The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock by Imogen Hermes Gowar

IMG_2690“One September evening in 1785, the merchant Jonah Hancock hears urgent knocking on his front door. One of his captains is waiting eagerly on the step. He has sold Jonah’s ship for what appears to be a mermaid.”

The blurb of this book really doesn’t give much away… so let me correct that for you (without spoilers of course!)

When widowed merchant Jonah Hancock takes possession of a mermaid he suddenly finds himself thrust into the world of high society pleasure seekers. He becomes obsessed with an innocent looking girl at the famous Mrs Chappell’s house, but Angelica is in love with another and won’t even look at him unless he finds her a mermaid too.

We follow Angelica and Jonah through their highs and lows as they get closer and drift apart again as they discover the true meaning of love, forget it and try to remember it again, whilst trying to find a permanent place within the privilege and pomp of London society.

I waited an age to read this book and then I almost gave up halfway through. For me, believable characters are key and there was something not hanging together for me in Angelica’s character – I couldn’t quite believe her. But I decided to give it another 30 pages and suddenly there was a piece of information that made Angelica click with me. Then her character began to grow and the twist began which made for absorbing reading.

I’m glad I persevered, the second half of the book was masterful, but if Angelica’s character had been revealed a little earlier I would have loved the whole thing.

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.

God by Reza Aslan

1cover121762-mediumI’ve seen Reza Aslan on television a couple of times and he had struck me as knowledgeable, passionate and a very good communicator.

In this new book of his he is attempting to explain the birth of spiritual thought, how that developed into religions and then evolved into the few monolithic monotheistic religions that both unite and divide us.

By doing so he is challenging our relationship with the divine as well as our perspective on faith and the birth of religion.

The blurb claims that it: “challenges everything we thought we knew about the origins of religious belief, and with it our relationship with life and death, with the natural and spiritual worlds, and our understanding of the very essence of human existence.”

Does it live up to that blurb? Almost.

If this is the first book or even the second or third you’ve read on the history of religion it may well contain nuggets of interest and insight. But I’ve read a lot on this subject and I found very little in it that was new to me, I also saw a couple of presumptions that had no evidence to support them in the book.

I did find it pretty easy to read and the majority of it is well researched and the conclusions drawn seem reasonable.

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 Last Hours by Minette Walters

1cover120816-mediumLord Richard has left his estate of Develish in Dorsetshire to see his daughter’s intended and finalise the wedding contract. But before he can return the Black Death enters England.

Unprepared for the virulence of the disease, and the speed with which it spreads, the people of the county start to die in their thousands.

With Lord Richard away, Lady Anne takes control the estate, ordering all two hundred of their bonded serfs to live within the walls and not allowing anyone from the outside in. She asks a bastard slave, Thaddeus Thurkell, to act as her steward. With this sudden overturning of the accepted social order, where serfs exist only to serve their lords, conflicts soon arise. Ignorant of what is happening in the world outside, they wrestle with themselves, with God and with the terrible uncertainty of their futures.

They fear starvation but they fear the pestilence more, someone must leave eventually to discover what has become of the rest of the world and bring back food. But who will have the courage to leave the security of the walls?

I’ve never read Minette Walters before as she has tended to write crime fiction, a genre a read only a couple of books a year in at most. But she has taken to this new genre brilliantly. Life in England in 1348 was evoked as soon as I started reading and I remained stuck solidly in the past until she was ready to spit me out at the end of the book.

The characters took me a little longer to take to, the daughter of Lady Anne and Lord Richard is a spoilt brat intent on making the serfs suffer when we first meet her, and her chosen victim Thaddeus comes across as so surly that it’s hard to feel any sympathy for, Lord Richard is quite frankly revolting and Lady Anne so dour I did wonder if I would make it through the book. However, almost as soon as I’d thought that I saw a glimmer of warmth underneath Lady Anne’s dourness and a flash of hope in Thaddeus’ countenance and soon I was starting to understand the hidden depths of all the characters.

Then the plot started to gather speed and I was hooked. Walters doesn’t shy away from the more gruesome aspects of the plague and, as you’d expect from a successful crime writer, she is adept at building mystery and tension.

My only complaint about this book is the ending. This is the first in a series of books (I’ve no idea if it’ll be a series of 2 or 20) and it ended on a real cliffhanger. I’m not going to lie, I felt robbed and frustrated. Especially s has only just come out so I’ve ages to wait now to know what happens next!

Buy it now by all means, but wait till book two is on its way before you start it!

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.

Keep the Aspidistra Flying by George Orwell

1or2aAlthough nowhere near as famous as Orwell’s 1984, Keep the Aspidistra Flying is nonetheless an insightful take down of  how capitalism destroys the lives of those not on the top of the system.

It is the story of Gordon Comstock. A man that loathes dull, middle-class respectability and worship of money, and wants only to be able to write novels. The demands of work and society give him little peace. Eventually  He gives up a ‘good job’ in advertising to work part-time in a bookshop, giving him more time to write. But he slides instead into a self-induced poverty that destroys his creativity and his spirit. His pride doesn’t allow him to accept any charity from friends, though he is only too happy to splurge on them when he has funds.

Only his girlfriend Rosemary has the strength to challenge his commitment to his chosen way of life, but can she persuade him to find a way to live within the system he so despises without him getting swallowed up by it?

As with Burmese Days by Orwell I listened to this on Audiobook. It was read by Richard E Grant, such sublime casting, I honestly don’t think there could be anybody better for this book. His cynical, self-loathing and yet understated delivery polishes this book to such a sharp satire that it’s almost impossible not to wince whilst listening to it!

In fact I was on edge the whole way through, constantly wondering if Comstock will find his way through his disaffection / depression or be swallowed by it. Through it Orwell explores his own disaffection with society and with his place within it, he was a fascinating man and it is always an valuable experience to see the world through his eyes.

4 Bites

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

Anna by Niccolo Ammaniti

1cover109251-mediumAnna is 14 and looks after her little brother Astor in the house behind the fence, the rooms are piled high with rubbish, except for their mother’s bedroom where her skeleton lies perfect on the bed.

She goes out to scavenge for food and medicine regularly, not too difficult a task in a world that’s been devoid of adults since a mystery illness swept through Italy killing all of them. Now, a few years later it seems that whatever caused the adults to die is still killing the children as they leave adolescence.

Then Astor leaves the house one day when Anna is scavenging, even though she has impressed on him how dangerous it is. She has to find him but what else will she find?

Because of last year’s Black History Month challenge I realised how unintentionally narrow my reading is, since then I’ve tried to read more authors from around the world and part of that is reading more translations too. This book by Italian author Niccolo Ammaniti, previously a winner of the Strega Prize, seemed a good place to start.

It is beautifully written (and very well translated by Johnathon Hunt). The scenario of a dystopian future society populated only by children is bound to draw comparisons with Lord of the Flies but this has considerably more humanity, Lord of the Flies is a novel fuelled by fear. This novel is driven by hope.

There is desperation and violence but there is also love and kindness. Anna is a complex and interesting character, but easy to feel sympathy for. She remembers her parents and realised that those memories are fading for her brother. She longs to cross the water I to see if there are any adults alive elsewhere but the hope is too precious to her for her to risk it being destroyed by reality.

Definitely worth reading, it gets 4 Bites from me.

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

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

A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon

IMG_2674I haven’t read Maigret for years but I’ve always had a soft spot for him so I jumped at the chance to review this!

It’s a collection of three stories all set in Paris at Christmas all newly translated so you’re unlikely to have read them before. I have only read the first story so far, the title story ‘A Maigret Christmas’.

In it, Maigret receives two unexpected visitors on Christmas Day, who lead him on the trail of a mysterious intruder dressed in red and white. He continues to conduct almost the entire investigation from his apartment and the apartment across the street where ‘Father Christmas’ had appeared. But despite this Simenon still manages to raise a 20th Century Parisian Christmas up around his readers.

The tale itself is the perfect length to read on a Christmas afternoon- about two hours, and the twists and turns are perfectly paced. If you’ve never read any Maigret You can still enjoy this, his character and those of the people around him are sketched in deftly but they are really there to support the mystery anyway. Hopefully it will give you a taste for more! I’m off to nibble at the next story now where I’m promised that ‘the sound of alarms over Paris send the police on a cat and mouse chase across the city’ before I finish up with ‘The Little Restaurant in Les Ternes (A Christmas Story for Grown-Ups) where a cynical woman who is moved to an unexpected act of festive charity in a nightclub – one that surprises even her…’

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 End We Start From by Megan Hunter

IMG_2667A longed for child is born, but his mother’s waters aren’t the only ones breaking as London is submerged below floodwaters.

Days later, she, her husband and their baby have to leave London in search of safety. They head north, often sleeping in their car or finding solitary spots away from other humans in a newly dangerous country. As their baby grows they find and leave new families, trying to work their way to either an old home or new seeking.

Their baby thrives against all odds, not knowing anything of the world before he doesn’t know its loss. His parents find things much harder.

This is a beautiful poetic read. It shares the sense of dislocation and a narrowing of the world that most new mothers experience. It is written in the first person from the perspective of the mother, and it shows the world beyond her baby in snatched, out-of-focus glimpses whilst her child takes up most of her vision.

The only thing problem with that is that because the world beyond her baby seems to be just a dream to her there is rarely any sense of urgency or fear, she’s living in a world where food is scarce and civilisation is scared but she seems at most wearingly accepting. It’s a believable emotion for a lot of the story but there should be a few spikes of fear.

The writing is a joy though, haunting and lyrical. I look forward to her next book.

Four 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 History of Bees by Maja Lunde

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Does the vanishing of the Bees really indicate a coming ecological collapse? This book follows the lives of three people whose lives are interwoven with the domestication of bees and their disappearance.

In England in 1851 we meet William, a biologist and seed merchant, trying to gain fame by building a new type of beehive. Jumping forward to 2007 and in the USA is George, a beekeeper fighting an uphill battle against modern farming, and hoping his son will follow in the family footsteps. China is the home of Tao who hand paints pollen onto the fruit trees in 2098 when the bees have long since disappeared. When Tao’s young son is taken away by the authorities after a tragic accident—and is kept in the dark about his whereabouts and condition—she sets out on a grueling journey to find out what happened to him.

Well. There was a lot in this book for me to love but before we dip into that can we just have a moments appreciation for that cover! What a thing of beauty!

So what’s your preference? Historical fiction? Dystopian? Contemporary? Why choose? With this you’ve got it all! And unusually all three sections are written in first person with authentic sounding voices and a real sense of time and place. But all that is worth little without a good story to tie it together. Luckily this has four good stories, each arc could’ve been extended to a standalone book but I think they are better interwoven. They support a story that twists up through each of them and arches over them to create something better.

It got me thinking, the Bees angle is good but that’s not all there is too it, there’s also a lot about family.

Four and a half 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.

Sea – The Huntress Triology by Sarah Driver

1cover104570-mediumThis is the first book in a new fantasy adventure trilogy for young readers (aged 9+) and the publishing company clearly had a lot of faith in it as it was pushed hard when it was released. The blurb recommends it fans of Philip Pullman and Frances Hardinge amongst others. As usual I’ll be completely honest – it is a good book, but not quite in the league of Phillip Pullman or Frances Hardinge.

But don’t let that put you off buying it for the young person in your life – it’s still a good read! It follows the story of Mouse. Since her mother died she has looked after her little brother Sparrow and dreamt of taking over as captain of the Huntress – the ship her mother steered that is currently captained by her Grandmother. Her Dad has also gone missing and now Sparrow is in danger.

Sarah Driver has written a powerful character and a strong adventure. But what really makes this book special is Mouse’s voice. It’s written in first person and the language just captures you and takes you hostage from the first moment.  Although Mouse is female this is a book that will appeal to boys too – it has pirates and pterodactyls after all! It’s also  packed with high stake risks and the feeling of kids against the adults with the kids managing to outsmart the adults. This feels authentic as mostly the kids win because they don’t believe that they are limited in the same way that adults believe they are.

When kids enjoy a book they always want more so that fact that this is the start of a trilogy is brilliant, and as of writing this the second book is already out. I’m not sure when exactly by so far there’s between about 9 months between each so hopefully it’ll be out Summer 2018.

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 Witch of Napoli by Michael Schmicker

witch of NapoliIn 1899 Spiritualist séance’s are sweeping through Europe. But men of science are ready to denounce every act as trickery and fraud. When skeptical, Jewish psychiatrist Camillo Lombardi sees a photo of Alessandra Poverelli levitating  a table in Naples he immediately goes to investigate.

But then she materializes the ghost of his dead mother. He can’t explain it, and as a man of science he refuses to dismiss it out of hand instead asking if she will be willingly investigated by him and on a tour of the Continent,where the scientific and academic elite of Europe will be invited to test Alessandra’s mysterious powers.

As disdainful as she is of his scepticism she agrees. After all his fee is very generous and will help her escape her sadistic husband.

I won’t tell you what happens, we BookEaters try not to do spoilers too often after all! But it was certainly captivating. Here is a writer who know how and when to add conflict but without stretching the bounds of believability. All the characters rang true – in fact the character and basic storyline is based on a real life Spiritualist sensation of the era – Eusapia Palladino and the author has drawn on writings about her from that time.

The tricks that many spiritualists used are detailed throughout and if you’re anything like me you might keep changing your mind about whether Alessandra is genuine or a con artist throughout the book.

As the author is an investigative journalist examining the paranormal, it’s not surprising that this book shows excellent research, what is surprising is how well-written it is. It’s a self-published book, but don’t let that put you off, this is a lot better than a lot of the books I’ve read lately.

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.

The Invisible Crowd by Ellen Wiles

IMG_2631Two people were born on the 2nd March 1975, one in Eritrea one in London. Thirty years later Yonas has to leave Eritrea  and travels to England as a refugee, when he arrives he has to ‘work off his debt’ in a factory and so fails to register as a refugee.

His asylum case lands on Jude’s desk. Opening the file, she finds a patchwork of witness statements from those who met Yonas along his journey: a lifetime the same length of hers, reduced to a few scraps of paper.

Soon, Jude will stand up in court and tell Yonas’ story. His life depends on how she tells it.

I have to admit I wasn’t sure about this when I first opened it. It starts with Jude opening the file but it is told in second person and frankly that was a bit weird.

However, I soon got past that and as I started reading Yonas’ story I became fully absorbed in it and found myself reading it at every opportunity. Yonas’ journey is horrifically compelling, all the more so for the flashes of joy and hope he finds in the simplest things, and for knowing that people are going through the same things day in day out.

Once Yonas reaches England he develops a habit of keeping newspaper articles about refugees and immigrants. the author uses these at the start of every chapter. At first I felt it was a bit of a gimmick, but then the more you get to know Yonas, and the other people he meets in his situation, the more stark the comparison between the savage dehumanisation unleashed on these people by our media and their own gentle aspirations.

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.

Birdcage Walk by Helen Dunmore

19780099592761Re-reading the blurb after reading the book I have to say it is a close to perfect synopsis, so I’m not going to ruin it by remaking it I’m just going to give it to you verbatim;

“It is 1792 and Europe is seized by political turmoil and violence. Lizzie Fawkes has grown up in Radical circles where each step of the French Revolution is followed with eager idealism. But she has recently married John Diner Tredevant, a property developer who is heavily invested in Bristol’s housing boom, and he has everything to lose from social upheaval and the prospect of war. Soon his plans for a magnificent terrace built above the two-hundred-foot drop of the Gorge come under threat. Tormented and striving Diner believes that Lizzie’s independent, questioning spirit must be coerced and subdued. She belongs to him: law and custom confirm it, and she must live as he wants—his passion for Lizzie darkening until she finds herself dangerously alone.”

The only thing that would have improved that blurb for me was if I had kept it in mind when I started reading the book! As this book came to me through NetGalley about 3 months before it’s paperback release was due I straight away popped it in my ‘to be read soon’ but then didn’t get round to it for two months as I had others I wanted to review first. Then when I picked it up and started reading I got drawn in straight away to the prologue… but actually the prologue isn’t really relevant to the story itself. In fact I would recommend you skip it or read it at the end.

Other than that this book is excellent. As soon as you start reading you feel a sense of unease and a creeping certainty that danger is near to Lizzie that stays with you regardless of the glittering political distractions and security of her family.

This is how historical fiction should be. There is a conviction about the times that envelope the reader allowing you to feel as if you are there living through them with the characters. You feel the weight of the mud sucking at you as you try to walk, feel dizzied by the depths of the river crashing through the gorge below, feel the sting of the wind and the warmth of the hearth.

The characters are well formed and the twists when they come are surprising but believable. I left it feeling I understood Georgian England better and respected the people of the time more.

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 Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

IMG_2632We meet Elsie as her carriage approaches her new husband’s crumbling country estate. It is her first time here, but it is tainted with tragedy as her husband is laid out within and awaiting her so his funeral can begin.

Her new servants are resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, and pregnant Elsie is confined there with only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. But whilst exploring she finds a delightful nursery and a locked room containing the two-hundred-year-old diary of her husband’s ancestor and an unusual painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. Her cousin is charmed by it and wishing to strengthen their friendship Elsie helps her re-instate it in the main house.

But whispers of a curse start to rise as the house suffers misfortunes and Elsie tries desperately to hang on to her sanity to deliver herself and her unborn baby to safety.

This is a gorgeously gothic ghost story which would be spectacular if filmed.

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 Golden House by Salman Rushdie

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René is 25 and has lived his whole life in a liberal elite manhattan bubble, growing up in the classically classy aspiring MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens with parents who love him but gently tease each other about their own privilege. He has come of age in the golden years of Obama and now as they are closing his aspiration to make documentaries that will challenge and entertain seems more important than ever.

He wants to do an expose on his neighbours, Nero Golden and his three adult children dropped into the grandest house in the Gardens out of nowhere with assumed names and a past in a city they would not talk about. They arrived just after Obama’s inauguration and quickly established themselves at the apex of New York society.

He chronicles the undoing of the house of Golden: the high life of money, of art and fashion, a sibling quarrel, an unexpected metamorphosis, the arrival of a beautiful woman, a tragedy from their homeland and the guilt surrounding it that they can never escape. But through it René moves from impartial observer to pivotal pawn and risks losing everything himself.

There is a lot in this novel, and my abiding impression of it is that it is written by a much younger man than Salman Rushdie. He captures the voice and sensibilities of millennial without condescension or caricature. The book is full of film and pop culture references and with these Rushdie comes close to his signature magic realism, he talks about Donald Trump as the green haired Joker of Gotham City so convincingly I wondered if I’d slipped into a parallel universe!

As it’s told from first person there is unavoidably an imbalance between the depth of characterisation  of René and the rest of the cast. Still they’re an interesting bunch and they’re foibles are treated with sensitivity. Nero himself is almost the perfect godfather-in-exile, the ultimate patriarch whose strength and weakness is his family.

the writing is masterful and I enjoyed it from the start to the finish, however it was missing some little something or other so I can’t quite give it full marks.

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.

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

32622470Nadia and Saeed first meet at an evening class. They live in an unnamed city in an unnamed country “still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” Their relationship is at once modern and yet conservative, and each is still learning about the other when the fighting intensifies. Militants wage war on the government and people are killed, or disappear. Whole neighbourhoods are razed to the ground. Saeed’s mother is amongst the dead, and this horrific event leads Nadia and Saeed to discuss the risks of staying in their home city and the possibility of finding safety elsewhere.

All over the world, doors have opened. Doors of darkness which lead to other cities, other countries. Swathes of people have begun moving west, and Nadia and Saeed decide to join them. Risking their lives to travel through the doors, they arrive first in Mykonos, then London, and join fellow refugees settling in abandoned houses in the capital. But building a life and a home proves to be much more difficult.

There is a dystopian, magical realism element to this book. The world it is set in is not completely our own: doors allow people to move from country to country in the blink of an eye; London is a city divided, where migrants shelter in houses abandoned by their owners whilst the refugees themselves are abandoned by humanity. Like all good fiction, it holds up a large mirror to our own world and the story it tells is one which is being played out across the globe right now. This is a book about what drives people to make the journey and what happens once the journey is done. It’s about trying to settle into a new country when the country itself is trying to reject you. It’s about the impact this has on a relationship. It’s about being forced to leave your home and giving up all you were just to stay alive.

It would be easy to read this review and imagine a heavy book, full of despair. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The writing is beautiful. Elegant, yet simple. Vignettes of the lives of fellow travellers who have passed through the doors are dotted within the main story of Nadia and Saeed. They are never more than a few pages long and we never learn the names of these characters, but their stories are full of hope which is the lingering emotion left after the last page.

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.

Beloved Poison by E. S. Thomson

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The blurb for this book is brilliant so instead of trying to create a new and more accurate one for you as I usually do I’m just going to let you read the original…

Ramshackle and crumbling, trapped in the past and resisting the future, St Saviour’s Infirmary awaits demolition. Within its stinking wards and cramped corridors the doctors bicker and fight. Ambition, jealousy and hatred seethe beneath the veneer of professional courtesy. Always an outsider, and with a secret of her own to hide, apothecary Jem Flockhart observes everything, but says nothing.

And then six tiny coffins are uncovered, inside each a handful of dried flowers and a bundle of mouldering rags. When Jem comes across these strange relics hidden inside the infirmary’s old chapel, her quest to understand their meaning prises open a long-forgotten past – with fatal consequences.

In a trail that leads from the bloody world of the operating theatre and the dissecting table to the notorious squalor of Newgate and the gallows, Jem’s adversary proves to be both powerful and ruthless. As St Saviour’s destruction draws near, the dead are unearthed from their graves whilst the living are forced to make impossible choices. And murder is the price to be paid for the secrets to be kept.” 

I had this on my kindle for an age before I finally got round to reading it. I’m not sure why exactly but I had a strong feeling Id enjoy it and I just wanted to wait until the ‘right’ time to read it! When I finally did start it I was both annoyed at myself for waiting so long and also a little bit smug that I still had it there to read.

As gothic mysteries go this is close to perfect. The writing is erudite and laced with regret, the villain so evil that reproach slides off him like slime down a sewer and the settings are darkened with soot and scented by sewers. The main characters are complex and all seem to have shameful secrets clipping their wings.

Yet even with it being as gothic mystery as a gothic mystery could be, it is not cliched. There is sympathy and understanding for the other characters and a sense of realism that makes the reader believe this could really have happened. It’s a very visual book too and would make a great film to watch in the autumn or winter with a crackling fire and a hot chocolate with a nip or two of something stronger in it!

Treat yourself!

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 Great Passage by Shion Miura

cover108209-mediumThe Great Passage will be Gembu Books hero product – a new dictionary produced in the traditional way.

It is the passion of Kohei Araki, he was inspired as a boy by the multiple meanings to be found for a single word in the dictionary, and became obsessed by the notion that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years working at Gembu Books, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement. Not an easy feat as creating a dictionary is as much an art as it is a very precise science.

Luckily he discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Led by his new mentor and joined by an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. But this Great Passage takes many years to complete, on the way Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work.

I loved this book. It was a heartwarming look at ordinary lives as well as a love letter to words and how they shape our society. It examines how easy friendship becomes when we appreciate each others foibles and follies rather than expecting everyone to be the same as us and being irritated when they fail. But throughout that there are little comments on society and the impact of our words. It was particularly heartening to see them discuss the definition for love as being between a man and a woman and decide it didn’t need to be gendered that way anymore.

I’ve recently read a lot of darker books and a read this straight after reading about the Black Lives Matter movement, it was just the antidote I needed to rejuvenate my spirits and remind me there is good in the world.

4 Bites

NB I received a copy of this free of charge from 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.

They Can’t Kill Us All The Story of Black Lives Matter by Wesley Lowery

cover101888-medium-1Washington Post writer Wesley Lowery was in Ferguson reporting on the murder of Michael Brown when he was arrested himself for charging his phone up in a local McDonalds. The McDonalds hadn’t complained by the way, the police just didn’t really like black reporters hanging around and doing their jobs it seems.

This is how Lowery came to be at the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the next year he travelled across the US to uncover life inside the most heavily policed, if otherwise neglected, corners of America today. He conducted hundreds of interviews with the families of victims of police brutality, as well as with local activists working to stop it.

But in this book he also looks back to the things that happened before Michael Brown’s murder and the riots in Ferguson. He’s diligent to give credit where it’s due. He also investigates the cumulative effect of decades of racially biased policing in segregated neighborhoods with constant discrimination, failing schools, crumbling infrastructure and too few jobs. In other words he puts blame where it’s due too.

Reading that back makes it sound a bit dry but it’s really not, it’s more like you’re a rookie reporter getting to ride shotgun on the biggest story of the year. It brings home the very justified fear that most black americans have of the police. Imagine having to teach your child how to not be shot by those that are supposed to protect us.

I found this immensely readable despite the difficult and emotive topics, but more importantly for a book like this I learnt from it.

4 Bites – Highly recommended.

 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.

Johannesburg by Fiona Melrose

Johannesburg by Fiona MelroseFiona Melrose is back less than a year after her much lauded debut novel was released – and this story couldn’t be more different than the last. In Midwinter we followed the tale of a Suffolk farmer and his son as they tried to live through their grief and find peace. This time we’re in Johannesburg where Gin has just returned home from New York to throw a party for her mother’s eightieth birthday.

But this isn’t just a mother and daughter rather than father and sone tale, woven through this are other people’s stories – that of a homeless hunchback fighting for justice and his sister, a man still haunted by his first love, and the domestic workers who populate the neighbourhood.

The whole story takes place on one day – the day the Mandela family prepares to announce Tata Mandela’s death.

I was privileged to see Fiona Melrose at the very first launch affair for this book which was held in my friends bookshop in Woodbridge (read more about the story of that bookshop here). She talked about how this book was inspired by Mrs Dalloway and started as an exercise but it’s clear that certain characters needed their voices to be heard and refused to let her leave the story there.

Strangely the only thing I felt could have been better about this book was the voices – it’s told from several different perspectives and some of the voices were too similar to one another which sometimes left me a little confused as to who I was hearing from. That eased out by halfway through the book though.

The rest is excellent, a mix of the personal and the political written so realistically you can smell the dust and the scent of Agapanthus around you as you read. Personally I prefer it to Mrs Dalloway, partially because it deals with today’s issues but partly because the writing is more fluid and passionate.

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 -even when we know the authors personally and think they’re utterly lovely!

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 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.