Second hand Best Sellers – The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova

Tam’s second-hand bestsellers book finds…..

So here’s the Criteria:-

Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1

Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller

12 books – one per month for a year

Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments

 

Available at Waterstones - click here
Available at Waterstones – click here

I had high hopes for this novel as it boasted on its cover “International Bestselling Author” and a snippet from the review by The Times promising it to be “tantalising” and “richly entertaining”. It starts with the image of a woman walking in the dusk through a silent, snowy village and her image being recorded in an oil painting by Sisley. Sadly those two pages were the best part of this 600 page book. Although the imagery continued to charm in parts, the plot and the constant retrospect left me bored and I kept waiting for something to happen.

Robert Oliver the artist at the centre of the drama doesn’t speak – he has been committed to an institution after trying to slash a painting of Leda and the Swan in the National Gallery. So dedicated is his psychiatrist (Marlow) that he decides to traipse all over the country and even further afield in order to research Oliver’s history! Three quarters of the book is taken by Oliver’s wife and Oliver’s mistress as they tell similar stories of a brilliant artist fixated by another woman. Oliver paints this woman over and over and over but will not tell anyone who she is nor why he is obsessed by her. Then suddenly Marlow discovers that he’s falling for Oliver’s ex- mistress and she in returns tells him that the woman at the centre of Robert’s illness was an artist who died a century earlier and off they go together to view a portrait of Beatrice de Clerval. From there Marlow then “retrieves” from Oliver a bundle of personal letters that passed between Beatrice and her uncle and flies to France to return them to the man from whom Oliver had stolen them. After that Marlow pieces together that the painting it was mistakenly assumed that Oliver had tried to attack was in fact painted by Beatrice who had been blackmailed by an unscrupulous dealer in allowing him to pass it off as his work. Using the design on the bottom of the dress that Beatrice was wearing for her portrait Marlow then tracks down the village which Sisley was painting at the start of the novel and finds long lost proof that Beatrice was in fact the artist who created the Swan Thieves and Leda. He returns to America to discover Oliver cured of his selective mutism and able to rejoin society.

I love the concept of this but the execution of it was as exciting as a telephone directory. At no point do we come to understand why Oliver became obsessed to the point of madness with the image of a dead artist nor how he had been able to piece her history together. Infact I was left wondering why he ‘recovers’ – nothing is discovered that he doesn’t already know and Beatrice is not going to be given the credit she deserved as a brilliant artist. Was it meant to be a mystery or a romance – I don’t know but it was far too long and frankly tedious!

It marginally scrapes 2 bites because of the imagery.

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

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.

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

There’s a certain difficulty reading the latest in a book series that you’ve been invested in from book one. Yes, you’re already predisposed to enjoying it; yes, you can slip back into the world and the characters easily; yes, you get the satisfaction of knowing what happens next to these fictional people that you’ve been hearing about, sometimes for years.
But you also risk the disappointment of the characters’ lives treading down a path you would not have sent them. You risk the annoyance of their character development turning them into someone unrecognisable. Most importantly, you risk the rage of the author taking all that beautiful world building, all that potential of kick-ass female characters, all of that realistic character development and throwing it away on an over-blown, over romanced, over-done MESS.

And, ladies and gentlemen, when that rage comes, it is a bitter one indeed….

eos-coverSarah J. Maas has been the recipient of two very positive reviews from me for the previous two installments in her Throne of Glass series (Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows) and would have for the first three if The Bookeaters had been up and running then. So it is with much rage that I say Empire of Storms is not that good.

Picking up almost immediately where Queen of Shadows left off, we follow Aelin and her court on their journey back to Terrasen, Dorian in his recovery, Elide in her escape and Manon in her continued evolution from bad-ass and evil to bad-ass and not evil. Things happen and because of ‘reasons’* all the major characters end up in the same location embarking on a quest to find a McGuffin that will end the fight against darkness, restore balance to the world etc etc blah blah. To be honest, I forgot what they were doing half the time…

(* not entirely believable)

I do want to pick out some good points before I launch into what sparked the rage-

Manon Blackbeak, for the majority of her scenes, continued to be an amazing character- she’s fierce and determined, loyal to her Thirteen and sparked all of the out loud ‘WTF’ moments of the book. Her story line, right up to where it converges with Aelin’s, was the absolute highlight of this book.

Oh, erm, that is about it on good points… oh dear.

Moving on then, to the aspects of this book that enraged me:

The over blown writing – oh my goodness, someone take away Maas’s thesaurus immediately. I’m not sure what has gotten into her but the descriptive elements of this were over the top and very repetitive. Very repetitive. Very repetitive. Sorry, I’ll stop now…. except to tell you that they were very repetitive. Annoying isn’t it?

The excessive amounts of drama llamadom – I get it. This is an epic fantasy story but every. single. aspect. was the biggest deal in the history of big deals in a land where big deals were super-sized. Every fight was super-duper life threatening, every hint of danger was an immediate ‘oh no, we’re about to die horribly, the stakes have never been higher’, every victory was the most dramatic show of raw power ever, every conversation was heart felt and emotional and just. stop.

The romance-  one of the things I loved about previous installments was the move away from typical YA love triangle type first-love-is-last-love. So the fact that almost every character found their one true love (and all B/G too) was nauseating. WHY??? Why do they all have to pair up? Why do they all have to do it when they should be concentrating on saving the world?

The change in genre AKA god-awful sex scenes- Closely linked with the romance aspects is the fact that this title is decidedly not YA- it’s New Adult. The difference?  Explicit sex scenes. I’m not really against sex scenes in a book if that’s what character and plot call for but I do not think they have a place in a book series that started life as a Young Adult series. Particularly when they are so ridiculously badly written and are shoe-horned into a plot at the most unrealistic moments. Seriously…. Lovely lightening? Palm trees on fire? Invisible hands? And nibbling… so much nibbling! Concentrate on saving the world you idiots!

I could go on. I could tell you about the confusing POV switches, the lack of distinct character voices, the heroine who is an ABSOLUTE idiot but I can’t really be bothered. There’s only so much angry ranting a girl can do.

2 bites- 1 for sentiment and 1 for Manon.

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 Schooldays of Jesus by J M Coetzee

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.

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 Bad Miss Bennet Abroad By Jean Burnet

This is a second outing for Burnett’s recreated Lydia Wickham (nee Bennet) from Pride and Prejudice. In the previous novel “Who needs Mr Darcy – the adventures of the Bad Miss Bennet” Burnett challenges us to overcome our dislike of the silly, spoilt girl and to see instead a would-be-independent woman fighting within the restraints of the age and using her charms and wiles to further her social standing and financial security. Having enjoyed royal romps, scandal and espionage in England in this second novel the young lady is headed abroad as a Lady in Waiting in the Portuguese Court.

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon

The Bad Miss Bennet Abroad is definitely not a ‘Jane Austin by extension’ novel of calling cards and social gatherings, of sprigged muslin frocks and proper etiquette. Although there are the waspish asides and the frothy light tone to the narrative that I associate with Austin the content is quite different. We are led on a romp across the oceans, encountering pirates and spies along the way and into the exiled Portuguese Court in Brazil where Lydia is to serve as a lady in Waiting to the bride of the  heir.  Needless to say it is Lydia who catches the eye of the heir and her short stay with the  Royal Court results in jewels and rather more. While I could indeed imagine the licentious Miss Lydia becoming embroiled in such a romantic pickle I would have thought her too experienced and wily to then fall into the troubles she encounters on her return voyage. However despite the adventures and dangers that beset her at every turn and provide numerous opportunities for her to mature and mellow Lydia remains whiny, shallow and annoying and I wanted to swat her like a mosquito.

Overall a quick and silly read that was not to my taste but is well written and I’m sure will be enjoyed by fans of this genre. I can only give it 2 bites but I’m sure others would savour it more.

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

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Painted Ocean By Gabriel Packard

imageThis story, told in the first person, begins with 11 year old Shruti’s father leaving her and her mother. Although she knows she should be devasted she admits that “secretly I preferred it without him, cos it meant I had my mum completely to myself, without having to share her with anyone. And I sort of inherited all the affection she used to give to my dad – like he’d left it behind for me as a gift, to say sorry for deserting me.”

It seems she needs all the maternal affection she can get as life at school is hard, as the only Asian she is bullied and friendless. Also her mother’s family are wrangling to get her to desert Shruti and remarry. Things couldn’t get much worse but Shruti isn’t one to give up too easily and tries everything she can think of to get her mother to stay.

Then Meena arrives at school, a fierce, self-determined girl that instantly takes her place at the top of the school hierarchy. She has a soft spot for Shruti though, and so begins a very lopsided friendship.

I’m not going to pull any punches with this review, this book bloody annoyed me. I feel betrayed by it. We all know that rubbish that you shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover is impossible to live by, and cover designers and publishing houses sweat blood over getting a stunning cover that portrays something to the reader. They did well here, they produced a cover that sells, it even tells some of the truth about the plot, more than the blurb does. This cover, together with the title promises poetry inside, a story told so beautifully that it’ll break your heart three times over. But it isn’t and it doesn’t.

Instead you get a mess of a book that seems to want to be two very different things at the same time, characters that don’t act the way they should, and ridiculous, unexplained plot twists. Also the fact that Shruti’s voice doesn’t grow up at all even though she goes from an 11 year old to a grown woman is even more insulting.

To be fair, the first half of the book is fine. Not what the cover led me to expect but not bad at all. But once they head to University it all falls apart. I get the feeling that the author thought something more exciting and heartbreaking needed to happen so he hijacked their story, like a boy parachuting an action man into his sister’s game with her barbies.

Not impressed.

2 bites.

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 Soul Whisperer by J.M. Harrison

imageIn an Abbey in Languedoc sometime in the Middle Ages a massacre occurs.

In modern day London Alex and Sarah are trying to recover from their miscarriage, the loss of his mother and the loss of their home. Sarah’s mother Lucette arranges a holiday for them in France, she wants them to pass her regards to an old boyfriend of hers while they’re there. But Jean Michel is much more than just an old acquaintance, and Alex and Sarah will soon find they have more than just a dream like connection to the Abbey massacre.

At least I suspect they will, but to be honest I didn’t get very far with this book. I mean it sounds pretty good from the blurb and I soon as I started reading I could see the echoes of books like Kate Mosse’s Labrynth and The Celestine Prophecy, both books I appreciated. But the problem with this book is the writing.

I get that when you have a story that you feel the world needs to hear it’s difficult sometimes to do anything other than write it as you see it happening. I’m a writer, I’ve done that. But if you really care then you do need to step back, look at your work critically, and work to improve it. This reads like a first draft, or maybe a second. In fact the writing was so excruciatingly pedestrian that I almost deleted every word I’ve ever written in case it’s the same standard and I’m not seeing it because I’m too close! (Instead I started on another edit).

I don’t want to spend this whole review ripping this author’s work to shreds – it could be great with some more work after all, but right now it needs work.

2 Bites (1 for wanting to share a positive message in the first place!)

 

 

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 Last Bastard Standing By Sienna Cassedy

imageI have sat here for the last 10 minutes wondering how to start this review. I don’t want to this to be a negative report but then I have only read half the book. Why? Mainly because I was never formally introduced to the plot. However, I can’t make this a positive review as the first portion of the book is mostly taken up with character building. Sadly the main character, who comes across as a semi alcoholic writer, takes up far to much time.

Don’t get me wrong, there are things to like. The main character is a rough and boozy female with pretensions of being a great writer. I kind of liked the way she was being built up. Though, I noticed there were no descriptions of her appearance. We actually had a better idea of what she liked to drink than what she looked like.

The first third of the book was taken up with her and a few subsidiary characters. By the time I got to the half way mark, the plot finally made an appearance. Sadly, we missed each other as I decided to stop reading at that point. A little too late for my tastes.

So you can see the problem I am having. A book with a great start, which laboured too hard over establishing the main character and a plot that doesn’t know when to make itself known. How should I start this review then? Maybe like this…

The Last Bastard Standing mainly concerns a female writer with dreams of making it big. She is inconsiderate to those around her, prefers to drink as often as possible and comes across as being ‘not nice to know’. The story telling by the author is different to what you might be used and will suit the more patient reader. Not exactly experimental but different enough to keep it interesting. The author, Sienna Cassedy, needs to pay more attention to structure, the kind of detail that keeps the reader hooked and entertained. Comes with practice and experience.

On the whole, good effort but unfortunately it lost me half way through.

2 bites out of 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.

The Scarlet Wench by M K Graff

image The Scarlet Wench is the third of the modern day “cosy crime” mysteries starring Nora Tierney. Nora is a young American writer and single mother living in England. She has recently moved to the Lake District and is helping out at her illustrator and friend Simon Ramsey’s small hotel. When a traveling theatre troupe arrives to stage Noel Coward’s play “Blithe Spirit” a series of pranks raises nosy Nora’s suspicions. Particularly as they seem to mirror the murderous actions in the play.

But she’s not the only one trying to solve the mystery,  the only lodge guest not in the cast: Detective Inspector Declan Barnes, gets dragged in too. Although he’s ostensibly there for a hiking trip he’s really there to see if the sparks he and Nora felt on there last meeting could  be fanned into the flames of love.

I usually enjoy an occasional ‘cozy’ but I have to admit I only got half way through this before giving up on it. Although the setting is modern the book is written in traditional English mystery style with a cast of characters and room layouts. That’s fine with me but sadly this seemed to be extended to the characters, or more accurately caricatures. Nora seemed more like a woman from a cheap romance novel and none of the other characters were any better. The author jumped about from one perspective so as to tell us all their inner thoughts, but failed to endear them to me.

Graff won an award for Best British Cozy with the book that introduces Nora, THE BLUE Virgin, so maybe I’m missing something. Or maybe she’s resting on her laurels since then and just churning them out.

Definitely not my cup of tea! 2 bites

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.

Master of Shadows by Neil Oliver

imageThe author of this work, Neil Oliver, is indeed the Scottish Historian and television presenter you’ve seen grace your screens on many programmes including the very popular ‘Coast’

I’m rather partial to his work and enjoy historical fiction so when I saw this it was hard for me to resist. The book is set between fifteenth-century Constantinople, and the borders of Scotland where Lairds keep their power through violence. Young John Grant lives under the power of one of these Lairds with his mother in their small homestead, but it is not an easy existence. His father betrayed the Laird and they only still live in the hopes that one day he’ll be drawn back and revenge can be wreaked. But it is not John’s father but his best friend, a bear-like Moor, that comes for him.

But John Grant is not the only character this narrative focuses on, and honestly I think this is its biggest mistake. It’s not so much that there are other characters, but they are introduced too late in the narrative and it causes the story to slow down when it should be speeding up. I also had a problem with the character Lena, I can’t say exactly what as its a total spoiler but it severed the suspension of my disbelief completely. Not what I’d expect from a historian.

Oliver’s writing is also a little too fussy. When you are writing about long dead people for a TV documentary you need to ramp things up a bit, but here it just got in the way.

Overall I was disappointed, so much so that I didn’t finish it. I’m not saying that it is utterly unreadable though, had I been on a beach with nothing else to do and maybe only one other book waiting for me to dive into I would have kept going. But I wasn’t – and I had a long list waiting and this wasn’t good enough to keep them waiting for. I think I’m more disappointed in Orion than I am in Oliver though, with a good edit this could have been a great read. It smacks of lazy publishing and an easy marketing option. Orion is one of my favourite publishing houses and they were kind enough to allow us a copy of this free. I hope my honest review doesn’t put them off doing so in the future. I also hope they keep their standards higher in future.

2 Bites.

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 Five Times I Met Myself by James L. Rubart

5 timesReleased this coming Tuesday, The Five Times I Met Myself is the story of Brock Matthews, a husband, father and coffee company owner whose life is falling apart around him- his marriage is stagnant, his relationship with his son is distant, his business is on the rocks and his brother doesn’t really like him. When Brock starts getting dreams about his father, he turns to a friend to learn about lucid dreaming. He wants the dreams to stop; his life is depressing enough as it is without having nightly visitations from the father he hated.
With the knowledge of lucid dreaming, comes the idea that he can change his life- he has been sent these dreams in order to correct what went wrong in his life, mend the bridges shattered in the past, and change his life. He is able to speak, and give advice, to his younger self in these dreams and for these dreams to have a tangible effect in the present.
However, the more Brock tries to change his life for the better, the worse it becomes. Brock has a long way to go before learning the important lessons about what really matters in life.

This book was an advanced copy that was sent to me free of charge in return for an honest review, and has honestly been an incredibly difficult book to review. The reason for this is simple- I am not the right audience for this book. The message of the book may be best suited to a youngish audience but the writing style and overall story would suit an older audience I believe. Most importantly however, is that this book is a very spiritual book- it is based on the idea that the Christian God has sent these dreams to Brock and that what is happening is God’s will. This idea is not put across subtly but rather openly and triumphantly- deliberately so by the author who clearly has a particular message that he wishes to relay.

I am not religious, nor am I particularly spiritual, and so this message has seemed heavy handed at times. I actually think I am incapable of enjoying the book as the author intended because of my lack of faith/spirituality/religion and almost wish that I had not agreed to review the book. I think a person of faith would feel very differently about the book; I think they would find it uplifting and faith-affirming. However, an honest review is what was promised and that is what I intend to deliver.

Separating the book from the message, it does have a lot to offer. The central concept of the lucid dreaming is something I had heard of before and the idea of being able to influence your past self and therefore your future through dreams is intriguing- and was in fact the initial and main appeal of this book for me.
I liked the way that Brock’s life was shown to be incredibly complex and not easily fixed by a ten minute conversation with his past. The strands that make up Brock’s existence are many and varied, and the more he tries to unravel them, the more entangled they become. These entanglements aren’t always what you think they will be and there were a fair number of surprises along the way.
The pacing of the book, after the initial few chapters was good. The story did race along once it had got going- it did take longer than I would have liked to get going though.
Brock as a character is a very definite shades of grey character- sometimes I liked him, sometimes I thought he was an absolute idiot. He was the most well-rounded of the characters as you would expect, but able supported by the secondary characters.

I would be very interested to have a conversation with someone who is religious, or at the least spiritual, and see how their view compares to mine. Faith is such a central part of this book that, without it, I feel I cannot connect to it at all.

2 bites

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 Girl Who Went Missing by Ace Varkey

imageAmerican girl June, having recently been jilted, feels the need to get away from things and accepts her younger sister, Thalia’s, invitation to join her in Mumbai for a holiday. Thalia is there on a Fulbright scholarship, studying for a post graduate thesis on ancient Indian temples. June expects to be met at the airport by her sister but on her arrival there is no sign of Thalia. A great start to a novel – I was immediately hooked.

Unfortunately, from there on in it’s downhill all the way. The editing is poor (Numerous spelling errors) the writing is stilted (I wondered if English was Ace Varkey’s second language). I felt that an opportunity was missed, Mumbai is a fabulous backdrop for a crime novel. But somehow the book failed to get across the steaming anthill that is Mumbai, seventeen million people packed into an area one third the size of London, the ever present stink of humanity, the crumbling and inadequate infrastructure, extremes of wealth and poverty side by side and people, people, people.. everywhere you look, people and more people. A crime writers heaven.

On the plus side the story bought home very forcefully just how dangerous India can be for women. The attitudes of many Indian men are firmly locked into a past where women were little more than chattles, to be used and abused with impunity. The plot line dealt with the abduction, enslavement and trafficking of poor uneducated country girls, a serious subject and very topical, in view of the recent world headlines about the Mumbai gang rape.

I felt the writer failed to capitalise on the great location and “up to the minute” subject by her weak characterisation, and “Boys Own” adventure plot line (Good guys arrive in the nick of time fell the bad guys with a single blow). This,along with the fact that the hero is The Commissioner of Police himself, in charge of a force of 55,000. Yet has the time to get involved in the case, stretches credibility beyond belief.

Just two bites 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.

A Moment’s Worth by Lauren Lola

imageI’m finding it hard to define this book, and harder still to review it. Essentially it appears initially to be a collection of short stories which capture certain moments in the protagonists’ lives. These moments differ in terms of scale and (dare I say) oddness, but appear to be pivotal points in their existence. The majority of the stories are about different characters, although some characters we hear from more than once and they are all linked to each other through relationships that become apparent during the book.

What is very clear here is that the author has a lot of creativity, and many of her ideas are really interesting. I enjoyed way the author visual described the ways in which our lives are interconnected: The family who make origami cranes which soar away ‘anytime a turning point or revelation happens’; the cranes which are spotted by a couple of other characters in their own stories; the book within a book in which the protagonist sees the red thread that connects us together.

Having said that though, sometimes the sheer quantity of ideas seemed dwarf the book itself. It became very tell not show because there just wasn’t the room to expand and develop the characters. The writing slipped on occasions as well. There was a lot of repetition in places which could have been edited out and maybe would have given more room for building the readers relationship with the characters. There were quite a few points where tenses changed, and internal monologues moved from character to character in a short space of time, all of which felt confusing.

There were some stories I would have liked to heard more about. I was intrigued by the story featuring Baleia which seemed fable like in its quality. I ended up googling it, because I felt there was more to it, something I was missing. I was partly right (spoilers permit me from saying more) but again I would have liked a little more development.

This book has potential which could be brought out by a judicious edit.

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.

Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett

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It is 1961 and Rebecca Hoffman has been summoned to the headquarters of the Stasi in East Berlin. Terrified, she tries desperately to figure out why they would be interested in her. Her family have always been very political and as Social Democrats have been under surveillance in the past; and Rebecca herself uses American songs to help teach children English. But what she discovers in the building of the secret police changes her world.

Meanwhile in America, George Jakes is just about to graduate from Harvard Law School. The illegitimate son of a black actress and white senator, he has a job lined up at a law firm in Washington DC. But before he starts, he joins with the Freedom Riders to protest peacefully against segregation on the transport system.

In Russia, Tania Dvorkin helps to write a subversive newspaper called ‘Dissidence’, exposing the persecution and crimes committed by the Soviet government. Whilst she aims to bring down Communisim, her twin brother Dimka hopes to reform it through his job as aide to Nikita Khrushchev.

This is a difficult book to summarise. It is the third in a trilogy which began with the First and Second World  Wars: telling the story from the point of view of all the countries that were involved. It was a clever idea and worked well. This book takes us into the Cold War, continuing the story from the American, German, Russian and British families points of view: that’s a lot of characters. It extends from 1961 to 1989 and covers events such as the Civil Rights Movement, the Cuban Missile Crises, the assassinations of Martin Luther King and both Kennedy brothers, Watergate and the rise and fall of the Berlin Wall. The amount of research that has gone into it is incredible and I found the historical aspects fascinating, but I think that there was just too long a period of time to cover. The result is a book where the characters stories seem to be shoehorned into the events that are happening around them. It has to tell you what is happening because there just isn’t the time to develop the characters or their motives and emotions into a more fluid form of story. I found this took me out of the story.

The characters lives get a bit repetitive and for the most part two characters of the opposite sex in the same room together means they will either sleep together, or think about sleeping together. There is also a need to retell events that have happened previously, just in case we had forgotten. Not a bad idea in a novel of this length, but as the book goes on it becomes slightly annoying.

If you haven’t read any of the trilogy before I would definitely recommend the first book which is superb. If you have read ‘Fall of Giants’ and ‘Winter of the World’ then, like me, you are probably keen to know what happens to some of the characters. There are some emotive scenes, made all the more so because I had been following the lives of some of the characters over roughly 2,700 pages and this, in addition to the historical facts, makes me rate the book higher. But in my opinion the trilogy does end on a bit of a flat note, which is disappointing.

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.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt

imageAs you can see this bills itself as a tale of “transdimensional tomfoolery”, in short think Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams but set in suburbia instead of on discworld or in space.

It all starts when Polly, an utterly ordinary property lawyer, notices that someone keeps drinking her coffee. That would normally be the kind of annoyance that could start a passive-aggressive version of world war three in a British office, but whoever it is seems to also be talking to her clients. And doing her job. As if this isn’t weird enough she then goes to the dry cleaner’s to pick up her dress for the party, it’s not there. The dry cleaner’s that is, although by extension the dress is missing too.

Her brother, a jingle-writing musician with time on his hands is enlisted to help and ends up possessing a magic pencil sharpener. A disappearing housing estate is thrown into the mix and then there are the chickens who think they are people.

This was one of the many books I download from Audible, I see no reason why small details like having to drive a car or do housework should get in the way of my reading pleasure! However in this case listening to the audio book lessened my pleasure. For me, listening to an audio book will usually take longer than reading it, this book was 15 hours and 34 minutes long. Now that’s not a problem usually, in fact I’m tearing through a 12 hour book at the moment. But when a story is as convoluted and as nonsensical as this it makes it hard.

But that wasn’t the biggest problem, there were several others. First the main characters were not just ordinary, they were mundane, created purely for the author to send them up. That made it kind of hard to feel any real sympathy for them or to care about their unusual plight. The reader of the story excacerbated this by giving Polly’s brother a really nasally, sneery voice.

The story itself was mildly entertaining, but tried too hard to be clever and didn’t succeed. If you are a fan of Terry Pratchett and have a long summer holiday stretching ahead of you then it may be worth it for you. Though I’d suggest reading either Sir Terry himself or giving Ben Aaronovitch a try.

2 bites (and a bit of indigestion!)

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.

Sleeping With your Best Friend – Rosa Temple

rtwriter_cover2I’m not sure what to make of this novella, if I’m honest. It’s the kind of book that is pleasant enough to read but didn’t really make me think, and in all honesty – I think I could have predicted the ending by the start of chapter three.

The story is told from the point of view of Lori, whose best friend Julia has been by her side since they were both five years old. They have never once fallen out in all that time, despite going to the same university, living together and double dating two best friends. All very cosy.

Things start to unravel when Lori and Sam are about to get married. Julia is, of course, her bridesmaid, although things are a bit awkward as she’s just split up from Matt, the best man. Are you following? Anyway, it all gets too much for Julia who decides to leave the country a week before the wedding and start a new job, as you do, and can’t make it back for the wedding at all, let alone to be a bridesmaid. Lori is upset but the wedding goes ahead and then a shocking revelation made by Sam on the honeymoon sets in motion a chain of events that are, well, in all honesty entirely predictable.

Lori finds out why her best friend left the country, returns to get her own back and the resulting mess is comedic in places, well written, but just not that believable or engaging. Bed-hopping and revenge are written in the blurb so it’s fair to tell you that of course Lori ends up sleeping with someone she shouldn’t. But the way it happened just left me cold; I don’t know, it just felt odd to me.

The resolution to the story was just as I expected (perhaps Rosa should change the title?) and I had been expecting a plot twist to knock my expectations off balance a bit but there really wasn’t one.

I have to say that I did like Rosa’s writing style, it’s upbeat, humorous and above all for a self-published novel she’s taken great care to get it properly edited. The idea is good and with a bit of suspense, a plot twist or maybe a bit more character development it could have been really good. 

As it is, I’ll give it 2.5 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 Breadwinner by Stevie Kopas

 

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon
I have a confession; this is the first zombie fest apocalypse novel I have ever read, so I have to apologise to any diehard apocalypse fans who were hoping I could compare and contrast it with others in the genre.

There are no preliminaries before the action starts. The world is already going crazy with a sickness that makes people attack others, biting and tearing at them and the situation is deteriorating rapidly.

Samson Eckhart, is a family man with two kids he loves and a wife he doesn’t. Professional, controlled and wealthy he isn’t prepared for this new world, but he is not one to panic and he will do what it takes to survive.

Andrew is a cop, good with firearms and cool headed in an emergency. He and his partner answer an emergency call at Franklin High school where a riot has broken out, but the situation is already out of control, and before he can intervene his partner’s throat is ripped open. Andrew realises as he watches him turn into an eater that the world has changed beyond all reasoning. Recognising that being a cop is no longer relevant Andrew knows his job from here on is to protect his girlfriend Juliette.

Sal and his wife Lucy own a pizza restaurant that is run by their friend Ben. As the world grows crazy around them they camp out in the flat above the restaurant and watch as society disintegrates. When the phone rings Lucy is thrilled to realise that her son Marco is alive, but even as they are speaking disaster strikes, and trapped on the bridge there is no escape route for Marco.

Veronica and Isaac live in a fourth floor apartment with their dad. Forced to leave the safety of their apartment to hunt for food, James is bitten. He is desperate to say goodbye to his children and despite knowing what he will shortly become, he returns to the flat. He barely has time to warn them before he becomes an eater and turns on Isaac. Veronica saves Isaac and the two of them agree that they can no longer stay there and they decide to head for the bay to find a boat.

On route to the bay Veronica and Isaac are rescued by Sal and Ben and given temporary shelter. The following day the kids share their plan of heading to the ocean and Sal, Lucy and Ben decide to go with them. Unfortunately the group have barely left the safety of the restaurant before they are attacked by looters. The ensuing fight attracts eaters and in Isaac’s efforts to save Veronica he is mauled and quickly bleeds out. Veronica once again has to endure the pain as someone she loves falls prey to the sickness and she is forced to kill them. With Sal, Lucy and Isaac all dead she obeys Ben’s command to her to run. Ben is about to be overwhelmed when Andrew and Clyde burst onto the street fully armed and retrieve the situation.

Andrew, Clyde and Juliette team up with Ben and agree to head to the ocean to search for Veronica. Meanwhile Samson is fighting battles of his own against other people’s survival instincts that definitely run counter to his. In the process he and Veronica cross paths and she is able to relieve him of a terrible burden. A tidy coincidence brings about meeting of these two teams in the final pages all ready for the start of book two.

Well what did I make of it? It isn’t highbrow and it isn’t going to win any awards for descriptive prose, however, I enjoyed it and it kept me interested to the end. The burden that Samson faced was a good twist and quite thought provoking, indeed I could see how many parents would do the same. The characters were likeable and there was some variety but others were barely sketched in. There was no suspense and no scariness which surprised me, and although there was plenty of gore the action felt predictable. 

I would consider this a zombie fest for complete novices and I feel that it rates more than 2 bites but maybe not 3.

 

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

Tales from Null City by Barb Taub

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If there is one think I wish I’d had time to do before posting this, it would have been to read Barb Taub’s other books. This is the third in her “Null City” series, and although it is clearly designed to be a book which could be read as part of the series or on its own, I feel I have missed out on a few things by diving in at this point.

Null City is a place where those with superpowers can go to be normal. This book consists of two stories: “Payback is a Witch” and “Just for the Spell of it,” both of which are set mostly outside Null City, in Seattle. In Taub’s Seattle, the century long Nonwars have recently ended, a battle between Gifts and Haven. The Accords Agency is there to keep the peace, and especially aims to stop the Outsiders from destroying Null City’s defenders. In “Payback is a Witch” we meet Claire Danielsen: witch, and Assistant Director of Operations for the Accord Agency. Her family are trained from birth to protect the Goddess Freya, alongside their war cat Bygul. When the Outsiders attack her home, she discovers there is a very personal reason why she is the object of the attack. Together with Peter, a warden of the Accords Agency, Claire and Bygul must fight to protect their home and their world.

“Just for the Spell of it” tells the story of Eirie, a fairy Princess who has forfeited her right to the crown of her Kingdom. Instead she works as an operative for the Accords Agency as well as a part time radio host. When an Argentinian footballer, his girlfriend and their daughter go missing, Eirie and her partner Liam are called in to find him. Eirie discovers that the daughter is actually her sister, and if they don’t rescue her then war will be declared between this world and that of the Fae.

These are very short stories, both 63 pages in length. It is easy then, for them to be digested in one sitting. I did feel that there was the occasional information dump, and internal monologue which could have been done away with if the stories were a little longer. I for one wouldn’t have minded that.

I did enjoy the writing. It is funny in places, making me smile on more than one occasions. The build up of tension, especially in “Payback is a Witch” is very well written and had me literally biting my nails at one point. Barb Taub is also very good at writing dialogue. It feels natural, despite being conversations between different supernatural beings. In terms of the emotions between the main characters, I think the writing itself is good although the turn of events were slightly predictable.

Both Claire and Eirie are very strong characters, and the dominate forces in both their relationships, which is so good to see. I did feel that Claire/ Eirie and Peter/ Liam were a bit too similar in places, and a bit more individualism would have been good.

In general though, I was intrigued by the world that Barb Taub has created. The humour and tension are very well done. I think I will go back to book one!

2.5 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.

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.

Dark Legend: The Supernatural Chronicles by R. A. Reene

Click for Amazon Kindle
Click for Amazon Kindle
Dark Legend by R. A. Reene is the tale of Alexandria Margaret Grimaldi. She is the daughter of a demon and a faerie, an almost unique pairing of the dark and the light sides of the supernatural world and one which is kept as secret as possible. What’s more, her father isn’t just any demon; he is the Crown Prince of the underworld. His half-brother Sama’el wishes to usurp his brother’s position and so, on the day of Alex’s (secret) birth, her father is killed and her mother forced to flee. Alex grows up in the care of her paternal grandmother (not a demon though) and her two aunts. Her lineage and true identity are kept secret from her for her own protection, and she is raised as a witch hidden in the human world until she is 15. At that point it becomes clear that her grandmother and aunts need help in protecting her- a bunch of demons(sent by Sama’el) hurling fireballs at you through the house does tend to have that effect!
So they head to the Capitol, a supernatural only city from where the light supernatural beings run the supernatural world. Seeking asylum and protection isn’t easy; the Capitol aren’t massive fans of hybrids and even less so when part of your hybrid nature is demon but common sense prevails and Alex and her family are granted sanctuary; for Alex, this entails her being shipped off to boarding school where the defences of the school can be utilised in keeping Alex safe.
What follows is the tale of Alex settling in to a school that she knows nothing about, trying to keep her demon heritage secret, and also discovering a way of stopping her uncle from killing her.

I struggled with this review, I really did. There are many positives about this book- a strong main character, a good setting, a fast paced plot. I enjoyed reading it, I wanted to know what would happen next and I cared about the characters for the most part. There was some good world building here albeit with many borrowed elements but I was shaping up into a distinct and rich world.

However, these good elements are overshadowed by a fairly significant flaw- this book reads like a first draft. There is far too much going on, too many sub plots that don’t contribute to the overall movement of plot and yet at the same time there is not enough information. For example, there is a sub plot surrounding the two friends that Alex makes who do not like each other. Much is made of this and yet we are not told why except for a throw away comment about one of their dad’s jailing the other’s dad. This is just one example of many where I felt I had missed some exposition or character development or even a whole chapter!

The central plot is good, it flows well, makes sense and is pretty exciting. However the ancillary story lines need to either go completely or have some serious time and word count dedicated to them. My vote would be for the latter; at 231 pages the book has room for these plot-lines to grow and for the author to do justice to them. They were good, but just were too sparse to be judged properly. (Except the romance sub plot- I’d be happy to see that go. Not because it was rubbish, just because it wasn’t needed and it’d be nice to see a YA book without a romantic subplot.)

What this book needs is a damn good edit to make it into the book I know it can be. Fix the typos, follow up on plot points, make the sub plots follow a coherent thread and maybe merge a few characters (Dekker and Donovan for example appear to fulfil the same function). I enjoyed this book and I really want the author to address these issues and get it out there to more readers.

My heart gives it a 3.5 bites, my head a 2. I will settle on 2.5 but hope to see an updated version in the future.

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.

Cristofori’s Dream by Robert Italia

Click through for Amazon
Click through for Amazon
Christopher Russo is a 14 year old who like many young adolescents feels decidedly out of step with the world. His mother, Sandra, died from cancer two years ago leaving him and his younger sister, Janey, to protect and care for each other. In order to look after their interests she ensured that everything she owned passed directly to them and not to her husband. Their father, Victor, is a violent, intimidating and manipulative drunk, who resents his late wife and the children who own the house but are in his care. Victor threatens them that he will split them up and send one of them away to a different school and so the household lives in a stalemate atmosphere of resentment and fear. In order to keep the peace Christopher tries to conform to his father’s expectations that he will make a much coveted place on the school’s first team for football. He suppresses his teenage angst by writing a diary in a book that his mother gave to him. This book is already centuries old and contains curious entries to which he adds his own stories. Into this book go the hordes of hell (his football team mates) plus visions of barren landscapes and frightening characters from mythology. He and his sister weave a story of loss and hope but his and Janey’s views on redemption and an afterlife diverge, for Christopher is a man of science. Humiliated by association with a stupid prank in their local catholic church he feels a weight of disapproval and disappointment that his sister Janey does not share. The balance of reality vs the story he’s written in the book begins to tip and when Janey is diagnosed with leukaemia Chris believes that he can find a way to save her through the story.

I really wanted to love this book. It offers a tender observation of a protective relationship between siblings spiced with religious imagery, mythology and teenage angst. The concept is engaging and there are parts of the narrative where I can feel what he is describing. The decorating of the Christmas tree and the image of painting with the light orbs both stood out for me. The relationship between Janey and Chris is poignant and the book presents an interesting situation in their home environment that I wish had been explored and developed with less importance placed on the religious imagery, mythological creatures and alternate world.

Overall I felt that the balance of plot elements was poorly judged. The progress of the story is hampered by a multitude of confusing internal ramblings from Christopher and contradictory conversations between him and the various adults that inhabit the two worlds. The descriptive element of Italia’s prose was desperately overworked in parts and various proof reading errors created a feeling that the author was so glad to have finished his tale that he couldn’t be bothered to reread it or edit it. Unfortunately I simply felt overwhelmed by his torrent of words.

Far, far too long this novel is a perfect example of where less would be more.

Sadly just 2 bites

Tamara Thomas
I am the only girl and youngest of four children, I grew up in a home stuffed with books, and now some fifty years later, great piles of them still appear in every room I inhabit. I won’t waste my time reading books that leave me feeling sour, dirty or depressed; books are a source of light and inspiration in my world. Nevertheless, I love a book that makes me cry with loss or sadness such as Captain Corelli’s Mandolin or The Book Thief. Bliss is a winter’s afternoon on the sofa, snuggled in with my dogs, stove blazing and an absorbing book.

The Red House by Mark Haddon

Click to buy from Amazon or grab a copy from you friendly local book shop.
Click to buy from Amazon or grab a copy from you friendly local book shop.
I loved “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time” (see BookEater Abi’s review here) and quite enjoyed “A Spot of Bother” so I fully expected to enjoy this as well.

The blurb tells us that “Angela and her brother Richard have spent twenty years avoiding each other. Now, after the death of their mother, they bring their families together for a holiday in a rented house on the Welsh border. Four adults and four children. Seven days of shared meals, log fires, card games and wet walks. But in the quiet and stillness of the valley, ghosts begin to rise up. The parents Richard thought he had. The parents Angela thought she had. Past and present lovers. Friends, enemies, victims, saviours.”

I liked certain things about this book, I loved the writing, it was intense and hypnotic. I liked the sound of all the different personalities, they seem to be an eclectic bunch and I had faith that Mark Haddon would draw them well. In fairness they were well drawn, the book starts with a lovely vignette of Angela which manages to show her grief, her dislocation, and the problems in her relationships both with her husband and her brother. No mean feat. If you are a writer as well as a reader I highly recommend reading the first two pages over and over again.

Unfortunately he might have drawn them all a little too well, and possibly his honesty was his undoing. As the book progressed he showed all the warts of all the characters and apparently they didn’t have too many good points. So by half way through I really didn’t care enough about any of them anymore, and it ended up being passed on to the next person in the queue to read it.

Had I kept going he might have turned it around, he’s a talented writer and I’m sure there was a good payoff. But although I no longer waste my time reading books if the writing is bad or I don’t care about the characters, I don’t give up on them that easily either. Another lesson for any aspiring writers … don’t take your readers for granted, keep them caring!

2 bites.

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.