Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

cover102888-mediumThe tale of Prospero’s quest for revenge from William Shakespeare’s The Tempest is of course well known. But this book asks what of his daughter Miranda? The pawn in his twisted game. Or Caliban, apparently just a savage that Prospero chained to his will?

Here we meet Miranda, a loving child who wants to spread happiness and doesn’t understand her father’s paranoid control. She understands kindness and compassion though and longs to rebel but knows her father’s magic is too powerful for her. Here too is Caliban, a lost and frightened child who finds in Miranda solace and joyful companionship. He resents Prospero’s enslaving of him and manipulation of Miranda. Of course the spirit Ariel flits through the story too as cataclysmic a force as could be imagined with every small sentence that drops from his lips leaving confusion and calamity all around.

If you know the play then you’ll have a fair idea where the story is going from the start but don’t let that dissuade you from taking the journey. The writing is a real pleasure, at once sumptuous and spare, Carey portrays the characters with a few deft strokes but then washes colour and light through them so the depths of their souls are displayed.

And in many ways this is an untold story as it deals with the twelve years that Prospero and Miranda were exiled and according to Carey there is much more to be said about Prospero as a father and Miranda as a girl growing up with little human companionship than the play explores. What does she remember if anything of her pampered life before exile? How can she trust a man who uses cruelty to have what’s best for her at heart?

There is plenty of tension and conflict in the book, honestly I wasn’t sure all if Carey would return to Shakespeare’s Tale or upend it completely, the ending is not so fixed as you might imagine …

5 Bites.

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

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

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

cover107531-mediumJonah’s wife Audrey has just died in a car crash, it may have been suicide, she had been depressed after a series of miscarriages. But she’d seemed happier lately, since she’d started visiting Kew Gardens regularly, so Jonah isn’t sure. He just knows the woman he loved is gone and he can’t sleep for mourning her. He is drawn to Kew, looking for the solace it gave her and hoping to feel her there.

But Kew Gardens isn’t his alone of course, there he meets Milly, a charming child who says her father works there, but where is her mother, and why is she always wearing the same clothes?

Then there’s the gardner, Harry. His purpose is to save plants from extinction, but has his desire to save life been twisted into something destructive?

Chloe is also a frequent visitor, an artist designing a huge origami installation to be exhibited at Kew, finds her singular minded isolation challenged. And the guilt she feels exposed.

They don’t know it yet but these five strangers are all connected. Can they find the way through the maze of regret and guilt through to acceptance and forgiveness?

I grant you that this sounds sentimental to possibly bordering on maudlin but I promise you it isn’t. It’s a life-affirming novel of exceptional beauty in fact. In places it’s gritty, even ugly, and in others it enjoys some quiet mundanity, then it trips into dizzying revels of the foibles of the human heart.

I like to read my books depending on the season to an extent, I generally save gothic horror for the autumn/winter, or books based in cold climates for the winter and those with prettier climates for the Spring or Summer (am I weird or do you do that too?) But as this book traces a full calendar year in Kew Gardens it can be enjoyed at anytime of year. So whether you’ve holidays booked in the South of France this summer or in Scotland this autumn take this book with you.

Tor Udell described the scenery beautifully. I haven’t been to Kew for years but I now feel like I have spent months there recently – even though I read this book in about two days! So if you’ve no holiday booked maybe just have a weekend at home with this book! Apart from the human content this can also be considered a bit of a love letter to Kew and it definitely made me want to revisit it in real life.

Definitely 5 Bites from me and one I will be re-reading (even though I’m unlikely to forget the ending!)

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.

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

cover110718-mediumThere are those amongst us that age more slowly, Tom Hazard is one. Until he was 13 he aged normally, but then things slowed down and it takes about 14 years for him to age each year from then on.

Now he looks like an ordinary 41-year-old, but he’s survived the Black Death, met Shakespeare and F Scott Fitzgerald and played his part in protecting the secret society of others like him. Now he’s returned to the part of London he shared with the love of his life, craving an ordinary life and still hoping to find the daughter he hasn’t seen in hundreds of years.

He has the perfect cover – working as a history teacher. He can teach the kids about wars and witch hunts as if he’d never witnessed them first-hand. But can he stay hidden in this world of social media? Can he tame the memories that threaten to overwhelm him? And can he stop himself from falling love?

To be honest though, the question that I found myself asking over and over again whilst reading this was more selfish. It was “How can I slow down time at least while I’m reading this book?” It’s just that kind of book, the sort you want to live in for a good long while. But time is a trickster and if anything it seemed to speed up until before I knew it I was reading the last page far far to soon.

Tom Hazard is not perfect, but he’s a good man. Even though he’s lost everyone he’s ever loved and has witnessed the most horrific evils human nature can produce. Many people would have given up on life but the thought of finding his daughter keeps him going. And it keeps the reader rooting for him too.

Matt Haig’s writing is as usual is a joy. Reading him is so easy, the story cracks on, he lets you care about his characters and he builds a tactile, sensory world around them that allows you to feel like you are right there with him. His writing remains unobtrusive but it draws you in like a quiet conversation.

I read quite a lot of books that play with the theme of time travel and immortality and this is definitely one of the best.

5 Bites

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

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

A Long Long Way by Sebastian Barry

IMG_1656Willie Dunne is born in Dublin in 1896. Part of a generation of men whose fates are linked inextricably with the fate of Europe itself, doomed to fight in the fields of Flanders. Too short to follow his father into the ranks of the Dublin Metropolitan Police, Willie sees the war as an opportunity to prove himself. Proud to be a solider if he cannot be a policeman, proud to prove to his girl, Gretta, that he knows his own mind.

But, like the other men of his generation, he soon learns that there is no glory to be found in Belgium. His company, the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, are amongst the first to be subjected to the horrors of a gas attack, which kills their Captain and a good number of their men. And for Willie, the fighting is not confined to the Western Front. Whilst on Furlough, violence breaks out on the streets of Dublin and Willie finds himself a British solider fighting his fellow countrymen during the Easter Uprising.

This is an incredible book. The writing is stunning, lyrical and sensory. There are some sentences which are so beautiful that they will make you want to go back and read them over and over again. Barry has such mastery of language, it’s no wonder this book was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, or that he has won Costa book of the Year twice.

Meanwhile, the explosions up ahead seemed to be tearing at the stars themselves, sorely extinguishing them, ripping those buttons of timid light.”

Willie Dunne is such an engaging character. An innocent at the start of the book, brought up by his father after his mother’s death, he has never questioned his father’s world view. But after seeing senseless death on the Western Front, he expresses a sadness at the death of the leaders of the Dublin Uprisings, putting him in conflict with his father. In one particularly effecting scene, Willie walking the streets of Dublin in his army uniform, is spat on by those who walk by him. Considered Irish by the English, and English by the Irish, he is a man without a country. Shunned by those he fights for.

“….now he sang for these ruined men, these doomed listeners, these wretched fools of men come out to fight a war without a country to their name, the slaves of England and the kings of nothing.”

This is the best novel about the First World War that I have read. It blends history with a captivating plot and stunning prose. At time it will have you in tears, at others it will make you smile. This is a book that has it all.

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.

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

IMG_2537Angela Carter has the most fantastical imagination and she gives it full reign here.

It is the story of Sophie Fevvers, aerialiste extraordinaire and star of Colonel Kearney’s circus, and Jack Walser, an American journalist on a quest to discover the truth behind her identity.

For Sophie Fevvers claims that her wings are real. She is part woman, part swan. She is also being courted by the Prince of Wales, has been painted by Toulouse-Lautrec, and seems to have an unusual control over time.

Walser convinces his editor to let him join the circus as a clown on its European tour. He says it’s to get the scoop of the century but his real motive is love.

There is so much to this book. Drama, passion, curiosity. In it Angela Carter harnesses the impossible and makes it do tricks. This is a terrific book for those that grew up loving Harry Potter but who perhaps haven’t started delving yet into the wealth of books that  paved the way for it.

When I was reading this I found myself doodling with phrases from the book (my version of doodling – I’m not good with a pencil!) which is something I tend only to do when the writing is exceptionally good. One description I loved was this one of Walser “Yet there remained something a little unfinished about him, still. He was like a handsome house that has been let, furnished.” Brilliant!

This one of Fevvers I doodled …

IMG_7308

I think you can guess already that it’s Five Bites from me … and probably the start of a Carter binge!

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 Deathly Hallows by JK Rowling

Harry_Potter_and_the_Deathly_HallowsAnd so we come to the end of our reread and review of the Harry Potter series to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the release of The Philosopher’s Stone… The Deathly Hallows.

It’s often considered to be one of the best books and it is certainly a fan favourite. Equally the film version(s) is considered to be one of the best of the series…. it’s certainly one of my favourites. So how does it compare?
Deathly Hallows is a pretty hefty book at 607 pages and was split into 2 films, a slightly controversial decision at the time but fairly standard for book to film adaptations (Can we mention The Hobbit yet?!)

By and large the film did a pretty good job of parsing the epic story into a manageable time frame although it did necessitate leaving out a lot of the sub plots, for example, Dumbledore’s family background. I actually thought that the plots that were left out were chosen well, and the film series had been leaving out bits and pieces throughout which meant you couldn’t have everything a fan might want!

One of the things I loved about the book was the focus on the friendship of the central Trio. It really highlighted that friendship can be everlasting and yet still take work. Ron’s abandonment of Harry and Hermione, although hurried along by the Horcrux, had been foreshadowed in every book and I thought Rowling dealt with it beautifully- both from understanding Ron’s point of view and also dealing with the burden it placed on Hermione. The film added an extra dimension to this with the addition of the dance scene with Harry and Hermione. It’s difficult to get across the deep friendship between Harry and Hermione on film, particularly when so many other film adaptations have a love triangle at the heart of their romantic plot and I thought this scene, although not in the book at all, did an excellent job.
Ron’s return rewarded my faith in the friendship between the Trio and again, I felt the film covered the situation equally as well as the book. I remember feeling very relieved when I read that scene in the book… of course JK Rowling wouldn’t split up the Trio… not now, not when they need each other all the more!!

neville childMy favourite character in this book (and film actually) was Neville. Oh Neville, you who could have been the Chosen One, how I love your bravery! From book 1 where you stnland up to your friends to book 7 where you stand up to the most evil and dangerous wizard, you prove over and over that you are a true Gryffindor! In both the book and the films, little hints are dropped about Neville’s brave deeds- trying to steal the Sword of Gryffindor, refusing to obey the Carrows and protecting younger students, undergoing the Cruciatus Curse (particularly daunting for Neville given his parents’ fate) and finally going in to hiding to continue the fight. Once the action gets to Hogwarts, his bravery really ramps up. His standing up to Voldemort at a time when hope was lost was braver by far than his dispatching of Nagini but both events showed just how far Neville had come from the boy who lost his toad (whatever did happen to Trevor?). I was really pleased that they didn’t cut Neville’s bravery from the film, although it was a tad altered. (On a side note, my dad always thought that it would have been a much better story had Neville turned out to be the Chosen One rather than Harry- views??)

I can’t write a review of The Deathly Hallows without mentioning the epilogue. It’s a particularly controversial aspect of the last novel with some hailing the chance to see what happens to everyone, and some deriding it as an example of fan fiction tropes of the worst kind. I fall somewhere in the middle. I do like that the series doesn’t just end with the fall of Voldemort but I can’t help wishing that we could see some of the immediate aftermath, it would interest me much more than knowing what Ginny and Harry’s kids are called (FYI, dreadful names….). It did raise a couple of questions- why exactly was Draco forgiven and not sent to Azkaban, being the one foremost in my mind! I quite liked the scene in the film, but I actually felt it was more out of place in the film than it was in the book. The ending of them on the bridge would have been perfect.

It’s a 5 biter for the book from me (and actually for the film but we’re not a film review site!)

 

 

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.

Harry Potter and The Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Warning: Contains spoilers!

Harry_Potter_and_the_Goblet_of_FireYesterday, Rachel eloquently stated her case for Prisoner of Azkaban. Today it’s my turn to explain why I think that the Goblet of Fire is the best book in the Harry Potter universe. I’ve had many conversations with people over the years, and a lot of them have described the book as “filler”. But for me, the Goblet of Fire is where everything changed.

The book begins, not on Privet Drive, but in the village of Little Hangleton and the Riddle House. This was the first book of the series to move away from Harry and Little Whinging, and as a result we are thrown straight into the action. As Frank Bryce steps into the house, describes the figures who are trespassing on the estate he has vowed to look after, it is clear he is doomed. Voldemort, Pettigrew, Nagini and the killing curse, all before the end of chapter one. JK Rowling had thrown down the gauntlet. This book was going to be dark.

For me, Goblet of Fire delved further into the minds of the characters than any other book before. Ron’s reaction when Harry’s name is pulled out of the Goblet of Fire is so real, perfect for someone who has lived for three years in his friend’s shadow. It is the book in which Harry is able to experience what it is like to have family, albeit one who is on the run from the Dementors. Future events will make this a bitter sweet experience.

We also learn a lot more about what the wizarding world thinks of Harry. Rita Skeeter and her ‘fake news’ are believed, because it compounds what people already believe: that Harry enjoyed his celebrity and would do anything for the attention. Even Ron fell into the trap of believing this was true. How else could Harry’s name have ended up in the Goblet of Fire?

But there is such fun within the book as well. The Quidditch World Cup (up to the bit where things start to go wrong), was brilliant. I would totally enjoy camping more if I had a tent like the Weasleys! I loved learning more about the other magical schools, and the descriptions of the Yule Ball. And I LOVED Mad Eye Moony, up until….well, you know.

I would like to clarify, for those who have just watched the film. Dobby gave Harry the gillyweed.

And then the ending. The death of Cedric Diggory made us realise that no-one was safe. Voldemort was back, and he wasn’t going to let anyone get in the way of his ultimate goal. Goblet of Fire was different to the books that had come before it. And after it, nothing was ever going to be the same.

5 Bites (obviously!)

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

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban

IMG_1641And so we come to the third installment of the Harry Potter series. And my favourite. Book or film, number 3 always hits the top of the charts for me. I think it’s brilliant! I own three physical copies and a ebook. It’s on my wish list for audio-books to own but I have listened to it from the library several times.

I just feel that The Prisoner of Azkaban is where Harry Potter really branches out and shouts to the world that here is a story for the ages.

Rowling herself said that writing POA was her best writing experience- her money worries were at bay, the press attention wasn’t too overbearing and she felt comfortable. I think that shows in her writing throughout. The little additions to the wizarding world she drops in, those little details that make it so easy to immerse yourself in a world where broomsticks and hippogriffs are perfectly legitimate ways to fly, and chocolate is the cure to abject despair!

Prisoner of Azkaban has the reputation of being the point in which the series becaomes darker, and in may ways that’s true. It’s certainly the book where you realise that Harry’s life will never be easy. In other series, the offer Sirius makes to Harry to come and live with him would mark the point at which he gains a trusted guardian and adviser and can really grow into his role as a hero. In Rowling’s world, it marks the point in which we realise that Harry has to overcome so much more than Lord Voldemort… he has to overcome everything life throws at him. I actually think that having Sirius make this offer, moments after Harry believes his story, and moments before he has to go on the run again, is the cruellest thing Rowling does to Harry over the whole series.

Plot wise, it’s a pacy book and I think the last of the streamlined books in this series. 4, 5 and especially 6 I find prone to bloat and it always makes me appreciate the efficiency of story telling in Prisoner of Azkaban so much more

I also love the characters in this. Lupin is a fabulous character, flawed and kind hearted, struggling with his inner demons and his principles. I do love him.
I also love the interplay between harry, Hermione and Ron. Their friendship endures despite the trials and tribulations of life.

It’s a 5 biter for me!

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.

Goblin by Ever Dundas

IMG_2576Goblin is just a young child when an World War 2 begins. Her mother doesn’t like her so she leads a semi-feral life with a gang of young children amidst the craters of London’s Blitz. She only goes home to eat and sleep, to help her father fix things for their neighbours, and to dream dreams of becoming a pirate with her older brother. He’s almost old enough to sign up but he’s got no plans to, explaining to her what a conscientious objector is. Then he doesn’t come home and she is evacuated and her letters to him go unanswered. Freed from London and living near the coast unfetters her imagination and she takes refuge in a self-constructed but magical imaginary world.

In 2011, Goblin is an eccentric and secretive old lady. She volunteers at the local library and helps outcasts and animals when she can. But then some old photos are found showing the pet cemetary reminding the country of one of the great shames of the war – when we slaughtered our pets to protect them from a German invasion and torture. But one photo shows Goblin and an even greater atrocity. She is forced to return to a London that is once again burning and face her past. Will she have the strength to reveal the truth or will it drive her over the edge to insanity?

This is the kind of book that will appeal to fans of a variety of different fiction. At its heart is a mystery wrapped in the gruesome darkness of war. But it also has elements of gothic fantasy, fascinating oddball characters, a coming of age story and love and redemption. Trying to cram this much into one book could be confusing but in this case it adds to the mystery. Goblin herself is weird and wonderful both as a child and as an old woman. She has heart and sass in equal measures and though she can be sharp and grumpy her honesty is appealing, even whilst she keeps so much hidden.

This is a book I’ll be re-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.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

511UiSk3+1LIn February 1862 President Lincoln’s adored eleven-year-old son, Willie, died in the White House. He’d fallen sick a few days before after getting soaked to the skin whilst riding. But despite his illness, the Lincoln’s continue to hold a glittering reception – the Civil War was less than a year old and the nation had begun to realize it was in for a long, bloody struggle.

When Willie is laid to rest in a Georgetown cemetery in when this story really starts. Although Lincoln is mired in politics his broken heart is with his son and he returned to the crypt several times alone to hold his boy’s body.

But before he can Willie starts to meet the other inhabitants of the graveyard. He doesn’t realise he is dead, and neither do the other ghosts who continue to have friendships, complain, commiserate, quarrel, and wait to wake up with their loved ones around them. Here, in the bardo (named for the Tibetan transitional stage between life and death) an enormous struggle erupts over young Willie’s soul.

This is the most original book I have ever read. It is told by a series of quotes, some real some imagined, laid together to create a mosaic path through the story. Some quotes laud Lincoln and praise the reception held in spite of his son’s illness, others dismiss it as gaudy and heartless.

Then come the quotes from the ghosts. The only way I can give you a feel of this is to ask you to imagine Scrooge’s ghosts as Morecombe and Wise. They’re not really anything like that (they’re mainly american and died pre 1862 for a start!) but something in the humour and tragedy that they create is similar.

My only potential criticism with this could be the layout. As it’s all quotes there are rarely more than a few sentences before the source of the quote and then a gap. It didn’t bother me after the first few pages but it could be disjointing. A plus side of this is that you get to read a really big book really quickly which I liked because it made me feel really intelligent and a super-speedy reader!

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.

A Very Grand…..Parent

This week something momentous happened. It wasn’t just my 54th birthday, it wasn’t that I taught my last maths class of this academic year and it certainly wasn’t that Britain finally reached the climax of yet another election campaign and some of us dutifully trotted off to vote. No, what made it momentous was the fact that without doing anything I became a GRANDPARENT. Over the last few months I have spent an inordinate amount of time trying to decide whether I want to be called Granny or Grandma, Nanny or Nona and this got me thinking about why I felt uncomfortable with being labelled ‘granny’(see below for my final decision).

Click through to Waterstones
Click through to Waterstones

Society and media stereotype grandparents as old, grey, infirm, sedentary and either cosy or grouchy and yet the last census showed that there are now 2.7 million grandparents acting as the primary caregiver for their grandchildren but this isn’t reflected in literature and media. In addition to the primary carers there are also umpteen grandparents who have either taken early retirement or reduced their hours of work in order to act as unpaid baby-sitters and child-minders so their adult children can carry on working. The reality of many middle-aged and pre-retirement people being actively engaged day in and day out with the raising of the next generation is barely acknowledged at all.

So with my Book Eater’s hat on I set out to find some great books about Grandparents. The first thing I discovered is that most books with a focus on the senior generation are aimed at young readers and many of them perpetuate the stereotypes. A study of children’s books in five EU countries confirmed that not only are grandparents portrayed as a sedentary, grey haired and wrinkly but identified that the age of these literary ‘grandparents’ was depicted as being far older than the average age of real grandparents with young grandchildren.

Sadly I found very few examples of genuine grandparent/grandchild relationships and so if you are aware of any that fit the bill please, please, please – recommend them to me

Fablehaven by Brandon Mull.

This fantasy series is often recommended to Harry Potter addicts. It turns out that Grandpa Sorenson is the caretaker of an amazing and dangerous fantasy world. Unfortunately his relationship with his grandchildren is not overflowing with openness and trust and quite a few of the problems they encounter are because he isn’t entirely truthful with them. Not exactly the grandparent / grandchild relationship I was hoping to find. 3 bites

Heidi by Johanna Spyri

This book was always a firm childhood favourite of mine – with a more typical depiction of a firm grandfather and an adventurous young girl. Their relationship grows in strength and trust and grandfather’s heart is softened by the love and affection of Heidi. This novel has stood the test of time and Grandfather is perhaps the epitome of literary grandparents, stern, firm, loving and with a twinkle in his eye. 4 bites

Gansta Granny by David Walliams

This is an absolute favourite of my 81 year old mother. She has read this with two of her five great-grandchildren and plans to read it with the other three just as soon as they are old enough.  It opens with the typical depiction of a boring Scrabble playing granny who makes her grandson Ben eat cabbage and …even worse…whose only television is broken. However the plot quickly develops as young Ben, who hates staying the night at granny’s place, accidentally discovers that she was an international jewel thief and all her life she has longed to steal the crown jewels – and now needs his help to do exactly that! Full of laughs and adventures the real joy of the story lies in the blossoming relationship that develops between Ben and his Granny when he learns to see her in a different light. 5 bites

Love, Aubrey by Suzanne LaFleur

Aubrey is just 11 when she finds herself bereaved and abandoned but then her grandmother Gram arrives and takes her back to live in Vermont. Struggling to cope with her losses Aubrey is a difficult house-guest but Gram has endless patience and gradually with the help of a new friend and a good counsellor Aubrey begins to open up. Written from Aubrey’s point of view the reader will nevertheless feel the love that Gram has for this child and the efforts she makes to help her heal.This really is an excellent depiction of a modern grandparent / grandchild relationship. 5 bites

 

Well there we go – please send me your book recommendations so I can read how to be the best Grandee (!) that I can.

 

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.

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

cover96034-mediumIn one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Mexico, just twenty metres beyond the border with America, lives Faustino. A desperate orphan who’s just made a big mistake. He’s dipped into a pile of dollars he was supposed to be hiding for a gang he wanted to escape from. Now he and his friend, Arturo, have only 36 hours to replace the missing money, or they’re as good as dead.

He’s praying to Saint Death – the beautiful and terrifying goddess who demands absolute loyalty and promises little but a chance in return.

This is children’s literature unlike any I’ve ever read (embarrassingly I’ve no real excuse for reading as many kids / young adult books as I do!) It is aimed at older children, a mature eleven or twelve year old could read it but generally over 13’s. However this is 100% suitable for adults.

It is brash and brutal. And brilliant. There’s nothing I can fault about it at all, the storyline is terrific, the characters utterly believable and their dilemmas beautifully poignant, and the writing is clear and expressive.

What I love about reading books for young adults and children is their honesty. Children have a thirst for the truth, they don’t seem to want to deny the horrors and mistakes in the world the same way that adults do, maybe because they don’t bear the burden of blame for any of it. This is one of those books, a truth-telling book. It peels back the stereotypes of fiesta Mexico – Mariachi bands, Cinque de Mayo,Burritos, Pinantas and the Mexican Wave, and shows the pitiable lives of those living in poverty. But more than that, it shows their humanity.

It isn’t a long book, perfect packing wise for a holiday read. Forget the scandi noir this summer holiday and take 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.

Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

4.5 Bites

 

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

Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone

Harry_Potter_and_the_Philosopher's_Stone_Book_CoverI can remember exactly where I was the first time I read The Philosopher’s Stone. I was eighteen and in Mexico on a month long trip with schoolfriends. In a burst of teenage pretentiousness and a desire to bring a book which I wouldn’t read too quickly, I only had on me Dante’s Inferno (I know, right!) Shockingly, I found that this wasn’t the book to cosy up with in a tent after a long days hiking. So a friend lent me her copy of Harry Potter. It was three years since its release, and at the time I hadn’t heard much about it. But I do remember taking a train through Mexico’s Copper Canyon and thinking I was like Harry on the Hogwarts Express. Except for the scenery. And the country. And the fact that I hadn’t just discovered I was a wizard. Apart from that, it was exactly the same.

We all know the story: An orphan child is being brought up by his Aunt and Uncle in circumstances that should have had Social Services hammering on the door; discovers he is a wizard and that his parents were killed by an evil wizard (so far, so Luke Skywalker); manages to defeat evil wizard with his mates. And we all can guess why children loved it so much: it’s fun, it’s exciting. It’s got a giant dog with three heads. But why were there so many copies of it being read by commuters on their way to work?

Lets face it, it’s not the best writing in the world (please don’t hurt me!) It has all the ingredients of a children’s book- some cliches, a lot of adverbs. In short, not the kind of book that millions of adults would normally take to. But it’s got something so much more. It’s the hero’s journey: orphan boy discovers there is so much more to him than he thought, that he is a celebrity. We have Dumbledore as the wise mentor, Voldemort as the villain. It is nostalgia. Who amongst us didn’t want a letter from Hogwarts to arrive for us? It harks back to rose tinted schooldays, full of adventure and friends. It is warm and funny. I cheered when Hagrid gave Dudley a pig’s tail, celebrated the come-upance of the Dursley’s. I loved it when Harry met Ron on the Hogwarts Express, his first true friendship. And Christmas morning when Harry is overwhelmed with gratitude after receiving Mrs Weasley’s knitted jumper.

But there is a little hint of threat through it all, a warning that in this Mallory Towers- esque world, all is not safe. It drives the book forward. As adults, the magical world thrills us and we are desperate to be a part of it.

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 Sellout by Paul Beatty

IMG_2428This is the story of a black man standing in the Supreme Court for the most shocking charges. He is a black man accused of segregating the local high school and reinstating slavery!

But did he really do such things? After all he was born and bought up in the “agrarian ghetto” of Dickens on the southern outskirts of Los Angeles, he’s a typical lower-middle-class Californian. And his father was a controversial but liberal minded sociologist performing psychological studies on the impact of racism.

After his father dies and he discovers that he’s been left no money at all the narrator loses heart, all he can see around him is the downtroddeness of his neighbours, the general disrepair of his hometown and then Dickens is literally to be removed from the map to save California from further embarrassment. Enlisting the help of the town’s most famous resident – the last surviving Little Rascal, Hominy Jenkins – he decides on a daring plan to save the neighbourhood. Will it work – or has being the subject of all his father’s experiments had an unexpected impact?

This is a funny book. Beatty’s turn of phrase and sharp mind have created a scenario that at first seems absurd but then seems to make perfect sense within the context of the historical and current treatment of pretty much anybody that isn’t white but lives in the U.S. The characters are varied, believable and a lot of them have sharp minds and witty comebacks too.

But underneath this levity the impact of racism is utterly dissected. Every aspect of it is pulled out and placed under the microscope. We see how one part of the system needs another and are left knowing that just ripping out organs hasn’t been enough to kill racism – the system hobbles on and the maiming of it makes it just as dangerous. I was left thinking that if there had been more positive actions, if instead of ripping out the organs of racism they had been removed carefully and replaced with a healthy ones, maybe we wouldn’t need the #BlackLivesMatter movement. Maybe it would be obvious and accepted by all that black lives are as important as white. As it is America continues to fail it’s citizens, but at least it provided the climate for a mind like Paul Beatty’s to create something extraordinary.

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.

He, She and It by Marge Piercy

he-she-itI was thrilled to discover Marge Pierce when Woman on the Edge of Time was recently re-issued. I loved it (read more here) so when I saw that Ebury was re-publishing Body of Glass as He, She and It I jumped at the chance of getting a review copy!
This is another dystopian novel, originally published in 1993 it is once again a little scary how many of the things predicted in this already exist. Marge Pierce was clearly keeping on top of the latest tech when she wrote this!

She writes about the middle of the twenty-first century. Life has changed dramatically after climate change and a two week war that utilised nuclear weapons. The population is much smaller and concentrated mainly in a few domed hubs. But some things don’t change and Shira Shipman is a young woman whose marriage has broken up, on top of that her young son has been awarded to her ex-husband by the corporation that runs her zone. Despairing she has returned to her grandmother’s house in Tikva, the Jewish town where she grew up. There she is employed to work on socialising a cyborg implanted with intelligence, emotions – and the ability to kill.

This is quite a different book from Woman on the Edge of Time, in some ways it’s a mirror image of it. Here the whole book is set in the future but there is reference to the distant past through a story told to the cyborg, whereas the other book has a woman travelling from now to the future. The futures are also mirrored – this is truly a dystopian vision whereas the other was utopian. But what doesn’t change is the quality of writing which creates an envelope around you so you feel completely immersed in the world.

Although this is a deeply moral tale, asking us to question what makes us human and how we treat others, it is also a cracking good story! Full of tension, corporate intrigue, blackmail, badass modified humans, bombs, and of course a mother desperate to be reunited with her toddler son.
Back when it was first released it won the Arthur C Clark Award. Definitely worth reading!

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.

All Our Wrong Todays by Elan Mastai

cover97841-mediumTom Barron will never measure up to his genius dad. If he’s honest with himself he’ll probably never measure up to his self-sacrificing mother either. It’s always annoyed him that she does so much for his dad and had so little appreciation but now she’s just died it annoys him even more.

Still, at least his dad seems to be trying to do something for him now by giving him a job. He’s to be an understudy chrononaut.

His father has developed a time machine and plans to test it by sending someone back to the moment the world got unlimited power in 1965. The 2016 Tom lives in is very different from ours.

But even though Tom is only the understudy and not supposed to be traveling, events somehow unravel and he accidentally changes the past and ends up in our 2016. Can he put things right? And when he realises his own life is so much better in our 2016 will he be selfless enough to do so? After all in his 2016 there is no poverty and no climate change, but in our 2016 Tom has love.

This book is incredible! I LOVED IT! The cleverness doesn’t stop for a second but Tom Barron is such an ordinary (slightly disappointing) bloke that it never feels too complicated or cloying. The characters and their dilemmas are in turn fascinating and mundane and they react both rationally and irrationally just like we all do.

But beyond the great characters, fabulous plot and terrific writing is something more. This is a book that makes you ponder! And there is nothing I love more than a book that makes me do that!

5 Bites … and if I was handing out awards this book would be getting them!

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.

New Boy – Othello Retold by Tracy Chevalier

cover109137-mediumAnother in the Hogarth Series of Shakespeare Retold, this time Tracy Chevalier, known for her Historical Fiction, takes on Othello and sets it in a 1970’s surburban schoolyard. A group of 11 year olds and starting to experiment with romance and born into a casually racist society are about to have the foundations of their lives shaken.

Osei is the son of a diplomat and so this is his fourth school in six years. He knows that if he is to survive this all white school he’s going to need an ally. Luckily for him Dee is instantly drawn to him, she’s a naturally kind girl and the most popular in the school so his safety seems assured. But there are people that don’t like seeing the budding interracial relationship. Ian is a spiteful boy who has earned his place in the pecking order through intimidation and fear, he’s not about to see a new boy take it from him. He sets out to destroy the friendship between the black boy and the golden girl. By the end of the day, the school and its key players – teachers and pupils alike – will never be the same again.

It isn’t easy to write from a child’s point of view. Often it comes across too childish or too mature, and 11 year olds are tricky as can be. This group are top of the tree at school so think they are very grown up, yet as they’re about to go to a new school where’ll they’ll be at the bottom of the pecking order they are constantly vacillating between feeling grown up and feeling insecure. Chevalier captures this perfectly.

The characters are all eminently observable and the interactions between them are fascinating. The friendship between the three female protagonists is still a three way see-saw but the weight of adolescence is already starting to destroy their precarious balance. Ian (Iago) is an immensely interesting character, I love that his motivation is not in any way related to romantic desire.

It’s quite a quick read, I devoured it in one sitting. But it was no less satisfying for that.

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.

Interview with Katherine Arden – author of The Bear and the Nightingale

 

Katherine Arden - credit Deverie Crystal PhotographyKatherine is 29, dark-haired and misty eyed and curled like a cat into an old armchair. This young woman had her first book published in January of this year and is contracted for two more in the series. In fact the proofs of book two are already starting to circulate and book three is well under way. I took the opportunity of asking what it is like to be at the start of a writing career and she told me about some of the ups and downs along the way.

“I wrote as a kid. I read tons and it inspired me to write short stories. But I didn’t connect that with becoming an author. It was simply a side thing I did for fun. I was still writing as a teenager but I went to college with the intention of becoming a diplomat or an interpreter and simply didn’t have the time for writing. My college was in Vermont and I studied in Russia – the winters were long and cold and by the time I graduated I was simply longing for warmth and guaranteed sunlight so I headed to Hawaii without any great plans. I’d pick macadamia nuts and coffee for a few hours a day and I lived in a tent on the beach – very much hand to mouth. I ate farm produce, hitch-hiked places and swam. On the farm next to ours was a little girl called Vasilisa and she was lovely. I started writing again for pleasure and made Vasilisa the heroine of Bear and Nightingale. About two months in I discovered I was really enjoying the process and suddenly thought “I know what I’ll do, I’ll get it published”. In all the first draft took about 8 months and I started the hunt for an agent. In the meantime I’d started teaching English – I’d accidentally ended up in the Alps and was getting cold again.

Finding an agent is not an easy process. I got quite desperate and toyed with the idea of self-publishing. One of my stepmother’s good friends, who is also an author, took the book to edit it but when she read it she refused to edit it as she’d enjoyed it so much and decided to do what she could to introduce me to some agents. The first agent I signed with turned out to be a false start and after 18 months I circled back to some of the other agents I’d been introduced to. They in turn passed on taking the book but referred it and me to others and then suddenly my current agent, Paul popped up. By this time I’d left the Alps and returned to Hawaii where I’d started work in a realtor’s office. Determined to make a professional living for myself I took licensing classes. Amazingly in the same week as I got my Realtor’s license I landed a book deal with Random House.

Bear and Nightingale underwent quite a transformation with my editor’s guidance. The original was nearly twice the length of the published story and at first I thought I might be able to use some of the material we’d removed as part of the sequel ‘The Girl in the Tower’. However it didn’t sit well and I ended up writing the sequel from scratch. The proof of that book is printed now and although I can make small amendments the story and its shape is set. I am now working on book 3. The Girl In The Tower

I’ve spent the last couple of months travelling, seeing old friends and making new ones. I’m trying to decide which of my ideas to develop next as I have several stories in part draft and as soon as book 3 is completed I want to know which of my other projects I’ll be moving forward.

My advice to budding authors – finish what you start! Finish the book and don’t give up. You will learn so much from finishing it.”

Book Eater’s note – since doing this interview with Katherine I have devoured the sequel The Girl In The Tower and was absolutely hooked from start to finish. A full review of that book will be published on this site in November – the perfect Christmas gift for many, many readers whether your preferred genre is fairytale, myth,fantasy,legend, romance, historical, Russian or feminist. Click here to read our review of The Bear and The Nightingale.

 

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

The Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

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

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

Hello, Is This Planet Earth? By Tim Peake

‘It’s impossible to look down on Earth from space and not be mesmerised by the fragile beauty of our planet.’

tpI’m pretty sure in this day and age that everyone has heard of Tim Peake- first British astronaut to complete a spacewalk, first astronaut to run the London Marathon, most distant person to read the CBeebies bedtime story… the list goes on!

This book of photographs was released In November of last year, a few months after Peake landed in Kazakhstan after having completed 185 days in space!

Consisting of over 150 photographs that Peake took during his time on the ISS, the book also contains his personal commentary which elevates this onto a different level than the usual ‘coffee table’ tomes you can find.

Split into five chapters of images and a decent introduction, this gives a good insight into Tim Peake’s time up there. The images themselves are frequently stunning, often breathtaking and always awe-inspiring. The accompanying text adds context and a decent amount of education without being patronising or jargon-filled. The inclusion of little maps to show where over the world Peake was is a nice touch, particularly if you’re sharing the experience of this book with youngsters.

The thing I loved the most about this book was that Tim Peake declared on the back cover that despite being 400kn up, he had never felt such a connection to this planet. And this sentiment shines through every page and every comment. Whether it be the largest iceberg ever captured by an astronaut (the size of London… LONDON), or the bright lights of a teeming metropolis, or even the hushed glow of the fishing fleets so numerous they defy expectations, the sheer wonder and beauty of this world is obvious and apparent to everyone who cracks open this book.

I defy anyone to look at this book and not be stunned by the world in which we live.

It is perhaps apt then that I review this book on Earth Day. What better time to appreciate the magnificence of this world than on a day dedicated to saving it from ourselves. The contrast between the untouched natural word, and the encroachment of mankind is not hard to discern in Peake’s photos.

5 bites. A marvellous, thought-provoking book!

Rachel Brazil
Although well-known amongst my family for my habit of falling asleep with a book on my face, I’ve not let the constant face bruises deter me from indulging in my favourite pastime. There is no famine, only feast, in my house with every flavour of book available for consumption.

I’m happy to sample almost anything from the smorgasbord of literature available but can always be tempted with a juicy murder mystery or sweet little romance.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

IMG_1614In a not too distant future, America has fallen. A coup has led to the overthrow of the government and the suspension of the Constitution. Democracy is replaced with theocracy, and America has become The Republic of Gilead. This is now a land governed completely by men, and in which women’s rights have been stripped away completely. Forbidden to read, to go out alone, women have few roles in society. With increasing sterility in this new world, the Republic have introduced a biblical way to increase the population. Women known as Handmaid’s are introduced to the households of high ranking officials and their wifes. Their role is to take part in a sexual ceremony with the official and his wife. A Handmaid who has a child is protected from being sent to the Colonies where “unwomen” are exiled. However, any child born is the property of the official and his wife.

Our protagonist is Offred, handmaid to a man known only as The Commander, and his wife who Offred believes to once have been a singer known as Serena Joy. Through Offred we learn about the new regime, it’s practices and punishments. We also get flashbacks to Offred’s past: to her previous life with her husband and daughter, through to life in the Handmaid’s training programme and her friendship with fellow Handmaid, Moira.

Sales in Atwood’s modern classic have soared in the months since the election of Donald Trump, and it’s easy to see why. The premise has become ever more believable, as has the insidious way in which women’s rights are eroded within Gilead. At the start of the revolution, on finding her bank account frozen. Offred’s husband doesn’t rage or take to the streets with her. Instead he promises to look after her, seemingly happy to be the knight in shining armour protecting his woman. In Gilead, men have complete control over women’s bodies, their reproductive rights and lives in general. Executive orders signed by Trump show how easy it is for this to happen in this world too.

It is an uncomfortable read, and so it should be. It deals with an uncomfortable subject. However, it’s flawlessly written. Offred’s voice is intentionally clumsy to start with, a side effect of being forced into silence for so long. But it becomes more fluent as the book progresses. This is an essential book, and can be found in the ‘current affairs’ section of your local bookshop!

5 bites

PS- If you love The Handmaid’s Tale, you might be interested to know that a new TV adaptation starring Elisabeth Moss as Offred will be released on US streaming service, Hulu on 26th April. Keep an eye on our page for a UK release date!

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 Raqqa Diaries Escape From Islamic State by Samer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

Dragon’s Green by Scarlett Thomas

img_2363

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

The Lonely Hearts Hotel by Heather O’Neill

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

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