Find Me by Laura van den Berg

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In a hospital in Kansas there are a select group of patients that all seem to be immune to the epidemic sweeping Amercia. A sickness that begins with silver blisters and memory loss and ends with death has devasted the United States but these patients and their unorthodox Doctor might hold the key to a cure.

One of the patients is Joy. Before she came to the hospital she had a disatisfying job and an addiction to cough syrup. She’d never had much of a life having been in care and foster homes throughout her childhood so she’d figured a few weeks in hospital would be an easy gig. But it isn’t long until their isolation leaves all the patients longing for the outside.

Joy is an interesting protagonist, her flaws and vulnerabilities take centre stage and really are what push her forward in this strange adventure.

This is very much a book of two halves though, I enjoyed the first half set in the hospital, Laura Van Den Berg’s odd, almost dream-like writing style works well set against the institutional structure and feels right expressing Dr Bek’s treatment. But the second half of the book where Joy is trying to travel across the country it seems to lose it’s way a bit. Particularly when she meets another healer with a similar methodology to Dr Bek. It feels a bit repetitious and as the book ended just as she was about to find (or not find) the person she was looking for , it also felt a bit pointless.

I can be a fan of the ambiguous ending when it’s done well, but in this case because there was so much meandering in the second half of the book I really felt it needed a solid ending.

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.

The Lives She Left Behind by James Long

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3 bites

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

The Spy by Paulo Coelho

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Mata Hari arrived in Paris penniless and leaving behind a baby daughter. Before long she was famous for her shocking dance recitals, reputation as a courtesan and her fashions.  But with the war came fear. Approached to become a spy she tries to use her position and fame to become a double agent. Then, in 1917 she is arrested.

From her cell she writes a letter to her daughter, telling her the true story of her life. A life lived as fully and sometimes as foolishly as possible.

Mata Hari has long been a person that others find deeply fascinating, who can resist the mix of sex and spying? Combine that with a well known author like Paulo Coelho and that’s best-seller material right there.

But is it worth the money?

Well, I found this a quick and fairly enjoyable read. Coelho has a knack of simplifying even the most complex topics so that this book could be read by someone who had never heard of Mata Hari and who knew nothing about World War One.

The book paints a vivid and colourful picture, it is full of warmth and all the flaws and follies of humanity.

However when I finished it I felt just a little dissatisfied. Maybe it was a little over simplified, maybe it was just the length, it just felt like a dimension was missing.

Worth it for paperback prices, but I couldn’t in all honesty suggest you pay hardback price for it.

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.

The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell

imageRed-haired, young Dutch clerk Jacob de Zoet journeys to Dejima to make a fortune worthy of the girl he loves. This tiny, man-made island in the bay of Nagasaki, has been the sole gateway between Japan and the West for two hundred years. Now, in the dying days of the 18th-century, the streets of Dejima are thick with scheming traders, spies, interpreters, servants and concubines as the two cultures converge. Jacob is bedazzled – then he meets a beautiful, intelligent girl with a burned face and is intrigued by her to the point of confusion.

David Mitchell doesn’t write short books, an this becomes an epic tale diving deep into the back stories of its large and varied cast. It also examines the socio-economic climate of the island along with superstitions and new inventions.

In some ways this is wonderful, it’s impossible not to get a great sense of the Dejima of the Dutch, so much so that you can easily imagine yourself there.

But this book is too long. You know I usually read a book within 3 -7 days but this one I genuinely thought would take me a thousand Autumns to get through! Because of that it also did get a little dull and confusing in places, it has more than 125 characters! How’s anyone supposed to keep that straight?

I did get to the end though and I did enjoy a lot of it so I’m going to give it 3.5 bites and live with my 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.

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

hooJason finds himself on a bus on the way to The Grand Canyon along with the rest of the ‘troubled’ kids of the Wilderness Camp- including his best friend Leo and his girlfriend Piper. The trouble is he has no recollection of them or of his life. He doesn’t have long to dwell on the matter though as almost immediately they are attacked by a storm spirit. Fending the storm spirit off results in Jason discovering he can fly… well, control the air currents… and gets them rescued by demi-god heroes from Camp Half-Blood. Shortly afterwards the three find themselves on a quest to rescue an imprisoned goddess, save the world and find out who they really are….

The first in a new series by award winning author Rick Riordan, this book is a spin off from the incredibly popular Percy Jackson books. Whilst it is not imperative to had read those before this, it would certainly help.

Riordan continues with his tried and tested formula of mingling the ancient Greek myths with the modern world creating an entertaining, if surreal, hidden world of cyclopes, satyrs, spirits of the air, and gods and goddesses, both minor and major, meddling in the lives of the children of the gods- the Heroes of Olympus.

As a piece of YA literature, The Lost Hero succeeds in its aims. It imparts life lessons and history lessons all wrapped up in a pacy and humorous tale. The jokes may not be flowing all the time but the melding of the old world and the new provides much to smile at. The ages of the demi-god protagonists provide teenaged angst to relate to in a clean and wholesome manner and the lines of good and evil are blurred just enough to make the characters well-rounded and interesting.

Although much older than the target audience, I have nonetheless enjoyed reading this and have actually read two of the four sequels in quick succession. I have enjoyed the pace of the story- it is episodic and yet still feels like the story flows naturally. The characters are distinctive and not too perfect despite the fact they are heroes!
I particularly enjoy the references to the Greek myths and legends and have actually been inspired to look up several of them to see what they originally were.

3 bites and a recommendation to teenagers everywhere to get a copy of these books.

 

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.

Maestra by L S Hilton

maestra_book_coverIt was bound to happen one day, a best seller written to a computer designed recipe. That’s how L.S Hiltons Maestra “The most shocking thriller of the year” comes across.

The recipe:-
Take lots of kinky sex, add copious amounts of designer shopping, half a dozen over ripe billionaire playgrounds, blend with super yachts, power and money. spice with murder and major art fraud, add a pinch of humour. Leave in a warm place to rise. If it doesn’t rise add more sex and a hedge fund or two.

The computer also says that you must grab the reader’s attention by getting in a torrid sex scene within the first fifty pages. The plot of Maestra didn’t allow for this, so instead the publishers put in a prologue which described three characters involved in a bizarre sex act. This prologue was so badly written that it was impossible to understand who was doing what, to whom and why. This seemingly irrelevant prologue turned out to be an extract from a sex scene which appeared later in the book. After reading it for a second time I was still none the wiser.

All novels are published with the intention of making money and it comes as no surprise that someone came up with the idea that “Fifty Shades of Grey”, but this time instead of EL James it should be written by a gifted and intelligent author, This would surely be a best seller. The author L.S Hilton fits the bill, formerly an historical biographer she is both gifted and intelligent, her writing (apart from the sex scenes) is often beautiful and the plot, involving the art world and money laundering, was well researched. Her knowlege of Italian art was impressive. As an artist myself, I was fascinated to learn about Agnolo Bronzino and Artemesia Gentileschi (I had to put the book down to look them up on Wikipedia).

The clever and convoluted plot moved along at a cracking pace. I read it in a day. Maestra has been described as a bonkbuster and as romp. To me it didn’t fit into either category, it was simply too dark, the anti-heroine Judith Rashleigh was too cold, calculating and cynical to earn any affection. Frankly I couldn’t have cared less if she lived or died.

The recipe lacked a few ounces of warmth and humour, they would have made all the difference. As it was I felt that Maestra was half baked.

Three 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.

Cleaning up in the Valkyrie Suite by Julia Ross

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I nearly didn’t read this because of the title, it conjured up a Jackie Collins styled bonk buster in which a Cinderella styled chambermaid shoots from grubby sheets to diamonds. I was therefore unexpectedly pleased to find the main protagonist to be an intelligent fifty plus woman with a wry sense of humour and a real sense of job commitment.

Prudence Baxter spent thirty years of her working life being a Personal Assistant to a CEO until recession wiped out the hundred year old family firm she had dedicated so much time to. Living alone in the glorious whimsical and utterly decrepit Edwardian mansion that she grew up in Pru is desperate for work of any kind to keep the lights on and so, through a series of slight misunderstandings, she becomes a chambermaid in a brand new hotel in the east Midlands. Expected to dress in a pink sweatshirt and matching jogging bottoms emblazoned with the name of the hotel, Pru quickly discovers that modern day housekeeping bears little resemblance to Gosford Park and that far from being staffed by experienced people speaking clearly and demonstrating a proper sense of order the hotel is utterly disorganised and the receptionist can’t speak English. Her interest and curiosity are quickly sparked by peculiarities in the routines and behaviours of her fellow workers and she finds herself on the scent of some very dodgy dealings. A most unexpected meeting with Mark the hotel owner opens her eyes to more than one secret that’s been well hidden and she finds out that there is rather more to one of her old friends than she had realised. With danger lurking around every corner our unusual sleuth sets out to find who is refolding the triangles on the end of the toilet roll in the Valkyrie Suite.

 

Well-polished and neatly executed this was a thoroughly entertaining and humorous read that I really enjoyed. Delightfully up to date in its themes (cross dressing, immigration, unemployment) it totally avoided the excessive cosiness that comes with many novels about middle-aged female detectives. Witty and pithy her female characters are feisty and determined and I heartily recommend it.

A good 3 bites from me for this tasty snack

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 Power by Naomi Alderman

The PowerOne day, Allie discovers she can inflict an electric shock with just her hand. Her adoptive father, who has been sexually abusing her for years, finds himself on the recieivng end.

In the UK, Roxy Monke, daughter of crime lord Bernie Monke, finds she has the same power – but it’s not enough to save her mother from the men sent to kill her.

Soon after hundreds of teen girls find they have the same ability and that they can wake up the latent ability in their mothers and grandmothers. Suddenly – the world has changed and the power to hurt is in women’s hands.

To say my little feminist heart was excited to read this is an understatement! I couldn’t wait to see how this question would be examined and what conclusions this book would come to. But before we ge to that let’s just look at it as a story.

Naomi Alderman is a good writer. There are a couple of clever stylistic twists but mainly she just gets on with the job of telling the story so it flows very quickly and pulls the reader along … even when there are moments that you might not want to read or only to read through your fingers!

The characters are great, I particularly liked Tunde, the young Nigerian lad who falls into becoming THE expert journalist on the subject by chance but takes the opportunity and runs with it. But all the characters are well written and easy to empathise with.

That’s partly why I ended up not really liking this book. It’s powerful, but it’s message seems to suggest that power corrupts everybody. That if women were more physically powerful as men we’d abuse that power just as much.

It’s a theory that does have a certain amount of validity, but nonetheless it’s one that my heart can’t accept. It’s also one that I think is dangerous in the current climate. There are too many ‘mens rights activists’ that already think we’re in a war and that feminists all need a lesson. This could become ammunition for them. After all, most of them aren’t brilliant at distinguishing fiction from reality.

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.

Swing Time by Zadie Smith

swing-timeTwo young girls attend Miss Isobel’s dance class in Kilburn in the 80’s. They are drawn to each other by their physical similarities being the only 2 brown girls in the class.

But the girls have their differences as well as their similarities, Tracey, is a talented dancer, lives with her white mother while fantasisng that her black father is a back-up dancer for Michael Jackson instead of in jail. Our narrator can sing but has flat feet and is overshadowed by her political black mother and ultra-supportive white father.  As their friendship grows it gets more and more complicated before they start to drift apart. Then Tracey does something that our narrator decides is unforgiveable. Their friendship is over, but she can’t ever quite forget Traey, not even when she lands a glamorous job or later when she is helping build a school in West Africa.

I loved the first half of this book. Smith’s portrait of the girl’s lives and friendship is exceptional. The narrator is very perceptive and seeing Tracey, and all the other character’s that populate her life, is a vibrant and vivid  experience.  London in the late 80’s and 90’s was my town and I can confirm that Smith sums up the city I loved so much and the people in it perfectly.

But the narrator has a blind-spot, it’s not an uncommon one, she can’t seem to see herself. She is perpetually shocked every time anyone suggests to her that life isn’t all about her. It’s forgivable when she’s younger but by the time she’s in her 30’s I started to find her exasperating. When I finally found out what Tracey’s ‘crime’ had been I lost all respect for her. I could understand how it might have upset her at the time, but to be holding a grudge for that long wasn’t something I could sympathise with. People do get stuck and fail to grow up, but this didn’t seem to me to be an adequate trauma for that.  Therefore by the end of the book, when the one last chance I gave the character to come to her senses failed to materialise, I finished it feeling short-changed.

I know it’s not the novelists job to give us neat resolutions all the time and this did provoke me so I can’t say it was bad, but there was just that spark of inauthenticity in the second half and for me it burned the book down.

3 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.

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

imageIn Everfair Nisi Shawl has taken the real and horrific events of King Loepold’s colonisation of the Congo and spun them through the prism of ‘what if’.

She came up with an alternate history with overtones of steampunk. In this history the native population gained access to steam technology including Dirigibles by way of the Fabian Society. Their allies have also purchased land from Leopold and set up the state of  Everfair; a safe haven for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated. Together they fight back against Leopold’s disgusting murderous excesses to protect the land of Everfair.

That concept, that cover – I was sold. Then when I found out I’d be able to review this for Black History Month I was over the moon- I couldn’t wait to read it and share a glowing review stressing that black authors could write in any damn genre they wanted and do it well.

They can of course, but sadly this wasn’t the book to prove that. I just couldn’t get into it and I ended up putting it down twice and picking up other books before finally putting it down and giving up on it before I was half way through.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it, if indeed the fault was in the book not in me. I think in the end it came down to two things, the structure of the book wasn’t great – it should maybe have started later in the story and flashbacked more to establish characters motives etc. The other thing was that there were quite a lot of characters and I got confused between them – particularly the white characters so I was then unsure about motives and whether a particular character would do a certain thing only to eventually figure out I wasn’t reading about who I thought I was reading about!

Even though I didn’t finish this I don’t want to rate it too low. I have a feeling that if I pick it up again in another 6 months and have another bash at it I might finally get it and love it.

So for now – 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.

The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead

cover92468-mediumCora is the sum of her mother and grandmother. Her grandmother bought from Africa, stayed put. But her mother ran and Cora never heard of her again. Now she is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia and as she’s reaching womanhood her already wretched existence is about to get a whole lot worse. When newly arrived Caesar, a slave from Virginia, tells her about the Underground Railroad and asks her to run with him the spirit of her mother comes out and she says yes.

To begin with I liked this book, the slave row that Cora lives in is very different from others I’ve read, distrust and betrayal run rife through it and though that’s uncomfortable in all honestly when people have been abused to that extent they’re not all noble and don’t all stick together.

But then this book took a sudden jolt off the rails. You see the author decided to imagine the Underground Railroad that so many slaves used to escape, as a real Underground Railroad. Running from the Deep South all the way to the north. Hmm. I was so confused I had to check if I’d been wrong all this time.

Though he didn’t make it a grand railway – just a series of dilapidated box cars some pulled by steam locomotives, some driven by hand pumps, I personally still found it disrespectful to the memory of freedom seekers and those that helped them.

However I persevered, the blurb told me that at “each stop on her journey, Cora encounters a different world. As Whitehead brilliantly recreates the unique terrors for black people in the pre-Civil War era, his narrative seamlessly weaves the saga of America, from the brutal importation of Africans to the unfulfilled promises of the present day. The Underground Railroad is at once the story of one woman’s ferocious will to escape the horrors of bondage and a shatteringly powerful meditation on history.” I thought that had to be worth reading and considering I’d seen this book all over Litsy and Instagram I knew it was popular.

Sadly I remained disappointed, it wasn’t an awful book, but to me I felt that the structure and the cleverness of the theme got in the way of what could have been an excruciatingly good book. Whitehead’s writing is wonderful, there are some sentences in there that would shame a poet. His characters are good, but again the structure got in the way as he had a habit of telling us about a character after they left the narrative- I would have cared about them a lot more if I’d known them better earlier.

This is a case of the new not outdoing the old. To understand the heritage of so many African-Americans and the horrors of the slave trade you’re better off reading Roots.

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.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay

img_2271This book is flawed but heartfelt, and although I have to acknowledge those flaws I want to say straight away that I totally recommend Roxane Gay’s writing to you as it is full of humour and honesty. I have never felt so much warmth radiating through the words of an academic. Unlike some scholars she writes to communicate and engage with people, and not just to demonstrate how much she knows.

Bad Feminist is a collection of essays which handle a number of topics: her personal experience as an ethnic Haitian English professor, the meaning of feminism to her and the debates about it, and the way that Western culture handles issues of gender, sexuality and race. There is also some commentary on current affairs and the role of social media. Some essays deal with a number of these things, some with just one big issue.

I loved a number of her pieces – one of the memorable ones is ‘To Scratch, Claw, or Grope Clumsily or Frantically’ about her experience of playing competitive scrabble. I laughed out loud as she described opponents trying to psych her out before a big match, and was fascinated by the minutiae of competition etiquette. I felt deeply moved by her openness in ‘What We Hunger For’ about the gang rape she experienced at the age of 11, which was instigated by someone she thought was her boyfriend. Words are often not enough to describe the horror of sexual violence, but she is a fearless and authoritative voice on this topic. There is a wonderful essay on friendship ‘How to be friends with another woman’ which I completely adored. It was light and sharp, written as a list of numbered instructions, highlighting that whilst global sisterhood might be an unachievable dream, our acts of kindness to each other are important and can be truly empowering.

I have deducted a couple of bites because the introduction and essays at the end feel like a bit of an afterthought as an attempt to bring cohesion to the book. I didn’t finish the book with a clear ‘take home message’. There is not enough discussion of the history of the feminist movement and different arguments within feminism for a book with ‘feminist’ in the title. I can’t help feeling that calling herself a ‘bad feminist’ is partly a strategy to get out of analysing these things more deeply, but equally, doing that might make the book a little less accessible.  A very minor point is that she has an irritating writing tic – her essays are littered with the two word sentence ‘And yet.’ I really noticed this, reading the book from beginning to end as I would a novel. It is also heavily oriented towards a U.S. readership in its references and content.

All of this being said, I cannot remember when I last enjoyed reading an essay collection as much as ‘Bad Feminist’. There is so much emotional power to it, and the rather plain cover doesn’t do any justice to how vibrant and strong the author’s voice is. She writes scathingly about the pressure women are under to be likeable, so I won’t talk too much about how I would like her to be my friend, but instead I will tell you that when she takes an uncompromising position on a difficult issue she wins my support and respect. Three bites

Charlotte Kearsley
My love of reading began when I was very young, and quickly took over my life. On trips to Brighton, my family would see me start walking faster at the sight of the major bookshop in the centre.
I’ve lived in many places since, including London and Rio, and still insist on visiting bookshops as soon as possible! I normally head for literary and historical fiction first, then pick out the quality thrillers. If I’ve time to spare I’ll browse the biography and travel writing shelves. When I’m not spending time with books or books-in-progress in one way or another, I works in the public sector and crafts.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates

img_2257Coates is a New York correspondent for The Atlantic, and based on his personal and working experience he has written this award-winning book about the concept of race and its construction as the dark underside of the American Dream. ‘Between the World and Me’ is a work of non-fiction, but it is hard to say whether it is more truly a memoir or an essay, as it is written in the form of a dialogue with his son, and through publication, a generation of young African American men who will struggle to find a place in US society.

In the course of the book Coates writes from the heart about his upbringing, early brushes with danger on the streets in Baltimore where he grew up, and his struggle to reconcile himself to the logic of some of the aspects of black society, particularly the tough love of parents who were fearful about the world awaiting their children, and the retreat of earlier generations into self-policed conformity (being twice as good for half as much), faith (the desire to tell yourself that suffering is ok because oppressors will become the oppressed in the next life), and passivity (on the faces of non-violent protesters during the civil rights movement who sensed that they could not give the police even the slightest provocation).

This insecure sense of self brought about by the free-for-all of violence in housing projects of major US cities and the contrast between them and the picket fences and green lawns of the white suburbs has had a lasting impact on Coates’ psychology and he describes it with devastating honesty.

No book could be more relevant than this at present because the ‘Black Lives Matter’ campaign for civil rights has taken centre stage as a response to the deeply unjust police shootings of Keith Scott and Terence Crutcher among others. Coates has personal experience of the fatally powerful and appalling racism of the police in the U.S. Prince Carmen Jones, one of Coates’ friends from Howard University, was followed through several states without cause and eventually shot by a policeman on the pretext that Jones had tried to run him over in his jeep. The author’s investigation into Jones’s honourable life and how it ended, the implicit sanctioning of the perpetrator that followed and the recounting of how all this affected Jones’s family is genuinely heart-breaking. It is truly horrible to think that for black Americans any encounter with the police can cause paralysing fear.

This book is very dark at times, particularly where he describes how the economic might of white America and the American Dream was built on the labour of slaves, which propped up a self-perpetuating system of discrimination. I found this the hardest part to read because I know through my own background studying organizations that systems are slow to change. Towards the end the American Dream becomes a target for his pain and hostility, and I empathised with the fact he felt excluded from it, but thought that perhaps an inclusive dream could exist in the future, and perhaps the idea of ways to work towards it would have added a bit of hope into the book.

The moments of lightness are the points where he escapes fear through travel, and through finding professional recognition, a sense of community, discovering love and family life, and the pride he feels when he stops his fear from impacting directly upon how he behaves as a parent. The downside of this book is that it is not structured particularly clearly, with no chapters, just interspersed photographs, and it doesn’t talk much about concrete changes that can help America progress. Perhaps Coates is aware that the solutions are well known – equality before the law as it is enforced in practice, equality of opportunity, and a kinder white society which appreciates difference rather than seeking to suppress it, appropriate it or patronisingly assimilate it on its own terms. The book has flaws but it represents an impassioned call for justice. Three and a half bites.

Charlotte Kearsley
My love of reading began when I was very young, and quickly took over my life. On trips to Brighton, my family would see me start walking faster at the sight of the major bookshop in the centre.
I’ve lived in many places since, including London and Rio, and still insist on visiting bookshops as soon as possible! I normally head for literary and historical fiction first, then pick out the quality thrillers. If I’ve time to spare I’ll browse the biography and travel writing shelves. When I’m not spending time with books or books-in-progress in one way or another, I works in the public sector and crafts.

Secondhand Best Sellers –  Inferno by Dan Brown

Following my confession a few weeks ago that I love picking up books cheap at second-hand stalls I thought I’d make a bit of a challenge out of my vice.

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!

Inferno by Dan Brown – published 2013.

Tagline ‘The Astonishing Global No 1 Bestseller’

At this summer’s Lafrowda Day I picked up several novels from a charity stall . Various cheap books were on offer along with other bric-a-brac and I had a great time browsing the offerings that ranged from 10p to the heady heights of £5. I selected this particular book because I have enjoyed the film versions of both The Da Vinci Code and Angels and Demons by the same author and though I found both novels rather pretentious they are fast paced and largely entertaining.

Click for Amazon
Click for Amazon

In Inferno we have many of Mr Brown’s usual elements; a powerful organisation with secret intentions, a morally bankrupt but wealthy fanatic, a seemingly indestructible yet handsome and erudite professor, a young woman with hidden talents, and a high octane chase through exquisite buildings in various countries. Along the way Mr Brown dazzles us with his knowledge of art and architecture and pieces together a giant treasure hunt with clues that only a Symbologist and a lover of the Renaissance could possibly decipher.

In essence the plot is that a brilliant and wealthy scientist decides to save humankind from reproducing to the point of self-destruction by creating a virus that will reduce the global population forever. Protected by a shady Consortium this scientist hides from the World Health Organisation in order to create and release this virus, but with a megalomania born of genius and fanaticism he can’t resist laying a few clues along the way. He wants his great self-sacrificing work to be acknowledged but rather than write a suicide note he finds the time to turn an ancient engraved bone seal into a miniature projector that can reproduce an altered image of the Renaissance painting ‘The Map of Hell’ by Botticello based on Dante’s famous poem The Divine Comedy written some 200 years earlier – sounds complicated? Of course! Why make things easy when you can baffle with brilliance and blind with bullshit? Anyway, the WHO get an inkling of this mad scientist’s intentions and believing that his virus will unleash a C21st plague they are closing in on him and his evil plan. Meanwhile the Consortium is taking steps to fulfil the scientist’s last wishes but the WHO get in ahead of them and call on the services of Robert Langdon (Renaissance expert and Symbologist) to help them decipher the pre-empted final message – only for Robert to suffer amnesia and go rogue. So now the WHO and the Consortium are both hunting him.  Meanwhile Robert – who has of course deciphered the various clues- is racing against the clock to find and destroy this virus before it can be released – all clear yet?

Okay, so the plot requires that you suspend common sense and you don’t ask too many technical questions. Indeed the word ‘Astonishing’ as used in the promotion tagline could carry several different interpretations, but like his earlier novels this book is crying out to be made into a film. However, unlike his previous novels I found that this story had a genuine and thought provoking core which is the premise that over-population will cause man to self-destruct and therefore scientific advances in eradicating disease and prolonging life may actually be detrimental to humankind’s long-term survival. Despite it being an adventure  story the author is urging us to consider whether morally it is time to prioritise between the survival of the masses short-term or the survival of humankind per se.

So what do I think? I confess I enjoyed it much more than his previous novels. It’s not high literature, it isn’t a classic and it won’t still be read in 200 years, if humankind survives that long – but it was fast paced and entertaining,  informative in parts about the Renaissance and has left me pondering that very challenging thought.

More Starbucks than McDonalds so 3 bites for the biscotti

(Just discovered that it has been made into a film and will be released in the UK 28th October)

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 Tidal Zone by Sarah Moss

the-tidal-zoneThis book tells the story of a family’s response to tragedy, in the form of their daughter’s unexpected and life threatening anaphylactic shock and the search for its cause.

The narrator of The Tidal Zone is Adam, a liberal stay-at-home Dad and part-time academic, who is researching the re-building of Coventry cathedral after the Second World War.  As the book progresses, the reader finds out a lot about topics as varied as life in US communes and the health risks of keeping a cat.  A great deal of ground on  contemporary politics and ideas is also covered while he recounts conversations with his family as they try to move past their shock.

Like Adam they are all lovable idealists. His wife is a principled and overworked GP, his father a self-sufficient jack-of-all-trades, and his eldest daughter Miriam aspires to become a lawyer, talking with a precocious level of confidence and uncompromising strength of feeling about gender politics, the environment and minority rights, among other things.

I noticed that in the reviews of this book that I read in the broadsheets, a number of journalists have called it a ‘state of the nation’ novel. It takes a centre-left view on most things, which I loved, because I am sold on all the arguments of the left, but whatever side of the fence you sit on, this book will get you thinking about some of the most important issues in current affairs.

I’ll give you a couple of examples of the highly topical references that Sarah Moss touches on – after Miriam’s respiratory failure, one of the doctors taking a long time to come to a diagnosis is a ‘Dr Chalcott’. I also read an apocalyptic political reference to the betrayal of traditional labour values by Blair in some of the description on p.90: ‘four unkempt horses stood in a field with a coil of rusty barbed wire and something under a flapping blue tarpaulin’. As Miriam recuperates in hospital here are numerous asides and references to the underfunded NHS and its human cost on front line staff as economic imperatives force ruthless compromises in all sorts of ways. In relation to the way it tirelessly discussed the question of how to maintain a fair health system it reminded me a little of ‘So Much for That’ by Lionel Shriver. The sections on architectural history consciously invite comparison between the evacuees of blitzed Coventry and the refugees who are currently seeking safety from the turmoil in the Middle East and Africa. This book is not a light read.

Because once you start analysing all this, it becomes hard to stop, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out the reasoning behind the title, as half way through we were still in the heart of the Midlands. A tidal zone (as coastal dwellers will know) is the area along the seashore that is below the water at low tide and above it at high tide, and the penultimate scene sees Adam and his youngest daughter explore the beautiful creatures that live there, caught in the spaces where the water remains when the tide goes out. The question I then asked myself was what the tide represented – the flow of money into the welfare state? The flow of empathy and compassion towards people who are different? I couldn’t decide, but I knew throughout that this was a book with lots of symbols ripe for interpretation and reinterpretation, and rich in poetic prose.

The major drawback of this book is its stillness. While this allows for beautifully written moments of everyday life that are laden with metaphorical significance, it also means that the plot is not compelling, and doesn’t really offer a resolution or ending in a conventional sense. The journey the reader takes is Adam’s journey towards accepting the randomness with which tragedy can occur in anyone’s life.

Overall my reading experience was slow but rewarding. I am giving it 3 bites because whilst it is not a must-read, I appreciated the chance to spend some time thinking about the hard choices society is making in the company of this incredibly erudite and politically aware novelist. I can recommend to you my strategy if the debates get too overwhelming; visit somewhere beautiful to remind yourself of the capacity that nature and mankind has for good. Adam does.

Charlotte Kearsley
My love of reading began when I was very young, and quickly took over my life. On trips to Brighton, my family would see me start walking faster at the sight of the major bookshop in the centre.
I’ve lived in many places since, including London and Rio, and still insist on visiting bookshops as soon as possible! I normally head for literary and historical fiction first, then pick out the quality thrillers. If I’ve time to spare I’ll browse the biography and travel writing shelves. When I’m not spending time with books or books-in-progress in one way or another, I works in the public sector and crafts.

The Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

the-smoke-hunterCross Indiana Jones with Amelia Peabody and out come  Adam Bates and Eleanora Mallory. Fast-paced and exciting with romance and suspense in equal measure this debut novel is full of fun and wit.

It’s nearly the C20th and women young and old are clamouring for proper education, proper employment and most of all the right to vote. If Eleanora Mallory hadn’t been born a girl she’d have been out in the jungles excavating the ruins of an ancient civilisation, but a girl she is and the best job that a top quality university degree and a near perfect score in the civil service entrance exam can earn a young woman is the role of a low level archivist in the public Records Office. What is utterly maddening is that her supervising manager is a lazy, untidy, slapdash excuse for an historian, who is about to sack her because she got arrested for chaining herself to the gates of parliament. While waiting for him to arrive she knocks a stack of papers off his desk and discovers a psalter, hollowed out in the centre it houses a large stone medallion and beneath that a treasure map. Her frustrated spirit rebels and on a whim she decides to borrow the items and do her own investigation but it isn’t long before the absence of the psalter is discovered and Miss Mallory finds that she has stirred up quite a hornets nest. With the aid of an old school-friend she evades pursuit and finds herself on a steamer headed for British Honduras using an alias and dressed in borrowed clothes.

Smartly written with a slightly saucy, slightly tongue in cheek approach to Victorian values, Eleanora and Adam are the perfect role models for a pair of ‘modern’ adventurers. He has to throw his pre-conceived ideas of chivalry out of the window and she has to learn to admit when she is wrong. Chasing across the jungle they are beset by dangers and fall neatly into yet more trouble. Swinging on vines, outwitting scorpions and trying to prevent themselves from being shot by the competition, it reads as clearly as if it were already a film.

Full of adventure and more exciting than Rider Haggard ever was sadly I suspect this will suffer from being considered the literary version of Indiana Jones. The plot is hardly unique but it is fun and the characters are spikey and spicy and the sparks between them are delightful echoes of the relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen.

3 Bites – An entertaining and skillfully written yarn that kept me engrossed.

NB I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think.

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.

Faultlines by Barbara Taylor Sissel

Barbara Taylor Sissel Click through to Amazon
Barbara Taylor Sissel
Click through to Amazon

This book is the tale of a mother fighting for her son’s reputation and freedom, when he won’t fight for it himself.

Sandy is woken in the night by the call all parents dread. Her son Jordy, has  crashed his car, critically injuring himself and his passengers which include her nephew – her only sister’s only child. The family is torn apart by anger, recrimination and grief when one boy lives but the other boy dies. Sandy finds herself shut out by her sister, abandoned by her parents and deserted by her husband as deepest confidences are betrayed and relationships destroyed.

Jordy won’t fight for his innocence though he maintains he wasn’t driving, but its not what the police say and Sergeant Huckabee is a friend of the family and a hero in their small town. A wedge develops between Sandy and Jordy and no-one seems to want to fight their corner but her.

Across town lives Libby. She and her husband bought a few acres of land on a deserted ranch and were building a new house he had designed when she is suddenly widowed. Struggling to make sense of a number of unpleasant incidents around the build site Libby finds herself unintentionally befriending her late husband’s illegitimate son.

New friendships are made, old relationships tested to breaking point and inevitably somethings can never be the same again.  Petty jealousies and infidelity lie behind bigger actions and sometimes it takes a disaster for people to find what is truly important.

This is a tale of family tragedy and upheaval that explores what it means to be family and the other less likely bonds that form when times get tough. Its well written by an established author and is very much a novel of small-town America in Texas Hill Country.

I can’t rave about it but equally its sound enough though not in the league of Barbara Taylor Bradford, Anita Shreve or Jodi Picoult. I’d give it 3 bites but I wouldn’t want seconds.

I was sent a free advance copy by Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The Bookeaters – we say what we think.

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 Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

cover87989-mediumThis novella was inspired by a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale, but one that women were completely invisible in. Kij Johnson wanted to honour the story but also provide a female counter-balance to it. This then is the story of Professor Vellitt Boe. A woman who was once a far-traveller of the dream world but who has taught at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College for many years.

One night, one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, this could spell disaster for the Women’s college, after all, no matter how prestigious they are there are still plenty of men that think women should have no place in academia and this could be the excuse they need to close it down. Vellitt volunteers to retrieve her.

The journey turns out not to be as straightforward as she’d hoped, just missing her student she then has to try and gain access to the waking world, no easy thing so she ends up on a quest across the Dreamlands. Along the way she meets people from her past and faces the dangers of demons and ghasts.

This is a fairly short book but the quest doesn’t feel rushed at all, in fact there is plenty of description of Vellitt’s journey, masterfully portrayed so you feel as if you’re walking alongside her all the way.  Sadly for someone like me who is quite a character driven reader, much of her journey is alone. The lack of dialogue or interaction with others did make the story seem a little flat to me.

I’d read Kij Johnson again, but this wasn’t enough to make me a massive fan – 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.

Star Sand by Roger Pulvers

imageIn the last months of World War 2, sixteen year old Hiromi sees a man on the beach at night about to shoot himself. He is rescued by another man and dragged into a cave.  When she follows to help she finds they are both army deserters—one American, one Japanese.

Though they should be enemies they bond instantly and  Hiromi, alone in the world herself, resolves to care for them. But when another joins them the dynamics are upset. Fatally.

Years later, three skeletons and a diary are found in the cave but it’s another 50 odd years before a young female university student notices something odd about the diary and finally solves the mystery of who died in that cave and who lived.

I was intrigued by the premise and more so because I’ve read very little fiction on Japan in the war. The beginning of the book, which is basically Hiromi’s diary is terrific. It’s well crafted, maybe a little too well-crafted to ring true as the diary of a 16 year old, but as it turns out that’s not a bad thing. The characters are immediate and vibrant and it’s easy to get caught up in their story.

But about thirds of the way through it switches voice to the modern day university student and her voice did not ring true to my ear. She sounded more like a sixteen year old than someone who must have been around 22 – and she most definetly did not sound like a university student.

It’s quite a short book, almost a novella, and I think more time spent with the characters in the cave, and a better university student (or a different device to show the plot twist altogether) would have served this much better.  In the end it all felt a bit rushed and slapdash, which is a shame as it starts as a lovely attempt to honour both the Japanese and the Americans that were dragged into World War 2.

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.

Roofworld by Christopher Fowler

imageLondon in the 1980’s has a secret people never see. A refuge for the misfits and outcasts of society that towers above the dirty city. But Roofworld, with its complex laws and codes and decaying system of cables and wires is at war. And if evil wins it will take possession of the city below next.

Robert is looking for the author of a little known book to try and buy the film rights from her, sadly he is a little too late, she was murdered during a robbery the week before. But he does meet Rose, who tells him about her daughter who she thinks has been kidnapped and is being held in Roofworld. They get pulled into events up above – not always the perfect scenario for Robert as he  discovers he’s not good with heights!

This was Christopher Fowler’s first book – he’s gone on to become quite the prolific author having written more than 40 books including the ‘Bryant & May’ series. He specialises in unusual plots and peculiar happenings set in the real world so he’s a good bet for fans of Neil Gaiman and Ben Aaronovitch.

And this is certainly an unusual plot full or peculiar happenings! If I was rating this on plot alone it would definitely get 5 bites! If I was rating it  on writing alone it would probably get  bites too – even though he’s written so much this book was still peppered with lovely lines and fresh metaphors that made me feel like I was there.

The only thing this falls down on is the characters, they’re not awful, but they feel a bit lazy. Robert seems like a slightly less interesting version of Richard Mayhew – the protagonist of Neverwhere (written by Neil Gaiman in 1996 – though I’m not suggesting there was any plagiarism going on), Rose is cool but we never get beneath the surface and the police characters are very formulaic. The two dominant characters fighting it out on the roof tops could be fascinating but we don’t really get to learn much about them until too late.

I have to say that this would make a cracking movie though, or a graphic novel, but as a novel I can only give it 3.5 bites – readable, and fairly enjoyable but not earth-shattering. I’m interested to read some of his more recent works though now.

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 Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

“There are choices. There are always choices”

TSS
As an example of how intricate the illustrations are… the writing and vines are actually the book jacket, and the girl is the cover of the book

It warms my soul when come across a book like this imaginative retelling/rebooting/retwisting of Sleeping Beauty/Snow White written by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Chris Ridell.

Gone is the idea of the passive princess waiting around for her knight in shining armour, her Prince Charming, her male saviour. In is the idea of being a master of your own fate, master of your own choices.

Although much lighter on substance than Gaiman’s stories usually are, the illustrations more than make up for this and are in fact the highlight of this book. Deft drawings add literary colour to the tale of a queen who goes off to rescue her kingdom from a rumoured plague of sleep. Fine line pictures of the environment and characters give an extra layer to the story.

I’ve seen some reviews bemoan the fact that this book is priced as if it were novel length instead of 72 pages. They are, in my opinion, completely undermining the addition that the illustrations make to the overall feel of the book.

The slightly gothic illustrations marry well with the descriptive slightly creepy nature of Gaiman’s tale with certain fairy tale tropes turned on their heads and characters you would expect to act in a particular way surprising you.

It’s a quick read, and a long look at the pictures but is a solid 3 bites today.

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.

Summer at Skylark Farm by Heidi Swain

cover88547-mediumHonesty Alert! I got this book for the title – my best beloved older sister actually has a farm called Skylark Farm so it would have been rude not too! There was no blurb when I downloaded it so I only had the cover to go on – it looks pretty twee but sometimes we all need a bit of escapism so I thought I’d give it a go! I found a blurb for it online later – here it is and with no big surprises…

“Amber is a city girl at heart. So when her boyfriend Jake Somerville suggests they move to the countryside to help out at his family farm, she doesn’t quite know how to react. But work has been hectic and she needs a break so she decides to grasp the opportunity and make the best of it. Dreaming of organic orchards, paddling in streams and frolicking in fields, Amber packs up her things and moves to Skylark Farm. But life is not quite how she imagined – it’s cold and dirty and the farm buildings are dilapidated and crumbling. But Amber is determined to make the best of it and throws herself into farm life. But can she really fit in here? And can she and Jake stay together when they are so different? A story of love in the countryside from the author of the bestselling The Cherry Tree Café. Perfect for Escape to the Country dreamers, Cath Kidston fans and Country Living addicts!”

Regular readers of this blog will no that this definitely isn’t my usual cup of tea, nonetheless I quite enjoyed this. The writing isn’t brilliant – but it’s also not awful. The characters are fairly two-dimensional (especially Jake) but they’re likeable at least. There’s also a little more tension than the average romance – not just “will they / won’t they”

It hasn’t converted me to the genre, (and my sister’s farm is better – it has goats!) but it gave me a bit of light relief in a week when I couldn’t believe how horrible the world had become.

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.

Madame Presidentess by Nicole Evelina

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Click for Amazon

This is an historical fiction based on well-known public figures and drawing on various documents of the day it tells the dramatic story of Victoria Woodhull.

In November 1872 the US was about to go to the polls to elect its 19th president and for the first time a woman’s name was on the ballot – astounding in itself but even more so considering that women wouldn’t win the right to vote for another 50 years. The author takes us from Victoria’s poverty stricken childhood filled with abuse to the point where she is standing as the Equal Rights Party candidate for the presidency and facing charges ranging from sending obscene material (a newspaper) through the US Postal Services to libel.

Woodhull’s life from beginning to end was full of extremes and contrasts and the harder she struggled to rise above the disadvantage of being a woman the more harshly she was treated. The story starts in April 1853 when Victoria and her family are ‘invited’ to leave the town of Homer, Ohio. The other town residents have had enough of her Pa whose dodgy dealings which include dubious snake oil elixirs and horse trading have culminated in an insurance motivated fire at their mill. Like their mother both Victoria and her sister Tennessee were mediums and spiritualists, and  though Victoria is only 14 years old and Tennie just ten, Pa Woodhull moves the family to a new town and sets them up as clairvoyants and rakes in the paying customers. Within a year Victoria has married a young and handsome Dr Canning only to then find out that his credentials are dubious and that like her father he drinks to excess and is abusive and before long she is trapped by in the marriage by pregnancy. Her husband’s infidelities and lack of credentials force them to move from Ohio to Chicago to San Francisco. Earning what she can as a seamstress Victoria finds herself involved with a theatrical company and becomes an actress but her career is short lived and they return to Ohio where once again her father uses her skills as a clairvoyant to boost the family fortunes.  All of this is barely a warm up for what follows.

Woodhull’s life was full of extraordinary contradictions, behaviours and questionable judgements and some of these are well brought out in the book. She became a vocal feminist and suffragette who decried marriage and fully supported the notion of free love, yet she was married four times in protestant churches and that despite being a spiritualist who disapproved of organised religion!  Although an ardent feminist she and Tennie sought and obtained the protection and patronage of very wealthy men, most notably Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt who taught them to read the ticker tape and play the stock market; indeed so successful were they that they became the first female stockbrokers and opened business offices. Financially secure they supported Roxanne Clafin, their abusive mother and indeed she and several other family members lived in Victoria’s home and were dependent upon her and Tennie, including the now sickly Dr Canning. Angered by her lack of influence and control over her daughters Roxanne blamed Colonel Blood (Victoria’s second husband) and  in 1871 she swore out an affidavit to the effect that he had corrupted the women and weaned them from their mother’s love in order to prostitute them. He was arrested and the case went to trial. The papers had a field day, such celebrity gossip allowed for a vast amount of vitriol to be unleased and many opponents of their unique combination of political progress and social climbing gave vent to their feelings in print. Less than a year earlier Victoria and Tennie had launched the Woodhull and Clafin Weekly paper to promote their causes and indeed it was this very paper that was to land them in such jail when Victoria, in explaining why both her first husband and second husband lived with her, advocated her belief in Free Love. She cited the hypocrisy of an eminent public figure (Reverend Beecher) who denounced immorality yet lived with another public figure’s wife (Theodore and Elizabeth Tilton). In part of the article co-written by Tennie another public figure’s hypocritical behaviour was revealed and a quote from Deuteronomy was used. Bizarrely it was neither Beecher nor Tilton who laid charges but a United States Postal Inspector by the name of Anthony Comstock who brought the complaint claiming that it was obscene – and the phrase he objected to was none other than that drawn from the Bible!

 

I must emphasise that Evelina does thoroughly cover all of this and the book is quite long and yet somehow it feels squashed. The first three years of the story from 1853 to 1856 are told in some depth but then suddenly the events from 1856 to 1864, are skated over  in half a dozen pages in order, I felt, to get us to the point where the author really wants the story to start. It is apparent that the author wanted to be as accurate with historical details as she could and it is clear that she did a mountain of research. However, because the story is in the first person, in chronological order and stuffed with detail it wasn’t long before I developed the impression that I knew what Victoria did but not who she really was. I started to wonder if the book was truly a novel or a biography in disguise; it felt more as though I was reading a very thorough Wikipedia entry.  I think that the detail of the later years particularly 1870 to 1872 overwhelm the earlier chapters. Where was the depth of emotion, the reflection and the introspection such complex people might be expected to have and that I would have expected from a novel told in the first person? We do not get to see Victoria through other people’s eyes except through quotes from trials and newspapers that are by their very nature one-sided. Woodhull’s life was so full of drama and contradiction that for a fictionalised retelling it could easily have done justice to a 3 or 4 piece book series and that would have allowed for more character development in all of the major figures.

This is a very hard book to rate, I am certain that many readers will be fascinated and absorbed but for me although the story is remarkable the telling of it is not. I almost feel that I should apologise because this was so thoroughly researched and meticulously written but I found it largely indigestible and can only award 3 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.

Wizard’s First Rule by Terry Goodkind

Whilst looking for a suitable picture to accompany this review, I came across the reviews on a certain well-known review website. The first volume of Terry Goodkind’s long running saga, The Sword of Truth series, is certainly divisive. The majority of reviews are either overwhelmingly positive or overwhelmingly negative. Wizard’s First Rule, it would appear, is a Marmite book.

So which camp do I fall into?
Well, with regards to Marmite, vehemently in the hate camp… I hate the smell of it, the look of it, the taste of it. Yuck! Yuck! Yuck!

WFRWith regards to Wizard’s First Rule, I’m in the minority… I neither love it or hate it. I find it enjoyable, I find it flawed, I see the basis for the negative reviews, and I see the reasons for the fervent love.
I would consider this the porridge of the book world; it’s ok, some people think it’s the bees’ knees, some people think it’s glue in a bowl. I think it’s alright, a bit bland, a bit prone to inducing literary indigestion. I need to be in the right frame of mind for it but in certain circumstances it’s a delicious bowl of stodge filling me up with nothing too complicated.

Wizard’s First Rule is the first in an eleven book series (plus prequels and a follow up series) called The Sword of Truth. It introduces us to the world Goodkind has created, the central characters of Richard, Kahlan and Zedd (Zeddicus Zu’l Zorander to be precise), and the myriad of peripheral characters.  Richard embarks on a quest, aided by Kahlen and Zedd to overcome a great evil, and to discover his true self.

Goodkind has often claimed that his books are not fantasy but character novels and he does spend a lot of time of developing his characters. Unfortunately he sacrifices this character development at times to further the plot- you find that Kahlan and Richard in particular act outside of the established boundaries of their character in order to make a point, or to introduce a new concept. It’s jarring but not an insurmountable problem.

What is more problematic is the treatment of good and evil. Evil in this book is truly evil- torturing, maiming, killing for fun, child molesting evil. And we are continually told that people commit acts that are evil not because they themselves are evil but because they believe they are doing what is right- Life is murder is a concept that is explained at one point.  The two don’t really match. On the one hand we are shown despicable acts committed by people who truly enjoy the sadism of it all and on the other we are urged to understand that these acts are committed by people who have truly believe that these actions are the only way, that they are justified by the rightness of their cause.
On the flip side of this, we are shown heroes and heroines on the side of right and truth and justice who are just as willing to commit atrocities to get what they want. They consider killing innocent children with their bare hands, they attempt to kill old men because the men do not believe helping them is in the men’s best interests, they casually talk about skinning someone they believe has betrayed them and this is all only in the first book… don’t get me started on their actions in the rest!

It’s tricky; it’s something that keeps me mulling over my feelings about this book long after I’ve finished it. Combine it with the bizarre BDSM-on-steroids sub-plot/plot thread and the beginnings of a political ideology I disagree with and it makes me frequently consider putting this book in the Marmite category.

But it isn’t. It’s porridge. It’s been read and re- read a dozen times. Why is that??
Well it is pretty enjoyable, the story ticks along nicely and there are numerous interesting episodes along the way. The world Goodkind has created is complicated, magical, and full of little pieces of history that make you want to know a bit more.
The writing isn’t complicated, you don’t need to wade through indecipherable prose to get to the heart of the matter.

Yes, it has its issues, yes, I can see why people loathe it, but for me, it’s just a pretty decent book to read when I want something a bit familiar and a bit enjoyable to read.

3 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 Deluge by Arthur Marwick

Published in 1965, Arthur Marwick’s famous (amongst History students at least!) thesis on the changes wrought by the First World War on British society is a prime candidate for Throwback Thursday. It has continually been in print for over 50 years and remains one of the most influential works on the First World War.

DelugeHis central conclusion, provocative at the time but now much more widely accepted, was that society was irrevocably and positively changed by the First World War. He did not seek to minimise the tragedy or the loss of life but, in this book, he steadily and methodically laid out the evidence that Britain after the deluge of total war was a better place to live than before. The Deluge was one of the first books to focus on the lives of ordinary people and the different impacts of different social classes. He rejects many of  the patriotic and often jingoistic histories that came before and forges a new approach to the impact that Total War has on societies.

It’s a fascinating book, and one I first read whilst studying for my A Levels. I continued to read it yearly throughout my History degree studies and on through my teaching career. Marwick’s decision to move away from the idea of war as a purely military experience was pretty eye-opening to a young History student who had studied the Nazis every year (and would continue to either study or teach the Nazis on a yearly basis!) and who was taught by two History teachers who had a clear focus on military and political history.
The Deluge was my gateway drug into other social histories, and other works by Marwick, who rapidly became something of a historian crush!

The Deluge is perhaps not the most accessible of books for the casual historian, but I do think it is the most rewarding. Well-written, full of colourful theories and keen observations about people and how they continued on and adapted to the inevitable societal  changes, it is not only a useful history about the First World War but also about attitudes in the 1960s.

Recommended for those with more than a passing interest in the subject!

5 bites from the History teacher side of me. 3 from the ordinary reader side!

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.