Perfume by Patrick Suskind

IMG_2403A woman is pregnant in eighteenth-century Paris, she stops work to give birth by her fish stall in slum market-place. There, amidst the dirt and the stench Jean-Baptiste Grenouille is born without any odour of his own, But with a nose that can discern and define any scent at all.

Through sheer force of will he forces his way into an apprenticeship position with a prominent perfumer. He proves his nose can copy the greatest scents and in return he is taught the ancient arts of distillation, effleurage and mixing precious oils and herbs.

But Grenouille’s obsession leads him to experiment with capturing other scents too –  the odours of objects such as brass doorknobs and even of excrement. Then one day he catches a hint of the perfect scent. The scent that invokes love in all who come into contact with it. Grenouille has never been adored. He must capture the scent and create the ultimate perfume with it. No matter the cost…

This book is one of my all time favourites.

Everything about it is brilliant. The concept, the characterisations, the descriptions, the ending. In fact the ending is so good that when I first read it I was coming to the end of it as I arrived at my home train station. I got off the train but I straight away sat down on the platform bench to finish it. There was just no way I could wait the ten minute walk home to read the end of it.

This time I listened to the audio book version of it. I was a little worried beforehand – a bad narrator could have ruined it. But every single second was a joy. In fact being able to listen to it whilst walking or driving through the country with so many scents drifting around may even have improved it!

If you haven’t read this get a copy now. If you have – treat yourself and re-read it! You won’t regret it!

5 very tasty 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.

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

Who hurt you once, so far beyond repair – a feature about the works of Louise Penny

Louise Penny
Louise Penny

Two years ago I picked up “Bury Your Dead” from a second hand book stall and on reading the jacket notes I was enticed by the image of a beautiful Quebec winter juxtaposed with murder in a sedate and dusty historical society. Little did I know that I was about to be hooked but by the time I had finished that book I was already scouring book stalls and charity shops for the rest of the series. When I couldn’t get them all secondhand I bit the bullet and ordered the rest.

Penny is a Canadian author who started writing in her early 50s. Previously a journalist and broadcaster she imbues her books with a maturity of observation honed by her years of listening and precise questioning. As she pust it “Listening. That was the key. A good interviewer rarely speaks, she listens. Closely and carefully”.

Her love for the Canadian weather and landscape in every season is apparent in each of the novels and is elemental in many of the stories – as is the tension between the crazy ‘Anglais’ and the French speaking Quebecers. However what I find particularly attractive about her work is not the new murder that each book presents but the real story that lies in the lives and backgrounds of the characters who recur throughout the series. An entire web of relationships going back decades is gradually pieced together and referenced throughout – even when a character does not appear in a book they are still mentioned by the others. The central figure is Chief Inspector Gamache, warm, wise, calm and thoughtful he heads up the Homicide Division of the Surete. He is a pillar of humanity and integrity and yet he has learned that betrayal often comes from those who are closest.

Penny is in no rush to disclose the backgrounds and baggage of her characters. Instead she presents them to us as strangers occasionally display odd behaviours and mannerisms that are left unexplained– it is the quirks, losses and fears that underpin those behaviours that she gently reveals to us as the stories unfold.  I am sure that for many readers Ruth Zardo becomes a firm favourite. Elderly, dictatorial, extremely rude and given to drinking other people’s whisky out of vases, Ruth is a broken down old poet with an incredible soul. She is both gifted and cursed by being able to see past the façade of others and expresses the pain and loss in exquisite poetry and opens her withered heart enough to pour out her love on a duckling she adopts. Clara, another fascinating character and a local artist, paints Ruth’s portrait and shows her as an aged, forgotten and embittered Virgin Mary who at the final moment sees hope. The rescuing of lame ducks, both figurative and actual, stands as a metaphor for redemption and hope.

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

Gamache is laughed at by many of his colleagues for choosing officers who have been rejected by other commands, officers who are misfits, from which to build his team. His belief in redemption places strain on his second in command Jean-Guy who occasionally forgets that he also was ‘rescued’ by Gamache. The relationship between these men is many-layered and intense and Penny wove into their story the damage caused by addiction and fear and the rehabilitation of the soul. All the characters continue maturing while also revealing more about their pasts; loves lost, dreams despoiled and friends found. The intricacy and delicacy of the back stories is testament to her observational skills and even references events in the life of Penny herself. The title of this feature is from a poem (Marylyn Plessners’s  ‘Beyond Repair’) that Penny quotes throughout the series and its theme is key to the narrative. Poetry is a motif of the series and she also drew from the works of  Margaret Atwood, Stevie Shaves and others – including the haunting lyrics of Leonard Cohen.

I realise that I have you almost nothing of the plots – they’re good but secondary to the characters; or of the remote and wonderful village, Three Pines – that is both sanctuary and murder site; or of the bistro run by Olivier and Gabri with the constant supply of wonderful food and drinks that makes me think Penny could have had an alternative career as a food critic. In fact there is so much I can’t possibly convey in this feature that I think I shall simply have to start a new series of reviews and do one book per month.

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.

Christodora by Tim Murphy

Murphy, Christodora jacket artThe Christodora in Manhattan’s East Village is home to Milly and Jared, a privileged and artistic young couple. Through Milly’s art program for kids she meets Mateo and they adopt him. He grows up in the Christadora with his potential for greatness constantly at odds with the wound of his adoption.

Their neighbor, Hector was once a celebrated AIDS activist but is now a lonely addict. It looks like he’s on the way out but one last chance is heading his way.

Enveloping the AIDS epidemic from the hedonistic times just as knowledge of the disease starting becoming known 80’s, the awesome energy of the early Activists.Then moving forward to look at the legacy of the virus in the 2000’s and projecting forward to it’s imagined results in the 2020’s this novel is both an incredibly personal story and equally a social document of an era.

This book is astonishingly good. I consider myself priviledged to work for HIV and sexual health charity Terrence Higgins Trust which was set up in memory of Terrence Higgins, the first man to knowingly die because of AIDS in the UK. I was a little too young to really understand the astonishing activism of the LGBT+ community in the 80’s but as I partied in the 90’s and lost friends to it then I started to become aware not just of the disease but of the incredible spirit of defiance and resilience around me.

When Terry Higgins died his partner was still a teenager. Yet apart from setting up the trust (with friends of Terry’s) he also went on to study medicine and fight both the disease itself and the stigma surrounding it. He is both extraordinary and, like so many other people that this book brings to life, completely ordinary.

Because the characters in here are normal people, They are brave and scared, reckless and careful, determined and unsure, hurting and hitting out, loving and hiding from love. They are gay, straight, white, brown, old, young, educated and dropouts. You will know them or people enough like them for you to understand them.

This isn’t just characters though – there is a very strong storyline running throughout it and some surprise twists and turns along the way. I couldn’t put it down!

Full disclosure – this made me sob on the bus more than once! It might be an idea not to read it in public!

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.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Click to order from Waterstones

When Chiyo’s mother falls ill she is just a child. She doesn’t understand that her mother is dying and that  her father will not be able to take care of her and her older sister. Then she meets Mr Tanaka and he treats her kindly, she starts to fantasia that he will adopt them… but instead he sells them both. Her sister to become a prostitute, herself into a Geisha’s house. She can train to become a geisha or spend the rest of her life as a maid.

In the same house as her lives one of the most popular Geisha in Gyon. A spiteful girl who decides to make Chiyo’s life as hard as it can be and keep her a maid all her life. But she is befriended by the other girls enemies and slowly she is set on the path to becoming a famous Geisha herself. Many years later she tells her story, from her lowly birth, through the hardships bought by the war and the dazzling but exhausting life of Geisha in 20th Century Japan.

I first read this the year it came out and I fell in love with it – I remember I had to keep checking that it was in fact written by a man (and a western one at that) because the voice just sounded so authentically female. I’ve read it a couple of times since then and yet revisiting it again it still surprised me.

I knew the voice was exceptional, and the story was full of conflicts and passions. I knew the settings were vibrant and the characters varied and richly drawn. But I had forgotten the actual writing.

It is delicious. Full of simmering similes and magical metaphors. Chiyo’s voice is so good because of her turn of phrase. Here is one of the early paragraphs so you can see what I mean;- “In our little fishing village of Yoroido, I lived in what I called a ‘Tipsy House’. It stood near a cliff where the wind off the ocean was always blowing. As a child it seemed to me as if the ocean had caught a terrible cold, because it was always wheezing and there would be spells when it let out a huge sneeze – which is to say there was a burst of wind with a tremendous spray. I decided that our tiny house must have been offended by the ocean sneezing in its face from time to time, and took to leaning back because it wanted to get out of the way.”

But the greatest writing is nothing without a plot and characters you care about, I’ve already mentioned it has these. But it also has that little something extra, it opens a window to a different world and lets us see that regardless of our differences our human spirit is the same.

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.

Charlotte by David Foenkinos

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Click here to order from Waterstones

This is the story of Charlotte Salomon, a Jewish artist born into a family stricken by suicide in Germany just before Hitler’s rise to power.

Being a female artist is still a struggle in these times, but being Jewish is worse, so although she holds tremendous promise she must keep a low profile. At least she has her great love to console her – even if that love is secret and snatched in small moments.

After her father is detained and tortured she escapes from Germany, but still she is not safe. The war pursues her to her bolt hole and the madness that has haunted her family is closing in on her too.

Charlotte Saloman was an artist I had not heard of before reading this book, but her story is one I think should be shared. Not just because of her artistic genius but also because it is a mirror to agonies that so many went through during the second world war and none of their stories should be forgotten.

This is an unusual book, the writing is style is not like any that I can recall having read before. David Foenkinos writes in short, sparing sentences. They are almost rhythmic, as if he’s written a thousand haiku’s then mixed the order of them up a bit. It works, but probably only in this book. The rest of the book is a little off kilter too, it veers from a biography to a novelisation to a memoir of the author’s own search for the artist. In many ways this really is high literature, yet it managed to retain its accessibility. It inspired me to search for examples of the artists work, and I know that if there were to be an exhibition near me at any time I would go because of having read this book.

I wish life had been better to Charlotte, but I am grateful that there is this memorial to her. I think she would have appreciated it’s honesty.

5 Bites

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

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

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

Click here to order from Waterstones
Click here to order from Waterstones

This debut novel by Katherine Arden had me hooked from start to finish. Her love of Russian and Russian literature is woven throughout this enchanting and lyrical fairy-tale for grown-ups. Captivated and bewitched by the imagery and I felt much as Vasya does when the Frost King tells her of his birth “the quiet, crystalline words dropped into her mind and she saw the heavens making wheels of fire, in shapes she did not know, and a snowy plain that kissed a bitter horizon, blue on black”.

Set far in the North of old Rus’ this is a tale of the conflict between country lore and Church and the steadfast heart and bravery of a young girl, Vasilisa Petrovna. Vasilisa is the youngest of Pyotr Vladimirovich’s five children an ugly little girl, skinny as a reed-stem with long-fingered hands and enormous feet. Her eyes and mouth are too big for the rest of her and her nickname is frog. But even before she was born her mother knew this child would be different, would be special…magical even; and so Marina gave up her own life in childbirth that little Vasya might be born.

Vasya sees the wood spirits, the house domovoi and the spirit of horses -the vazila; but her new step-mother Anna sees only demons and prays feverishly for deliverance. The one day it seems that Anna’s prayers are answered for the Regent of Moscow has seen fit to send Father Konstantin to the frozen North. Konstantin is devout, spiritual and charismatic. He paints exquisite Icons and charms the village with his beguiling voice. Determined to save their souls he places fear deep in their hearts to turn them from their old superstitions. Soon the whole village is doing his bidding and the little domovoi and vazila are starving and weakened. But Vasya does not turn, these creatures are not myths and mere names to her for they have taught her much and she is determined to nourish them. The horses particularly speak to her and have taught her to ride as one with them, without saddle or bridle and without the modest decorum a young woman should demonstrate. The winters are harder, longer and crueller than ever. The food runs short and the Frost-king is feared – but not as much as the other, the upyr – the dead walking and it is to the Frost King that Vasya must turn to save those she loves.

The story is far more detailed and complex than my brief summary suggests but to explain more would be to a travesty. Arden tells it so skilfully, not a word is wasted and I loved it. I shall be buying it for many of my friends and waiting on tenterhooks for her next novel.

I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think and I think you should rush out and buy it.

Penguin Random House due to be published 12 Jan 2017

5 bites

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

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

image“A time being is someone who lives in time, and that means you, and me, and every one of us who is, or was, or ever will be.”

Tokyo teenager Nao (pronounced now) has been having an awful time. She’s being bullied, her mum has recovered from a breakdown but is now always working and her father is suicidal.

She decides to end it all too. But before she does she wants to record the life of her great grandmother, a Buddhist nun who’s lived more than a century. This turns into more of a diary, a diary that is washed up in a Hello Kitty lunchbox on the shore of an island off the coast of Canada. It is found by Ruth, a novelist struggling with her next novel who allows herself to be pulled into Nao’s past.

I listened to this on audiobook, it was read by the author and I was drawn in by her voice straight away. It begins with Nao introducing her diary and it’s impossible not to like Nao. She talks with such innocent enthusiasm yet manages to cover topics from Proust’s ‘In Search of Lost Time’ to the difference between school culture in Japan and America in pretty much one breath. Ruth is a more closed character, her life has it’s own troubles but she’s still engaging and I found myself warming to her too.

This book explores huge themes, the value of life and death and suicide, how to support or destroy people and the quantum power of readers.

It is one of my favourite books this year and when I finished it I added all the authors books to my wish list. In fact I even added the hard back version of this, although I loved listening to it I understand that the book has some illustrations etc that would make reading it a different experience to listening to it. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 Bites and I’m ready for seconds!

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.

Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons

Click for Waterstone's
Click for Waterstone’s

Tam’s second-hand bestsellers book finds…book #3

So here’s the Criteria:-

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

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

12 books – one per month for a year

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

Mr Rosenblum’s List

(Or friendly guidance for the aspiring Englishman)

by Natasha Solomons

 

Wow what a find – emblazoned with the banner “International Bestseller” and inside I find that this debut novel was translated into 9 languages. This was picked up for 99p so at the top end of my price range.

Solomons was inspired by her a pamphlet that was handed to her grandparents on their arrival in England as penniless immigrants. Jewish refugees fleeing from the fascist regime in Berlin were encouraged to make every effort to become British and to erase every trace of their Germanic antecedents. The pamphlet entitled “Useful Advice and Friendly Guidance for All Refugees” exhorted the refugees to refrain from “making themselves conspicuous by speaking loudly, nor by manner or dress.” It also offered such sage observations as “The Englishman greatly dislikes ostentation…he attaches great importance to modesty…(and my personal favourite) he values good manners far more than he values the evidence of wealth”

On arriving at Harwich dock in 1937 with other German Jewish refugees Jakob Rosenblum and his wife Sadie are handed a copy each of this leaflet and exhorted to study it with great care. In that instant Jakob believes that this flimsy piece of paper is indeed the key, the ultimate recipe for happiness, the rule book by which one could become an English gentleman.

Years pass and Jakob, now Jack, has lived faithfully by the guidance contained in that pamphlet, along the way he has added addendums and points of guidance based on his own acute observation. Furthermore he owns a thriving business, drives a Jaguar, even wears a Saville Row suit and his daughter has started her studies at Cambridge University, and yet, the ultimate badge of his Englishness is denied him. No matter how successful Jack Rosenblum maybe no English golf course will accept his application because he is Jewish. In a moment of inspiration Jack sees that his only way forward is to build his own course and so he sells their London home and buys a ramshackled cottage on a glorious Dorset hillside. The residents of the small village of Pursebury mock gently at this crazy man’s efforts and even unleash the mythical Dorset woolly-pig to try and drive him away, but slowly his utter determination and refusal to be beaten win him some grudging admirers and ultimately some true friends. From here on the book is a celebration of eccentricity and whimsy, the power of dreams and the beauty of the English countryside.

Given the current world climate the book is a stark reminder of the plight of refugees and the trials they face in trying to settle in a land and culture that is foreign to them. The book also shows that harmony is not achieved through living by a set of rules and that belonging is not about being the same as your neighbour. It’s charming, funny, whimsical and painful by turns and an absolute bargain at 99p.

5 bites, the description of Sadie’s Baumtorte process merits that!

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.

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

Northern Lights came out when I was in the middle of secondary school so I was just about in the age range it is marketed for… not that that would matter. Northern Lights has more than enough depth to satisfy older readers of this ostensible children’s book.

nlpp“Without this child, we shall all die.” Lyra Belacqua and her animal daemon live half-wild and carefree among scholars of Jordan College, Oxford. The destiny that awaits her will take her to the frozen lands of the Arctic, where witch-clans reign and ice-bears fight. Her extraordinary journey will have immeasurable consequences far beyond her own world…

In this book (which not only won the Carnegie medal in 1995 but also won the ‘Carnegie of Carnegie’s’ when voted by the public as the all time favourite of the medal winners) Pullman weaves a magical, fantastical story with wonderful characters and locations so richly described, they feel part of the story.

In Pullman’s world, everyone has a physical manifestation of their soul- their daemon, an animal which represents their nature. Children’s daemons can change their form, not settling until the onset of puberty. Daemons are one of the elements of Pullman’s world that I adore- Not going to lie, I would love to know what form my daemon would take!

The issue of daemons, and of Dust – and the Magesterium’s interest in Dust- underpin some of the more theological themes of the trilogy, and are instrumental in making this book appealing to more than just the children it is aimed at.

The writing itself is elegant and rich, reminding me of a more interesting Tolkien- it’s the same sense of scale and depth to the world without the over abundance of detail that often renders the prose unreadable in LOTR (controversial, I know, but that’s just the way I feel!)

As the first in the His Dark Materials trilogy, the book eases you in to this world and at the same time gets under your skin. I reread this trilogy an awful lot and think it’s one of the greatest children’s books of all time.

5 bites for this slice of magic

 

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.

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

imageWhen the bomb dropped on Nagasaki in 1945 it killed Amaterasu Takahashi’s daughter  Yuko and grandson Hideo. If she’d been on time to meet Yuko that day it would have killed her too.

For years she has blamed herself, but all that time she has also blamed someone else. A friend of her husband, a doctor who caused a horrible rift between her and Yuko.

Now she is a widow living in America, but then a  horribly burnt man claiming to be Hideo turns up on her doorstep and she is forced to revisit the past to discover if he really is who he says he is. If he is how is she to live with herself now and what is she to tell him about his mother?

This stunning book made was on the 2016 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction long list, I have to say I have no idea why it didn’t make the shortlist! Although I haven’t read every book on that list two that I did read that made the shortlist that were nowhere near as good as this!

I admit I’m a sucker for for poignant stories of parenthood, but this is so much more than that. It side-eyes Japan’s actions before and during the war without ever apologising or justifying the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It faces the horror of the bombing and the aftermath with eyes wide open and unblinking. I’ve honestly never read anything that approaches it quite so honestly, it doesn’t glorify it yet it doesn’t gloss over it either.

It also examines the myriad of relations between men and women and looks at what is forgiveable and who is redeemable. And of course there is the ghost of hope from the past and how to reopen old wounds in the hope that doing so will bring better healing. The writing is beautiful but functional, which suits the main character down to the ground. Definitely worth reading.

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.

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

img_2371This was one of Waterstones’ books of the month earlier this year, and attracted rave reviews from a number of the broadsheet newspapers, so I was very keen to get my hands on it! It proved to be a riveting read. I managed to devour it during three evenings, and found it hard to put down. 

It is set in New York prior to the American War of Independence, opening a window into a small and ambitious town (the author’s note tells us there were only 7000 inhabitants at that time) at the edge of a large and young continent. The main character is Richard Smith, a stranger from England, with a £1000 credit note that attracts attention of both suspicious and self-interested kind from different quarters. At first no one knows if the note is real or fraudulent, and no one knows what his purpose is in travelling across an ocean with such a sum, or what it could be used for. Will he dabble in local political struggles? Will he invest in local trade? Will he assume a position as a respectable member of society? Spufford plays his cards very close to his chest until the end, and the reader is left as much in the dark as the New York locals.

There are plenty of plot twists as he falls in and out of favour, and I couldn’t predict at all what was going to happen next. There are a number of places where a section breaks off at a cliff-hanger, which was quite inconvenient as I was repeatedly going back on the promises I made to myself to have early night! This is quite an achievement given that the book is written in 18th century language. The author’s scholarly background perhaps helps to explain how he manages to pull off this difficult stylistic move so exceptionally well. Smollett or Fielding would be fooled!

It is more than just a great story though – there are thought-provoking themes like the importance of trust and reputation and the intertwined nature of justice and politics in those times. It is only until you get to the very last pages that you realise just how high the stakes were for the protagonist, who was a man ahead of his time in many ways, with very modern sensibilities.. The lead female character is also expertly written – flawed but highly compelling – far more than just a vehicle for a conventional happy ending.

I have deducted half a bite because I suspect that not all readers will like the fact that so many revelations are reserved for the last 30 pages. It is a double-edged sword – both intriguing and frustrating – but I would still highly recommend this book as an extremely well-researched and vividly written story. The descriptions especially bring the scenes to life. Four and a half bites.

 

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

The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-Fiction by Neil Gaiman

9781472207999If I were asked to formulate a list of my favourite authors (which I constantly imagine I am, normally whilst pretending I’m being interviewed after winning some kind of award), Neil Gaiman would always be near the top. His prose is poetic, he is passionate about what he does, and is capable of geeking out over his heroes like the rest of us. In this collection of his non-fiction writing, Gaiman talks on various subjects within speeches, book introductions and newspaper and magazine articles, all with the unique voice which could only be his. When collecting the Newbury Medal Speech for The Graveyard Book, he spoke about the importance of creating and “telling lies for a living”:

“….Somewhere out there is someone who needs that story. Someone who will grow up with a different landscape, who without that story will be a different person. And who with that story may have hope, or wisdom, or kindness, or comfort.
And that is why we write.”

Gaiman’s words resonate. They are capable of producing such emotion, and he manages to make it all seem so effortless.

He also has had the privilege of introducing books written by, or about, friends and favourite authors, director and filmakers. Some he has known well, like Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams. Some he has never known, like Ray Bradbury or G.K Chesterton. All have inspired him.

“They fall off the conveyor belt into the darkness, our friends, and we cannot talk to them anymore.”

What strikes you more than anything in reading this book, is the effect reading had on him as a child. He is a firm believer that there is no such thing as bad books for children, that children should be encouraged to read, not forced down a path which may lead them to stop reading altogether. He also talks about how TV, film and comics stimulated him creatively as a child, how these things stay in the subconscious long after they are consumed.

I did not read all the writings. I dipped in and out, starting with the titles that shouted out to me, moving back to read more on the section about films and introductions. Skipping past the comic book section with more ruthlessness. But this is a book which can be consumed in this way, and then you find yourself so absorbed in the writing that you are reading about a film you’ve never heard of before, but suddenly want to watch more than anything else in the world. Neil Gaiman’s words are like magic, and here we get a small glimpse behind the curtain.

5 Bites

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

The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

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.

Writings on Men by Men for International Men’s Day

As a confirmed feminist I know how to celebrate International Men’s Day – the way I celebrate everything else of course, by reading about it!! After all feminism is all about equality 😉

So in the last couple of weeks I decided to indulge myself with a copy of David Szalay’s “All That Man Is”, recently longlisted for  the 2016 Man Booker Prize. I also devoured Grayson Perry’s “The Descent of Man” and sampled an appetising Bite of Leslie Tate’s “Heaven’s Rage” All books dealing with modern manhood in different ways.

All That Man Is by David Szalay

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Click to buy on amazon

In All That Man Is Szalay introduces us to nine men. He shows each of them away from their home and striving to understand just what living means to 21st century man. But there the similarities end, each of them is at a different stage of life, each from a different place and each from a different class.

He starts with the youngest character and finishes with the oldest, showing men in all their glory. There are moments of hilarity, lust, anger and despair but one thing comes through again and again – muteness.

Szalay is an excellent scene and character builder and I think he deserved his long listing. There are places that the stories get a little frustrating as they are windows onto scenes in the lives of men so sometimes the stories don’t have satisfying conclusions or are not dealing with the most pivotal or shocking interludes but that’s OK. I imagine this would make a great audiobook as the different voices would come across a little better that way but I’d give it four bites.

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

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Click to buy from Amazon

I recently watched Grayson Perry’s documentary series about masculinity and found some of his insights fascinating so I jumped at the chance to read and review this and I wasn’t disappointed.

Written in Grayson’s distinctive and deprecatingly humours voice, he examines what is and what is not man’s ‘nature’. Splitting off what boys are socialised to do to be accepted as men and how they actually do differ from women (spoiler alert – we’re less different than you might think!)

Then he asks what would happen if we rethought what makes a man? He argues for a new ‘Manifesto for Men’ but insists that, for everyone to benefit, upgrading masculinity has to be something men decide to do themselves. I hope men read this book and go for the upgrade – as a feminist I want men to have happy fulfilling lives and there are definitely hints in here that point that way. I came away with the impression that talking to each other was vital, but that this should be something that got built in to men’s life in a way they were comfortable with i.e. Whilst doing something else.

5 Bites!

Heaven’s Rage by Leslie Tate

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Click here to pre-order

Leslie Tate’s book is more of a collection of essays on his own life as a man, and what an interesting and provocative life he has led. But having said that Leslie is an ordinary man in many ways and did not try to court the limelight, instead it was thrust upon him.

The section I read dealt with his ‘coming out’ as a transvestite. But he didn’t come out, he was outed savagely by a couple of national newspapers way back in the early eighties when such disclosures could easily have got him beaten or killed.

It then goes on to explore cross-dressing from a personal perspective and gender identity from a wider perspective. The author is clearly knowledgeable and thoughtful but the highlight of the story for me was his turning point. The day he started talking about it, opening up first to his Doctor and then to his wife.  A great final reminder that men should be able to talk and have their words and feelings heard

4 Bites

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

The Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

img_2276Hope Ardern has a very unusual problem, she can’t stay in anyone’s memory. If they turn away from her for just a few minutes it is like they’ve never seen her before and everything about their interactions have vanished from their minds.

It started when she was sixteen, schoolteachers not remembering she’d attended class, her friends forgetting to call her, her dad forgetting to drive her to school until her mother doesn’t remember her at all one morning when she comes down to breakfast and she has to pretend to be a friend staying over. That’s when she knows she has to leave and make her own way in the world, but it’s not so easy to get a job if people don’t remember you interviewing for it so she turns to crime. Stealing is easy when people forget to report you after all.

Stealing is how Hope gets caught up with the quest for “Perfection” – a new app that helps us mere mortals become as perfect as all those photo-shopped images we see everyday.  She’s hired to steal “Perfection” by someone that wants to destroy it, but “Perfection” could make her memorable.

Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was the first book I reviewed for this site and I really enjoyed it, so when I saw this I knew I had to grab a copy! Like that I listened to the audio version of the book, a little longer than the last one at just over 16 hours but the premise sounded really intriguing.

Not a single minute of those 16+ hours was wasted! There’s so much in this book, so much that makes you think. From meditating on memory and the sadness of losing someone to Alzheimers to pondering the cult of perfection that seems to be taking over the world, this book will get you thinking. But it’s all wrapped up in such an intriguing story, and ironically Hope Ardern is a character you’ll never forget.

Claire North is one heck of a clever person and I think I’d like her as my new best friend. Anyone that can weave together the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth with the lyrics of The Macarena this skillfully deserves ALL the awards. And no, I’m not telling you what that’s about – read the book – you won’t regret it!

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.

Glass by Alex Christofi

img_2300I was drawn to Glass when I was browsing my local bookshop because it had a quirky theme and a beautiful cover. It is the first novel of a young author who works in publishing and it has been described by reviewers as a charming coming of age tale. I found the lead character Gunther genuinely lovable and sympathised with him as he began his journey as a young man into a world full of opportunities and pitfalls. The book’s overall tone is tragicomic, but it won me over throughout because the sadness brings the joy and humour into sharp relief. It is also beautifully written. There was not a single weak sentence.

Gunther is an everyman figure. He is continually bewildered by human behaviour, and he tries in a persistently well-meaning way to make sense of people’s motivations. The story starts with his early life and his devotion to his mother, who really nurtures her idealistic and thoughtful son, and then describes his troubled schooldays. He leaves early and at first works as a milkman, until one day he is unexpectedly presented with a redundancy cheque. He is not particularly ambitious, and really struggles to find the motivation to pursue a new direction. In contrast, his brother, who is more pragmatic, but somewhat selfish, becomes a high achiever despite his deafness.

His mother’s unexpected death and the family’s disintegration due to his father’s grief are early sad notes in the novel, but I rejoiced when Gunther started his own window cleaning business. His exploits replacing an anti-aircraft light at the top of Salisbury cathedral garner local press attention and he is approached shortly afterwards by the shady boss of one of the biggest window cleaning businesses, that wins high-profile work cleaning office blocks in the City. He goes to seek his fortune, Dick Whittington-style, and finds that life in London brings mixed blessings in the form of a roommate with bizarre intellectual pursuits and eating habits, a near-death experience at the top of a skyscraper, and an interesting relationship with a clairvoyant.

I am giving this book five bites because I really appreciated how talented the writer was to make me feel so much empathy for Gunther, the ultimate unlikely hero. Christofi has an incredible lightness of touch, but he also weaves some serious themes into the book – the price of naivety, the effects of grief, how impossible it is to establish a singular ‘truth’ about anything, how difficult it can be to decide who to trust and what role faith should have in our secular world. The descriptions of the places Gunther goes to are always written in beautiful prose and never clichéd. Many of the characters have unexpected but believable eccentricities that bring them to life. It is rare and exciting to read a novel that makes you laugh out loud and makes you think. I want more people to read this very clever book. And I will be buying Alex Christofi’s next one.

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

The Spire by William Golding

UnknownHere is a novel that illumes the Dark Ages like no other. It doesn’t bathe the whole era in light, instead a single beam lands on Dean Jocelin, a man with a vision, and through him it shows all the passion and human folly that has always been in the world.

Dean Jocelin is convinced that he has been called upon by God to show his greatness and inspire his humble flock. He will do this by building a great spire on his cathedral regardless of the fact that his master builder advises against it as the cathedral was built without foundations. For Dean Jocelin the odds being stacked against it will prove God’s greatness. As the spire rises so does the tension until everyone is at breaking point.

William Golding is best known for Lord of the Flies, a classic that thousands of school children read every year at school. I’ve never read it, I’ve heard so much about it that I’ve never felt the need. Until now. Golding’s writing is exquisite. He is a true master of literature and there wasn’t a single thing about this book that I didn’t love. The characterisation is superb, I listened to this as an Audiobook read by Benedict Cumberbatch and he portrayed them all brilliantly- maybe in the case of Jocelin a little too brilliantly!

But his characterisation are not the only star of this book, the descriptions of the settings are phenomenal too. In the blurb for this book it is described as “a dark and powerful portrait of one man’s will, and the folly that he creates” and although it is powerful I have to take issue with the word dark. This book exposes darkness but it does so with light, and the darkness is in the shadows of buildings and people.

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.

Second-Hand Bestsellers – Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm

You may remember that following my confession a few months ago about picking up bargain books at second-hand stalls I  made a bit of a challenge out of my vice.The criteria I set are:-

  • Each book must be bought secondhand for no more than £1
  • Each book must claim on its front cover that it is a bestseller, award winner
  • 12 books – one per month for a year

This is my Book #2. Do feel free to join me and share your second-hand bestsellers in the comments!

Where Late The Sweet Birds Sang by Kate Wilhelm- published 1977.

‘The Hugo Award Winning Novel’

Tagline – PLAY GOD: It’s the most dangerous game of all

Hugo Award Winner Locus Award Winner Click to go through to Amazon
Hugo Award Winner
Locus Award Winner
Click to go through to Amazon

Wow! This short book of just 250 pages is a brilliantly thought through vision of a post-apocalyptic rebuilding of the human species. A new society where a child is will never feel lonely or left out and is always one of a number of identical brothers or sisters. The idea of group telepathy was not new in 1977 and indeed was explored in John Wyndham’s The Midwich Cuckoos published in 1957.

The story starts shortly before the apocalypse and is set in the beautiful Shendoah valley. Famine and drought are causing international incidents, resources are being hoarded and countries are closing borders. Radiation in the atmosphere is high, pandemics are killing thousands daily and most countries are experiencing zero population growth. Those with foresight are realising that the masses cannot be saved and that human species is on the brink of extinction. The Sumner family is blessed with several brilliant thinkers, lots of wealth and plenty of fertile secluded land. The elders have planned ahead and stockpiled medical and computer equipment, generators, food, building materials, animals, seeds and tools and most importantly gathered together people with skills.

David has been studying in the field of cloning and when tests show that all the men have become infertile the full value of his research becomes clear. At first cloning of humans is vital for the survival of the species but in time sexual reproduction of the species is seen as inferior and those few clones who turn out to be fertile are removed from the society and used as breeding stock to carry the cloned fetuses.

Cloned and cloned again for the continuance of the particular skills of their forebear each new batch of identical sisters or brothers share an emotional and psychological bond bordering on telepathy that proves ultimately to make them not individual thinkers but one part of a functioning whole. In Wilhelm’s novel these groups of children are not sinister creatures with the ability to control the minds of normal humans as in The Midwich Cuckoos but groups of identically skilled beings. Specialism stifles diversity, the individual consciousness is lost as the group consciousness develops, and consequently free thinkers, unique skills and the ability to produce random ideas are eradicated from the new generations.

What makes us human? This becomes the central theme of the book as the decades pass and the new society realise that their continuing reproduction and therefore their very survival will depend on obtaining resources from the ruined cities. To leave their safe valley and go foraging hundreds of miles away in bombed out cities and radiation poisoned landscapes requires skills that these generations were not bred for. Their new utopia is in grave danger.

This book is not dark and violent as many dystopian novels are. It’s more subtle in its depiction of good and bad choices. At the end Mark, who is not a clone although both his parents were, says “You won’t understand this. No one’s alive but me who could understand it. I love you, Barry. You’re strange to me, alien, not human. All of you are… but I didn’t destroy them because I loved you.”

This novel is concisely written, not a word is wasted and yet Wilhelm’s descriptions of the desolate cities and the deep forests lack nothing. It is meticulously thought out and challenging. Presented in 3 main time frames she develops various protagonists as the new generations are introduced and the contrast between the individual and the collective deepens.

This book blew me away. I may not be a lover of sci-fi (though since the cloning of Dolly the sheep in the 1990s cloning has ceased to be fiction and has become a fact) but nevertheless I was immersed in this vision of the future. I can see why it won two awards and I recommend it whole-heartedly for anyone from YA up.

I wish it was longer – that’s my only complaint. I have to give it 5 bites

 

 

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

Midwinter by Fiona Melrose

MidwinterOne harsh winter night Vale finally argues with his father about the horrible death of his beloved mother years earlier in another land. His father Landyn blackens his eye before he even realises what he’s done setting off a catastrophic chain of events.

As winter keeps the skies dark over this pair of Suffolk farmers they struggle to keep going both financially and emotionally. Each of them running from pain – one into the solace of the land and his dog, the other into anger, stupid decisions and recriminations.

Full disclosure – I know the author of this book personally, she kindly did some dog training with my family and she led a writer’s workshop for a while that my child attended, so I was both very eager and very nervous to review this. As you know if you’ve been reading our reviews for a while we also write honest reviews even when we get free copies (like this time) and even when we know the author. Gulp!

But thankfully I need not worry about offending her with a bad review and having to leave the county she paints so beautifully. This is a heart-tearingly good novel.

It falls completely into the ‘literary fiction’ genre so if action / adventure or scandi crime is your thing this won’t fit the bill, but with it’s bleakness and insight into the male psyche it might be something you want to try anyway. There is a feeling of tension that builds within the story so you won’t miss too much nail-nibbling!

The characterisations are haunting, these are men like men you know. And their problems are ones you will recognise, maybe you’ve even shared some of them.  As it’s told in 1st person from both the father’s and the son’s side it’s impossible not to care about them. Interestingly, when you are looking at each of them from the other’s perspective they still remain true in their mannerisms and language, so although they are at odds the narrative never is. That takes talent and attention to detail.

Personally I was charmed by the dialogue which was true to Suffolk in both language and speech patterns. It showed real respect for the characters and the place which is rare when the characters are farmers and less than rich. The settings are beautifully written too  with flashbacks to the family’s time in Zambia providing a colouful counterpoint to the muted tones of an English winter.

It’s not a long book, but it’s not rushed either. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon in front of a winters fire.

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.

Himself by Jess Kidd

Debut Novel
Debut Novel

Mahoney is a dark eyed, dark haired, leather jacketed lad down from Dublin for a holiday in the tranquil village of Mulderrig, or so he claims as he chats to Tadgh the publican.

His real reason for visiting is…well, rather more complex; raised by nuns in St Martha’s orphanage he’s just received an anonymous letter that was written at the time he was abandoned. Now he knows his mammy’s name, where she came from and even his own name – not that he’s intending to use it. He also knows she was considered the curse of the town. Among the many things he doesn’t know is what happened to her, why he was abandoned, who his father is and why, oh why, he can see ghosts.

With laughing eyes and a charming smile Mahoney attracts much interest and before a day has passed Tadgh has introduced him to half the town and found lodgings for the handsome stranger.

Up at Rathmore House young Shauna Burke is struggling to keep the fine old house going, her mother left years ago and her father took to his garden shed in grief where he reads about fairies and talks to himself in a Protestant accent. Her one paying guest is the ancient thespian Mrs Cauley, tiny in size, mighty in nature and comfortably wealthy she refuses to kowtow to the dogma of the local priest, Father Quinn. Recognising a kindred spirit in Mahoney the old woman takes him under her wing determined to help him find the truth about his mother.

Each year Mrs Cauley finances and stages a show in aid of the Church and this year SHE has decided it will be The Playboy of The Western World with Mahoney in the lead role. Under the guise of auditions Mrs Cauley sets to work asking questions that should have been asked twenty years earlier and uncovering a web of deceit so dark that it is surprising that the sun can ever again shine upon shameful Mulderig. Aided and abetted by ghosts, dreams and love struck women, Mahoney is kept busy following up the leads. Meanwhile with the troublesome priest doing his very best to bring down hell and damnation on the wicked stranger nature has decided it’s time to make its presence felt on the priest.

This book is an entire firework display of delights. The characters are spicy and gnarly despite some small town caricatures and by page thirty I was dreaming of Aidan Turner in the role of Mahoney with Maggie Smith as the force of nature that is Mrs Cauley. Engaging, humorous, dark and witty the dialogue crackled with spite and brilliance as small town secrets were revealed. The lilting Irish phrasing practically sang off the page while touches of magic realism combined to keep what is at its heart a dark and brutal tale from leaving a bitter taste.

I so enjoyed this book I want to read it all again immediately. It has to score a perfect 5 from me

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.

Beloved by Toni Morrison

img_1545124 Bluestone Road is a house of ghosts. Sethe and her daughter Denver are it’s only living inhabitants. The vengeful spirit of Sethe’s first daughter haunts the house and has driven away Sethe’s two sons and contributed to the death of Sethe’s mother in law, Baby Suggs. For Denver, the phantom is the only friend she has; for Sethe, it is a reminder of the past and the ghosts of a previous life.

The year is 1873, it’s ten years since the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and eight years since the end of The Civil War. Sethe is now a free woman, but the memory of her life as a house slave at Sweet Home is not an easy one to forget. Having managed to run away from the evil Schoolmaster and his sons, Sethe gave birth to Denver whilst escaping. Her husband, Halle, hasn’t been seen since that day.

When former Sweet Home man, Paul D arrives at number 124 to see Sethe, he finds a house filled with the rage of a dead girl. In his fury, he exorcises the house. Denver is devastated by the arrival of this man whom her mother seems so taken to, and who has driven away the only friend she has. A few days later, they find a girl sitting alone on a stump outside number 124. They take her in and care for her, this girl who has no family, who says her name is Beloved, who fills the holes in Sethe and Denver’s lives and becomes an integral part of the family.

This is such an important book. It shows how horrific circumstances can force people to make devastating decisions: ones that seem so logical to the person making them, but unimaginable to us in our comfortable, safe lives. It’s about how the ghosts of the past are always with us and how we become accustom to having them in our lives.

I found the first few pages a bit confusing, whether through my own tiredness or Morrison’s writing I couldn’t say. I did have to go back and read again, but once I had, I couldn’t stop. There are questions which keep pulling you forward, and the sublimity of the writing won’t let you go. Each character has their own back story, their own role to play and at the end of the book, not everything is wrapped up in a nice little bow. I like that.

This book shows the psychological impact of slavery as well as the physical, and how it effects not only the generation that lived through it, but reverberated through the generations that followed. An excellent read.

5 bites

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

My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal

cover78296-mediumIt is 1981 and nine year old Leon has just gained a perfect baby brother called Jake. His mum is sleeping all the time but that’s ok because he’s learnt exactly how to look after Jake on his own, but then he runs out of money and asks his upstairs neighbour if he can borrow a pound. Before he knows what’s happening he and Jake have been taken to live with Maureen.

He teaches Maureen how to care for Jake but it doesn’t seem to matter because the social workers keep telling him that Jake would be better off if he were adopted. He can’t go with him, Jake is white and Leon is not.

Leon struggles to cope with his anger, but a new bike helps give him a sense of release. Then he finds a new friend Tufty, a grown-up who reminds him of his dad and teaches him gardening and politics at the same time. Of course he doesn’t let any of that distract him from his master plan of stealing enough coins so that one day he can rescue Jake and his mum.

This book is written in the first person narrative and Leon’s voice is utterly believable. It is reminiscent of To Kill A Mockingbird as it shows racism through the eyes of a child. However this book shows that through the eyes of a black child who is mainly brought up by white adults. This is shows the absurdity of racism in 1980’s very clearly and it is disturbing. I’m only 2 years older than Leon and as far as nostalgia goes this book had it all, the descriptions of settings, of how people lived, and the magic of Curly-Wurly’s is all spot on.

Leon has had his shell hardened by his experiences, but his centre is pure sweetness and it’s impossible not to love him. I was a little disappointed by the ending – it is the right ending for the book I think I just wish it hadn’t finished so soon, I wanted to stay in Leon’s life a lot longer.

Of course the racism shown in this story hasn’t been eradicated, but hopefully this hard-hitting yet charming tale will go some way towards wiping some more of it out.

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.

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

americanahIfemelu left Lagos and the boy she loved there to go to college in America. The Nigeria she left was under military dictatorship, and her boyfriend Obinze was going to join her in the free world. But then 9/11 happened and he couldn’t get a visa.

Through this enforced separation  Ifemelu goes through some awful times but eventually finds friends and a job as a successful feature writer. But thirteen years later she can no longer ignore her feeling of displacement and yearns to return home.

With the passing of time Obinze has become a wealthy man, but neither of them has ever forgotten the honesty of their relationship or the mystery of its ending. Can they face each other again or have they both changed too much?

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie can’t seem to write a book without it winning an award and she deserves them. This book has everything- love, conflict, social commentary, believable characters and excellent writing. The structure of this book is wonderful, it’s clever, but facilitates the story perfectly. We meet Ifemelu as she is about to enter a new hairdressers, a place where she will be sitting for hours with other African women giving her the chance to reflect on her experiences as an African woman in America. Far from being melancholy though, the story remains vibrant and immediate. Interspersed with this are some of Ifemelu’s blog posts from her successful blog ‘The Non-American Black’ which are conversational and insightful.

We also follow Obinze’s story, through which we see the changes in Nigeria as well as in his own personal life.

I fell in love with these characters and would really like to have hem as neighbours so I could hang out with them both, keep up with the gossip and set the world to rights! I can’t recommend this book highly enough – it’s stormed into my all-time favourites and I know I’ll be recommending it for years to come.

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 Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

narrow-roadWinner of The Man Booker Prize 2014, this extraordinary novel on the surface is about Dorrigo Evans, an army surgeon who finds himself in command of several hundred fellow POWs forced into hard labour to build the notorious Burma Railway between Bangkok and Rangoon in WWII. Flanagan’s approach to telling the Story of Dorrigo turns the novel into much much more than just a run of the mill WWII saga. We see vignettes not only from Dorrigo’s life before, after, and during the Second World War but also snippets from those around him- Amy, the great love he leaves to go to war, his fellow POWs, the Japanese Army officers who oversee Dorrigo’s section of ‘The Line’. It is, as the marketing hype suggests, “a story about the many forms of love and death, of war and truth, as one man comes of age, prospers, only to discover all that he has lost.”

One of the best things about this book is that although it is fiction, it is based within a history that is vehemently real. Knowing that, although these specific events didn’t take place, the bravery, strength, cowardice and evil depicted really happened adds an extra dimension to the tale.
Getting inside the heads of the Japanese and Korean soldiers blurred the lines between what I believed to be the established truths behind this history and ripped apart my black and white approach to this era. Shades of grey fill the page with humanity and the unfairness of history.

This is Richard Flanagan’s tribute to his father who was an Australian POW on the notorious Burma Railway. Richard’s father was on the railway with the famous Weary Dunlop who, in the words of one of his men, became “a lighthouse of sanity in a universe of madness and suffering”. When asked if Dorrigo is inspired by Weary, Flanagan emphatically responds that “Dunlop is too extraordinary a character for fiction.” For such an extraordinary book with such extraordinary characters, that says so much.

Flanagan’s style of writing, particularly some of his grammatical choices, and his approach to chronology take some getting used to but you are quickly swept up into the rich fabric that Flanagan weaves with his descriptive writing.

I must have written and rewritten this review two dozen times over the past month or so. To try and get my thoughts and feelings about this book down on ‘paper’ feels at the moment like my own personal Everest. I simply do not have sufficient words to describe the impact this book had on me.

In despair, and with my deadline looming, I looked back on the conversation I had with my fellow Book Eaters ten minutes after finishing and decided to share with you my initial thoughts.

“I’ve just finished The Narrow Road To The Deep North.
It’s taken 8 months. I’ve had to put it down and leave it alone so many times and stop myself from picking it back up until I’m able to deal with the emotions it brings. I’ve read the last 75 pages with tears streaming down my face. It’s a book that has punched me in the gut over and over. I don’t know if I’ll ever be strong enough to read it again and yet I don’t know how I can bear the thought of never again opening the pages of a book that has truly changed the way I think in a fundamental way.

I truly don’t know if I recommend it. In almost every way I do, but it is a book which is fiction and yet not fiction. The truths in the story have shred my heart into tiny pieces.

 

5 bites. If only there were more bites to give…

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.