A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

You would think that I would learn a lesson or two from reading terrible YA books wouldn’t you?

After the hugely disappointing Empire of Storms you would think that I would have cut my losses and not bothered with a Sarah J.Maas book again wouldn’t you?

Well, clearly I need extra lessons!
Despite my rage at how dreadful Empire of Storms was, I decided to read the first installment in her new series A Court of Thorns and Roses. I think my reasoning was sound- It was the book she was writing in the same year as Empire and I wondered if her energy was poured into this book instead; one of her strengths is world-building and so I was interested to see what she would do with a blank canvas; and it was billed as a retelling of Beauty and The Beast, one of my favourite stories! So yeah, I thought it was worth a chance!

Sadly, it was not.

On the surface, it had enough potential to be interesting. Take the synopsis for instance…

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to CTRdemand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Seems like it could have a lot to explore. Yes it gave away the romance ‘twist’ of Feyre falling for Tamlin but since it’s already billed as a Beauty and The Beast retelling, that’s kind of a given!

What it doesn’t indicate is that the ‘ancient, wicked shadow’ aspect of the plot doesn’t kick in until  three quarters of the way through and in the meantime we have to put up with the stupidest plot ever with truly unlikeable characters and some problematic moments.

Let’s start with Feyre- She’s built up to be a kickass female heroine, clearly modelled in part on Katniss Everdeen. She hunts to feed her family, has a realistic view of the future, is practical and strong for others. Except she isn’t really. She’s mopey and whingey and makes god-awful choices based on nothing of any intelligence. Yes, she has a pretty crappy life, and her father and sisters are useless, ungrateful wastes of space but she is such a martyr about it all that it’s difficult to have any sympathy for her whatsoever. And that’s even before Tamlin swoops in to claim her life for killing one of his Fae friends as laid down by the fae/Human treaty. After he whisks her away to her life of luxury (after promising to take care of her family), which by the way is the most inadequate punishment for killing someone and breaking an international treaty ever, her character becomes even more irritating.

Tamlin isn’t much better- despite his beastly appearance, there is nothing remotely beast like about him. In his normal form, he’s clearly an attractive man but with a mask on. Hardly the material for a Beauty and The Beast retelling. And yes, his personality needs a bit of refining but he’s pretty nice to Feyre so it’s not even like she needs to overcome that aspect of him to fall in love. As the icing on the cake, we had some very problematic scenes with Tamlin acting ‘beastlike’ while under the influence of Fae magic- but we were apparently supposed to find his abusive and violent behaviour sexy??

The other characters are in equal parts bland or textbook villain, no real depth to them and therefore not even serving as a distraction from the turgid plot. It is SO BORING. Honestly, we get that they are going to fall in instalove- it’s practically a requirement of the retelling- but why spend so much time on it? The last quarter of the book was more pacey and interesting but relied far too heavily on information dumps that retroactively explained large parts of the previous story lines. I did understand in some ways that the secrecy was necessary but it just all felt a little like she’d run out of time to plot the story properly.

Ah well, one day I’ll have learnt my lesson!!

1 bite. I did finish it I suppose…

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

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

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Keeper Of Lost Things by Ruth Hogan

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Ok, so what follows is the official blurb for this book…

“FROM THE ATTENTION-GRABBING OPENING PARAGRAPH, TO THE JOYFUL CONCLUSION, RUTH HOGAN HAS STIRRED TOGETHER A CHARMING FAIRY TALE IN WHICH THE PEOPLE MAY BE MORE LOST THAN THE THINGS… ALSO, THERE ARE DOGS. DELIGHTFUL’ Helen Simonson, author of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand.

MEET THE ‘KEEPER OF LOST THINGS’
Once a celebrated author of short stories now in his twilight years, Anthony Peardew has spent half his life lovingly collecting lost objects, trying to atone for a promise broken many years before.
Realising he is running out of time, he leaves his house and all its lost treasures to his assistant Laura, the one person he can trust to fulfil his legacy and reunite the thousands of objects with their rightful owners.
But the final wishes of the Keeper of Lost Things have unforeseen repercussions which trigger a most serendipitous series of encounters…

With an unforgettable cast of characters that includes young girls with special powers, handsome gardeners, irritable ghosts and an array of irresistible four-legged friends, The Keeper of Lost Things is a debut novel of endless possibilities and joyful discoveries that will leave you bereft once you’ve finished reading.
BECAUSE, AFTER ALL, WE’RE ALL JUST WAITING TO BE FOUND…”

It sounded good to me, and the cover is beautiful too – definitely worth a punt! But sadly this was not a book for me and I’m very grateful that I didn’t actually spend any money on it.

It is supposed to be light and feel-good and in that I think it probably succeeds. But for me there wasn’t enough substance, the character’s weren’t believable, the writing was schmaltzy and quite frankly it bored me.

It might be ok for a holiday read if you have plenty of time and no other books waiting for your attention. I gave up on it halfway through – maybe the second half is better. However I would say wait till it comes out in paperback as it isn’t worth the hardback cover price.

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.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

The Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson

There were several things about this book that drew me in. The title- obvious comparisons with the Steig Larsson books, the cover- bold and a bit film noir-ish, and the description- promising intrigue and excitement:

tgwcfahGeorge Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

So I was expecting great things. I was expecting to finish it in one go; I was expecting a twisty, exciting plot; I was expecting characters with flawed yet fascinating personalities and I was expecting a thrilling denouement…

I did not receive great things. I didn’t finish in one go; it took several reading sessions. It wasn’t especially exciting although was quite twisty. The characters were flat with no development and an annoying tendency to make unrealistic and outright stupid decisions. The denouement was either a last minute attempt to lay the groundwork for a series, or an example of an author getting totally bored with the story and ‘phoning in’ the ending.

The story plays out in two different times- when George and Liana/Audrey/Jane are at college and 20 years later when they meet again. Aside from the fact they are set in different locations, it is difficult to distinguish them- the voice of the character doesn’t change. There is no hint of development in the way they act or view the world- this is a huge problem considering the experiences the characters, especially George, go through in the intervening time.

The secondary characters are lifeless or unrealistic. The police characters do not act like the police and although they need to make the decisions they do in order make the story work, the fact that the police would never act like they do just makes it all messy and not a great read.

George in particular is not a good character- he is boring and he makes stupid unrealistic choices. Characters making stupid choices I can live with if the author has given them the right motivation for them. George’s motives and his choices do not align, and if I cannot believe in a character’s motivations for his choices, the character is not well written. There is no way that George would make the ridiculous decisions he does simply for the sake of the chance of being with a woman he last saw 20 years ago whom he KNOWS is wanted for criminal activities. He only went out with her for a couple of months. And she certainly isn’t written as an addictive femme fatale so it’s not that she’s just so marvellous he HAS to be with her. It just doesn’t make sense. And this, above all other flaws, is what makes this book so disappointing.

So… yeah. Not great things. Not even good things. Perhaps mediocre things…?

1 bite. Not recommended.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Pottermore Presents… by JK Rowling

ppThere is usually much excitement and slight hysteria when JK Rowling releases Harry Potter books- midnight fancy dress parties, bookshop activities and huge media attention.  So it was a bit surprising at how low-key yesterday’s release of the three Pottermore Presents collections was. In comparison to the firework extravaganza of The Cursed Child only a few weeks ago, these three short reads were a bit of a damp squib (pun intended!)

And there is a reason for that… in my opinion at least!

pp2The three collections of information, biographies and short reads are mainly compiled from the content already to be found on the Pottermore website but with the addition of new writing from Rowling herself and promise to give extra insight and a new dimension to the existing Potter series.

pp3Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies cover a range of topics including PolyJuice Potion, Professor McGonagall, the Ministers for Magic, the Hogwarts Express, and Remus Lupin.
All in all, it sounds like three books of delight for any average Harry Potter fan…

So why am I strongly implying that there is the distinct aroma of damp squib hanging around these mini tomes of knowledge….?

Simply put, these three books contain very little in the way of new information and the vast majority of the writings can be found on the Pottermore website itself or, for the more motivated fan, in numerous interviews, web chats and Twitter posts with Rowling.

Yes the information that was included, and yes it was a delight to dip back into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I expect that’s trademarked somewhere!) but it feels a bit like cashing in to have released these books when they contain so little that is new and undiscovered. Given that the marketing of these books included substantial mentions of the ‘exclusive new content’, I feel a more appropriate phrase to use would have been ‘elusive new content’.
I have actually dropped my bite rating by two because of this- had the marketing information been more clear about the proportion of Pottermore content to new content, I would have been happier.

The content itself is well written, is interesting and really does help to enhance your understanding of some of the characters (although never those that are central to the stories!) and their motivations. It also really shows just how much world building JK Rowling did when she was writing- lists of Ministers for Magic, recipes for potions complete with why each ingredient was chosen, origins for even minor characters.

1 bite from me today- be honest, marketing people. That’s all we ask. (3 bites for content )

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The First Bad Man by Miranda July

41NNlH5CFML._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_I read this Sunday Times and New York Times bestseller because the blurb on the cover made it sound like the greatest book ever to come out of The Los Angeles film and liberal arts community. It was only after reading it that I found that all the fabulous reviews came from personal friends of the author, herself a film maker, and member of that exclusive clique.
The story is a first person narrative of Cheryl Glickman a middle aged spinster, rejected by a man 22 years her senior who spurns her in favour of a sixteen year old. This involves paedophilia and child abuse which Cheryl tacitly condones. By way of distraction she spends her days masturbating up to fifteen times a day while fantasising about him having sex with other women. (Shades of Portnoy’s Complaint).
Her bosses pressurise her into letting their 19 year old daughter to stay with her. The daughter Clee is the teenager from hell, unemployed, lazy, rude, selfish, slovenly and with person hygiene problems. Attempts to persuade this Cuckoo to leave the nest result in a fist fight. Weirdly they both seem to enjoy this and the narrative descends into farce with daily fistfights. (Inspector Clouseau and Kato spring to mind). Teenager becomes pregnant, father unknown. Cheryl falls in love with the idea of becoming a surrogate mother and the relationship with Clee becomes sexual, although Cheryl has to fantasise that she is a man when having lesbian sex. My God! this author is so trendy, so liberal, what on earth will she come up with next.
Clee falls in love with another woman and leaves Cheryl holding the baby. For the first time the novel actually strikes a note of realism with Cheryl’s fierce love for the sickly child becoming the overriding concern of her life. Then for no good reason she gets back together with her aged paedophile, who turns out to be the unknown father, she has weird sex with him. (Don’t ask it’s too ridiculous to contemplate).

At this point the author, Miranda July, got bored with the whole thing so wrote an epilogue giving a happy ending.
There was not a single character in this book that was likable. All were selfish and pretentious. If this is LA culture let’s hope it stays in LA.

Did I enjoy it? NO. Would I recommend it? A resounding NO.
I’ll give it one bite for the chapters on mother love.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Klop by Peter Day

imageKlop Ustinov (Father of film star and raconteur Peter Ustinov), was Britain’s most ingenious secret agent. A real life spy with more lovers than James Bond. Like 007 he was a man who appreciated fine food and wine but he was no licensed to kill action hero. His battlegrounds were the social salons of Europe and with his talent to entertain, beguile and amuse he bluffed his way into the confidence of everyone from Soviet commissars to the head of the Gestapo.

The author Peter Day has forty years experience in journalism including over a decade as a senior reporter and news-desk executive for the Mail on Sunday. Since turning freelance he has specialised in archive research, breaking exclusive stories on politics, royalty, military history and espionage.

With the combination of a fabulous and previously untold story, plus Peter Days incredible diligence in his archival research this should been an amazing read. It wasn’t I struggled on as best I could against the turgid prose, but this was a battle I was destined to lose. A double disappointment for me a military history is my favourite subject.

To be fair, it was a difficult story to tell, as Klop Ustinov knew everyone that was anyone in pre- world war II Europe. Peter Day mentions them all in his narrative (There are 1080 names in the index and only three hundred pages in the book). You only have to do the math to realise that this means there are an average 3.8 new characters introduced on each page. Thanks to Day’s obsessive research he tries to give a potted biography of the two hundred or so main characters. It would have been more fun reading the telephone directory or a pre-war copy of Who’s Who.

To compound the problem, the story lacked any coherence, by that I mean that after a paragraph or two about Klop, a new character would be introduced, complete with potted biography. This meant that the story of Klop had reached say 1936 and Peter Day is describing events involving the new character that happened in 1938 or 1942. The chaotic format and endless new characters made this a bewildering and ultimately unreadable book.

To see how a Biography of a spy should be written I recommend Ben MacIntyre “Agent Zig Zag”

Message to Biteback Publishing you need a ruthless editor and I’m available.

One bite from me and thats for the diligent research.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Please note- In order to be honest in this review, I have had to include spoilers for both this book and the original Pride and Prejudice.

PPZI should have known better, I really should. I was swayed by slick marketing and the greatness that is Matt Smith.

Having previously read the first couple of chapters of P&P&Z in a book shop, I had safely pigeon-holed it in my head as probably a fairly amusing book but not really my cup of tea. I put it back on the shelf and toddled along on my merry way, a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tucked under my arm.

Several years later, the first trailers for the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit the internet and they looked brilliant! Ridiculous and silly but entertaining- I was looking forward to seeing it in a strangely excited way.
To tide me over until release day, I bought the book .

It’s a fairly straight forward premise- Imagine that England has been struck by a zombie virus which gives the stricken a never-ending hunger for human brains. The Bennett sisters are trained by their father and Shaolin monks to be super duper zombie killing machines and are commissioned by the king to keep Hertfordshire as zombie free as possible. Mr Darcy is an accomplished zombie killer himself who accompanies Mr Bingley (who would prefer a more peaceful and scientific solution) to Netherfield. Then Pride and Prejudice happens

All the characters are there; all the Bennetts, the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine (a famous and respected zombie hunter herself), Wickham, Mr Collins, Charlotte, Mr and Mrs Gardiner. The basic story is identical, the sub-plots are largely the same,and the dialogue is only slightly altered.

So what did I think?
Initially, as before, I was amused. The weaving in of the zombie story was pretty good, some of the changes were really very funny, and of course, there was Jane Austen’s brilliance to fall back on in moments of weakness. As I commented to BookEater Kelly “Most of the credit is still going to Jane Austen but I’m excessively diverted“.

But this didn’t last long. After a couple of chapters, the niggly annoyances set in. The throwaway comments that had my nose wrinkling in disgust, the changes in characterisaton that were just unnecessary, the casual references to self harm being a thing of honour, the gratuitous non-zombie related violence . I could actually go on but I want to keep this review to a readable length!

There were some elements obviously designed to inject more humour that just fell flat- Mr Bennett’s extra-marital affairs, Mrs Gardiner’s extra-marital affairs (whilst her husband was around with a Polish man named Sylak… what?), Mary’s emergence into society as a euphemism for getting it on with multiple men.

The gratuitous non-parody violence- Any affront to Elizabeth’s honour is met with threats of murder and the drinking of blood from the necks of those who have insulted her (ewww), she self- harms as a way of showing her shame at having prejudged Darcy, and she brutally murders several of Lady Catherine’s ninjas to make a point. It isn’t just Elizabeth’s violence- Wickham ends up completely paralysed and incapable of controlling his bowels at the hands of Darcy. It was all over the top and unnecessary. And yes, I get that it’s parody and I get that it’s supposed to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. It was stupid. It wasn’t serving the story.

And I’m sorry to include spoilers but I have to get something off my chest.
Mr Collins is not a likable character in Pride and Prejudice but he has a definite characterisation that fits his role within the book and he is consistent. In P&P&Z, his character is changed beyond all recognition! Charlotte has become one of the stricken and is choosing to hide this so she can marry Mr Collins and have some months of happiness. Mr Collins marries Charlotte for all the same reasons as Jane Austen had. When Charlotte is eventually discovered and beheaded by her husband, he writes to Mr Bennett that he is now off to hang himself from a tree. WHAT???!!
1. She is slowly becoming a zombie over several months and NOBODY notices (Except Elizabeth who has been sworn to secrecy)? The excuse that Lady Catherine was experimenting on her doesn’t hold up at all…
2. Mr Collins is so distraught that he hangs himself??? What? I’m sorry but that totally negates the idea of Charlotte and Mr Collins’ marriage being a marriage of convenience rather than love. And goes against every element of his character. He’s so self-involved that there is no way that this would be the outcome.

This review may have slightly gotten away from me (although there are many more things I could say!) but I think my views are clear. I wouldn’t even having finished reading if it hadn’t have been for the fact that so much of Jane Austen’s story was still present.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is unnecessary. Stay well away.

1 bite for the initial diversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Strasbourg Legacy by William Craig

imageDecades after the defeat of the Third Reich, the SS rears its sinister head in this thriller from the bestselling author of Enemy at the Gates and The Fall of Japan

In the chaos of defeat, the senior members of Hitler’s inner circle and the SS tried to disappear. Many of the most notorious Nazis escaped, including Josef Mengele and Adolf Eichmann. Martin Bormann, the Fuehrer’s private secretary, was rumored to be living everywhere from the Soviet Union to South America.

Almost three decades later, CIA agent Matt Corcoran is sent to Bad Nauheim to investigate possible Soviet involvement in the theft of US Army munitions. He hears whispers of German Reds blowing up NATO ammo dumps, neo-Nazis aiding the Arab cause against Israel, and a plot to assassinate the German chancellor. Willie Brandt. Corcoran soon begins to suspect that behind the turmoil is an organization as diabolical as it is improbable: a cadre of loyal Nazi officers, under the command of Bormann, are bent on bringing about the Fourth Reich.

Unfortunately improbable is the operative word. The Third Reich was spawned in the poverty and grotesque inflation of the 1920’s and 30’s. in the 1970’s Germany was the prosperous powerhouse of Europe and the premise that the Nazi’s could return to power by the bomb and bullet rather than the ballot box was frankly ludicrous.
Much of the Politics and scandals of 1970’s Germany are mentioned in passing and without explanation which must render much of the plot meaningless to anyone under 60 years of age, some judicious editing was needed before republishing.
Compared to Le Carre and Forsyth, who were contemporaries of the author William Craig, this novel was distinctly third rate. On the plus side at 186 pages it was mercifully brief.
I was particularly disappointed by William Craig’s venture into thriller writing as I consider his “Enemy at the Gates” to be one of the finest military histories ever, certainly a cut above Anthony Beavors “Stalingrad”
I enjoy a good mystery but to me the biggest mystery is why, forty years after the book was originally published, did they decided to re-publish it?

Its one bite from me

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Cause by Roderick Vincent

image The blurb describes this a “dystopian technothriller”. It is set in 2022, America is on the brink of economic and social collapse. The blurb goes on to tell us that “African American hacker Isse Corvus enters a black-ops training camp. Hyper-intelligent, bold, and ambitious, Corvus discovers the leaders are revolutionaries seeking to return the U.S. back to its Constitutional roots. Soon the camp fractures. Who is traitor? Who is patriot? With no place to hide, Corvus learns that if he doesn’t join “The Cause” and help them hack the NSA’s servers, it could mean his life. If he joins, he becomes part of a conspiracy to overthrow America’s financial elite and uncover NSA secrets.”

I’m afraid I have to quote the blurb directly to you as I have very little idea of what actually happened in it. I tried to read it, I really did! I struggled on to chapter five before I gave up on it.

Grammatically this book seemed fine, the sentences were perhaps a little choppy for my liking but nothing is inherently wrong in that department. The story could potentially be good too, although for some reason I still didn’t have too much of an idea where it might go by the time I gave up on it.

For me the main failing this book has is its characterisation. I was surprised when re-reading the blurb for this review to find out that the main character is African-American, yet I’m sure that is important to the author in some way as it has been mentioned in the blurb. Isse Corvus has also been through an extremely traumatic personal incident – he accidentally shot his father and killed him. But although we are told this the author doesn’t make us feel it in anyway. I can’t comment much on the other characters in the book because although some were mentioned I knew as much about them as I did any other part of the landscape. They weren’t characters, they were just background noise.

If you want a high octane action book this one may well deliver, but for me it was just a couple of hours of my life wasted.

1 bite

NB this review is based on an author review copy sent to us free of any charge in return for an honest review.

GemBookEater
I was reading before I started school and I have no plans to stop now! I usually have at least two books on the go at once, one non-fiction and one fiction. I like reading books based in reality that flick open the doors to the mysteries of the heart or of the spirit.

Link By D.A. Karr

Link by D A Karr
Click here to buy this eBook from Amazon.
As a huge Sci Fi fan, I was looking forward to reading ‘Link’ by D.A. Karr. It promised time travel, war and human interest. To quote, “’Link’ sits in its own class. It actually parallels The Hunt for Red October”, but with a mystery-thriller twist And of course, the technological development with it in the sci-fi genre”. Is this an actual comparison to the writing style of Tom Clancy or perhaps his imagination?

Lets start off with the story. There is a single plot, it’s linear that does have some development. The action is good, the ideas are there but it’s the execution that lets the story down. I’ll get to that in a mo…

A military team working for the National Space Time Enforcement Agency have to hunt down a renegade who is in control of a large cyborg army.

Captain Becker is in charge of the time travelling spaceship Phoenix and the military team is led by John Garrick, team members include Ferber, Gillie (the only female in the story) and Wexler. I wish I could say more about them but their characters and histories are not developed enough.

There are many things that are wrong with the ‘Link’. I really don’t want to hurt the authors feelings but whoever did the final editing failed at their job. I am no grammar expert but there are mistakes that should not be there, the writing comes across as clunky and to me it’s more like a second draft.

Here’s an example of what I see as clunky…

Garrick reared up with his android blood running through his android veins, “Sure. It’s time I took Menser one on one. I’ll finish the job this time. When do we leave?”

and for grammar…

Cyborg’s shut down and dropped where they stood, lifeless, minus their power source.

Hate to say it but androids don’t have blood. There are certain terms and concepts that should be used in a particular way. Cyborgs have blood as they are part human part machine. Androids are all machine, basically walking talking computers with human form. If you ignore these terms and concepts then you confuse the reader, makes the plot line more difficult to follow and you’re not following convention.

Halfway through the book, which is quite short by the way, I realised who it’s really for. It’s not for the likes of me who read mostly Sci Fi but more for young teens who are new to the genre or just getting in to it.

At the end, while reading the blurb, I understood why I had a problem with it. The ‘Link’ had started out as a screenplay and subsequently turned into a book. Somehow the process hadn’t gone well.

With a little extra work, from an editor who knows the field, the ‘Link’ could be turned into a really good adventure for a teen audience. Plenty of things to expand on and could turn into a series fun books.

Recommendations: for adults – 1/5, for teens 3/5

Bob Toovey
I started reading Sci Fi at around age 8, I’ve never looked back since. I was highly influenced by my father’s reading choices at the beginning. I soon branched out to many different authors and Sci Fi genre’s. Early influences include Asimov, Clark, Simak, PKD and other ‘golden age’ authors. On occasion, I like a good spy book and currently finding early religious history a fascinating subject – despite being an atheist.

La’s Orchestra Saves The World by Alexander McCall Smith

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It should be easy to pick this up in your local book shop, or click the pic to go through to Amazon.
I have always enjoyed Alexander McCall Smith’s work. My mum and I both read his “Number One Ladies Detective Agency” series, swapping books between each other. And I found him a fascinating speaker at an event last year to promote his adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma for Harper Collins. As someone who is interested in history and lives in Suffolk, I was intrigued by the idea of this book set in the county during the Second World War.

La finds herself in a small village near Bury St Edmunds after a series of unfortunate events: following graduation from Cambridge University she marries Richard despite the fact that she is uncertain whether it is she really wants. Her love for him grows during their marriage, which makes it more devastating for her when after 6 years that he runs off with another woman. Her in laws give her their cottage in Suffolk in an attempt to help her create a new life, and this is where she is when war breaks out.

La is joined by a host of other characters: Henry Madder, the arthritic farmer La helps through her work with the Land Army; Tim Honey the RAF officer from the local airbase who has the idea that La set up the local orchestra to help community moral; and Feliks Dabrowski, injured airman, man of mystery and love interest.

I really wanted to enjoy this book. La is a lovely character, a woman scarred by her experiences living a solitary life in a Suffolk village. But her experiences are revealed to us in a tell, not show kind of way. We are told how lonely and sad she is, instead of it being revealed to us through her actions. I also didn’t believe the relationship between La and Feliks. Again there wasn’t really anything in their actions that made me feel there was any feeling between the two of them, except for being told that La was falling in love with him. There also wasn’t a huge amount about the orchestra, this and the role of community at war time could have been explored much further.

I thought the descriptive element of the book was good, and it shows Suffolk at its sunny best! But in generally I felt there was a lot packed into a small book. As a result, the outcomes weren’t always satisfactory and occasionally felt a bit rushed.

In conclusion, I was disappointed by this book. It’s undoubtedly a light read. Easy to get through and gentle. But I came away feeling short-changed.

1.5 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 Return of the Key by Alisha Nurse

The Return of the Key Alisha Nurse
I really didn’t want this review to be negative, but in the name of honesty, I don’t think I can avoid it.

On a positive note, the idea for this story is original and has a lot of potential – the intriguing concept of the book was what drew me to it. 16 year old Eliza is a mixed race girl who has been struggling with her identity, and is sent to England to escape racial tensions on the island where she was brought up. Unfortunately, the town she arrives in hides its own secrets, including mysterious disappearances and a doorway to another world. Eliza goes through this door and finds herself in a dangerous fantasy realm, where she is forced to confront her identity while trying to escape from other-worldly creatures with a strong dislike of humans.

The book blurb describes the tale as, “suspenseful and enchanting, The Return of the Key explores the power of love, sacrifice and the journey to self-acceptance.”

It so could have been.

I was so disappointed – perhaps because I’m not really a reader of fantasy fiction – but I had hoped for more. In all fairness, I didn’t make it to the end; I gave up about 60% of the way through. I apologise in advance if I’ve missed something amazing.

The two main problems for me were that many elements of the book felt rushed – for example Chapter One, which is really confusing, is titled ‘ENGLAND’ but at the start of the chapter Eliza’s still living with her grandparents in Trinidad. She’s mixed race and living in an area where the Trinidadians are polarised according to their racial background – and she doesn’t fit in anywhere. She’s being bullied at school after writing an article for the school magazine about racism.

Her grandpa decides to send her with her grandma to England to escape the tensions, just until after the elections have taken place on the island. Then, half way through the chapter, suddenly she’s in England. There’s barely a mention of how the decision was reached, what the article said, Eliza’s feelings and thoughts on her own racial background or this momentous decision that’s been made for her at such a formative age.

The writer, Alisha Nurse, missed such an opportunity to build Eliza’s character, but instead thrust her straight into a new school where she instantly bonds with Gwen, another outsider. She meets her on page 19 and by page 22 they are best friends forever. Their friendship is explained by a ‘chemistry that was unexplainable and almost immediate’ – but we’re talking about two 16 year old girls here, notoriously cliquey. Would a new girl really be accepted so readily? Again, I felt that there was a missed chance here to give the girls a back story, develop their characters and make the reader care for and root for them.

Sadly, for most of the book, I didn’t. The ‘mysterious disappearances’ happen so quickly that I had to reread a chapter to work out what had happened. Eliza’s own transition to the otherworld was rushed and there was very little suspense involved.

Once in the mystical realm, the story seems to focus more on florid descriptions of plants and landscapes than it does on the plot or characters. The author does have a beautiful turn of phrase, some parts are incredibly descriptive and very pretty, and she puts a lot of effort into coming up with names for the myriad of creatures that Eliza and Gwen come across. There’s a clear undercurrent of racial tension in the tale, from Eliza’s roots to Gwen’s own background, and the reception the girls get when they find themselves in the other world. Humans are banished from the Realm and the girls are in clear danger, despite the fact all they want to do is make things right, return the key from the title and go home again.

I did find that the Return of the Key reminded me of the fantasy adventure games that I played on my Dad’s ZX Spectrum in the 1980s, with its Black Lake and Mirror Lake, a Mermaid’s Lair and more. In the end, I’m afraid I couldn’t read on as I was just skimming the descriptive paragraphs to find something meaty, a bit of character development, some emotional connection to the main characters. At one point I even checked to see if it was a children’s book!

It’s such a shame, as there is massive potential in this story and if the main characters were as well described and developed as the descriptions of the magical realm they are exploring, the book could have been gripping. 

As it was, I’m afraid I can only give it a rather disappointing 1.5 bites.

Sarah Clark
I have been reading since the age of four and before I was 11 I’d managed to wangle an adult library membership so that I could take six books out at a time.
I love chick lit, thrillers, biographies and historical novels, and the books that have inspired me the most are The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Me Before You….
I’ve even written a novel myself, called Viva Voluptuous, and joined the Book Eaters to give me a legitimate excuse for reading even more.

The Girl in The Box 1-3 by Robert J. Crane

Click through to Amazon where it is currently available for free
Click through to Amazon where it is currently available for free
Sienna Nealon, the protagonist of this series (books 1-3 in this omnibus, my review focuses on book 1), is a 17 year-old girl who had been held prisoner in her own house by her mother for twelve years. Her mother says this is actually for her own good, and, alongside training her in epic fighting skills and calculus, has also given her a number of rules to follow- one of them being NEVER leave the house. We first meet Sienna a week after her mother has disappeared, and as she wakes up to find two mysterious men in her home- one old and grumpy, one young and ‘hunky’ (Oldie and Hottie- yes, she refers to them thusly),  both out to capture her.  So she follows the logical course of action and leaves the house, after administering a bit of a smack down on their butts. Having ventured out into the big wide world, she meets, in quick succession, Reed, a smokin’ hot mysterious boy who rescues her, and Wolfe, a hulking beast of a man who tries to squeeze the life out of her. Oldie and Hottie rescue her from Wolfe whilst Reed does a runner.
She passes out from severe trauma and wakes up, all healed up, at the headquarters of the Directorate, a mysterious organisation that tracks, monitors and trains meta-humans; people who are super strong, super intelligent, heal really quickly, and have an extra ‘power’ of some kind. Sienna, of course, is one of these meta-humans and the Directorate, and its mysterious leader, Old Man Winter,  want her to stay and be tested to find out which type. She is reluctant, given that her mother is missing, the Directorate had sent Oldie and Hottie to ‘retrieve her’ and she doesn’t trust them. She also has to contend with weird dream conversations with Reed who tells her the Directorate can’t be trusted, and with Wolfe who is determined to capture Sienna for his bosses- another mysterious organisation- but whose immense psychosis puts her life in danger.

Phew! A pretty long summary there, and perhaps one too many uses of the word ‘mysterious’ but that can’t really be helped. Robert J Crane has tried to cram as much mystery into The Girl in the Box series as possible- why did Sienna’s mother keep her in the house? Why did Sienna follow her mother’s rules? What do the Directorate really do? Who is Wolfe working for? Who is Reed working for? Where did Sienna’s mother go? Who is her father? What is Sienna’s meta-human power? What are the dream conversations about? Who is Old Man Winter really?

And for me the biggest mystery is why does this have an average rating of 4.5 on Amazon?

Maybe I’m missing something that all those reviewers are seeing but I just don’t get why it has received so many good reviews? Seriously. I do try to always find the best in the books I read but I’m struggling in this case.

To start with the whole premise seems to be a bit of a rip off of the X-Men: meta- humans are clearly mutants, the Directorate reminds me strongly of Professor X’s school (if a bit shadier!) with the oft-mentioned but mysterious (see, can’t help it!) M-Squad,and Sienna turns out to be almost identical in powers to one of the X-Men portrayed often in the graphic novels and particularly the first film. I don’t mind borrowed ideas so much, as long as the author does something new with them but in this case the whole plot seems tired and recycled from various other stories- aside from X-Men, there are undertones of Heroes, Lost Girl, and the equally dreadful Lux series.

Which actually would have been fine if Sienna had been a better protagonist. You can do a lot with familiar plot lines if you have an original, relate-able and likeable character leading us through. Sadly, Sienna is completely unbelievable. She has been locked away for 12 YEARS, her mother locks her in a tiny metal coffin when she does something wrong, the last time for over a week before she breaks out to be nearly killed by a huge wolf man and kidnapped by some mysterious organisation intent on putting her through medical, psychological and physical tests because she’s actually some rare super- human. And how does she react to this? By being a massive bitch and ogling at boys… sorry Robert J. Crane, that just does not work. Where is her emotional trauma? Where are the longer lasting effects from this childhood abuse? One hour of TV watching a night does not make you able to cope with modern society to the extent that Sienna does.  Her communication skills, sarcasm and ‘mean girl’ putdowns are inconsistent with someone who has had no social interaction for all of her formative years. It constantly threw me out of the story and was really irritating.

And speaking of the story, I will admit there were elements of interest, it was actually intriguing at first and the dream conversations were a nice touch. However, it was very repetitive and I was pretty fed up of Sienna continually getting beaten up by Wolfe only to make a rapid recovery by the end.
It was also a bit ridiculous, Wolfe kills literally hundreds of people in order to draw out Sienna so he can rape her to death and apparently no one can do anything because M-squad are in South America- they have a whole bunch of meta-humans sitting around in the cafeteria being all glare-y and hate-y but never mind their super powers! So instead they just keep Sienna in the basement so she will be safe; apparently she is really important to the Directorate despite them not even knowing her power at this stage.
Sienna constantly makes poor and inconsistent choices and then won’t take responsibility for her actions despite the increasing body count. She treats people appallingly (unless they’re a cute boy because of course that’s all girls think about :eyeroll:) for no reason at all, at least no reason we are given. No wonder so many people in the book hate her guts.

Sigh…I’m pretty sure I don’t have time to discuss the poorly written action scenes, the unbelievable ‘love triangle’ that is hinted at between Sienna, Reed and Zack (Hottie…. I can’t even remember Oldie’s real name though), the cliched ending, and the sequels that only get more annoying and ridiculous although I have a lot more I could say. I will therefore leave you with my bites score…

1 bite because I did at least finish the whole book. My advice if you do want to pick this up…. don’t.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

Black Hills by Nora Roberts

Click for Amazon. If you really want to...
Click for Amazon. If you really want to…
Well, here it is, I guess it had to happen some time… a book that I give less than 3 bites to.

I’m not really one for giving negative reviews if I can help it; I generally like to see the good in every book, but sometimes it would just be dishonest of me not to award 1 or 2 or even 0 bites. And we’re all about the honesty at The Book Eaters.

It’s probably not surprising that it is a Nora Roberts novel. After all, I have spoken about her repetitiveness before.

Black Hills is another of Roberts’ romantic murder mysteries that follows a standard plot of two characters getting together to solve a mystery and they fall in love in the process. Normally I find these fairly enjoyable (and safe!) and can overlook the fact that they rarely deviate from her oft-repeated formula. Black Hills however, was just ridiculous.

The basic premise is that two children, Lilian and Cooper, meet after Cooper is sent to stay with his grandparents on their farm in the Black Hills. He is bitter and angry about this as he is away from all his friends, and his beloved baseball, and no one will admit that he is there because his parents’ marriage is failing. His grandparents take him to their neighbours farm for a visit and there he meets Lilian. He cheers up when he realises she loves baseball too. Cooper and Lil then spend every summer together and eventually fall in love, kiss, do the deed etc. Young love is blissful etc etc etc. Generic but could have been redeemed with the remainder of the book (but wasn’t)

Cooper then dumps Lilian for, quite frankly, perfectly good reasons considering they are both young, he’s at college, doesn’t know what he wants out of life, huge family dramas,  she’s dead set on opening a zoo, refuses to contemplate any other way of life, he’s not sure if that’s the life for him etc. She is inexplicably grumpy about this ( not the dumping part, it’s just she refuses to acknowledge his reasons are valid)and lets the fact that he has done the right thing in ending their relationship affect all her adult relationships for the next 10 years. This was one of the key things that hacked me off about this book- a character makes a perfectly acceptable decision for good reasons and yet is made out to be the bad guy for the WHOLE book, and is forced to apologise, make amends, show he’s changed etc.  Grrrr.

10 years later, she’s opened her random big cat zoo, he’s back on his grandfather’s farm due to convenient family illness and they strike up their romance again but this time with much angst, browbeating and against the back drop of a ludicrous stalking/serial killer mystery.  The mystery was not really all that mysterious, the police were portaryed as unrealistically inept, and there was a cliched and rushed ending- more cliched than normal, I mean.

Coupled with a weird racist sub plot, badly drawn and flat characters and no real originality in story or execution, this is not a book I would recommend.

1 bite, but only because Roberts’ descriptive writing style makes the Black Hills themselves sound pretty awesome- the rest is just rubbish.

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.