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22nd February 2017 GemBookEater
Christodora by Tim Murphy

Murphy, Christodora jacket artThe Christodora in Manhattan’s East Village is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged and artistic young couple. Through Milly's art program for kids she meets Mateo and they adopt him. He grows up in the Christadora with his potential for greatness constantly at odds with the wound of his adoption. Their neighbor, Hector was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict. It looks like he's on the way out but one last chance is heading his way. Enveloping the AIDS epidemic from the hedonistic times just as knowledge of the disease starting becoming known 80's, the awesome energy of the early Activists.Then moving forward to look at the legacy of the virus in the 2000's and projecting forward to it's imagined results in the 2020's this novel is both an incredibly personal story and equally a social document of an era. This book is astonishingly good. I consider myself priviledged to work for HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust which was set up in memory of Terrence Higgins, the first man to knowingly die because of AIDS in the UK. I was a little too young to really understand the astonishing activism of the LGBT+ community in the 80's but as I partied in the 90's and lost friends to it then I started to become aware not just of the disease but of the incredible spirit of defiance and resilience around me. When Terry Higgins died his partner was still a teenager. Yet apart from setting up the trust (with friends of Terry's) he also went on to study medicine and fight both the disease itself and the stigma surrounding it. He is both extraordinary and, like so many other people that this book brings to life, completely ordinary. Because the characters in here are normal people, They are brave and scared, reckless and careful, determined and unsure, hurting and hitting out, loving and hiding from love. They are gay, straight, white, brown, old, young, educated and dropouts. You will know them or people enough like them for you to understand them. This isn't just characters though - there is a very strong storyline running throughout it and some surprise twists and turns along the way. I couldn't put it down! Full disclosure - this made me sob on the bus more than once! It might be an idea not to read it in public! 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  

19th February 2017 GemBookEater
Welcome to Lagos by Chibundu Onuzo

cover98142-mediumArmy officer Chike Ameobi is ordered to kill innocent civilians in the line of duty. Instead he deserts followed by one of his privates Yemi. They decide to head towards Lagos, the vibrant capital city of Nigeria that it is easy to get 'lost' in. On route they accidentally collect 3 other runaways - Fineboy, full of bravado but disillusioned with the brutality of the militia, Isoken, a teen girl who may or may not have just been raped by Fineboy's group of rebels and Oma, a trophy wife running from her abusive husband. Just after they arrive in Lagos a political scandal erupts. The education minister, Chief Sandayo, has just disappeared and so have millions of dollars supposed to go to schools. When the group find the Chief unexpectedly they have to decide what to do with him - and the missing money. What follows is a novel about all the different colours of the soul. Hope, despair, morality, corruption, greed, violence, love, friendship, betrayal - you name it, it's in here. That might make it sound like the book is a big fat mess! But actually it isn't, like every city there is a structure holding everything in place. Yes there are moments when it looks like everything is going to spiral out of control, but like a juggler on a street corner Onuzo looks like she's going to drop all the balls, but at the last minute catches them all with a sly, comedic wink. Her characters are excellent, each voice separate and quickly unmistakeable. I would have liked longer with each of them and to have had more time to delve into their backgrounds, but it is not always possible to juggle balls in slow motion. I feel here that I must mention our novelists age - she is 26 - just 26!!! To have written something this good at her age, that understands emotions like being a disappointment to your grown-up child (amongst oh-so-many other things) is extraordinary! This gets 4.5 bites from me - but I am sure that I'll be awarding this author 5 bites in the future! NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

18th February 2017 Kelly Turner
The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen

IMG_1600During a recent interview for National Public Radio in the US, Viet Thanh Nguyen explained how he wished everyone had a sense of what it is like to be an outsider, for this is what produces empathy and compassion. In this collection of short stories, we walk alongside Vietnamese immigrants trying to settle in America; children of refugees trying to establish a life in a world different to that of the childhood, those who might be considered outsiders. The stories are mostly set in America, with only "The Americans" and "Fatherland" based in Vietnam and allowing us a glimpse of the country through the eyes of US citizens. The country it shows is one of immense beauty, but which is still haunted by war. There were two stories which shone out for me. "Black-Eyed Women" is the first in the anthology and tells the story of a young writer. She describes Vietnam as a country of ghosts, possessed by the spirits of invaders killed in battle who will now never leave. No wonder she has become a ghostwriter. The ghosts become more literal when she is visited by the phantom of her brother who died when the family made the dangerous crossing from Vietnam to America, bringing back memories of the past and forcing her to confront her present. In "I'd Love You To Want Me", Mrs Khanh is dealing with the dementia which has taken away her brilliant, Professor husband. But when he starts calling her by another woman's name, she starts to doubt the very foundation her marriage is built on. The writing is beautiful. The words simplistic, but meticulously chosen as befits such short stories. We also get a wonderful sense of the characters despite the story lengths, with development and detail which would suit a novel. There is a sense of displacement throughout the book, both in terms of the characters personalities as well as in place. It left me with a feeling of sadness as well as an empathy for these people I will never meet. 4 bites

17th February 2017 GemBookEater
Hear Hear for AudioBooks!

Headphones on the old book.. I'm a huge fan of audiobooks! Personally I have no idea how anyone gets through cleaning their kitchen without listening to a good book while they do it! Honestly a visit to my house will always show how good the book I'm listening to at the moment is - a super clean house means a book I just can't turn off! But what I didn't know is that the humble audiobook has a history nearly 150 years long, dating back to Edison’s recitation of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” for his tinfoil phonograph in 1877. My thanks are really owed to the blinded World War I veterans for whom the first novel-length talking books made. The history and social impact of audiobooks is told in "The Untold Story of the Talking Book" by Matthew Rubery.  In it he argues that storytelling "can be just as engaging with the ears as  with the eyes, and that audiobooks deserve to be taken seriously. They are not mere derivatives of printed books but their own form of entertainment." I couldn't agree more. Except that sometimes I disagree! For an audiobook to be good, obviously the book has to be good, but also the reader has to be good. And not just good, but the right reader for the right book. 51nLN7yvmnL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_For example, "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern is an excellent book, BookEater Kelly adored it and everyone on Twitter loves it too. I loved the blurb and got it on audiobook three or four years ago. But although I started listening to it twice I just couldn't get into it, then Kelly's review pushed me to try it again and this time I got far enough in to fall in love with it. The problem was the reader, an accomplished narrator but his voice was too old for a book whose main characters were much younger. On the other hand, listening to Maggie Gyllenhaal voice Unknown"The Bell Jar" by Sylvia Plath is a sublime experience. And Benedict Cumberbatch reading William Golding's "The Spire" is a pure joy! Not that the readers need to be famous to be good. I get the majority of my audiobooks from Audible and they allow you to search by narrator so when you get a good one you can find other books they've narrated. But if Audible isn't for you there are plenty of other places to get audiobooks, in fact you can even borrow them from your local library! So give your ears a treat and get listening! And if you're already a fan drop us a comment with some of your favourite listens and narrators!    

15th February 2017 GemBookEater
Men by Marie Darrieussecq

imageI'd just read Heart of Darkness when I saw this book about a white french actress (Solange) who falls for  charismatic black Hollywood actor, Kouhouesso. Kouhouesso wants to move into directing and has a very ambitious project - a movie of Heart of Darkness to be filmed actually in the Congo. Solange follows him to Africa, saying no to other roles offered to her in the hope of playing the female lead in the film but mainly because she's pretty obsessed with him. This is billed as a "witty examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations." And it's written by an award winning writer known for being an intellectual, supporting left-wing politicians and having a thing or two to say feminism (both that she is one and that she couldn't be further from being one!) I felt like I should be onto a winner with this. But alas and woe is me and all those sad damsel-in-distress expressions, I was let-down! Deserted! Callously abandoned! Much like the actress in this book. To be honest this left me deeply uncomfortable and as if the stain of it's liberal racism was all over me. Because this book is racist. I'm sure it doesn't mean to be, but it is. To begin with I can't imagine an intelligent, well-connected black actor wanting to remake Heart of Darkness - a book that really doesn't have any black characters. The only one with any dialogue in it says about 3 servile sentences and ends up dead pretty quickly. Considering that black actors and directors are still hugely under-represented in Hollywood it's no surprise that any that are there are getting busy making amazing films like 12 Years A Slave. Then there's the female character. Well to be honest I'm not entirely sure I can even call her a character. She has a backstory at least - a son left with her parents many years ago so she can pursue her hollywood dream. But even though this dream was strong enough for her to abandon her child it isn't strong enough to stop her dropping it instantly to moon around after a man she's pretty sure doesn't love her ...! Her attempts to manage her first 'real' interracial relationship show just how racist middle-class France still is, the things she worries about are about as bizarre and objectifying as you can get. Though to give credit where it is due the book does highlight a couple of micro-aggressions so strongly that almost anyone could see how appalling they are. The plot isn't awful, just not good enough. 1 Bite NB I received a free copy of this book through NetGalley in return for an honest review. The BookEaters always write honest reviews

12th February 2017 GemBookEater
As I Descended by Robin Talley

[caption id="attachment_4183" align="alignleft" width="199"]img_2253 Click to Order from Waterstones[/caption] Power resides in all kinds of places these days so when Robin Talley decided to take Macbeth as inspiration the first thing she did was change the seat of power being vied for to an American High School. Maria Lyon is one of her schools most popular students. But since she fell in love with her roommate Lily Boiten there are obstacles in her path that she never dreamed of. They can't come out but if Maria can just win the Cawdor Kingsley Prize they'll be assured the same college and four more years in a shared dorm room. But one thing stands in their way, Maria's one-time friend and the most popular girl Delilah Dufrey. Lily and Maria are willing to do anything―absolutely anything―to unseat Delilah for the scholarship. They hold a seance together with Maria's best friend Brandon but things get out of hand and before long feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what’s imagined, the girls must attempt to put a stop to the chilling series of events they’ve accidentally set in motion. I've read a fair few Shakespeare plots reimagined over the last couple of years and although most have been lit-fic - written by some of our greatest writers; don't think that this one - written for the YA market by a fairly new (though already award winning) author can't compete. It can and it does. For a start, this isn't a straight up re-write and some of the ways it honours the original are subtle and quite frankly a little twisty. There are no witches, instead she cast the three main characters in the fortune telling role through the seance, and there are plenty of other deviations too. One of the other aspects I liked was the fact that there LGBT+ leading characters and that they weren't some kind of freak show or tragedy device. Don't get me wrong, awful things are done by and happen to these characters but awful things also happen to the straight characters. Not only that but the issues of being out or staying closeted are raised and stereotypes about LGBT+ people and drug-taking are circumvented. The characters are driven by deep and passionate loves but the fact that they are same gender in these cases is just a fact, it's obvious that these characters could easily have been driven the same way if they were straight and there were obstacles to their happiness. This is a great mix of psychological horror and waking drama with a big dollop of the supernatural stirred through 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 reviews


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