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23rd September 2017 GemBookEater
The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

md22498117310Natasha Pulley's steampunk mystery extravaganza The Watchmaker of Filigree Street became last years literary crossover. It seemed nobody could resist it and I admit I was more than a little swept away by it myself. The blurb of The Bedlam Stacks seemed like a departure from her debut except for the time period it is set in (not exactly the same but only a few years earlier). Here it is "Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. Here, statues move and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for malaria. By 1859, the hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and the India Office coerces injured expeditionary Merrick Tremayne into one final mission. Merrick is dispatched to Bedlam and tasked with bringing back cinchona cuttings. But as he travels into hostile territory, he discovers a legacy which will prove more dangerous than he could ever have imagined." I have to tell you that that blurb does not do this book justice! What I can't tell you is how much I loved this book - there just aren't the words! I wanted to live in the Bedlam Stacks forever, Natasha Pulley has created an incredible world and characters with breadth and depth. It isn't steampunk this time so much as magic realism, but it still has a dusting of mechanical madness and another connection to her debut that I can't tell you but does mean I'm chomping at the bit for her next book ... according to Twitter she's busy researching now...! 5Bites - so far this is my favourite book of the year!

21st September 2017 GemBookEater
The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by JT LeRoy

This book and its author caused one of the great literary scandals. JT Leroy was a recluse at the start of their literary career, then they became a Warhol-esque celebrity and then they were discovered to be a fraud. But why am I telling you all this instead of telling you about the book? Because actually knowing this makes this book even more extraordinary. This book, supposedly biographical, is structured as interconnected stories, showing vignettes of the chaotic life JT Leroy. It starts when his teenage mother Sarah reclaims him from his foster parents and takes him along with her and her new boyfriend. Life is suddenly a world of motels and learning to love his new stepfather leads him into abuse and trying hard to be as pretty and womanly as his mother. He's plucked out of that situation only to be exposed to a different kind of abuse from Sarah's ultra-religious parents. Scalding hot baths, skin scrubbed into tatters and learning to hate himself and his desire to be loved even more. I'm not going to lie - it's too horrible and shocking to look away from. There's a part of all of us that wants to gawp at other's suffering and have our minds boggled by it and this book definitely feeds into that. But I think that feeling can be a force for good in the world, by seeing other people's problems we can become more open and sensitive to them. And although, or maybe because, this is in fact a work of fiction it has that power. The writing is extraordinary. To capture the voice of a child this young going through so much is incredible. Particularly as all the way through the innocence of that youth comes through. It's not easy reading - for goodness sake don't read it when you are feeling like the world is too dark a place to live in. But when you're feeling powerful and strong and ready to try and change the world, please do read it. 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

13th September 2017 GemBookEater
They Can’t Kill Us All The Story of Black Lives Matter by Wesley Lowery

cover101888-medium-1Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson reporting on the murder of Michael Brown when he was arrested himself for charging his phone up in a local McDonalds. The McDonalds hadn't complained by the way, the police just didn't really like black reporters hanging around and doing their jobs it seems. This is how Lowery came to be at the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the next year he travelled across the US to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today. He conducted hundreds of interviews with the families of victims of police brutality, as well as with local activists working to stop it. But in this book he also looks back to the things that happened before Michael Brown's murder and the riots in Ferguson. He's diligent to give credit where it's due. He also investigates the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with constant discrimination, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs. In other words he puts blame where it's due too. Reading that back makes it sound a bit dry but it's really not, it's more like you're a rookie reporter getting to ride shotgun on the biggest story of the year. It brings home the very justified fear that most black americans have of the police. Imagine having to teach your child how to not be shot by those that are supposed to protect us. I found this immensely readable despite the difficult and emotive topics, but more importantly for a book like this I learnt from it. 4 Bites - Highly recommended.  NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

10th September 2017 GemBookEater
Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose

Johannesburg by Fiona MelroseFiona Melrose is back less than a year after her much lauded debut novel was released - and this story couldn't be more different than the last. In Midwinter we followed the tale of a Suffolk farmer and his son as they tried to live through their grief and find peace. This time we're in Johannesburg where Gin has just returned home from New York to throw a party for her mother's eightieth birthday. But this isn't just a mother and daughter rather than father and sone tale, woven through this are other people's stories - that of a homeless hunchback fighting for justice and his sister, a man still haunted by his first love, and the domestic workers who populate the neighbourhood. The whole story takes place on one day - the day the Mandela family prepares to announce Tata Mandela's death. I was privileged to see Fiona Melrose at the very first launch affair for this book which was held in my friends bookshop in Woodbridge (read more about the story of that bookshop here). She talked about how this book was inspired by Mrs Dalloway and started as an exercise but it's clear that certain characters needed their voices to be heard and refused to let her leave the story there. Strangely the only thing I felt could have been better about this book was the voices - it's told from several different perspectives and some of the voices were too similar to one another which sometimes left me a little confused as to who I was hearing from. That eased out by halfway through the book though. The rest is excellent, a mix of the personal and the political written so realistically you can smell the dust and the scent of Agapanthus around you as you read. Personally I prefer it to Mrs Dalloway, partially because it deals with today's issues but partly because the writing is more fluid and passionate. 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 -even when we know the authors personally and think they're utterly lovely!

23rd July 2017 GemBookEater
The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

cover108526-mediumAliens are trying to make contact with Julia Glazer; they have been since her mother died. In an effort to escape them she has left her childhood home, a bar called The Stargazer's Embassy, and moved to New York. It's easiest to be safe surrounded by lots of people and plugged into a Walkman so you can't hear them calling.

There she meets and falls in love with a man who turns out to be completely wrong for her - not in personality, just in occupation. He is a psychiatrist studying people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Julia at once knows that if she tells him her secret she could move from lover to patient in the blink of an eye. But keeping her secret proves impossible as she begins to meet his patients, and finds amongst them people who describe exactly the aliens she sees. And who recognise the tattoo on her wrist that her mother had scribed there.

I am not the resident Sci-Fi guru here but I found the premise of the book intriguing... and the fact that it was written by someone who'd won an award for a previous Sci-Fi novel reassured me immensely too. But I have to admit that the cover made me think I was making a mistake.

Thankfully you can't see the cover when you're reading it! Also thankfully, my copy was on Kindle so no one on the train could see the cover either as I read it on my commute! And thrice thankfully you really shouldn't judge a book by it's cover... I really will learn that one day!

Because I really enjoyed this book. It's a totally different take on the alien abduction genre with a unique, memorable and relatable set of characters. It's set sometime in the late 90's but with flashbacks to Julia's childhood in the 70's which just adds that cult Sci-Fi feel to it that we all love so well. I don't want to give too much away so I'll shut up now but get yourself a copy of this even if you have to slip it inside a different cover to be seen with it!

4 Bites

NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviewse

22nd July 2017 GemBookEater
Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

cover102888-mediumThe tale of Prospero's quest for revenge from William Shakespeare's The Tempest is of course well known. But this book asks what of his daughter Miranda? The pawn in his twisted game. Or Caliban, apparently just a savage that Prospero chained to his will? Here we meet Miranda, a loving child who wants to spread happiness and doesn't understand her father's paranoid control. She understands kindness and compassion though and longs to rebel but knows her father's magic is too powerful for her. Here too is Caliban, a lost and frightened child who finds in Miranda solace and joyful companionship. He resents Prospero's enslaving of him and manipulation of Miranda. Of course the spirit Ariel flits through the story too as cataclysmic a force as could be imagined with every small sentence that drops from his lips leaving confusion and calamity all around. If you know the play then you'll have a fair idea where the story is going from the start but don't let that dissuade you from taking the journey. The writing is a real pleasure, at once sumptuous and spare, Carey portrays the characters with a few deft strokes but then washes colour and light through them so the depths of their souls are displayed. And in many ways this is an untold story as it deals with the twelve years that Prospero and Miranda were exiled and according to Carey there is much more to be said about Prospero as a father and Miranda as a girl growing up with little human companionship than the play explores. What does she remember if anything of her pampered life before exile? How can she trust a man who uses cruelty to have what's best for her at heart? There is plenty of tension and conflict in the book, honestly I wasn't sure all if Carey would return to Shakespeare's Tale or upend it completely, the ending is not so fixed as you might imagine ... 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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