The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

IMG_1614In a not too distant future, America has fallen. A coup has led to the overthrow of the government and the suspension of the Constitution. Democracy is replaced with theocracy, and America has become The Republic of Gilead. This is now a land governed completely by men, and in which women’s rights have been stripped away completely. Forbidden to read, to go out alone, women have few roles in society. With increasing sterility in this new world, the Republic have introduced a biblical way to increase the population. Women known as Handmaid’s are introduced to the households of high ranking officials and their wifes. Their role is to take part in a sexual ceremony with the official and his wife. A Handmaid who has a child is protected from being sent to the Colonies where “unwomen” are exiled. However, any child born is the property of the official and his wife.

Our protagonist is Offred, handmaid to a man known only as The Commander, and his wife who Offred believes to once have been a singer known as Serena Joy. Through Offred we learn about the new regime, it’s practices and punishments. We also get flashbacks to Offred’s past: to her previous life with her husband and daughter, through to life in the Handmaid’s training programme and her friendship with fellow Handmaid, Moira.

Sales in Atwood’s modern classic have soared in the months since the election of Donald Trump, and it’s easy to see why. The premise has become ever more believable, as has the insidious way in which women’s rights are eroded within Gilead. At the start of the revolution, on finding her bank account frozen. Offred’s husband doesn’t rage or take to the streets with her. Instead he promises to look after her, seemingly happy to be the knight in shining armour protecting his woman. In Gilead, men have complete control over women’s bodies, their reproductive rights and lives in general. Executive orders signed by Trump show how easy it is for this to happen in this world too.

It is an uncomfortable read, and so it should be. It deals with an uncomfortable subject. However, it’s flawlessly written. Offred’s voice is intentionally clumsy to start with, a side effect of being forced into silence for so long. But it becomes more fluent as the book progresses. This is an essential book, and can be found in the ‘current affairs’ section of your local bookshop!

5 bites

PS- If you love The Handmaid’s Tale, you might be interested to know that a new TV adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred will be released on US streaming service, Hulu on 26th April. Keep an eye on our page for a UK release date!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

31377300The year is 1645, and as the Civil War continues to rage, Alice Hopkins is making her way from London to her hometown of Manningtree. Newly widowed and in the early stages of pregnancy, Alice has nothing to keep her in London. With her mother’s recent death, all that awaits her in Manningtree is her brother, Matthew. Accidentally burned by a careless wet nurse as a baby, Matthew was always a serious child. Although they were close as children, Matthew didn’t approve of his sister’s marriage and she fears what kind of welcome she will receive.

She discovers that her hometown has changed in the time she has been away. Matthew has risen in importance within the local community, and has become one of the leading voices in the detection of witches. Alice soon discovers that this prominence doesn’t just extend as far as the borders of the town, but into the rest of East Anglia.

As Matthew further investigates the women of Manningtree, so he also delves deeper into his own past. Having found his childhood wet nurse, he becomes convinced of her innocence in his accident. His blame shifts then to Bridget, a former servant, friend of his mother and mother in law to Alice. Alice herself is driven by a desire to protect her unborn child, her mother in law and her brother from the man that he has become.

It’s impossible to know what made a man like Matthew Hopkins act as he did. Beth Underdown paints him as a serial killer, a “killer of women,” which increases the discomfort and threat surrounding his vulnerable sister from who’s view point this story is told. I just wish there had been more of it. I found the first half of the book engaging, but felt that the second half fell a little flat and wanted there to be a little more depth to the characters. The same could be said for the secondary characters: the women who were accused, the female servants who assisted Hopkins- both willingly and unwillingly. I wanted to know more about them.

The dialogue and description plant us firmly in the 17th century, and works really well. I felt Alice’s loneliness and thought Underdown did a great job of showing us that aspect of her. She also shows us how evil can hide in plain sight, and how quickly it can become part of the zeitgeist. An important lesson in our modern world.

3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

IMG_1612Thursday Next lives in an England very different from our own: The Crimean War has been raging for 131 years; Wales has seceded from the Union and has become the Socialist Republic of Wales; time travel is possible, and used by a specialist group called the ChronoGuards.

Thursday herself is a Crimean War vet whose father was a ChronoGuard before going rogue. Thursday works in The Special Operations Network (known as SpecOps), a series of policing departments who specialise in work too unusual to be handled by the regular force. Specifically, Thursday works in SpecOps-27, the literary division.

When the original copy of Martin Chuzzlewit is mysteriously stolen, Thursday is seconded to SpecOps-5 (a search and containment division) to assist. The suspect is Acheron Hades: notorious villain who can use the mere mention of his name to sense an enemy’s presence; who doesn’t appear on film or video; who can persuade people to do his bidding. Thursday knows him as her old English professor, which means she is one of the few people alive who know what he looks like. The only question is: what can he possibly want from the manuscript?

This is a world where words have power, where fictional characters can cross the borders and out of the book. This premise, plus the fact that the bulk of the story is set in my hometown of Swindon, meant this book seemed made for me!

There were parts I loved, such as the small little things which make this world different. I enjoyed how Thursday’s father would appear, freezing time around him so only Thursday could see him, and ask questions such as when and how the Duke of Wellington died (the answer is: shot by a French sniper during the opening exchanges of the Battle of Waterloo. This information makes Thursday’s father realise that the French revisionists have been involved.) I loved the passion people have for books. For example, the longstanding disagreements about who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays has created a group called the Baconians who aim to prove it was Sir Francis Bacon. It’s fun.

But there were things that frustrated me too. Firstly, the names. Amusing and silly to start with, I laughed at the name Paige Turner and Jack Schitt. But then it all got a little annoying, and Milton Keens and Landon Parke-Laine made me squirm.

I was also slightly put off by the character of Thursday. She’s strong and intelligent, which is great. But she feels a little cliched in places and definitely seems like a female character who was written by a man.

This is definitely a book with some enjoyable elements, but the annoyances built up which means I can only award it:
3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

In The Name of The Family by Sarah Dunant

30375755It’s 1501, and the Borgia family are tightening their grip on Italy. Rodrigo Borgia has been Pope Alexander VI for nine years, and continues to combine his role as Holy Father with that of head of his family: carrying out papal duties whilst filling his son’s war chest with papal money. His son, Cesare, Duke of Valentine, appears unstoppable. His mercenary army, supported by his father-in-law, the French king, have taken control of many of the city states in Italy. Cesare’s sights have now turned on Tuscany, and the weak City of Florence. Enter Niccolò Machiavelli: Florentine ambassador, who’s job it is to meet with this young, war hungry, syphilitic Duke and broker a peace between him and Niccolò’s city.

Meanwhile, the Pope’s daughter, Lucrezia is on her way to Ferrara and her third marriage. The addition of the duchy through marriage will swell the lands of the Borgias even more. But enemies abound: within the church, within Cesare’s own army, even within nature itself.

This is the second of Sarah Dunant’s novels about the Borgias, following on from Blood and Beauty, released in 2013. What Dunant has managed consistently through the two books is dispel some of the myths around the Borgias, and bring the family to life. Lucrezia in particular is shown for the fierce, independent woman she was, as opposed to the wanton girl she is often portrayed as. This is obviously a book born of years of passion and research.

I found it almost impossible to put this book down, and came to it each day with a sense of anticipation. The plot and the characters are of equal importance, a symbiotic relationship exists between the two and the story races along. The characters are fascinating, as are the relationships between the main players. I particularly enjoyed the interactions between Cesare Borgia and Machiavelli, and the respect the Florentine had for this young duke who would become one of the influences for Machiavelli’s own writing.

I was fortunate enough to get an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley, but we BookEaters always give honest reviews and advice. I can’t recommend this book enough, although be sure to read Blood and Beauty first!

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

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

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

IMG_1587God has always been a source of confusion for Peri. Growing up in a household with a religious mother and secular father, she has seen the best and worst of both sides, and the division it has caused between her own parents. She has also had her own religious sighting- a Jinn, the baby in the mist who comes to her during periods of high stress. To help her think through her confusion, Peri’s father buys her a ‘God Diary’ in which she writes down questions she has about God and religion.

When she gets a place at Oxford University, she moves from the family home in Istanbul to Britain. There she meets Shirin, British-Iranian and an atheist, and Mona, an Egyptian-American Muslim, who believes her religion doesn’t have to conflict with her feminism. It’s inevitable that Peri is drawn to the enigmatic Professor Azur who runs a series of seminars on God. Alongside Shirin and Mona, in the eyes of a professor Azur they are the sinner, the believer and the confused.

Many years later, and Peri is a mother and a wife back in Istanbul. On the way to a dinner party her bag is stolen from the backseat of her car. In a moment of madness she chases down the thieves, putting her life in danger. During the altercation, a photo falls from her bag of herself, Shirin, Mona and Professor Azur outside the Bodleian Library recalling actions and emotions she thought she had left behind a long time ago.

This is a rich book, in terms of descriptions, characters and themes. The writing is beautiful and quotes from poetry are dropped into a story which is poetic itself. The action moves between modern day Istanbul and Peri’s memories of her childhood and her time at Oxford. In my mind, Peri is immediately relatable. Uncertain, caught between parents, caught between friends. I love how she collects English words, plucking them from books and pinning them onto post- it notes like butterflies. But it is the interactions between the friends which makes this book so special. The conversations between Mona and Shirin are conversations that are being and the world over, between muslims and non-muslims, and Mona argues her point eloquently:
“You’ve no idea how horribly I’ve been treated! It’s just a piece of cloth, for God’s sake.”
“Then why do you wear it?”
“It’s my choice, my identity! I’m not bothered by your ways, why are you bothered my mine? Who is the liberal here, think!”

The one flaw I found with the book was in Professor Azur. I found him slightly cliched at times, and his back story came as a bit of an information dump. But there is an energy about the character, and it’s no surprise people are drawn to him.

If books are escapism, then they are always a way to experience the lives of people whose beliefs are different to your own. This empathy is needed today more than ever. To quote Professor Azur: “If I am Human, my heart should be vast enough to feel for people everywhere.”

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

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Lives She Left Behind by James Long

IMG_1583There are some books which grab you from the first sentence. This was one. I didn’t buy it straight away due to a distinct lack of funds, and absentmindedly forgot the name of it. And the author. Not wanting to be one of those annoying bookshop customers: “I can’t remember the name of the book, but it had a stag on the cover.” I was relieved to find it displayed on a counter when I went back into the shop after payday.

Joanna’s father Toby had wanted to call her Melissa, but he played no part in the final decision because he died more or less in childbirth.

Joanna, or Jo, is brought up by her mother, Fleur in Yorkshire. Fleur is distant and cold. Angry with her husband for dying, blaming her daughter who’s birth precipitated the accident. From the age of four, Jo knows she isn’t alone. She has a friend in her head called Gally. Gally tells her stories about the past, comforts her when her mother won’t, but Gally grieves and Jo doesn’t understand why. Concerned about her daughter, Fleur takes her to a psychiatrist who puts Jo on tablets. The tablets muffle the world around her, and Gally’s voice fades away.

After being forced out of her job as a developer, Fleur relocates them both to Exeter where Jo becomes friends with Ali an archeologists daughter, and Lucy. At sixteen, the trio join an archeological dig in the village of Montacute in Somerset. Jo feels drawn to the village from the moment she hears the name. Away from the constraints of her mother, she stops taking her tablets and feels a growing bond with the area, especially the nearby village of Pen Selwood.

Meanwhile, local teenager Luke stumbles across the dig. Placing his hand on the soil he feels it recoil, and forgotten memories start to rise to the surface. Schoolteacher Michael Martin is still grieving the loss of his wife and daughter twelve years ago. He blames the move to Pen Selwood for their deaths. His wife Gally was never the same after they arrived and met an eccentric old man called Ferney, who died shortly before their daughter was born. A chance encounter with Luke makes him realise the past cannot be put to rest.

This is a difficult to book to review without giving too much away. The Lives She Left Behind is a sequel to Ferney which has been out of print recently, and has now been republished by Quercus. The story moves through time, although this happens mainly through the reminiscences of the characters. The first third of this book was as good as that first sentence promised it would be. I was genuinely intrigued by the story and wanted to know what on earth was going on.

What bothered me as I read more, was the reactions of the characters. Some are expected to believe stories which would stretch anyone’s rational belief, and while there is a moment of incredulity this is often followed with a shrug of the shoulders and willingness to accept that I didn’t always buy. I also disliked the character of Luke at times, finding him selfish and narrowminded. Maybe this is intentional, but it meant I didn’t always want the outcome that the author obviously hoped I would.

However, it’s a good read and would appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Kate Mosse. I have not read Ferney, and probably won’t go back and read it as this book has covered most of the ground that the original did. I would be interested to hear what fans of the first book think of the sequel through. Does it offer anything more, or just retread a previous tale?

3 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Cousins by Salley Vickers

img_1573There have been many generations of the Tye family at the estate of Dowlands in Northumberland, and the family have had their fair share of tragedy. For Fred, the death of his uncle and the horror of the First World War led to his decision to become a conscientious objector in the second. A generation later and Fred’s son Nat dies in a tragic accident after climbing the walls of King’s College at night. This story is engrained in the family’s history and enthrals Fred’s grandson, Will.

The story centres around Will and his cousin, Cele: first cousins who fall in love and begin a tempestuous affair. The book begins after Will has attempted to literally follow in his uncle’s footsteps. He also falls, but survives and the family gather around his comatose body in hospital. The story is told through the narrative of three women: Hetta, Will’s sister; Bell, Cele’s mother and Betsy, their grandmother.

I really struggled to enjoy this book. It is very plot driven which can sometimes come at the expense of the characters themselves. Whilst I got a good idea of the personalities and drives of the five main characters, the secondary ones often came across as a bit two dimensional, probably because they relied heavily on description by the main characters which wasn’t always forthcoming. There is surprisingly little dialogue, instead there seemed to be chunks of exposition which I found myself glossing over and having to go back.

But despite thinking I might bail on it, the plot did keep me going. The main characters and the general story was enough to make me wonder what would happen to them all. And a bit more action at the end made me pleased I had stuck with it a bit longer. The general themes on family and its ties, and the inevitability of history repeating itself were interesting. But ultimately, the style and the lack of fully formed characters let it down for me.

2 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

New Year, New Books!

With Christmas over for another year, many of us have book tokens burning a hole in our pockets. They must, of course, be spent wisely, so it’s time to have a nose at the publishing year ahead and pick out some of the books we are most excited about.


img_1564Norse Mythology
by Neil Gaiman

Fans of Neil Gaiman will know the importance of mythology within his work: from Sandman to American Gods, Anansi Boys to The Sleeper and The Spindle. In his own words: “what is important is to tell the stories anew, and to retell the old stories. They are our stories, and they should be told.” In this new book, Gaiman will focus on the gods of Asgard, from their beginnings through to Ragnarök and retell the stories in what I’m sure will be his own distinctive way. Published on February 7th.
( Also look out for the TV adaptation of American Gods which premieres this year- on Starz in the US and Amazon Prime in the U.K.)


img_1571Into The Water
by Paula Hawkins

The Girl on the Train shot Paula Hawkins to international stardom and sold millions of copies worldwide. It’s no surprise then that her next novel is highly anticipated. Into the Water focuses on the separate deaths of a teenage girl and a single mother whose bodies are found at the bottom of the river that runs through their town. Penguin Random House inform us that this will be “an urgent, twisting, deeply satisfying read that hinges on the deceptive mess of emotion and memory.” It’s published on May 2nd.

img_1569Macbeth by Jo Nesbo and New Boy by Tracey Chevalier

We BookEaters have been gobbling up the offerings from Hogarth Shakespeare with frenzied speed, so we are very excited that we have two new books to look forward to in 2017. Nordic crime writer and general polymath, Jo Nesbo recreates Macbeth which is to be published on April 2nd. Tracey Chevalier, author of the bestselling novel Girl With a Pearl Earring, retells Othello in 1970’s Washington DC which will be published on 6th June.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen img_1567

Already described as a must read for anyone in political office, this book surely should be essential reading for everyone. A collection of stories spanning twenty years explores immigration, family and love. Viet Thanh Nguyen has won multiple awards for his writing, including the Pulitzer in 2016. This, his latest book, is published on 7th February.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

Reasons to Stay Alive was one of the most important books I read last year, and I have been telling anyone who will listen to me about it ever since. How to Stop Time is his latest adult novel and is out in July this year.

In The Name of The Family by Sarah Dunant img_1566

Three years ago I read, and loved, Blood and Beauty by Sarah Dunant, a book about the Borgias that made it into my top 5 books set in Italy. I’ve been waiting patiently for the sequel ever since. And here it is. In The Name of The Family is set in 1502 and introduces Niccolo Machiavelli to the lives of the ruthless, dynastic Borgia family. For me, Sarah Dunant is the best novelist on the Italian Renaissance. It’s published on 2nd March.

img_1568House of Names by Colm Tóibín

The story of Troy and the ancient war between the Greeks and the Trojans has been retold down the millennia, influencing a multitude of authors. Colm Tóibín, bestselling author of Brooklyn (amongst others), is the latest to reimagine the tale, this time from the point of view of Clytemnestra, wife of Agamemnon, king of Mycenae. This book tells the story of a woman betrayed, and driven by vengeance to commit murder. Due for publication on 9th May, it’s set to be an extraordinary read.

So have we whetted your appetite? What books are you looking forward to this year?

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

29245653-_uy2250_ss2250_Felix Phillips is the renowned Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. Daring and progressive, his plays are visceral and often not for the faint hearted. This year he is staging The Tempest, an obvious choice following the recent death of his three year old daughter Miranda: a chance to bring her back to life. But before he can really begin, he is fired. Kicked out in a coup led by his assistant, Tony Price and supported by Heritage Minister, Sal O’Nally. Dazed and alone, he drives until he finds a cabin in the woods as broken as he is, and makes his home there as Mr F. Duke.

In this house, he plots his revenge. For company he has the ghost of Miranda, who grows as she would have done if she had survived the meningitis that took her. He also gets a job as teacher in the Literacy Through Literature programme in nearby Fletcher County Correctional Institute (a little nod to Porridge?), where inmates read, dissect and perform Shakespeare.

Twelve years after he was fired, in the forth year of the Fletcher Correctional Players, Felix is informed that the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Sal O’Nally, and Minister of Heritage, Tony Price will be attending the production of this years play. Felix knows exactly what he must do, he has been planning this for twelve years after all. The play will be The Tempest and he will be Prospero, wreaking his revenge on those who have wronged him.

This book is the latest in the series by Hogarth Shakespeare which gives The Bard’s work a modern twist, following on from The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. In this book, Atwood has woven the story and the language beautifully. Phrases from the original Tempest fit in perfectly with the modern text, and some original lines seem shakespearean themselves:

He follows them through the vibrations of the web, playing spider to their butterflies; he ransacks the ether for their images.”

Disappointingly, the scenes set in the Correctional Institute seemed to slow the momentum of the piece too much. It was an interesting approach: the inmates (or actors as Felix prefers them to be called) learn about the play and the characters, delve into the themes of the play and even imagine what might happen to the main characters after the play. Although interesting, it seemed a bit too much like a text book at these points. However, I did like the idea of the actors being punished through the denial of contraband if they use foul language. Their first activity is to go through the text and pick out Shakespearean insults and obscenities which they then use in everyday speech for the rest of the book. I get the feeling Margaret Atwood enjoyed that part!

As Felix himself points out, the reason Shakespeare has survived through the centuries is because he focuses on actions and emotions which are synonymous with being human. The Fletcher Correctional Players understand the themes of revenge within The Tempest, and Margaret Atwood has created a novel which brings it perfectly into the modern day.

4 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Unbound: Publishing for the Crowdfunding Generation

imagesEarlier this year, I reviewed A Country of Refuge edited by Lucy Popescu. This book caught my attention for two reasons. First of all, the aim of the book was to add a positive voice to the refugee crises, bringing together authors and poets to write about immigration through the centuries and Britain’s role in supportive those in need. But the second thing that intrigued me was that the book was published through crowdfunding, via website called Unbound.

Unbound is a crowdfunding site for literature. Founded by authors Dan Kieran, Justin Pollard and John MItchinson in 2010, the idea is simple. If you are a writer, you can pitch your idea to Unbound’s editorial team. Whether your book is just started, or finished and ready for editing, upload as much of your manuscript as you have and what makes your story special. If the editorial team think your pitch has potential it goes up on the site where readers get the opportunity to pledge money towards your idea. If it reaches the target, Unbound help edit and produce the book before selling them in bookstores through Penguin Random House. Work can be fiction or non fiction. unbound_temp

As a reader, Unbound allows you to support projects which strike a chord with you, making the reader an important part of the journey. It all sounds quite exciting.

The company owe a lot to author, historian and python Terry Jones who provided the company with their first book back in 2010. Since then, it has gone from strength to strength. The Wake by Paul Kingsnorth, funded through Unbound, was listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2014. They have also been shortlisted for Independent Publisher of the Year Award in 2013 and 2014

There appear to be advantages and disadvantages of the system for writers. You don’t need an agent, but your book can’t have been self-published previously. Unbound assist with the editing and the publishing, meaning a first time author gets practical help navigating through this potential minefield. And any profit is split 50/50 with the author, which is a higher return than many traditional forms of publishing. In addition to this, readers get to actively engage with your book.

Conversely, some critics have pointed out a low output in terms of publication: 97 books published by Unbound since its launch compared with 184,000 new and revised titles published by the UK as a whole in 2013. Add to this a high crowdfunded target (Dead Babies and Seaside Towns by Alice Jolly required £10,000 in order to be published) and it’s clear you need to have a lot of support as an author to get your work completely funded. 51dterj0y6l

But what is the process like for a reader? I decided to pledge my support towards one of the 295 books currently on the website. The main page shows thumbnails of each book which includes the name of the book, authors, logline and how far towards their target they are. By clicking on a link you are taken to the books main page which includes a synopsis, extract, author information and opportunity to ask the author a question before you pledge.

In addition to this, each book promises different rewards for certain pledge amounts with all supporters getting their name printed in every edition of the book. For example, by pledging £25 to A Long and Messy Business by Rowley Leigh, I would receive access to the authors ‘shed’ or their private blog which keeps supporters up to date with the author’s creative process. (which, by the way, is an offer open to anyone who supports this book) a 1st edition hardback book and e-book edition. A pledge of £500 would get me a 3 day kitchen-101 with Rowley as well as the perks open to those who pledge £25 (although the student masterclass is only available to the first 16 people who pledge £500.) Each book, each author will offer different rewards in the hope of attracting a higher pledge.

I pledged to support The Glorious Dead by Tim Atkinson, a novel about a group of soldiers who remained in France after the end of the first world war, burying the bodies of the dead abandoned by the roadside. For my pledge I will be rewarded with a special hardback edition of the book when it is published, a poppy badge and the knowledge that 10% of the proceeds of my pledge will be donated to forces charities. Not only that, but I have supported an author in helping get his work into the world, and that feels pretty good.

The process might not be successful for every author, but as a reader it does give you a more intimate connection with the book. If your chosen book doesn’t meet it’s funding target then your money is returned to your account as credit so you can try again. I am, however, positive that I will see my copy of The Glorious Dead soon!

 

References:

www.unbound.co.uk

Charles, David. (2016) Experiments in Publishing: Unbound Crowdfunding. Available at: www.davidcharles.info

Flood, Alison. (2014) UK publishes more books per capita than any there country, report shows. Available at: www.theguardian.com

Jolly, Alice. (2015) Crowded House: Why I Crowd Funded My Book. Available at: www.alcs.co.uk

Rooney, Mick. (2014) Unbound- Reviewed. Available at: www.theindependentpublishingmagazine.com

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-Fiction by Neil Gaiman

9781472207999If I were asked to formulate a list of my favourite authors (which I constantly imagine I am, normally whilst pretending I’m being interviewed after winning some kind of award), Neil Gaiman would always be near the top. His prose is poetic, he is passionate about what he does, and is capable of geeking out over his heroes like the rest of us. In this collection of his non-fiction writing, Gaiman talks on various subjects within speeches, book introductions and newspaper and magazine articles, all with the unique voice which could only be his. When collecting the Newbury Medal Speech for The Graveyard Book, he spoke about the importance of creating and “telling lies for a living”:

“….Somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.
And that is why we write.”

Gaiman’s words resonate. They are capable of producing such emotion, and he manages to make it all seem so effortless.

He also has had the privilege of introducing books written by, or about, friends and favourite authors, director and filmakers. Some he has known well, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Some he has never known, like Ray Bradbury or G.K Chesterton. All have inspired him.

“They fall off the conveyor belt into the darkness, our friends, and we cannot talk to them anymore.”

What strikes you more than anything in reading this book, is the effect reading had on him as a child. He is a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad books for children, that children should be encouraged to read, not forced down a path which may lead them to stop reading altogether. He also talks about how TV, film and comics stimulated him creatively as a child, how these things stay in the subconscious long after they are consumed.

I did not read all the writings. I dipped in and out, starting with the titles that shouted out to me, moving back to read more on the section about films and introductions. Skipping past the comic book section with more ruthlessness. But this is a book which can be consumed in this way, and then you find yourself so absorbed in the writing that you are reading about a film you’ve never heard of before, but suddenly want to watch more than anything else in the world. Neil Gaiman’s words are like magic, and here we get a small glimpse behind the curtain.

5 Bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Academy by F.D Lee

img_1559There are some sequels that it’s impossible not to get excited about and for once I’m not talking about The Hanging Tree by Ben Arronovitch. This is The Academy, the next part of The Pathways Tree series. Last year we reviewed The Fairy’s Tale, about a young cabbage fairy called Bea who lives in Aenathlin, the home of the fae. Bea and the rest of the fae are dictated to by the Teller (who cares about us). Hanging over them is the threat of redaction, a process which strips the victim of their personality, leaving them a pliable, mindless slave. And somewhere out there is The Beast, a terrifying creature under the control of The Teller, although thankfully it appears to be keeping a low profile.

In this instalment, Bea has been accepted into The Academy to help her train to be a Fictional Management Executive (FME). FME’s run the plots in the human world, building up belief which power the mirrors and keep Aenathlin running. Bea is the first fairy to ever make it into The Academy. She is breaking down barriers and helping emancipate her fellow fairies who are treated like second class citizens. But not everyone is happy with this state of affairs.

There are many who feel fairies have no place in The Academy, like Carol, a fellow FME trainee, and Bea’s new Professor Master Dafi. Bea’s Plotter and mentor Mistasinon is acting strangely, although after the events of the last book, Bea isn’t sure that she wants to see him. Add to this nightmares from the events of the ball and the gossip that the Academy might be haunted, and Bea is left uncertain as to whether she’s made the right decision.

This book is every bit as good as it’s predecessor. It remains funny, in fact the humour is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. In fact, like Pratchett, this book encapsulates all I love about Fantasy Fiction: It tackles difficult themes in a way that contemporary fiction isn’t always able to do.

Bea remains a strong character and is driven by a need to do what’s right, although she has an element of vulnerability in this book. We also get to find out more about the background of other characters such as Mistasinon and Melly.

Yes, ok there are a few typos which is the only thing that stops it getting the full five stars, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. I love this series, and I’m not the only one: it recently got outstanding feedback at The Writer’s Digest self published fiction awards. It’s time this series got published!

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

By the Pricking of my Thumbs…

Hallowe’en has arrived. The pumpkins have been carved, sweets have been purchased and sit by the door waiting for the arrival of trick or treaters. But tonight isn’t about chocolate: it is a night when malevolent spirits roam amongst us. We BookEaters have gathered around the fire to tell you about our favourite type of evil creature: the witch!*

*Warning: Not all witches will be scary, some will be strong, brave, and others just generally not very good.

Charlotte:

img_1552Professor McGonagall is my favourite fictional witch. She is the perfect Head of Gryffindor House because she is brave, staunchly loyal to Dumbledore, and incredibly protective of her students. It is McGonagall who spots Harry Potter’s talent for quidditch, gives him the benefit of the doubt when he breaks school rules, and calls upon the defensive magical powers of Hogwarts in preparation for the final battle with Voldemort. She subverts every stereotype of the spinster cat lady. She is always strong-minded and fiercely independent. If you met her, she would look you in the eye and tell you the unvarnished truth.

Kelly:

img_1551My first real encounter with a truly terrifying witch was whilst reading The Witches by Roald Dahl. What could be scarier than witches that hated children? Bald, with clawed hands and toe-less feet, they have created a new way to rid the world of children, who smell to them like dogs droppings. Their plan? To turn the children into mice, which the adults will then kill. Making parents unwitttingly kill their own children! Horrific! It’s up to our hero narrator, who has overheard their plans during their annual meeting in Bournemouth, and his Norwegian grandmother to stop them. I don’t think I will ever forget the terror I felt when the Grand High Witch first reveals herself. A book that lives long in the imagination!

img_1553My all time favourite witch, though,  has got to be Granny Weatherwax. For me, she is one of the best characters from Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, and no list of the best witches would be complete without her. Granny is strong willed, fierce and not to be messed with! She’s a mentor for the younger Witches in Lancre and The Chalk, including Tiffany Aching and isn’t afraid to tell them exactly what she thinks. Fellow witch, King, Vampire or general mortal, Granny treats everyone as an equal- one who knows less than she does!

Gem:

WitchesI’ve almost finished reading about New York in 1880 – home to two young(ish) witches. Adelaide Thom can see the secrets of the soul and Eleanor St. Clair is a healer and keeper of spells. They run a Tea Shop catering to Manhattan’s high society and when Beatrice Dunn arrives at their door seeking employment, it soon becomes apparent that she has magical talents of her own. Eleanor wants to tread lightly and respect the magic manifest in the girl, but Adelaide sees a business opportunity. But though there are men like Dr. Quinn Brody, who respect the talents and intelligence of the three women there are also men convinced they are evil. When Beatrice disappears they must decide if she has simply fled or if something more sinister has happened.

I love the time and place that this is set in – in the background there are women fighting for the vote and men exploring science. The old world and the new are colliding but through this turmoil the characters still shine through. It’s hard to pick a favourite witch out of these three, I’m just hoping it has a happy enough ending to open the door to a sequel!

 

Rachel:

I do love a good evil witch! Particularly those witches who actually aren’t evil! Given the problematic treatment of ‘witches’ throughout history, it’s always nice to see portrayals of witches as not inherently evil.

I couldn’t decide on my favourite witch so have opted for two.
manon-blackbeakFirst up is Manon Blackbeak whom can be found in Sarah J.Maas’s Throne of Glass series. A member of the Ironteeth witch clan, she has long white hair, gold eyes and, disturbingly, retractable iron teeth and claws. She’s also totally badass. Like, seriously. A fascinating character who is vicious, cruel, thoughtful and reflective, her questioning of her motives, actions and moral compass make her a flawed and multi-layered character. And she rides a dragon*

*not actually called a dragon in the books but near as makes no never mind!

 

mildredSecondly, Mildred Hubble! Oh Mildred, they call you The Worst Witch but you really really aren’t. You’re marvellous. You’re very clumsy but you mean well and you can’t help but get in to all sorts of pickles! I particularly enjoyed it when you turned your headmistress’s sister into a snail! You’ve got loyal and kind friends, an entertaining rivalry with another witch and you’re nice to cats! You’re definitely not the worst!

 

 

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Small Island by Andrea Levy

img_1550Three years after the end of the Second World War, former RAF volunteer, Gilbert Joesph, decides to move from Jamaica to England in order to better his life. Penniless, he is unable to afford the money for his ticket until Hortense, proud and stubborn, offers to pay his way. But she has one condition- that they get married so that Hortense can join him in England once he is settled.

Based in England during the war, Gilbert’s has no misconceptions about the Mother Country. But when Hortense arrives at her new home- one room within a shared house owned by Queenie Bligh who Gilbert knew during the war, she struggles to fit this post war England with the England of her fantasies. A teacher, Hortense is convinced she will find a teaching post in London. But when her attempts to find work are rejected by fellow teachers, and she is forced to walk in the street to make room for white pedestrians, her dreams come crashing down around her.

For Queenie, three years since the end of the war means three years since her husband should have returned. Renting out her rooms to those who can’t get board elsewhere has made her the gossip of the street, and lost her friends along the way.

Small Island, winner of the Orange Orize for Fiction in 2004, is written in the first person, from each of the main characters view points. The plot moves between the characters personal histories and 1948. Each voice manages to be unique to the point where you could probably tell who was speaking without the name at the start of the chapter.

The description of Britain and its personification as a mother is particularly strong. The idea of her as broken, dishevelled after the war and rejecting her own children who came from other countries was incredibly powerful, especially as many of the newly arrived immigrants, like Gilbert, had fought for England during the war. The title could as easily refer to the mindset of the English as much as the size of Jamaica or Britain.

For me, the most upsetting part of the book is that it could be written today. The hateful xenophobia which spews from the mouths of Queenie’s neighbours wouldn’t be out of place on Twitter in 2016. In 70 years we seem no further forward. It highlights the racism facing immigrants still prevalent in the modern day. We have not learned from history and so we are caught in a doomed cycle of repetition.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

img_1545124 Bluestone Road is a house of ghosts. Sethe and her daughter Denver are it’s only living inhabitants. The vengeful spirit of Sethe’s first daughter haunts the house and has driven away Sethe’s two sons and contributed to the death of Sethe’s mother in law, Baby Suggs. For Denver, the phantom is the only friend she has; for Sethe, it is a reminder of the past and the ghosts of a previous life.

The year is 1873, it’s ten years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and eight years since the end of The Civil War. Sethe is now a free woman, but the memory of her life as a house slave at Sweet Home is not an easy one to forget. Having managed to run away from the evil Schoolmaster and his sons, Sethe gave birth to Denver whilst escaping. Her husband, Halle, hasn’t been seen since that day.

When former Sweet Home man, Paul D arrives at number 124 to see Sethe, he finds a house filled with the rage of a dead girl. In his fury, he exorcises the house. Denver is devastated by the arrival of this man whom her mother seems so taken to, and who has driven away the only friend she has. A few days later, they find a girl sitting alone on a stump outside number 124. They take her in and care for her, this girl who has no family, who says her name is Beloved, who fills the holes in Sethe and Denver’s lives and becomes an integral part of the family.

This is such an important book. It shows how horrific circumstances can force people to make devastating decisions: ones that seem so logical to the person making them, but unimaginable to us in our comfortable, safe lives. It’s about how the ghosts of the past are always with us and how we become accustom to having them in our lives.

I found the first few pages a bit confusing, whether through my own tiredness or Morrison’s writing I couldn’t say. I did have to go back and read again, but once I had, I couldn’t stop. There are questions which keep pulling you forward, and the sublimity of the writing won’t let you go. Each character has their own back story, their own role to play and at the end of the book, not everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. I like that.

This book shows the psychological impact of slavery as well as the physical, and how it effects not only the generation that lived through it, but reverberated through the generations that followed. An excellent read.

5 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Vultures by Chinua Achebe

It’s taken me many years to fully appeciate poetry. For a long time it’s always seemed slightly out of my reach: hidden meanings lost inside elegant language that I couldn’t decipher; that my IQ or levels of sophistication weren’t enough to really understand poetry. Years of perseverance have changed my mind, and I have discovered the poems of TS Elliot, EE Cummings, Simon Armitage, Carol Ann Duffy and seen how poetry can reach in and grab the soul. But I will never forget the first poem that I fell in love with.

img_1543I was sitting in a GCSE English class, anthology open, divided into groups to discuss the meaning behind the poem we had been allocated. Our group had been given ‘Vultures’ By Chinua Achebe. He was an author and poet I had never heard of before (although at 15 there were a lot of gaps in my literary knowledge). He had written Things Fall Apart 40 years before my GCSE year, and Vultures, which appeared in the anthology, Beware, Soul Brother, 13 years after that, but this was my first encounter with his work.

For those of you who haven’t read this poem, I urge you to. It is about the boundaries between good and evil, how often these things are not simple black and white, but varying shades of grey. How even the most evil characters have the capacity for love inside of them.

Achebe talks of the vulture, his grotesque appearance and behaviour.
his smooth
bashed in head, a pebble
on a stem rooted in
a dump of gross feathers.”
“Yesterday they picked
the eyes of a swollen
corpse in a water- logged
trench and ate the
things in its bowel.
Yet, the vulture’s feathers are “inclined affectionately” towards that of its mate.

img_1544The language is so strong, from the description of the vultures themselves to the idea of love tidying up a corner of a charnel house and falling asleep and the “fumes of human roast clinging rebelliously” to the hairy nostrils of the Commandant at Belsen. It is dark, both in subject matter and in style, with the “greyness and drizzle of one despondent dawn” being almost pathetic fallacy, the personification of the themes of the poem.

It ends with the eternal battle between optimist and pessimist: do we celebrate because there is love inside all of us, no matter how small, or do we despair, because love can be overwhelmed so easily by hate. A question which resonates as much in our modern society as it did in Nigeria in the 70’s.

Vultures

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

A Country of Refuge Edited by Lucy Popescu

images“But history teaches us that our greatest wrongs, crimes against humanity and genocide, arise from cultures where hatred has become part of the air citizens breathe,” writes 2016 Man Booker Prize long listed A.L. Kennedy, as part of this anthology of writing on asylum seekers. Over the past 18 months, we have been bombarded with anti-immigration rhetoric by politicians and the media and, post-Brexit, the number of hate crimes against immigrants is increasing.

Lucy Popescu is a writer and human rights activist and came up with the idea of this anthology back in 2014. Funded via a new website called Unbound, this book came about through crowdfunding. It brings together a multitude of writers; combining fiction, non-fiction and poetry to add a positive voice to the topics of immigration and asylum seekers. Writing is not just confined to the current refugee crisis, but also reaches back into living history and beyond. Sebastian Barry starts the collection with the story of a family leaving Ireland for Quebec. The journey takes place in 1847, but the terror and desperation could easily describe the horrors facing refugees today. “In this way we were described as a plague on our country and nothing more than vermin and rats.”

We are encouraged as readers to think more about the ordinary people who find themselves in such terrible circumstances. Roma Tearne’s heartbreaking The Colour of Pomegranates tells the story of Khalid who is forced to flee Baghdad after an allied bombing raid kills his wife and children. While the protagonist in Stephen Kelman’s Selfie, finds themselves thinking about the man who tried to sell him a selfie stick in Rome, and how he came to be there.

In one of my favourite pieces of writing, To Avoid Worse, Joan Smith compares the lives of Otto Frank, father of Anne and Abdullah Shenu, a Syrian Kurdish barber. Both men saw the dangers of the regimes that they lived under, 70 years apart. Both men understood that to have any chance of saving their families they must make desperate decisions. Both men were sole survivors. Otto Frank survived the holocaust which saw the murder of his wife and children. Abdullah Shenu survived the dangerous crossing from Bodrum to Kos. The photograph of the body of his son, Aylan, face down on the beach reminded us all, even the media, of the human cost of the crisis.

There is positivity too. Hassan Abdulrazzak, Nick Barley and Katherine Quarmby all tell stories of their individual or family flights, from Iraq, Hungary and Yugoslavia respectively. They all talk of the welcome they received from the UK, their adopted country and the safety that it afforded. We have a long history of welcoming those in need that we should be proud of, and that we mustn’t forget.

The collection ends on another positive note. A.L. Kennedy writes “ ..love is stronger and more sustainable than hate, that self expression can mean more than self indulgence. We have values. This dark time can teach us about light.” Together we can make a difference, and this anthology reminds why it is so important.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Harry Potter and The New Stage Play

imageTo read The Cursed Child, or not to read? That seems to be the main question being asked by Harry Potter fans after the release of the script of the new West End play came out on Sunday. On one hand- it’s a new Harry Potter! On the other hand, it’s published in a script format and written by playwright Jack Thorne who based the play on an original story he wrote alongside JK Rowling and John Tiffany. Add to this the fact that it is set 19 years after the events in The Deathly Hallows, and it’s easy to see why die hard fans are a bit nervous.

Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore
Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore

Harry Potter is now a husband and father. Married to Ginny and with three children: James, Lily and Albus Severus, Harry works in the ministry of magic. However, the plot revolves around his relationship with his son Albus. This is Harry Potter and The Struggle To Understand His Son. Albus is not like his siblings. For a start he is in Slytherin (gasp!) and his best friend is Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco (double gasp!) Albus is aware of the shadow his famous father casts over his life, and feels unable to match up to the expectations surrounding him. Harry wants to connect with his son, but is doing a superbly bad job of achieving it.

Let’s address the concerns of fans. First of all, the script style. It seems odd at first, it’s obviously not the same as the seven Harry Potter books that preceded it. The descriptions are written as stage notes, which mean they are not as detailed as though of a novel, but from a personal point of view, none of this bothered me. The dialogue and the plot are excellent and I read it in 3 hours. I quickly got used to the style and it didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all.

Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore
Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore

It still retains the excitement and the feel of a Harry Potter story, despite the mix of writers. Harry still feels like Harry, with all his flaws. He still feels the weight of being the boy who lived, a need to solve problems without putting his friends in danger. It is magical, emotional and funny. As readers, we have grown as Harry has. This gives it a tinge of nostalgia too.

Hermione, Ron and Rose from Pottermore
Hermione, Ron and Rose from Pottermore

The best part is the characters. Our favourites are all there: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Professor McGonagall.  But the new characters are wonderful, especially Albus and Scorpius. Who’d of thought I would ever like a Malfoy?! But their friendship drives the story and helps Harry come to terms with his past.

I really enjoyed this and am now desperate to see the play. My conclusions are: put your doubts to one side and read it. It might just surprise you.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

How to Find Love in a Bookshop by Veronica Henry

imageFor the residents of Peasebrook, Nightingale Books is more than just a book shop. And when the owner, Julius Nightingale dies, his daughter Emilia makes a promise that she will never close it. For Thomasina, an introverted but talented cook, it is a home away from home and the place where she meets Jem, the good looking cheesemonger. For Sarah, the lady of the manor, it is where she fell in love with Julius. She grieves privately for her lover, unable to show her true feelings in front of her husband and daughter. For Bea, it is an opportunity. Struggling to adjust to life as a new mother and domestic goddess in the country after leaving her high powered job in London, the shop is a chance to flex her creative muscles again.

But the bookshop is not doing well. Years of credit and generosity on Julius’s part have not made for a good business model and Emilia is finding her promise difficult to keep. Local businessman, Ian Mendip wants to convert the shop into a carpark for his latest development. Enlisting the help of Jackson, an old school friend who has separated from his wife and is struggling to spend time with his son, Ian sets Jackson the job of seducing Emilia and convincing her to sign the shop over to him.

This is a sweet book. The story is gentle, if a bit cliched at times. The characters are nice, with the exception of Ian Mendip and Hugh Pettifer, fiancee of sarah’s daughter Alice who are just unkind with no nuance to their personalities at all. In fact, that could be said of most of the characters. There are a lot of them, in fact there are at least 8 whose points of view we hear from. That seems a lot in such a small book and it feels like we are only skimming the surface of their emotions. Or that they weren’t developed enough to go into any more details.

Jilly Cooper is referenced within the story- Riders is Alice’s favourite book. And thats what it reminded me of in terms of writing style, albeit without any raunchiness. This is an easy read and you get the feeling all the way through that everything is going to turn out OK in the end.
2 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

18619684The infinitely wise Neil Gaiman once said that “picking five favourite books is like picking the five body parts you’d most like not to lose.” My list of favourite books has been added to over time, novels which have influenced and shaped me have been added, whilst some I have re-read and found they no longer make the cut. However, this book will forever be in my top 5. Leave me on a desert island with only “The Time Traveler’s Wife,” and I won’t complain. Well I will- but more about the general situation rather than the choice of reading material.

Henry first meets Clare when he is 28 and she is 20. She is a stranger to him, but knows his name, has met him before. She tells him they knew each other when they were children and Henry gets the feeling that his future is rushing to meet him.

Clare first meets Henry when she is 6 and he is 36. In a meadow outside her family home, Clare stumbles across a man who tells Clare that he is a time traveller and that they are friends in the future. Understandably dubious, Clare refuses to believe him, until he disappears in front of her eyes.

What follows is a beautifully unusual love story. Henry is indeed a time traveller, a Chrono-Displaced Person. At moments of stress he disappears, landing in past or present, unable to take anything with him, not even clothes and with no control over where he is going. For Clare, Henry has always been in her life. For Henry, he still has all those moments to come.

My hardback copy of this book is one of my most treasured possessions. I’ve bought friends the paperback version over the years to avoid the pain of having to lend mine out. I’ve read it numerous times, but am writing this review because I listened to it recently on audible. It’s been a few years since I read it last, but it is still as special as it ever was. The writing is beautiful, from the descriptions of Clare waiting for Henry in the meadow, to small sentences of daily life. Every word seems to have been chosen with great care.

The whole thing would fall apart if the characters weren’t just right. Written from the first person, alternating between narration by Clare and Henry, we are part of their world. They are flawed enough to not be boring, but likeable enough that time in their heads is not a chore. It’s easy to care for them and to fear for them.

I have never been able to read this book without tears, and I hope I never do. It’s a testament to how good this book is. A fitting tribute to Clare and Henry.

5 bites

PS- Don’t bother with the film. It’s massively disappointing.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

imageIt’s 1945, and Claire Randall and her husband Frank are on their second honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland. Separated by war, during which time Claire served as a nurse and Frank worked in MI6, this is their opportunity to rediscover each other and truly start their married life. Frank, history professor and genealogist, is also using the trip to learn more about his heritage. His six- times-great-grandfather, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall was a captain of dragoons, stationed in the Highlands around the time of the Jacobite Rebellions.

During the festival of Beltane (Celtic May Day), Claire goes alone to the standing stones of Craigh na Dun to study some unusual plants she saw growing there. Claire touches the great stone at the centre of the circle, causing the stone to scream. Disorientated, she staggers towards it and when she wakes, she discovers she has been transported back to 1743.

Rescued from Frank’s less than chivalrous relative “Black Jack” by a clan of Highlanders, she is taken to Castle Leoch, where the chieftain Callum MacKenzie puts her to work as a healer, whilst trying to discover what a lone Englishwoman was doing in the Scottish countryside dressed only in her shift. Claire’s tale of a widow subjected to highway robbery while trying to get to France to see her family doesn’t wash, and Callum suspects her of being a spy.

And so, Claire must try to find a way home: to escape Castle Leoch and return to Craigh na Dun and therefore to the 20th Century and Frank. What she doesn’t count on is the growing feelings she has for Jamie Fraser, clansman to the MacKenzies, or the sadistic nature of Black Jack who also has questions about this unusual Englishwoman.

I have to admit that I got hooked on the TV version before I read this book (not something that happens very often), but this is one of the rare examples of a TV show that does its source material proud. If you are looking for perfect writing, it’s not for you. Fairly soon after Claire finds herself in 1743, she seems to have adjusted to it. There isn’t a lot of emotion in this part, certainly not much sense of panic or desperation. She mentions a need to get back to Frank a couple of times- it seems like lip service really. What really makes the book pop out is the characters. The relationship between Claire and Jamie develops wonderfully. Claire has just enough pig-headedness to stop her from being a complete Mary Jane, and Jamie is hot headed, brave and handsome. Black Jack has layers to his character which also keep him the correct side of stereotype.

This is a fun book. It’s not too serious. It’s long, but very easy to read. It’s twee in some places and predictable in others, but fun. I’ve already bought the next book in the series!

PS- You should totally watch the TV show!

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Gallows Curse by Karen Maitland

Gallows CurseThe year is 1210 and England is ruled by King John. A furious row has broken out between the King and Pope Innocent III about who should be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. (Not the first time that the choice of Archbishop has caused problems for a Plantagenet King.) As John steadfastly maintains the belief that he should be able to choose who he wants to be Archbishop, the Pope has retaliated by placing the country under an Interdict. This means no church services are to be carried out, only baptisms and last rites can be performed- which save those souls from hell. But John has seized the property of the church and many priests have gone into hiding, meaning even these rites are unable to be performed.

This has driven Raffaele, Steward of Gastmere Manor, Castrato and survivor of the Crusades, into a rage. His master and good friend Sir Gerard has died, without confession and absolution of his sins. Terrified for his friend’s immortal soul, Raffaele must go to great lengths to try and save it.

Enter Elena, a villein who Raffaele hopes will be the answer to his prayers. Elena is in love with Athan, but they are unable to be married because of the Interdict. When Elena discovers she is pregnant, she is thrilled. But her joy turns to fear when she starts dreaming of approaching a screaming child. Desperate to know what the end of the dream is, she goes to a cunning woman who gives her a mandrake which will show her the rest of the dream. But mandrakes grow under the gallows, and the knowledge they provide comes at a price.

For the most part, I thought this was a great story. I loved the combination of historical fact and superstitions, becoming witchcraft in the hands of Gytha, the cunning woman. There is a sense of menace all the way through, a feeling that none of the main characters are actually in charge of their destiny.

However, there was one part that I found disappointing. The tale is meant to be from the mandrakes point of view. This is obvious to start with, but the story then slips into a normal 3rd person narrative. Every now and then you are suddenly reminded that the mandrake is telling the story, but this happened so infrequently that it would pull me out of the moment. It is an interesting premise, but for me it didn’t add anything to the book.

On the whole though, I would recommend reading this. It is a fascinating tale, set in a difficult and relatively unknown period of our history. And it definitely ends on a bit of a cliffhanger.

4 bites

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro

imageAxl and Beatrice are an elderly couple living in Britain a while after the Romans have left, but long before the Norman invasion. The Britons and Saxons are living in a uneasy coexistence, but all are affected by the mist which has covered the country and is causing forgetfulness. Axl and Beatrice are no exceptions. They are both aware of this sickness that has come over the country, in fact it lead them to forget their own son. But now that the knowledge of his existence has come back, they are determined to leave their community and travel to his village to be reunited with him.

On their travels, the size of their party is increased with the joining of Wistan, a Saxon knight and Edwin, a Saxon boy who has been thrown out of his village after being bitten by an Ogre. The four travel to a monastery which houses a monk who can answer some of their questions and on the way meet Sir Gawain who is on a mission to slay Querig, a mighty dragon who lives in those parts…..

….and that’s as far as I got. I have real difficulty giving up on books- I was brought up in a house that believed In the importance of finishing a book once you’ve started. But lately I’ve started to think that maybe life is too short. I really wanted to like this book. I found the premise interesting, and the historical period in which its set is one I don’t know much about. The idea of the mist was intriguing: but ultimately none of the positives outweighed the general difficulty of reading it.

I found the style of writing really hard to get in to. And when I dipped out of the book (normally to read another book, because I wasn’t enjoying this one!) I spent a good few pages trying to readjust myself to the style. It may have been easier if I had a good chunk of time to sit and read it in. I didn’t care enough about the characters, so didn’t feel that need to persevere and find out what happened to them. Which is a shame- the use of mythology is certainly interesting, and the writing almost wistful at times which suits the setting. But in the end it wasn’t enough.

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.

Felixstowe Book Festival

As those of you who follow us on Twitter probably know, we BookEaters love finding out what literary events are happening across the country. And we Suffolk based BookEaters are feeling very lucky at the moment with the Felixstowe Book Festival taking place on our doorstep! We took some time to catch up with Young People’s Programme Coordinator, Hannah Rowe, to find out a bit more about the festival.

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Tell us a little about the history of the festival
The Festival is the brain-child of Felixstowe resident Meg Reid. A few years ago after returning from an exciting weekend at Cambridge Word Fest, she thought “why can’t Felixstowe have its own book festival? Why should other towns have all the fun?” And that’s where it all began! With the generous support of local funders, friends, family and volunteers, Meg got the book festival off the ground, and the first one took place in June 2013. Four years later we’re still going strong and still entirely organised and run by an enthusiastic bunch of volunteers. Every year we try to keep the festival fresh, vibrant and accessible to all. We’ve developed our involvement with local schools to inspire the young people in our town to experience the wonder of reading and we love working with local groups to give them a platform for their work.
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What makes Felixstowe such a special place to hold it?

We’re literally the end of the line, no one goes through Felixstowe, we are a destination and boy are we a good one. People coming to the Book Festival from out of town like to make a day of it, because there are lots of other lovely things to do whilst you’re here. First and foremost we have a brilliant beach and who doesn’t love a day at the seaside? We have great places to eat and drink, a wealth of little independent shops and (most importantly) three book shops.
The venues we use for the festival, the Orwell Hotel and Felixstowe Library, are perfect too. They’re just really nice places to be, with excellent staff and they’re right in the town centre. Of course it’s the people that make a place and a friendlier bunch of people you will not find. As we’re completely volunteer run, most of our volunteers are locally based and this definitely makes Felixstowe Book Festival one of the friendliest festivals around!

What events are you particularly excited about this year?
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I love how diverse our programme is, we have Polish Noir, Brazilian music and literature, poetry, politics, romantic fiction, writing workshops… there’s just so much. We think that this is a programme that both avid readers and those who never really pick up a book can dip in and out of. It’s not just a programme for readers but for all with an enquiring mind. I’d encourage people to step outside their comfort zone a bit and try our fascinating Dialogues event about translation or to hear more about Poland’s queen of crime in our Polish Noir session. We’re topical too with our opening event being all about Europe and a later event ‘A Country of Refuge’ exploring the plight of refugees.
As the Young People’s Programme Coordinator I’ll be spending most of the weekend over in the library at these events which I’m excited about as these are definitely the most fun! I’m really looking forward to chairing a panel event about writing for children and teens with Ruth Fitzgerald, Hayley Long and Hannah Sheppard. It’s an event I’ve wanted to put on for a while now and just knew we had to do it when we had several requests for one on last year’s feedback forms. I’m also hoping to see lots of people taking part in our Book Trail around town because I’ve had lots of fun putting together the clues and detective booklet!

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Which authors are you looking forward to this year?

 

Rebecca Elliott
Rebecca Elliott

Obviously I’m really excited for all our children’s and teen authors – in particular Polly Ho-Yen because I couldn’t put her novel down so I’m excited to hear more about it, Tanya Landman because I’ve seen her before and I just know we’ll be in for a treat and Rebecca Elliott’s picture book event is going to be lots of fun! On the adult programme I’m going to see Juliet Barker because I’m a Charlotte Bronte fan, Hollie McNish because I’ve heard so many good things about her performance poetry, debut novelists S.E Craythorne and Megan Bradbury because their books are on my ‘to read’ pile and Oxygen Books because I think travel books based around the literature written about the place sound superb and I want to hear more!Layout 1

If you could choose any author, living or dead, to come to the festival, who would it be?
Oooo so many! J.K Rowling, without a doubt. Because I want to be her friend and to sit and listen to her words of wisdom. Kate Atkinson would be great. I’ve seen Margaret Atwood before but would listen to her a million times more because she is so engaging and intelligent. A panel event with the Bronte sisters would be fantastic and a vintage tea with Jane Austen. Maybe a cocktail evening with F Scott Fitzgerald or a murder mystery night with Agatha Christie? Heck, I’d have both. Chris Riddle could come along and do some live illustration for us all to admire. Anthony Horrowitz would talk about his incredible, varied career and also have an event with Arthur Conan Doyle about Sherlock Holmes. L.M Montgomery would be on a panel with Louisa May Alcott and Frances Hodgson Burnett. I read a lot of junior and teen fiction and my current faves would have to be Frances Hardinge, Ross MacKenzie, Patrick Ness, Mal Peet… I could go on but I think I’ve already given you a whole festival line-up!

The Felixstowe Book Festival takes place over the 25th and 26th of June. You can check out the whole programme of events and speakers here!

Kelly Turner
My love of reading began at an early age. I am indebted to my parents for putting “Naughty Amelia Jane” by Enid Blyton in the loft when I was five, forcing me to read something else. At the age of sixteen I picked up my first Discworld novel and never looked back. As well as devouring anything by Terry Pratchett I am also a fan of other fantasy writers such as Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch. In addition I like to read historical fiction, and enjoy a love story or two.