three Pines and the villagers are lucky to have him investigate. Wise, gentle and genuinely interested in people he is always surprised by violent death and knows that the truths that will be uncovered in his investigation will hurt more than just the deceased. Along with Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, Agent Isabelle Lacoste and trainee Yvette Nichol he is about to examine every aspect of this village’s life. First up is the discovery that certain homophobic youths had been caught by Jane while throwing manure at the front of the Bistro as an act of violence against Gabri and Olivier who run it. Next they find that Jane is a secret artist, so secret that by the time the police gain access to her home any art she may have produced has vanished with the exception of one curiously naïve and hideous piece that had been entered for a local exhibition. Then they discover that a surprisingly high number of the local population belong to the archery club which in addition to all the hunting tourists makes the field of suspects massive. But Gamache knows that trouble usually starts close to home and that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” Matthew 10:36. That quote is a refrain throughout the series but here in the first book we the reader have yet to learn how that will weave its way through the stories that follow. Among the many rewarding and warming things they discover about the inhabitants of Three Pines is that Gabri - a large man in a frilly apron with a penchant for silver screen dramatic touches - is also the most wonderful chef. Quite broken at the death of his dear friend Jane, Gabri bakes rosewater muffins in tribute to her and her love of roses. More truths about Jane come to light at her memorial service when ascerbic old poet Ruth sings ‘what do you do with a drunken sailor’ and Jane’s friends join in, finding pleasure in the memory that it was the only song Jane had ever taught them in school and even the nativity play had featured it. Meanwhile Gamache is having trouble with his newest recruit. Agent Nichol hears but doesn’t listen, and every encouraging or thoughtful attempt to support her training that Gamache makes is seen by her as a sign of muddled, old-fashioned thinking. Her pride nearly sabotages the investigation more than once, but slowly the field is narrowed and the picture comes into focus. Over protective parents, changed wills and ghastly wallpaper cannot hide the truth for ever and the reasons behind the murder of one old woman are finally laid bare. This book is fine read as a one-off, but it is really just the briefest introduction to a wonderful series packed with tremendous characters that I guarantee will become old friends if you give them a chance.  

25th March 2017 GemBookEater
Chalk by Paul Cornell

It's 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can't be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before. Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible. This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it's ground as a read for adults too. It is brutal. I won't tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There's also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he's not even on her list of people she'd send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school. I think one of the things that's so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity. The story is great, it's well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author's mental health! The characters aren't the most richly developed or nuanced that I've ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day! 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

24th March 2017 Rachel Brazil
In Celebration of Mums- 5 Great Literary Mums!

It's Mother's Day in the UK on Sunday- Quick! Get your cards sent! In honour of my mother, who is the most fantabulous mum in the whole world (yes I checked!), I would like to present a small round up of literary mums who are super brilliant too... Now, these mums were chosen because they are more than just good fictional characters, they would actually make rather marvellous mothers if they were real. So for example, Mrs Bennet from Pride and Prejudice has not made the list. She's a completely marvellous character in literary terms but I'm pretty sure that most of us would agree that her attempts to sell off all her children, and the multiple 'quiverings and flutterings all over' would drive us all batty! In no particular order.... MWMolly Weasley (The Harry Potter Series) I'm pretty sure that Mrs Weasley would top, or come close to topping any poll on literary mums. Her Christmas jumpers, her excellent cooking, her steadfastness in looking after her seven children all combine with her willingness to take in Harry and care for him as one of her own to show off her kindness and compassion. She's always ready with a hug or a decent scolding when needed and, although her protective nature sometimes feels smothering to her children, her badassness is legend. 'NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU BITCH!'   MDMrs Dashwood (Sense and Sensibility) Although Mrs Dashwood isn't without her flaws- she's often too romantic and emotional, and too governed by the whims of Marianne- she is kind-hearted and very affectionate towards her daughters. There is a lot of love in the Dashwood household as signalled by Marianne's fevered fixation on her mother when seriously ill, and her mother's subsequent dash to her side. Unlike many mothers depicted in Austen's novels, Mrs Dashwood cares more for the happiness of her daughters than for what advantageous matches they might make.   MM Marmee (Little Women) Almost too good to be true, Marmee, as Mrs March is known to her children, is a highly principled, progressive woman for her time. She doesn't insist her daughters marry for money and in fact makes sure that they are educated and able to stand up for themselves at a time when the opposite was expected. She's non-judgemental, and believes in all sectors of society. She's hard working, sets a good example, is available to console her daughters and be confided in, and has a huge amount of love for her children. She's able to protect her children whilst letting them make mistakes and learn from them.   ap Amelia P. Emerson (The Amelia Peabody Series) A truly formidable woman, Amelia Peabody's world is turned upside down on her first visit to Egypt where she meets her soon to be husband, Radcliffe Emerson. Their union produces a son Walter Peabody Emerson, known to almost one and all as Ramses. Her maternal experience later includes Nefret Forth, a girl they rescue from the Western Desert at the age of 13. Very progressive for her time, and yet in some ways the epitome of a Victorian lady, Amelia instills a liberal viewpoint in her children. They do not treat people differently due to their race. They are kind to animals and compassionate to people less fortunate than themselves (which is, frankly, most other people in the book) She is fiercely protective and has been known to go into a 'berserker rage' if someone threatens Ramses, most notably when Ramses is physically threatened as a youngster. Woebetide those who cross the Sitt Hakim and her magical parasol!   MF Mrs Frisby (Mrs Frisby and the Rats of Nimh) Noone who has read this book or seen the adaptation The Secret of Nimh can fail to be moved by Mrs Frisby's bravery. Her son Timothy is ill with pneumonia just at the time they would normally move to their summer home- the spring plowing is about to begin and their home will be destroyed. Mrs Frisby's bravery and courage in finding a solution to this is indicative of the sacrifice that so many mothers are willing to make to protect their children. With no thought to her own safety, she does what she needs to to get the help to move her house.     These are just a few of the great mums out there in the world of literature- who would you have picked?? And thanks Mum! You're ace!

23rd March 2017 GemBookEater
Perfume by Patrick Suskind

IMG_2403A woman is pregnant in eighteenth-century Paris, she stops work to give birth by her fish stall in slum market-place. There, amidst the dirt and the stench Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born without any odour of his own, But with a nose that can discern and define any scent at all. Through sheer force of will he forces his way into an apprenticeship position with a prominent perfumer. He proves his nose can copy the greatest scents and in return he is taught the ancient arts of distillation, effleurage and mixing precious oils and herbs. But Grenouille's obsession leads him to experiment with capturing other scents too -  the odours of objects such as brass doorknobs and even of excrement. Then one day he catches a hint of the perfect scent. The scent that invokes love in all who come into contact with it. Grenouille has never been adored. He must capture the scent and create the ultimate perfume with it. No matter the cost... This book is one of my all time favourites. Everything about it is brilliant. The concept, the characterisations, the descriptions, the ending. In fact the ending is so good that when I first read it I was coming to the end of it as I arrived at my home train station. I got off the train but I straight away sat down on the platform bench to finish it. There was just no way I could wait the ten minute walk home to read the end of it. This time I listened to the audio book version of it. I was a little worried beforehand - a bad narrator could have ruined it. But every single second was a joy. In fact being able to listen to it whilst walking or driving through the country with so many scents drifting around may even have improved it! If you haven't read this get a copy now. If you have - treat yourself and re-read it! You won't regret it! 5 very tasty bites!!

22nd March 2017 GemBookEater
Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

imageJonah Williams was born a slave. On his eighteenth birthday he gathers together a few stolen coins and a knife and flees the South Carolina plantation on which he was born. With just the clothes on his back, not even a pair of shoes, he starts to run. He doesn't even have a clear idea of where to head, he just knows to go north so he follows the North Star. During the day and running through the night. Somehow he eludes the men sent to capture him, but when he meets Angel in North Carolina she decides that he is her ticket to freedom and follows him without his permission. This is one of the books I planned to review for Black History Month last October. But when I looked up the author I found he was white and decided to leave the review till later instead. There is a debate around appropriation and as part of thought process around making such a feature of Black History Month was to put deserving black authors into the spotlight it didn't seem right to promote this book then. But this is one of those books that has me in a quandry about the appropriation argument. On the one hand I agree that there is very real discrimination in the publishing industry and this needs to be addressed. However, slave stories are not the only stories black people have to tell and I'm equally  disheartened by the lack of chick-lit,business books, crime and sci-fi written by and featuring black people as I am worried about their stories being stolen to make profit for white writers. (To be truthful few writers make a good living off their writing so that point is moot in many cases. There is also the fact that this story was in my opinion more respectful of those that escaped slavery than Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad which re-imagined the 'underground railroad' that helped many slaves escape, as an actual real train running underground. It was a well written and widely lauded book but for me the concept was deeply flawed, particularly as so many Americans are so gullible they'll happily elect Trump. I have to admit though that although the writing in this book is perfectly serviceable, it isn't as good as Whitehead's. The charachter development, scene setting and story are all better though so overall I would recommend this above Whitehead's book for those interested in the lives of those slaves who ran to freedom and the trials they endured. For that aspect alone it is also a better read than Roots by Alex Haley, though I'd also recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as another great read alongside this one. 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

19th March 2017 GemBookEater
Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

image"There was a new King, and his name was Pestilence. And he had created a new law - Thou shalt do anything to survive"
It's 1348 and plague has reached the shores of England. Camelot, a scarred peddler of holy relics, usually travels alone. But when he meets Rodrigo and Joffrey, two musicians new to the road after the death of their master, he takes pity on them and agrees they can accompany him to the next town. There they meet a young painter Osmand and his pregnant wife Adela and Camelot bumps into the obnoxious Zophiel, a magician he's met before who sells glimpses of an embalmed mer-baby. A storm forces them all to travel together and soon they are joined by Cygnus, who has a swan's wing where one arm should be; Narigorm, a sinister rune-reading albino child with second sight, Pleasance a lonely midwife and a horse called Xanthus. As they try to outrun the plague, they become aware that they all have secrets they want to keep concealed. But soon they realise that something else is chasing them too, something that won't just kill them but could expose them too. I listened to this as an audiobook and before I talk about anything else I have to sing the praises of the narrator. It's read by a chap called David Thorpe who has narrated over 200 audiobooks and he is brilliant! Every character had a different voice and every single voice sounded like his natural voice. He had to deal with a range of accents and attitudes from a solicitous Italian to supercilious English. Since listening to this I've added a whole load of books narrated by this guy to my wish list. Apart from that I really enjoyed this book, all manner of human fear and desires were explored, the characterisations were excellent and the story had plenty of tension.  It might not be 'literary' but it is bloody good! I know I'll listen to it again, and since listening to this I've become a confirmed fan of Karen Maitland's work, I leapt at the chance to read an advance copy of her new novel The Plague Charmer a little while ago, I also got a bargain copy of The Raven's Head and I think I might have got BookEater Kelly hooked to if her review of The Gallow's Curse is anything to go by! But if I'm honest I'll probably listen to them all as well - particularly if they're voiced by David Thorpe! 4 Bites

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