The Stargazer’s Embassy by Eleanor Lerman

cover108526-mediumAliens are trying to make contact with Julia Glazer; they have been since her mother died. In an effort to escape them she has left her childhood home, a bar called The Stargazer’s Embassy, and moved to New York. It’s easiest to be safe surrounded by lots of people and plugged into a Walkman so you can’t hear them calling.

There she meets and falls in love with a man who turns out to be completely wrong for her – not in personality, just in occupation. He is a psychiatrist studying people who claim to have been abducted by aliens. Julia at once knows that if she tells him her secret she could move from lover to patient in the blink of an eye. But keeping her secret proves impossible as she begins to meet his patients, and finds amongst them people who describe exactly the aliens she sees. And who recognise the tattoo on her wrist that her mother had scribed there.

I am not the resident Sci-Fi guru here but I found the premise of the book intriguing… and the fact that it was written by someone who’d won an award for a previous Sci-Fi novel reassured me immensely too. But I have to admit that the cover made me think I was making a mistake.

Thankfully you can’t see the cover when you’re reading it! Also thankfully, my copy was on Kindle so no one on the train could see the cover either as I read it on my commute! And thrice thankfully you really shouldn’t judge a book by it’s cover… I really will learn that one day!

Because I really enjoyed this book. It’s a totally different take on the alien abduction genre with a unique, memorable and relatable set of characters. It’s set sometime in the late 90’s but with flashbacks to Julia’s childhood in the 70’s which just adds that cult Sci-Fi feel to it that we all love so well. I don’t want to give too much away so I’ll shut up now but get yourself a copy of this even if you have to slip it inside a different cover to be seen with it!

4 Bites

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

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 Child Garden by Catriona McPherson

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.

Those Left Behind by Various

One of the greatest (superficial) disappointments of my life was the cancellation of the TV series Firefly written by Joss Whedon. It was a a space western drama series set in 2517 and concerned the lives of the 9 crew members of the Firefly Class spaceship ‘Serenity’ and even though that description makes it sound a little lame, I absolutely loved it. As did millions of ‘Browncoats’ across the world. Sadly this wasn’t enough for the studio, and they cancelled the series after only 11 of the 14 episodes produced were broadcast. You could argue for days about whose fault it was (*cough*foxnetwork*cough*) but the millions of fans were left with no closure on any of the story lines.
Three years later, fan pressure had led to feature film being made and Serenity was released in part to wrap up the plot threads left hanging by the cancellation of Firefly.

We fans are never satisfied however and continue to want moremoremore! We were rewarded for our nagging and petulant whinging with a series of graphic novels to full in yet more gaps in the story lines!

TLBThose Left Behind by Brett Matthews, Joss Whedon and Will Conrad (artist) was the first of these and dealt with a couple of significant plot points. I won’t delve into the story because of the eternal battle waged against spoilers- I’m urging you all to rush out and watch Firefly so I certainly don’t want to ruin it for you!

The artwork in this graphic novel is good, the characters all look like they are supposed to and Conrad does a decent job of capturing the space cowboy vibe of the TV series. Story wise, this is a child of the TV series more than the film i.e. more crime than moral obligation but it rockets on at a good pace whilst still managing to explore the interpersonal relationships of the crew.

The script work/dialogue fit in with the established canon of the film and TV and it occasionally feels like an episode of the TV series. For example, in times of high emotion, the characters slip into Chinese in the same manner as on the screen. It’s familiar and conforting to feel like you really are reading about what went on in between the series and the film.

It’s absolutely not one to be reading without having seen the TV series first and frankly, if you aren’t a fan of Firefly (I can’t believe this is the case but…) then there is nothing here for you.

I however am a huge fan so I really enjoyed this!

3.5 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.

Birds Art Life Death A Field Guide to the Small and Significant by Kyo Maclear

cover95742-mediumI am a book lover and I’m growing to love art through my reading adventures – my beloved partner however is a bird-lover. So when I saw this, I thought maybe it was a book that could help me understand his passion a bit better.

This is the memoir of a writer struggling to find inspiration, her father is terminally ill and this sparks a desire in her for somethiing new in her life. A way to find space to process her turmoil. She sees some photographs from a local birder and something in them catches her imagination. She gets in touch with him and asks him to teach her where to find birds and how to identify them. He starts by taking her to rather urban, unnattractive areas that nevertheless are home for quite a variety of species. Then, as he sees her interest is growing he starts to take her to more rural places and introduce her to less common birds.

This is an interesting meditation on why we humans need passions and creativity. What we gain from them on a personal level and how they help us to contribute to the world in a positive manner. There is little in the way of conundrums or thrills in this book – seeing a rare bird isn’t ever going to save her father’s life or make her next book a best seller or even win her the lottery! It’s what I call a quiet read. But sometimes these quiet reads can have a significant impact. Her search for inspiration, beauty, and solace leads us to a deeper understanding of the nuance of life.

I haven’t been birdwatching with my partner since reading this, I’m not sure that it will ever become my hobby if I’m honest. But I do feel I understand it and respect it more.

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.

Thirst by Benjamin Warner

imageEddie Chapman has been stuck for hours in a traffic jam, in the heat. There are no signs of the emergency services turning up so eventually he decides to abandon his car and run home. He passes accidents along the highway, trees along the edge of a stream that have been burnt, and the water in the stream bed is gone. Something is very wrong.

When he arrives home, the power is out throughout his whole neighbourhood and there is no running water. As his wife Laura finally gets home through similar problems, the pair and their neighbours start to suffer the effects of the violent heat and limited liquid, and the terrifying realisation that no one may be coming to help.

Civilisation starts to breakdown as confusion, fear and hallucinations set in. Eddie realises that nothing else matters than that he and Laura should live – not even the secret shame she’s carried for years.

This is about as harsh and dystopian as it gets. If you liked Cormac McCarthy’s The Road then this will be right up your street (forgive the pun – I can’t help myself!)

It differs in a lot of ways, for me the most striking is the visual setting. The Road is grey and oppressive whereas in this book there is plenty of sun … but plenty of contrast too as their sleeping patterns are so disrupted that a lot of time is spent in the night. The prose is more colourful too.

The key to this working so well though is the characters, Eddie is completely believable. Although his view of what’s happening becomes less and less reliable and he does things that I’m betting he never would have dreamed he’d do before the disaster.

Get yourself a copy of this – and while you’re buying stuff don’t forget to stock up on water just in case!

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.

Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix by JK Rowling

IMG_1642The problem with reviewing Harry Potter, is that most people have already read the series. Most people already have their favourite moments and characters, as well as a favourite book. So instead of writing about what I love about the next two books in the series, I’ve turned it over to some fans to share their thoughts. Today it’s Harry Potter and The Order of the Phoenix and it’s fair to say, there were fairly mixed views on this one.

“Phoenix was pretty shouty,” said Rachel.
“It was a depressing read. Quite a negative book,” Beckie said. “I enjoyed it, and how it progressed the story, but there wasn’t much to lighten it. There wasn’t as much humour as the rest of the series,”
“I agree that Harry seemed quite petulant and shouty the first time I read it,” said Giles. “But then you read it again and you realise how traumatised he is from the events of the last book. He is suffering from PTSD, and to make things worse, no one outside the order believes that Voldemort has returned.”
Heather thinks this traumatic encounter changes all the characters we know and love. “We definitely see an increasing maturity and grounded dimension to the characters. As a result, Harry, Ron and Hermione encounter internal struggles and endure a new dynamic.”

The idea of an increased maturity within both Harry and the series itself is a popular one.
“I thought it really showed how the series had grown up. Much more than the end of Goblet of Fire did,” said Rachel.
Carolyn agreed with this, and felt the book showed us a new side to Harry. “To be able to examine the meaning behind Harry’s change in personality, the book has to be read very carefully. However, when you examine the truth, you discover how beautifully Rowling has described Harry’s thoughts and feeling and how they have affected, not only him, but those close to him,” she said. “It also shows how he deals with his past in order to protect the ones he loves from the dangers he is about to face. I would say the Order of the Phoenix is my favourite book in the series.”

But it’s not just the main characters who make an Impact in this book. “This is where we first meet Nymphadora Tonks who is one of my favourite characters,” said Mai. “She’s not only rockstar cool, but she’s a real romantic heroine in the Cathy/Heathcliff tradition.”
“Sirius Black,” said Clare. “I can’t forgive because I can’t forget.”
“For me it was all about Sirius,” Giles said. “Realising that Sirius was a sad and lonely wizard who missed his best friend, and thought he could get him back through his best friend’s son.”

“Delores Umbridge,” said Lauren. “I loved her yet hated her all at the same time. Surely only possible due to Rowling’s brilliant writing.”

“I loved how much more of the wizarding world we got to see,” Clare said. “Each book made it richer and deeper. But every book post movies suffered greatly from a lack of sharp editing, possibly because it had become such a genuine sensation by then.”

“The biggest book of the lot so far, yet I read it just as quickly as the others,” said Lauren. “I finished this one smiling!”

Fan’s average: 4 Bites

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

If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo

29470648This is the second YA novel I have read in the space of a month, the second lent to me by my younger sister, and the second to show me just how incredible YA fiction is.

Amanda Harvey is moving, from her mother’s house in Atlanta to her father’s in Tennessee. She hasn’t seen her father in six years due to her parents divorce, and a lot has changed in that time. Amanda has the normal teenage problems of newbie in new school: making new friends, getting hit on by handsome, confident jock, Grant (we’ve all been there!) But Amanda is especially anxious about people getting too close. At her last school, she was known as Andrew and bullied to the point where she attempted to take her own life. To Amanda, letting anyone come too close would mean them finding out her secret, and the cycle of bullying beginning all over again.

This is quite a remarkable book. From the start, it’s clear we are not dealing with just a normal high school romance book. It doesn’t shy away from the grittier aspects of Amanda’s story, but for the most part, the writing is sweet. A bit heavy on the internal sensations at times, and occasionally cliched, but sweet none-the-less. The characters seem a little too perfect to start with, but then develop more depth as the book goes on.

The book is set mainly in the present, with the whole story from Amanda’s point of view. We learn more about her past through flashbacks, and for me this is where the substance of the story is. Russo does an excellent job of portraying Amanda’s anxiety throughout the book, and the conflict between the response of her mum and dad to her transition is very well done.

This is an important book: for cisgender (non trans) readers and transgender readers alike. The notes from the author at the back of the book are hugely personal. As a trans woman herself, Meredith Russo has pulled partially on her own experiences for this novel. She is keen for all readers to understand that Amanda is just one (fictional) person, and that her experiences are not true of everyone. This is an excellent book for cis readers to use to increase their understanding of both gender and sexuality, and to help trans readers know they are not alone.

4 bites

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

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Chamber_of_SecretsAh, the difficult second book… Scrutinised and pored over mercilessly. Is it as good as the first? Is the author a one trick pony? Can the magic of the first novel be repeated?

Harry Potter and The Chamber of Secrets was one such book. The Philosopher’s Stone had been such a success that anticipation was high and scrutiny expected.

So did it hold up? What did the critics think?

The book was released on the 2nd June 1998 to a rapturous reaction. Critics were overwhelmingly positive citing Rowling’s strong plotting, her well-developed characters and her unflinching approach to the scarier elements of the story. They almost all gave the glowing commendation of not only being a book that adults would enjoy too, but more importantly, a sequel that was as good as the first!

Nearly two decades on and with the advantage of being able to look back on The Chamber of Secrets as a part of a completed series, reviews have generally become more measured and often it is not considered the stand out book of the series. In fact, a cursory search on the internet will often show COS as sixth or more often seventh in ‘Which is the best Harry Potter book?’ surveys, polls and votes.

In some ways, this position is deserved. The similarities in plot structure are glaring and occasionally distracting in a way that is not apparent in later books. The timely arrival of Fawkes in his dues ex machine role is a little too miraculous and too much is unexplained (if Fawkes knew where Harry was, then he clearly knew where the chamber was all along!)

But in many other ways, the release of the following five books has done COS a disservice. The central theme of tolerance of others and integration within a community are important topics to address within a children’s book and it is well done here. The continuation on addressing the idea of a person’s choices making them who they are furthers the overarching theme of the story and adds extra dimension to later stories.

I also feel that the more disturbing elements of the story announce to the world that JK Rowling is not scared to go dark, is confident of the ability of children to adapt to the harsher realities of life. And I think this is a good thing.

So Chamber of Secrets…. You’ve done a good job. You proved that Rowling wasn’t a one trick pony, you showed that strong characters and plots can be sustained, and you revealed a lot about the series overall that we just didn’t appreciate until later on!

4 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.

Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes

IMG_2536Odeline Milk has never really fitted in. She was bought up in a very middle-England village and was an only child to a single mother with different colouring to her. She also has a passion for mime. Now her mother (and biggest fan) has died, leaving her a small inheritance. She’s on her way to London, to make her name.

But the inheritance really isn’t big, certainly not enough for a flat. So she’s bought herself an old canal boat and is counting every penny whilst trying to find work and maybe find the man she thinks might be her father.

But the city’s canals have are a sort of halfworld, a good place to hide for those that make their living by spurious means and for curious outsiders. But Odeline doesn’t know an outsider from an outlaw so has no idea who she can trust.

This was one of those books that I came upon purely by chance. Somehow I saw it somewhere on Audible not so very long after I first joined and thought I may as well add it to my (at the time) incredibly short wishlist there. It must have languished there for about two years before I eventually got round to buying it, but then that’s the joy of books isn’t it? So many of them are evergreen, it doesn’t matter too much if you read them when they first come out, two years later or two hundred years later.

When I finally did start it though I was utterly charmed. Odeline is not your normal manic pixie dream girl at all, she may be socially awkward and quite single minded for a medical reason. She’s likeable despite herself, and ultimately because she is an artist through and through.

Apart from Odeline’s journey to find her new place in the world there is another storyline running through the book to. The story of her barge. We learn about the man that built it, how he gave it and himself over to the war effort, how it was stolen and used by a runaway evacuee seeking his mother. How it was destroyed then rediscovered and lovingly restored and other vignettes along the way. This storyline only marginally intersects with Odeline’s, a brutal editor would have insisted on cutting it out, but I’m glad it stayed put, it might not have been necessary but it was worth it.

Over six months have passed since I read this book, and in that time I’ve devoured over 50 books at least. Yet the characters, story and the feelings this evoked are fresh in my memory – I definitely recommend it!

4.5 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.

One Of Us Is Lying by Karen McManus

cover106249-mediumThe Young Adult thriller is becoming a respected genre, and there shouldn’t be anything surprising about that. After all passions run high in teen years and sometimes those passions run over sense.

This book is great for fans of The Breakfast Club, Pretty Little Liars and 13 Reasons Why.

One afternoon, five students walk into detention, but only four walk out. Those that walk out are Bronwyn a Yale-bound good girl, Addy, the picture-perfect homecoming princess, Nate, the bad boy and Cooper, the jock. So far so stereotypical.

Simon, the one that dies, is an outcast and the creator of their school’s notorious gossip app. Only, Simon never makes it out of that classroom.

It seems like his death wasn’t an accident, he’d planned to post juicy reveals about the four he was sharing detention with. Should they be suspects in his murder. Or are they just the perfect patsies for a killer who’s still on the loose?

I must admit most of the reason I read this book was because the publicity department was so full on about it. I got a free review copy and I left reading it until just a couple of weeks ago. I love The Breakfast club and quite enjoyed Pretty Little Liars but this seemed a little to generic for my taste.

Was I right? Yes and no. At first glance the characters are all a little stereotypical; but as their secrets are uncovered there are surprising depths to them. And the plot also has some surprising twists and turns.

Once I started it I found it hard to put down, it has that thing that good thrillers have where you think you know what’s going on but it keeps throwing curveballs so you want to get to the end quickly to prove yourself right. Or is that just me? Anyway I was right!

It isn’t the most highbrow read but it is pacy and has a good moral centre.

3.5 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.

Blackout by Marc Elsberg

 

Click for Waterstones
Click for Waterstones

I found this thriller totally plausible, shockingly relevant and very frightening – my sensitivity to the scenarios being somewhat enhanced by waking up that same day to find much of the world experiencing a cyber-attack – spread through the use of the WannaCry ransomware. So severe was the problem that the UK convened a meeting of the emergency Cobra committee as 48 out of 248 NHS trusts in England and organisations across nearly 100 countries found themselves under attack.

The premise of the book is that society throughout the developed world is totally dependent on energy, not just for the light in our homes or the fuel in our car but for everything. Food distribution, water pumping, sewage drainage, removal of dead bodies and of course medical needs are the top of the priority list for most of us – but without energy in the form of electricity everything stops. The plot is simple. A small group of disillusioned techie experts launch a cyber-attack designed to bring down the energy generating and distribution systems across Europe and America. They want to change the political face of the developed world and what better way to disrupt society, create panic and ultimately trigger a public uprising against the established order can there be? What is terrifying is the speed with which their anticipated outcomes start to happen. Within 24 hours there is general disorganisation and mild panic, 24 hours later there are food shortages, within a week price extortionists are selling basic food stuffs for hundreds of times their value. The combination of hunger and thirst, the lack of medicines, no drainage, no communication networks and, before you know it, society is on the verge of collapse. To add to the confusion the hackers have made full use of inadequate security and corporate dependency on phones and emails, to ensure they can monitor and misdirect the Interagency attempts to control the disaster.

The hero, Manzano, is a mature Italian exhacker with principles and a curious nature. He is ably supported by an indefatigable young American reporter named Lauren Shannon and the well-connected Sophia Angstrom who works in EUMIC, the pan European organisation for communications and aid coordination in the event of catastrophe (you understand why they shortened it to EUMIC!). As always those who are on the outside of such organisations in times of crisis can be seen by the authorities to be a source of the trouble and poor Manzano quickly finds that his initial contribution to a solution draws down attention that is less than welcome. The story also follows a couple of characters as they wrestle with the difficulty of wanting to keep their family safe but they have no way of knowing whether their decisions will achieve what they hope. The action zigzags around the various emergency control centres across Europe that are working day and night to resolve the crisis as security analysts, engineers, investigators and police co-ordinate their efforts.The characterisations are adequate for the story and at no point does Elsberg make it overly dramatic – which works in its favour.

The book is a gripping read. Fast paced and extremely well researched; and it is this research that sets it apart from the usual disaster / breakdown of society type films. (I am not a techie person but I was quite fascinated by why the power plants couldn’t just be started up again). This book isn’t just a bit of light escapism unlike a Dan Brown novel, instead it is thought provoking and makes for uncomfortable reading. The moment I finished it I passed it to my husband to read and he experienced a similar response. I was really unsure quite how to rate this book but have given it 4 bites for its sheer plausibility.

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.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

16646123Two years ago, my younger sister, Carolyn, lent me her copy of The Fault in Our Stars. I trust her judgement, and read it knowing it would not be easy, and that I would likely be in pieces at the end. It was not easy, and I blubbed like you wouldn’t believe. It was with some trepidation then that I accepted this book from her, especially as it came with the caveat “it’ll make you cry even more than The Fault in Our Stars”. It didn’t, but that doesn’t get away from the fact that this is a devastatingly lovely book.

Theodore Finch and Violet Markey meet properly for the first time when they are both standing on the ledge of their High School’s bell tower. This morning, like every morning, Finch has asked himself whether today is a good day to die. He is prone to periods of being asleep, this last episode has lasted throughout Thanksgiving and into the New Year. He contemplates different ways of killing himself, intrigued by the suicides of famous people.

Violet’s life turned upside down when her older sister died in a car crash the year before. The grief of losing her sister, and the pressure of being the person who survived has caused her to withdraw into herself. She no longer feels comfortable in her friends company, and has lost her ability to write which had been such an integral part of her.

After Finch helps Violet down from the ledge, a friendship develops between the two. A love of words and an innate understanding of what the other is going through creates a bond between them, and in each other’s company, they discover that some days can be perfect.

This is a sensitive portrayal of mental illness, beautifully written with some wonderful insights. At times it borders on inspirational poster territory, but there is a realness about it that reins it back in. There is such juxtaposition between the characters, which seems to mirror the difference between life and death. There is poetry at times within the prose, assisted by the quoting of The Waves by Virginia Woolf which plays a big part within the book.

This is a book to make you think about mental illness, the way we deal with it individually and as a society. There is a difference between how Finch and Violet are treated by their high school counsellors, with more sympathy being afforded to Violet because there has been a trigger to her depression. But it is also hopeful in its own way. A lovely book, which deserves a moment of contemplation once the last page has been read.

Carolyn says: “This is such a wonderful book, so beautifully written. Jennifer Niven has really captured the thoughts and feelings of a depressive and how it effects those around them. However, she doesn’t portray them in a negative way, which is inspiring. It truly is a great read and I would recommend it to anyone.”

4 Bites from me. 5 Bites from Carolyn!

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.

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

41rOoSgvh6L._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I love it when I find a book which almost completely consumes me. The feeling of not being able to put it down, of sneaking a read whenever you can. This is what this book did to me. I had it downloaded on every Kindle app I could, even finding myself reading it on my phone as I was walking to work. Luckily, those situations ended up being accident free- Don’t try it at home, kids!

This is the story of Susan Trinder, orphan and thief who has been bought up in the careful protection of Mrs Sucksby. She knows she is special, Mrs Sucksby has told her so, and raised her as if she were Mrs Sucksby’s own daughter. All she knows of her own family is that her mother was hanged for murder. But Mrs Sucksby and the other inhabitants of Lant Street are the only family she needs, and she would do anything for them. When the enigmatic and high born thief known as Gentleman arrives at Lant Street, he has a proposition for its residents. And Sue is just the person to help him.

Christopher Lilly is a scholar whose life work consists of putting together a bibliography of all the books he owns. His neice, Maud, helps him in this work and has been trapped with her uncle in his house in the village of Marlow for most of her life. Maud is an heiress, an orphan whose money will only be released once she is married. Gentleman has tricked his way into Lilly’s home, claiming to be able to help him mount his collection. His aim: to make Maud fall in love and elope with him. For this, he needs help. Sue will be employed as Maud’s lady’s maid and gently convince her that Gentleman loves her, and that marriage to him is what Maud wants. Once married, Gentleman will have his new wife committed to an asylum and then share his new found wealth with those at Lant Street. Simple.

This story has more twists and turns than the streets of Victorian London’s East End. It was brilliant. Just when I thought I knew what was going on, the rug was swept out from underneath me. It’s the kind of book you want someone else to read, just so you can call them and shout “OMG!” down the phone at them. It was all incredibly believable. The characters individual and real, from Sue, Maud and Gentleman, right down to the servants with only a few lines who maintain Lilly’s house, Briar.

I only have one negative thing to say, and that’s that some of the descriptions of body language and reactions bordered on cliche at times. But this had no impact on how much I wanted to read it. The plot pulls you along at breakneck speed, leaving you feeling exhausted at the end. You might be interested to know that the book has recently been adapted into the film “The Handmaiden” by Korean director Park Can-wook.

If you do read it, remember I’m available on our Twitter and Facebook pages for any OMG moments you might have!

4 bites

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

The Run-Out Groove (The Vinyl Detective 2) by Andrew Cartmel

It was this time last year that I first read about The Vinyl Detective after having read Andrew Cartmel’s debut novel, and long time readers of this blog will know that I LOVED it! So I was beyond excited when the sequel dropped through my letter box a few weeks ago (in a super shiny gold envelope nonetheless!). It’s out on Tuesday so I had to keep schtum until today! I really wanted to tell you all about it though!

TROGHis first adventure consisted of the search for a rare record; his second the search for a lost child. Specifically the child of Valerian, lead singer of a great rock band of the 1960s, who hanged herself in mysterious circumstances after the boy’s abduction.

Along the way, the Vinyl Detective finds himself marked for death, at the wrong end of a shotgun, and unknowingly dosed with LSD as a prelude to being burned alive. And then there’s the grave robbing…

 

 

 

Similar in format to the first in the series, The Run-Out Groove follows our Vinyl Detective in searching for a lost child… not quite the same as a lost record but surprisingly, a similar amount of high-jinks ensues!

The favourite characters are back- Nevada, Tinkler, Clean Head- and continue to assist our protagonist throughout the dangerous and peculiar circumstances he finds himself in. The Vinyl Detective himself is still as unassuming, serious and as knowledgeable about music as ever, whilst managing to maintain that dry adult humour that made me laugh aloud so often in the first book.
I think Tinkler may be my favourite character- he is very well written, well-rounded, funny and three-dimensional. The newer characters are a tad weaker but that’s to be expected given we’ve spent more time with the regulars and says more about he strengths of the regulars than anything.

The plot is another twister, racing along at times with enough to keep me hooked. Again, I can’t give too much away because spoilers suck! But suffice to say that you won’t be bored! I didn’t quite read this in one sitting but to be fair to the book, it was absolute torture putting it down! I didn’t want to, I wanted to keep turning the pages and finding out more of their progress in discovering what happened to Valerian and her child.

It’s not quite full marks from me. It wasn’t quite the same joy of reading as the first, in large part because it felt similar to the first. This is probably a bit unfair of me as the similarities aren’t a criticism but it’s still a consideration. I also think that Cartmel occasionally seems a bit unsure as to whether he is writing a solely lighthearted series or whether he wants to dip his toe into the darker and murkier areas of mystery writing. I hope for one he keeps it lighthearted in the next book which is due next year. I’m still very much looking forward to reading it.

4 bites for a satisfying second course!

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 Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

cover107323-mediumHanif Kureishi was once reknowned for his coming of age tales. He wrote the film My Beautiful Laundrette and then one the Whitbread Prize for The Buddha of Surburbia. Now he has turned his pen towards dying.

The Nothing starts like this “One night, when I am old, sick, right out of semen, and don’t need things to get any worse, I hear the noises growing lonuder. I am sure they are making love in Zenab’s bedroom which is next to mine.”

It follows Waldo, a fêted filmmaker confined by old age and ill health to his London apartment. Luckily he met the love of his life before this and she has cared for him faithfully for the last ten years. But when Eddie starts hanging around too much – allegedly  collecting material for a retrospective on Waldo’s work – he suspects them of starting an affair. He is determined to prove his suspicions correct — and then to enact his revenge.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Kureishi’s refusal to sublimate. Every kink and nuance of Waldo’s is uncompromisingly displayed … actually some of those kinks could be considered compromising, but not by a writer like Kureishi or a character like Waldo. It’s told in first person and Waldo is one of those characters who is both charismatic and a little bit creepy. He’s fairly cynical so all of the characters bad sides are shown. I have to admit I took a moment to check Kureishi’s age, after all he’s been known to be a bit biographical in the past! (He’s only 62 so Waldo definitely isn’t based on him… your guesses as to who he is based on are more than welcome 😂)

But this isn’t just a character study, it’s a twisted tale of jealousy and revenge. And it rips along at a cracking pace.

Definitely recommended – 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 Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth J. Church

cover72960-mediumAfter reading a book, I usually re-write the blurb to try and give a truer sense of what the books about. but in this case the blurb it comes with is perfect! Here it is …

“For Meridian Wallace–and many other smart, driven women of the 1940s–being ambitious meant being an outlier. Ever since she was a young girl, Meridian had been obsessed with birds, and she was determined to get her PhD, become an ornithologist, and make her mother’s sacrifices to send her to college pay off. But she didn’t expect to fall in love with her brilliant physics professor, Alden Whetstone. When he’s recruited to Los Alamos, New Mexico, to take part in a mysterious wartime project, she reluctantly defers her own plans and joins him.

What began as an exciting intellectual partnership devolves into a “traditional” marriage. And while the life of a housewife quickly proves stifling, it’s not until years later, when Meridian meets a Vietnam veteran who opens her eyes to how the world is changing, that she realizes just how much she has given up. The repercussions of choosing a different path, though, may be too heavy a burden to bear.”

There is so much truth in this book. It is a vivid portrait of not just Meridian Wallace but of a whole generation of women born just a little too early to live the lives they should have lived. As you might guess from the title and blurb it also covers the birth of the nuclear age and touches upon the feelings of the scientist that created ‘Little Boy’ and ‘Fat Boy’ and who wreaked so much destruction on Japan. In fact this book seems so completely true that I had to Google to see if she and Alden were in fact real historical figures!

Meridian is the kind of woman we all want to be friends with, intelligent, curious and kind. She’s a bit of a loner but also able to keep her mind stimulated, a useful trait as her marriage stagnates. Her life is not unexpected for women of her generation. It was a time when women had begun to break through the educational barriers in greater numbers than ever before but many families supported them in going not so much for them to stretch their intellectual wings but in order for them to find the right kind of husband. One of the many small tragedies in this book is that by falling for an intelligent man who excites her intellect she is unwittingly signing it’s death warrant! It’s only her stubbornness that helps keep it alive.

This is a quiet book, but often things that are important are said quietly. There’s no bluster, very little violence or action, yet there is still plenty going on. In the book Meridian is the scientist, studying the behaviour and life habits of a local flock of crows, but in reading it you become the scientist, learning the same about Meridian and the flock she belongs to. It is at once an intimate character study and an evaluation of post war American society.

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.

Midnight Blue by Simone van der Vlugt

cover99665-mediumIt’s 1654 and twenty-five year old Catrijn has just lost her husband. His death was sudden and they’d not been married very long. She decides this is her chance to see something of the world and leaves her small village. She takes a job as housekeeper to the successful Van Nulandt merchant family.

Her new life is vibrant and exciting. This is the golden age of Amsterdam: commerce, science and art are flourishing and the ships leaving Amsterdam bring back exotic riches from the Far East. Catrijn supports her mistresses desire to paint and in so doing improves her own natural artistic talents. But then an unwelcome figure from her past threatens her new life and she flees to Delft.

There, her painting talent earns her a chance to try out as a pottery painter. An unheard of position for a woman…

This is a wonderful book. It is full of conflict and drama but balanced perfectly with the normalcy of real life. We see Catrijn’s hopes and fears and although her ambitions and talents are extraordinary, she herself is still very down to earth. In fact all of the characters are well drawn and believable.

Catrijn meets Rembrandt in Amsterdam and lives in Delft at the same time as Vermeer and Fabritious. Simone van de Vlugt brings these artists to life brilliantly without letting them take over the story. The artistic heart of the story is with the birth of Delft Blue, the Dutch pottery that rivalled that of the orient.

I definitely recommend this one, great story, interesting characters and I felt I’d learnt quite a bit by the end of it.

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.

Dead Cold by Louise Penny

Whale oil beef hooked!

Click here for Waterstones link
Click here for Waterstones link

How do you electrocute a person without electricity, out on a frozen lake, in front of a whole crowd of people without anyone seeing you? As Gamache muses “You used to be able to electrocute someone in a bathtub …but toss a toaster into your spouse’s bath these days and all you’ll get is a blown fuse, a ruined appliance and a very pissed off sweetheart” this is the conundrum that pulls him and his team back to the tiny township village of Three Pines. The village of Three Pines is isolated and safe, tucked deep in a valley, so much so that mobile phones and much of modern technology are unreliable and this enables an atmosphere of otherworldliness to exist that in part protects the residents. Contemplation, community and friendship take precedence over social media and the modern world.

Here in the second of her novels Penny starts to reveal the sadness, the fears and the joys that lie hidden in the depths of her characters. Snippets of poetry by Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen and Marylynn Plessner enhance the story and are skilfully and concisely used to express emotions. Weaving together beautiful prose and occasional humour the author brings the village to sparkling life. Grumpy old Ruth and Gabri the delightfully camp bistro owner have slanging matches that prove that the best insults are traded between friends and that love comes in many forms. The deep and gentle love between poetry quoting Gamache and his wife Reine-Marie is but one form.

So – to the plot…..

An extremely uptight and self-centred woman by the name of CC de Poitiers has decided to enlighten the world by launching a book on her theory of divinity and peace through the colour White. Colours are bad, emotions are colours run wild and they need to be controlled and balanced because White can only be produced through the perfect blending of the other colours. But CC is the extreme opposite of calm, her hen-pecked and cuckolded husband and grotesquely fat and bullied daughter Crie are testament to CC’s belittling nature. CC cannot bear to see potential in others and is the antipathy of the kindness that Three Pines engenders in many of its residents. Electrocuted in public on the day of the annual curling match the trail of clues leads back to a group of elderly women bound by time and love and secrets. However CC was not the only resident to enjoy a book launch, the village’s long time resident and grouchy poet Ruth has released upon the world a slender volume entitled “I’m FINE” which readers gradually come to understand as meaning fucked-up, insecure, neurotic and egotistical. Yet oddly no-one has thought to murder her -yet…

Great new characters such as Billy Williams who speaks in a dialect quite unintelligible to Gamache (see first line) are a source of humour and local colour. The behaviours of people who we have not yet met such as the senior Mrs Morrow (Clara’s fearsome and spiteful mother-in-law) are introduced. The old cow has sent Clara a Christmas present of herbal bath soak – only for Clara to discover while using it that it is really dried vegetable soup. But then Clara makes big mistakes – after all she mistook a stinking old bum curled on a street for God.

Penny starts to reveal snippets of the backstory to Gamache. Why has the career of a skilled and intelligent Surete officer stalled when his record of solving crimes is so good? Gamache brought a senior officer to justice and restored honour to the Surete – but now he and his team are the pariahs. Penny gives no real answers in this novel instead allowing this backstory to run through the whole series and gradually build to a crescendo – in my opinion this is what sets these detective stories apart.

Hard for me to rate these books objectively when I know the series inside out but I think it would rate 4 bites from many fellow Book Eaters.

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 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 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.

The Moon and Sixpence by W. Somerset Maugham

IMG_2406This is the story of Charles Strickland as told by a writer who at first is an acquaintance of his wife.

When we first meet him he is a conventional stockbroker, but then out of the blue he abandons his wife and children to move to Paris and become a painter. Our narrator is sent to plead his wife’s case but finds a selfish, determined man who cares nothing for what anyone may think of him. Even of the few that think he is a genius. After learning all he can in Paris, his lack of money drives him to Tahiti, a country full of inspiration.

Our narrator catches up with his story there – finding that the tropics did little to soften his selfishness but everything to inspire his art.

This book is actually inspired by the life of Paul Gauguin, yeah the reference to Tahiti does rather give that away doesn’t it?! In some senses this does echo Gauguin’s life. He was a stockbroker for a time and did give it up to paint. But how close this is to the truth of Gauguin’s character I couldn’t say.

However the book does lampoon the automatic forgiveness of celebrity rudeness because genius’s can’t be expected to act like normal people! It does not close it’s satiric eye to the comedy of manners Edwardian society lived by either.

There is some sympathy in the book too, in Paris there is one person who recognises Stricklands genius and tries his best to support him, Stroeve. Although as a character he doesn’t escape mockery or misfortune, his generous nature shines through adding real warmth to this narrative.

It’s not an overly long book, a good one for taking on holiday overseas, read the London and Paris sections on the plane and enjoy the time in Tahiti on a beach somewhere!

3.5 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 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.

Still Life by Louise Penny

Louise Penny won the CWA John Creasey dagger in 2006 with this – the first in the series about Chief Inspector Gamache.

Seventy six year old Jane Neal has lived in the sleepy, remote village of Three Pines all her life. She knows everyone and as the retired school teacher many from the younger generations were taught by her. Life is peaceful in Three Pines, crime is rare, the local newspaper carries headlines about homemade patchwork quilts and people only lock their doors to prevent generous neighbours from gifting excess zucchini at harvest time. When Jane is found dead – shot by an arrow – the villagers are shaken out of their cosy world and secrets long hidden away tumble out into the light of day. Murder or freak accident in the woods, it’s up to Gamache to find out.

The first in the series - click through link to Waterstones
The first in the series – click through link to Waterstones

This is Gamache’s first visit to Three Pines and the villagers are lucky to have him investigate. Wise, gentle and genuinely interested in people he is always surprised by violent death and knows that the truths that will be uncovered in his investigation will hurt more than just the deceased. Along with Inspector Jean Guy Beauvoir, Agent Isabelle Lacoste and trainee Yvette Nichol he is about to examine every aspect of this village’s life.

First up is the discovery that certain homophobic youths had been caught by Jane while throwing manure at the front of the Bistro as an act of violence against Gabri and Olivier who run it. Next they find that Jane is a secret artist, so secret that by the time the police gain access to her home any art she may have produced has vanished with the exception of one curiously naïve and hideous piece that had been entered for a local exhibition. Then they discover that a surprisingly high number of the local population belong to the archery club which in addition to all the hunting tourists makes the field of suspects massive. But Gamache knows that trouble usually starts close to home and that “a man’s foes shall be they of his own household” Matthew 10:36. That quote is a refrain throughout the series but here in the first book we the reader have yet to learn how that will weave its way through the stories that follow.

Among the many rewarding and warming things they discover about the inhabitants of Three Pines is that Gabri – a large man in a frilly apron with a penchant for silver screen dramatic touches – is also the most wonderful chef. Quite broken at the death of his dear friend Jane, Gabri bakes rosewater muffins in tribute to her and her love of roses. More truths about Jane come to light at her memorial service when ascerbic old poet Ruth sings ‘what do you do with a drunken sailor’ and Jane’s friends join in, finding pleasure in the memory that it was the only song Jane had ever taught them in school and even the nativity play had featured it.

Meanwhile Gamache is having trouble with his newest recruit. Agent Nichol hears but doesn’t listen, and every encouraging or thoughtful attempt to support her training that Gamache makes is seen by her as a sign of muddled, old-fashioned thinking. Her pride nearly sabotages the investigation more than once, but slowly the field is narrowed and the picture comes into focus. Over protective parents, changed wills and ghastly wallpaper cannot hide the truth for ever and the reasons behind the murder of one old woman are finally laid bare.

This book is fine read as a one-off, but it is really just the briefest introduction to a wonderful series packed with tremendous characters that I guarantee will become old friends if you give them a chance.

 

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.