The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

img_23671976. The longest hottest summer in living memory and Mrs Creasy is missing.
The Avenue abounds with roumors and the shimmering heat is full of half heard whispers. Has she left of her own accord? If so where is she? Or could it be that she’s buried under the patio?
As the days and weeks drag on, ten year olds Grace and Tilly decide to investigate. Baffled and bewildered by the adult’s responses to the direct nature of their questioning, one statement constantly recurs “God knows”.
Coming to a dead end Grace and Tilly conclude that if God knows, all they have to do is find God and ask him.
The book is a joy and delight, Joanna Cannon’s insight into the minds of ten year old girls is both hilarious and touching. The search for Mrs Creasy and God, by such determined sleuths, stirs up the secrets and murky pasts of the Avenue’s residents, revealing the best and worst of human nature.
Joanna manages to capture both the innocence of 1970’s childhood and the ennui of that long hot summer. Joanna’s writing is breath taking in its originality. I frequently stopped to re-read a sentence just to savour the pleasure of her quirky prose.
This is Joanna’s first novel I can’t wait to read her next
Five 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.

The Dark Flood Rises by Margaret Drabble

TheDarkFloodRisesFran Stubbs is getting closer to death and so is everyone around her. She’s not giving in to old age though, rushing around the country as she investigates housing options for the elderly, supplies suppers for fading ex-husband Claude, visits her daughter, Poppet, holed up as the waters rise in a sodden West Country, as well as texting her son Christopher in Tenerife who is dealing with the estate of his shockingly deceased girlfriend.

The novel examines what constitutes a good death and whether, if we’re lucky enough to age, we should age gracefully or disgracefully. It looks at what it means to live well enough to die satisfied.

This is a beautiful novel, the characters are deep and flawed and loveable. Margaret Drabble writes with wit and honesty. But it is not a firecracker of a novel. It is one to sit with and enjoy slowly when you have plenty of time. Great for a long weekend in winter. I imagine it would also make a good audio book and I would be happy to have it keep me company on a long journey. In fact I’ve just nipped over to Audible and listened to a quick sample and the reader is good so definitely a contender. The only problem with this book is that nothing obvious really happens.

Because of that it is unlikely you’ll be ‘hooked’ and staying up late to finish it to see what happens. Nonetheless it is worth reading.

4 Bites

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

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.

My Tutu Went AWOL by Iestyn Edwards

IMG_2482An unusual book by an unusual publisher. I came across the publishers “Unbound.com” about a year ago. Unbound is a crowdfunding book publisher. Potential authors submit an outline of their book which Unbound.com then publicise. If sufficient sponsorship is found then the author writes or finishes writing the book and it is published. Funding a book in this manner means that the publisher knows in advance that the book will be a financial success. Sponsors receive a copy of the book and all books include a tribute list showing the names of the sponsors.
“My Tutu went AWOL” was my first sponsorship with unbound. The book appealed to me as it concerned the adventures and misadventures of a cross dressing ballerina entertaining the troops in far flung and downright dangerous places, namely Iraq and Afganistan. The unlikely hero Iestyn Edwards a classically trained singer and pianist who lives in Aldeburgh. Asked to perform on board HMS Victory, for the 200th anniversary of the battle of Trafalgar. Iestyn met The First Sea Lord, who suggested that Iestyn should audition for CSE. (Combined Services Entertainment). A wonderful organisation who are responsible for entertaining our troops overseas.
Thinking that his role would be, recitals of light classics for officers mess nights at The Hilton Park Lane. Iestyn went along to the audition, only to find that he had signed up to a tour in Iraq, as his alter ego, Madame Galina the ballerina.
Iestyns writing is is camp and chatty like listening to an old friend reminiscing with an after dinner glass or two of port. I do hope they bring out an Audio version of this, narrated by Alan Carr, it would make a brilliant listen.
What I loved about the book was the way the rough, tough, battle hardened marines. Took Madame Galina under their wing. Some of them, particularly his body guard “Stacks” becoming life-long friends. The book didn’t give a description of Madame Galina’s performance which meant the reader had to stretch their imagination. I overcame this by posting “Madame Galina” into youtube and watching her act, then imagining it transported to a bomb shelter in Basra.

The book contains a lot of military slang and technical jargon. Which may be difficult for civilian readers. There is very little mention of Iestyns fellow entertainers, among them Rhod Gilbert, who might have added some of their own memories. All in all a great light hearted read.
Its four 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.

The Raqqa Diaries Escape From Islamic State by Samer

cover105964-mediumMichael Palin called this book ‘A clarion call to all of us that we should not give up. Somewhere there is a voice in the wreckage.’ 

For anybody interested in the reality of life in Syria over the last few years The Raqqa Diaries is a must read. The fact that the information is even available is miraculous as since Raqqa has bean under the control of the so called Islamic State it has become one of the most isolated and fear ridden cities on earth. Internet use is monitored and blocked and no-one is allowed to speak to western journalists or leave Raqqa, without permission. If the diarist had been caught he would have been executed. Probably in front of his mother.

The diarist Samer (not his real name) risked his life to tell the world what is happening in his city. He was part of a small anti-IS activist group, the diaries were written, encrypted and sent to a third country before being translated.

He sees so much. His father is killed and mother badly injured during an air strike, he sees beheadings, his fiancé is sold off to be married to an IS commander, he sees a woman stoned to death, he himself is arrested at one time and. is sentenced to 40 lashes for speaking out against a beheading. Suddenly wearing your trousers too long if you’re a man or not covering every inch of skin if you’re a woman is dangerous.

They show how every aspect of life is impacted – from the spiralling costs of food to dictating the acceptable length of trousers.

This book is quick to read, getting the information out was difficult so there isn’t too much of it. But though it can be read quickly it won’t be forgotten in a hurry.

It’s numbing. There is so much horror in such a short book. And knowing it’s true makes it so much worse.

Syria is a complicated place at the moment, and this doesn’t give an in depth analysis of the situation. But it does show you what life is like there for people like you and me.

5 Bites

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

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.

Need Help Finding Ms Write?

IMG_2486One of the things that bugs me most as a reader and a feminist is how much harder it is for female writers to get published, win awards and sell books than it is for male authors.

Strong claims I know, but this article isn’t about proving them but doing something about it! (I’ll pop a few links at the end for those of you that want to know more about that) So today I’m creating a little guide to introduce you all to which women to read based on the kind of male writers you already like reading – in short, I’m going to help you find your Ms Write!

Stephen King

He is one of the most widely read writers on the planet and you know who he reads? Female writers. Ok he reads a tonne of both male and female writers and he recommends the good ones all the time on his twitter feed. One of his most recent recommends is Sarah Pinborough’s Behind Her Eyes. She’s also the author of last year’s 13 minutes reviewed here by yours truly.  Definitely worth checking out if you like creepy suspense stories

Neil Gaiman 

You know we love Neil Gaiman so of course we’re not suggesting you stop reading him but in between his books why not treat yourself to The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern or Tatterdemalion by Sylvia V Linsteadt? Both will satisfy your need for the magical and mysterious!

George Orwell

Rightfully reknowned as the master of dystopian fiction but that’s not to say there’s no room for a mistress of it and Margaret Atwood is undisputedly she. The Handmaid’s tale is a book everyone should read (particularly in the current political claimate when it seem rather prescient) but it’s also worth checking out her other works. Kelly reviewed The Heart Goes Last recently and thought it was her best work yet – read more here. Another interesting author you may also like to check out is Johanna Sinisalo, I loved her book The Core of The Sun.

Colson Whitehead

Winner of this year’s Pulitzer Prize, Colson Whitehead wrote an interesting re-imagining of an escaping slave narrative. He is an excellent writer but personally I’d recommend Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing over The Underground Railroad any day of the week. I was lucky enough to review both of them so click the highlighted words to see more. Other contenders include Alice Walker and Toni Morrison of course.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

This much loved author created some of the most sumptuous historical fiction suffused with magical realism. The obvious choice for a female counterpart is Isabel Allende though Laura Esquival’s Like Water For Chocolate also deserves a mention. But if you’re not fussed about the South American connection you might also want to try Natasha Pulley’s The Watchmaker of Filigree Street

JRR Tolkien

J K Rowling – enough said!

Bernard Cornwall / Robert Harris / Ken Follet

If richly detailed, political and sometimes brutal historical fiction is your thing then fear not – Hilary Mantel has one an army of fans for just such writing! And she’s not alone, other terrific female authors to check out are Tracy Chevalier, Barbara Kingsolver Geraldine Brooks and Sarah Waters.

Alexander McCall Smith

We all need a Cosy from time to time and McCall Smith has made a fortune by writing great Cosy books that men are happy to read because they are written by a man! But Gent’s there are plenty of other authors you will love. There’s no shame being seen reading an Agatha Christie but if you fancy something newer and maybe something also set in Africa check out Welcome to Lagos by Chibundo Onuzu.

Lee Childs / Ian Rankin / James Patterson etc etc etc!

Gritty thrillers may seem to be the traditional domain of the male writer but oh my – there are so many females with them in their sites that they may have to take a bunch of contracts on them all! Whether you like forensic crime, police drama’s or serial killers there’s a woman out there writing it and writing it well! Ruth Rendell, Patricia Cornwall and Karin Slaughter may be the best known but we also recommend Ruth Dugdall, Anya Lipska and Hannah Tinti.

Phew! Ok so I haven’t covered quite every Genre yet but I’m hoping that will keep you going a while! If you have any suggestions to add I’d love to hear them so please pop a comment below!

Oh – and here are those further reading links!

Writing under a male name makes you eight times more likely to get published one female author finds

Make vs female writers – an infographic 

Books about women don’t win big awards: some data

 

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 Witchfinder’s Sister by Beth Underdown

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

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

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

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

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

3 bites

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

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

img_2364Samuel Hawley did not have the best start in life and by the time he’s a teenager he is involved in petty crime to keep body and soul together. Then he moves onto bigger jobs with higher stakes but much bigger pay-offs. But when he meets Lily he knows everything has to change.

Years later he moves back to Lily’s hometown with their teenage daughter Loo. It’s time to stop running, he becomes a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school. Meeting her grandmother makes her curious about her mother’s mysterious death and the twelve bullet scars Hawley carries on his body.

Soon Hawley’s past and Loo’s investigations collide. Can they survive?

Okay, first things first, on the official blurb for this book it says that it’s perfect for fans of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It’s really not. Not that fans of that book can’t like this one (I enjoyed both) but they are nothing whatsoever alike so liking one will not predispose you to like the other.

This is an interesting work, it’s a combination of a literary thriller and a coming of age novel. There’s plenty of action and more than 12 bullets but it also explores what makes a family, living with grief, the value of a human life, first love, community tensions, ecological issues and the sacrifices and manipulations we commit to protect the people we love most. Most of all it’s a story about a father-daughter relationship and how when we do something for love rather than for money we become heroes.

Quite a lot packed into a regular sized novel! And overall it works, most of the characters are convincing and easy to feel at least a little sympathy for. The settings are easy to visualise and the language paints windows for the reader to see into their lives. The story is well constructed, in fact this is where Tinti’s talent excels. She uses the scars on Hawleys body to draw us back into different parts of his past, to show us what made him the man he is and even though I didn’t feel like I had any idea what the point of it was for the first half of it I was happy to trust the author that it wasn’t just going to be ‘killing time’ book. As you can see from the paragraph above I wasn’t disappointed!

My only criticism of it was that there were a few moments when it dragged a bit. But literally only 2 or 3 and it soon picked up again each time. Reading this is like eating steak, there’s a little gristle but there’s also sweetness and nourishment if you persevere. If you like gritty American dramas or books with complicated characters this book is for you.

Four 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.

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

img_2363

Effie Truelove is skipping school – she’s only just started at the Tusitala School for the Gifted, Troubled and Strange so now isn’t the best time for it, but her beloved Grandfather is in hospital after a brutal attack. Besides, with its twisted grey spires and an English teacher so frightening she gives the class nightmares it’s not the most welcoming of places.

Then her Grandfather dies, he’s the last link to her mother, the only person to have vanished during the WorldQuake. Effie has promised to look after his magical books no matter that her father doesn’t want her too. He’s organised for a book-collector to buy them but what harm could come to the world if they fall into the wrong hands. its time for Effie to trust her magic. She must travel to the mysterious Otherworld, unlock the hidden meaning of an old book called Dragon’s Green, and brave the terrifying Diberi, a secret organisation with plans that could destroy the entire universe.

I made a strange squealing noise when I first laid eyes on this! As you may know I’m a bit of a fan of Scarlett Thomas’s work and to see she’d thrown caution to the wind and written a children’s fantasy novel was the best present I could have received! And to get a free copy to review just before Christmas was the icing on the cake. In fact I got it at the end of November and saved it for my Christmas reading as a treat to myself – so no pressure on this to live up to big expectations then!!

Thankfully, after building it up so much, I loved it! This is perfect for fans of Harry Potter and Inkheart.

This book, like all I’ve read from her, is full of atmosphere, her world-building is exquisite. Although she is used to writing for adults she’s got the balance here spot on – she’s not patronising younger readers or trying to make it obviously easier for them, there’s still darkness in the shadows, but somehow both the darkness and the light are more ethereal, more dreamlike.

The characters are great too, they’re flawed and believable but brave and wanting to be better all the way through, it’s impossible not to root for them. The story itself is great, I mean every time I think that every kids fantasy plot line must have been done by now something like this comes along. I won’t tell you anything too much about it but it might have some ‘BookEaters’ in there … !

This is the start of a series and I am itching for the next book!

5 Bites

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

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 Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

cover103567-mediumThis has to be one of the most charming books I’ve read in the last year! It is a love story, but it is one with a difference. It starts in the early 1900’s when so many unwanted babies are abondoned at the doors of orphanges. Marie and Joseph are two such babies.

The orphange is a harsh place, full of cold, hunger, hard work and beatings. Yet Marie and Joseph, now known as Rose and Perriot, grow in their innocence and bring joy to the orphanage with music and dance. There is something about both of them, an unexpected grace in a world full of ugliness that captures the hearts of everyone who sees them.

Their blossoming love is torn in half when Perriot is sent away to become a gentlemans companion and Rose is sent away to be a governess.

We follow their lives through the roaring twenties, Rose ends up as a gangsters moll, hiring chorus girls and circus acts whilst Perriot floats into drug addiction supported by his prostitute girlfriend. When they meet again their love has not withered and neither has their dream of creating their own unique circus.

But as I mentioned earlier this isn’t your average love story. And although it is wondrously charming it isn’t just light, fluffy, feel good fodder although it would be easy to underestimate it as such. So let me just tell you this book made the long list for the Bailey’s prize!

C7XvOISXQAEY49X.jpg-largeInstead this is a real oyster of a book, taking all the grit of the world and layering wit and wisdom down over and over again until it’s created a pearl to rival La Peregrina.

I quickly realised that this book is sharply feminist, the quote just here stopped me in my tracks and as you can see inspired me to make a meme of it, something I’m not frequently inspired quite enough to do (this book actually inspired me to make 3!)

But it isn’t just feminist, it also faces down poverty, inequality and child abuse too. Not bad for a book about a couple of orphans who fall in love and want to start their own circus! There is also a section of the book which has a parade of clown acts, each one a penumbral view of human truth that we so often close our eyes to.

O’Neill is a queen of imagery, I’ll never be able to looked at red carnations the same way after this sentence …

C7rOvlhWkAAakq4

There are many others just as strong too, and I have to admit that her descriptive powers, combined of course with the storyline, put me in mind of Erin Morgenstern’s The Night Circus. So if you liked that, I reckon you’ll like this too.

I have to give this feast of a book 5 Bites, don’t miss this one!

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 Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Outliers by Kimberly McCreight

imageWylie isn’t doing too well since her mum died, to be honest she wasn’t doing brilliantly before either. She’s always been a loner but her only friend Cassie had started hanging out with the popular crowd and even started dating a jock. The fact that Cassie had started drinking heavily too had added a real strain to their friendship.

But now Cassie is missing, and she’s just sent Wylie a text asking her to come and rescue her. Wylie hasn’t left her house in a month, can she overcome her fears to help her friend? And just who is Cassie with and what do they want with her?

This is a great, pacy thriller. Aimed squarely at the young adult market but absolutely readable for adult readers too. The story is complex but McCreight’s writing is very easy to follow so you may be perplexed by the plot but you won’t be flummoxed by words on the page, just what you need in a thriller. I won’t tell you any more details of the plot but the premise is unusual and some of the red herrings laid along the way create unique plot points … my mind was whirring!

It’s written in the first person and although Wylie has her issues, she’s still someone you want to spend time with. She may be anxious and at times angry, but she doesn’t slip over into sulky and whiny. The other characters, as seen through her eyes, are interesting and realistic too.

I read this in about a day, picking it up to find out what was happening at every available opportunity. It’s the first of a trilogy and I’ll be looking out for the next book – as this has been out a little while and is just being released in paperback I’m hoping I don’t have to wait too long!

4 Bites

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

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 Dark Circle by Linda Grant

dark-circleLenny and Miriam are British Jewish twins that grew up in the shadow of The Second World War. But now they’re at the end of their teens and a new decade is beginning. These East End kids have the world in front of them, even if they might need to live on the edge of the law to make a good life for themselve. But then Lenny goes to sign up and it’s discovered that he has tuberculosis. Miriam is examined and she has it too. The pair are sent away to a glamorous sanatorium in Kent at the expense of the brand new NHS.

Life inside the sanatorium is both fascinating and enervating as they make new friends and discover their pasts and personalities while simultaneously succumbing to the ‘cure’ and losing their own. But when Miriam seems in danger of dying a chain of events no one could have foreseen is set in motion.

Linda Grant’s characters are terrific. They’re not perfect but they are full of life. By the end of the first page I knew I wanted to follow them on their journey no matter where it lead. And for the majority of the book I was glad I had. It opened my eyes to the scourge that Tubercolosis was as recently as the 1950’s. It also showed be the birth of the NHS and reminded me just how amazing this national institution of ours is. Instead of dying slow and expensive deaths, Lenny and Miriam were given the chance at happy and successful lives.

The supporting characters were also diverse and well written, giving a microcosmical glimpse of the new worlds of televison, the politics of the day and the attitudes to sex and sexuality.

My only criticism of the book was the end. I know many people want to know what happened to the characters after a book ends but this book follows both of them right to the end of their lives. It really wasn’t necessary nor did it feel that the author had a message to deliver to us readers by sharing the rest of their lives. It’s not awful, just not necessary and takes some of the power out of the story.

4 Bites

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

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.

Chalk by Paul Cornell

It’s 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can’t be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before.

Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible.

This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it’s ground as a read for adults too.

It is brutal. I won’t tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There’s also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he’s not even on her list of people she’d send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school.

I think one of the things that’s so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity.

The story is great, it’s well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author’s mental health!

The characters aren’t the most richly developed or nuanced that I’ve ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day!

4 Bites

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

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.

Chasing the North Star by Robert Morgan

imageJonah Williams was born a slave. On his eighteenth birthday he gathers together a few stolen coins and a knife and flees the South Carolina plantation on which he was born.

With just the clothes on his back, not even a pair of shoes, he starts to run. He doesn’t even have a clear idea of where to head, he just knows to go north so he follows the North Star. During the day and running through the night. Somehow he eludes the men sent to capture him, but when he meets Angel in North Carolina she decides that he is her ticket to freedom and follows him without his permission.

This is one of the books I planned to review for Black History Month last October. But when I looked up the author I found he was white and decided to leave the review till later instead. There is a debate around appropriation and as part of thought process around making such a feature of Black History Month was to put deserving black authors into the spotlight it didn’t seem right to promote this book then.

But this is one of those books that has me in a quandry about the appropriation argument. On the one hand I agree that there is very real discrimination in the publishing industry and this needs to be addressed. However, slave stories are not the only stories black people have to tell and I’m equally  disheartened by the lack of chick-lit,business books, crime and sci-fi written by and featuring black people as I am worried about their stories being stolen to make profit for white writers. (To be truthful few writers make a good living off their writing so that point is moot in many cases.

There is also the fact that this story was in my opinion more respectful of those that escaped slavery than Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad which re-imagined the ‘underground railroad’ that helped many slaves escape, as an actual real train running underground. It was a well written and widely lauded book but for me the concept was deeply flawed, particularly as so many Americans are so gullible they’ll happily elect Trump.

I have to admit though that although the writing in this book is perfectly serviceable, it isn’t as good as Whitehead’s. The charachter development, scene setting and story are all better though so overall I would recommend this above Whitehead’s book for those interested in the lives of those slaves who ran to freedom and the trials they endured. For that aspect alone it is also a better read than Roots by Alex Haley, though I’d also recommend Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi as another great read alongside this one.

4 Bites

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

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.

Company of Liars by Karen Maitland

image“There was a new King, and his name was Pestilence. And he had created a new law – Thou shalt do anything to survive”

It’s 1348 and plague has reached the shores of England. Camelot, a scarred peddler of holy relics, usually travels alone. But when he meets Rodrigo and Joffrey, two musicians new to the road after the death of their master, he takes pity on them and agrees they can accompany him to the next town. There they meet a young painter Osmand and his pregnant wife Adela and Camelot bumps into the obnoxious Zophiel, a magician he’s met before who sells glimpses of an embalmed mer-baby. A storm forces them all to travel together and soon they are joined by Cygnus, who has a swan’s wing where one arm should be; Narigorm, a sinister rune-reading albino child with second sight, Pleasance a lonely midwife and a horse called Xanthus.

As they try to outrun the plague, they become aware that they all have secrets they want to keep concealed. But soon they realise that something else is chasing them too, something that won’t just kill them but could expose them too.

I listened to this as an audiobook and before I talk about anything else I have to sing the praises of the narrator. It’s read by a chap called David Thorpe who has narrated over 200 audiobooks and he is brilliant! Every character had a different voice and every single voice sounded like his natural voice. He had to deal with a range of accents and attitudes from a solicitous Italian to supercilious English. Since listening to this I’ve added a whole load of books narrated by this guy to my wish list.

Apart from that I really enjoyed this book, all manner of human fear and desires were explored, the characterisations were excellent and the story had plenty of tension.  It might not be ‘literary’ but it is bloody good! I know I’ll listen to it again, and since listening to this I’ve become a confirmed fan of Karen Maitland’s work, I leapt at the chance to read an advance copy of her new novel The Plague Charmer a little while ago, I also got a bargain copy of The Raven’s Head and I think I might have got BookEater Kelly hooked to if her review of The Gallow’s Curse is anything to go by!

But if I’m honest I’ll probably listen to them all as well – particularly if they’re voiced by David Thorpe!

4 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 Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories by Many Wonderful Writers!

TheDjinnFallsInLove
Click here to order from Waterstones

We all know of the Djinn, immortal beings can grant wishes but epitomise the moral of being careful what you wish for as your wish may have unforeseen consequences. This collection of tales bring us stories of Djinn in many parts of the world in the past, the present and the future. They are everywhere. Outside your back garden, on street corners, in the mosque, behind the wheel of a taxi, on mars, surrounding you on stage. Sometimes the divide between them and us is paper thin, their humanity more painful than our own, sometimes their omnipotence allows us to believe they are miles from us instead.

There are stories here from bestselling, award-winning and breakthrough international writers. Honestly when it comes to the quality of the writing you’ll be hard-pressed to know which is a breakthrough author and which has won awards. The standard is consistently high. The cultural diversity of the authors should be praised to with writers from a large variety of backgrounds, reading this is likely to lead you to discovering at least a couple of new favourite authors.

That being said there were of course stories I preferred. And part of the joy of a short story collection is that you can flick over stories that aren’t right for you at the moment without any guilt! You can’t really skip chapters in novels in the same way.

For me the ones that didn’t appeal were the futuristic ones. I think that’s a failing on my part though, or on my mood or expectations. When it comes to Djinn I want to read about magic, glamour not a grey cargo hold. I may revisit those stories in the future though when I’m feeling more open minded! If you’ve read them and think I’m an idiot for skipping them don’t hesitate to tell me!

My favourite stories were Kamila Shamsie’s “The Congregation”, the first story in the collection and a heart-achingly beautiful tale of a young boy finding his brother. Neil Gaiman’s “Somewhere in America”, a stand-alone extract from American Gods. Claire North’s contribution is the most reminiscent of 1001 nights so of course I loved it. But I was stopped in my tracks by Amal El-Mohtar’s prose-poem “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” which reminded me immensely of The Book of The Dead – one of my favourite books ever. Kirsty Logan’s “The Spite House” is really clever yet pulses with heart and anxiety. And Sophia Al-Maria’s “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” is a vibrant, authentic and eventually scary look at a man’s fear of female sexuality.

Pick it up, rub it, and make a wish.

4 Bites

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

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 Other Einstein by Marie Benedict

imageAlbert wasn’t only Einstein that was quite bright. His first wife, Mileva “Mitza” Marić, was a brilliant physicist and a strong mathematician and her contributions to the special theory of relativity have been hotly debated for more than a century.

This book takes what is known about  her as it’s jumping off point. That she was considered unmarriageable because of her limp, that her father encouraged her to study, that in 1896, the extraordinarily gifted Mileva was the only woman studying physics at an elite school in Zürich. That she met and fell in love with  charismatic fellow student Albert Einstein there, that he promised her a bohemian lifestyle with them as equals in love and science. How Albert’s star quickly eclipsed her own regardless of this promise.

It is a fictionalised account, but a well-imagined one particularly when it comes to describing the time and places they lived. I have to be honest, I wasn’t quite so keen on the characterisations, somehow I didn’t feel they were authentic, particularly Mileva’s. Her desperation for love is understandable and I know it makes lunatics out of us all. I went through an emotionally abusive marriage so I even understand how if the most confident of women in an age when sexual equality is at least in site can be flummoxed then it was even more likely before women even had the vote. But she becomes so nuts over Albert so quickly – and it really is all the book is about for far too long. I found myself missing the character I’d first been introduced to.

As their marriage and working partnership decays the Albert Einstein we meet is very different from the man I’d always imagined him to be too. And because this is a fictional account I had problems with this, partly because I didn’t know what was true and what was not. But after I did some of my own research into it I felt even more uncomfortable. The premise and Albert’s character within this book is entirely possible, but there isn’t an awful lot in the way of evidence, by the end it felt like a character assassination. As a feminist I felt doubly uncomfortable- I want to support Mileva but these aren’t her words and may not be her truth. If they’d even been a thorough afterword clarifying what was evidenced, what was extrapolated and what was imagined I would have closed the book with the sense of having learned something, as it was I felt I’d been hoodwinked into jury service.

3 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.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

cover75683-mediumTracy Chevalier is well known for her historical novels, Girl with a Pearl Earring was a best seller and made into an incredibly well known movie too. So you might be expecting something similar, after all many authors churn out novel after novel that are reflections of their best known work.

Not this novelist. This is still historical fiction but set as far from the civilisation of the renaissance as you can imagine. It is more recent times, the mid eighteenth century, but Chevalier is exploring the lives of Americans struggling to eke their existence from the land.

Tom and Sadie Goodenough have moved to tthe Black Swamp with their children and if they can manage to get 50 trees to bear fruit the land is theirs permanently. But they’ve only got three years left to do it and last year they lost nine trees and two of their children to swamp fever. Sadie is a vivacious flirt turned bitter and drunk, Tom a quiet, determined man who loves his apples more than his children. Their fights are getting meaner until one day something happens to rent the family apart.

The first part of the story is told first from the perspectives of Sadie and Tom. Then in letters from their son Robert, trying to make his fortune panning for gold, before we hear from his perspective directly as he settles into a new role as a tree collector. The settings, though of deep poverty, are richly described and enveloping as the novel examines what family means, the ties that bind and those that don’t.

It is compelling, the characters surprise you with their depths and determination and it is also a fascinating portrait of 18c America, from the backwaters to the prairies to cities like San Fransico. Amongst the characters are the forebears of the modern day redneck and businessman alike, I felt I had a little better understanding of why America voted Trump in, but also that if most of them had read this book they would have known that the nostalgia trip was not all it’s cracked up to be.

If you enjoyed Barkskins by Annie Proulx or A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale you’ll love this.

5 Bites

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

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.

In The Name of The Family by Sarah Dunant

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

International Women’s Day

Today is International Women’s Day. A day in which we celebrate the impact women make in the world; honour the amazing women who create, inspire and fight for the rights of all of us; women past and present. We at the BookEaters have taken the opportunity to reflect on what IWD means to us, the books and authors who have influenced us over the years, and raise awareness of those that still have a bit of work to do!

Tam:

iwdIWD is a day not just for looking back on past struggles and accomplishments, but, for looking ahead to the untapped potential and opportunities that await future generations of women. This year’s theme is “Be Bold For Change”

Women fight for women’s rights and we need to encourage our daughters to think big, to see way outside of the confines of stereotypes and social media. Our daughters shouldn’t be dreaming about change rather they should be aspiring to achieve the change. How girls see themselves and their role in the world is inculcated in them from the moment the people around them make decisions that define them – from being dressed in pink and given dolls through to FGM and forced marriage. From infanthood our girls need female role models who will help them to feel more confident and to set bigger goals, to replace dreams with aspirations.

51HWn+LRX1L._SX356_BO1,204,203,200_I have just ordered a copy of Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. This children’s book has 100 bedtime stories about the real lives of 100 extraordinary women and is illustrated by female artists from all over the world. Some of the stories even begin with the traditional “Once upon a time” approach but these real life Cinderellas don’t get rescued from poverty and slave labour to marry rich handsome men instead they grow up and really do become astronauts, ground breaking scientists, mathematicians, amazing artists, womens rights activists, authors, queens, politicians and so on. Don’t dream it – be it! – that’s what we need to teach our girls.

 

Gem: I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

51LhIJz4gtL._SS500_Before I read this book I was a feminist in theory. Reading it when I was 17 changed my whole understanding of feminism and politics. For the first time I truly realised the the personal IS the political and how culture impacts on human beings. I’m proud to call myself an intersectional feminist, I know that although all women our opressed (yes, still) our levels of opression and the forms they take are different. I couldn’t stop and had to read the rest of her books, Maya Angelou took me from childhood to womanhood in my year of reading her and I will be forever grateful.

Kelly:

51VHe12RxJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Thanks to the Virago Books twitter page, I have been thinking a little more about the books that made me a feminist over the last few days. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood is the one that springs immediately to mind: A story of a dystopian future in which many women are sterile, and younger women are used as a vessel for childbirth. It’s a chilling representation of the eroding of women’s rights, made all the more disturbing by the fact that the protagonist recalls memories from her life before. I re-read it recently for a feminist book group and found that not only does it stand the test of time, but its message is becoming ever more pertinent. No surprise then that in this new “post-truth” world, this book has been flying off the shelves. It shows how we still have a long way to go to achieve equality, and how precarious are the advances we have made so far.

Rachel:

50ShadesofGreyCoverArtI know that the others have all talked about inspirational women who have done great things but I could not concentrate on that. Last night I watched as much of 50 Shades of Grey as I could before my head exploded with rage.
Why on earth would you do that??? I hear you cry. Well, I wanted to see how they would handle/disguise the abusive elements of the relationship between Ana and Christian.
I was badly disappointed. They took almost every incident of abusive behaviour and lauded it as a sign of romance.
Therefore, I’m afraid that rather than celebrate the many many women who fight for the rights of women everywhere, I am compelled to add my voice to the hundreds and thousands that warn people off EL James.

EL James has not created a romantic fairy tale of true love conquering all. She has not created an epic love story depicting a loving relationship and a journey towards happiness. She has not even created a well-written story- her writing is shockingly awful.
She has created a story of oppression, a story of abuse, a story that not only blurs the lines of consent but also erases them entirely.. He frequently assumes that her silence is consent despite her verbal comments suggesting otherwise, particularly when it comes to the sexual elements of the story. At one point in the story, Christian sells Ana’s car without her knowledge or consent

Christian Grey is not a flawed romantic hero. He is an abusive controlling menace.

Ana Steele is not a strong confident woman who is seeking her fairy tale. She is oppressed, mislead and abused.

THIS IS NOT THE STORY WE* SHOULD BE CELEBRATING. THE STORIES ABOVE ARE THOSE WORTHY OF OUR TIME AND ATTENTION.

*The world at large/Hollywood etc. Obviously we BookEaters in no way celebrate E L James.

 

 

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.

Mr Eternity by Aaron Thier

img_2360Two young documentary makers have heard there is an old sailor in Key West who says he is 560 years old. They go to meet him with minds prised open against the cynicism 2016 is steeped in. If they do make a documentary about him, it won’t be mocking – it will be hopeful.

The old sailor, who tells people his name is Daniel Defoe, seems to be in the prime of his life. But if so it’s been a very long prime. Because then we’re introduced to him as the antagonist in a vengeful woman’s tale. He is in South America in 1560 when the Spaniards have destroyed the Aztec and Inca civilizations. Then we meet him again in 1795, a friend of John Green, a man passing for white in the plantations of Bermuda.

But the story of Daniel Defoe doesn’t end there. We meet him again in 2500 in the future Democratic Federation of Mississippi States. A time when the cities of the Atlantic coast are underwater, the union has fallen apart, and cars, plastics, and air conditioning are relegated to history. Then he is an advisor to the King of St. Louis.

Although many things change through the centuries, other things remain constant, and it seems like being on the edge of ruin is one.

This review is probably one of the hardest I’ve written. Not because the book is awful or impossible to figure out when you’re reading it (though I was a little confused at first! Just because it’s somehow really hard to explain. It is a great concept and it’s well executed but I wasn’t quite sure what the message was – was it that the world is always on the edge of extinction so there’s no point worrying about climate change etc. Or was it exactly the opposite? That it really is about tme we stepped back from the edge?

Part of it’s charm is that although Daniel Defoe is always an important character, he’s not the main character in any of the stories. But this is also part of the books failing, we never really know what Daniel thinks.

It is worth reading – but you’ll have to keep your mind open and make it up for yourself!

3.5 Bites

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

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.

A Girl Called Owl by A.J. Wilson

A Girl Called OwlOwl has enough problems, obviously really as her name implies at least one parent with a slightly unusual view on life. In fact her mum is the only parent she has, she’s never met her dad and frankly she’s fed up with her mum refusing to say who he is. It was all right her telling her fairy tales about Jack Frost being her dad but she’s too old for that now.

And now her best friend is going through some family upset and needs her more than ever, and a new boy at school is giving her weird looks. But all that is pushed aside when Owl starts seeing strange frost patterns on her skin, could her mum actually have been telling her the truth about her dad? And what will happen when she enters the magical world of winter for the first time?

This is classic children’s literature – particularly good for those aged 9-13 but as an adult I still enjoyed this. It updates a classic myth but unlike so many ‘disney-esque’ updates that will strip out some of the darkness this one puts it back in. it gives us a story which has real characters with modern-day problems that collide with ancient myths.

The descriptions of the worlds around the characters are breathtaking – this would be a beautiful movie to watch! Although I have to admit I’d be a little afraid to in case it didn’t live up to my imagination!

4 Bites

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

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 Existence Of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

img_2362Sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is the daughter of Baptist missionaries growing up in Columbia in 1976. Although mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in the outside world, nothing can protect her from the turbulent times ahead within her own family.

Josie finds herself drawn to the Catholicism of her adopted country, she starts to confide her secrets in their maid instead of in her parents. Just normal secrets, like her new boyfriend but she is to discover that her parents’ have secrets of their own, ones that have the power to destroy their life.

This is one of those deceptive books. It poses a whole bunch of serious moral questions but does so in a voice so young and fresh that a sweet summer breeze seems to be floating around them, whispering to you to relax and take it easy, making it a deceptively easy read.

Not to say there is no action, or conflict, far from it. Josie is battling her entire family in different ways, and she is battling the unnoticed arrogance of the missinary culture. Add to that the danger her brother is determined to court, bringing the violence of Columbia’s mafia to their very door. It is quite startling how the author manges to keep the summery atmosphere going throughout, all to often writers would be tempted to use dark, depressing similes for such events that would have shredded the important physical context of the story.

This book would be a good read for Young Adults and Adults alike. For me with my interest in religions and their affects on the world I found it had a lot to say but yet it never preached. It does have an autobiographical ring to it and I would be interested to see how the author will write other books, this is a strong debut and could be the start of solid career, but I’m a little worried it may be the one book she has in her. I hope not.

4 Bites

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

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.

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

img_2365Andy is just at that stage of teenage hood when you drift away from your parents when the carnival comes to his small Irish town.

Though Andy has never been quite like other boys, and he ends up visiting the carnival with his parents. But then he slips into the Hall of Mirrors without them. He is fascinated by the many selves staring back at him. Sometime later, one of those selves walks out rejoins his parents, he knows they will be leaving without him. Leaving him trapped inside the glass.

Mona, an aerial artist who seems unbound by the laws of gravity, snatches him out of the mirror and introduces him to timeless world of the carnival.

And now the two boys are in the world meaning an ancient power has been released…

This book is so far up my cul-de-sac it’s ridiculous… if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I’m powerfully attracted to books with carnivals or circuses in! I blame it on being part of that Cirque Du Soliel generation!

But did it deliver? Well. in most categories that is a resounding yes. But in one it’s a tragic no.

The concept and the story itself are both excellent. How the hall of mirrors came to have its power is brilliant and beautifully executed. The characters are honest and the portrayal of the feelings they all had around the normal separation of child and parent was stunningly good. It added a strong element of literary fiction that elevated the entire book.

The language in the book is beautiful, I learnt words I don’t recall hearing before but in such a way as they added to the narrative instead of interrupting it. And a few of my favourite little-used words were in there too.

So what was wrong with it?

Just one thing, I was three quarters of the way through it and I felt like I was still in the first quarter. That’s not a bad thing but it was a worry, I suddenly thought to myself ‘how on earth is this going to get to wherever it’s going with so few pages left?’ Well it got there by slipping too far into telling not showing. The climax of the story was definitely an anti-climax given that the loser of a fight to the death was announced at the start of the fight.

I’m not sure if the author lost confidence or his editors/publishers urged him to cut it short but I’d just like to say Neil Jordan, if you read this please know that you had me in the palm of your hands, you could have spun it out further, I would have happily gone along on that ride!

Still worth 4 Bites … but I know this author is capable of more!

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.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

cover103046-mediumWhen Evie Snow finally passes away, surrounded by her loving family, it seems like her life of sacrifice has paid off and her own private heaven awaits. But when she gets there she finds the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

If you imagine ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ but re-vamped by Jojo Moyes or Cecilia Ahern then this book is pretty much what you’d get. Pretty much, but not quite. Because Carrie Hope Fletcher has a somewhat more inventive mind so really you’d need to twist in a bit of Lewis Carroll or Erin Morgenstern too.

Now romances aren’t generally my thing, but I tore through this. It was easy to read with characters that were likeable but certainly weren’t too perfect. In fact Evie’s actions annoyed me a bit and I found myself asking why she would give in to her family’s wishes so easily. But then I realised that she had been conditioned to since birth and that sometimes, no matter how much drive a person has, it is impossible to break those chains.

The author is young and this is her debut novel, she has a huge fan base already though as she is a YouTuber, actor, singer and has been starring as Eponine in Les Miserables. She is known to an entire generation as a ‘big sister’ figure and she shares her love of reading with them. This popularity definitely helped make this a best-seller when it came out in hardback last year. It’s about to be released in paperback and I hope it reaches new audiences.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work and I hope she continues to be brave and imaginative. Her writing is good but I think with time and determination it could be even better, I think she has more stories to share.

4 Bites

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

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.