Miles Away from You by A.B. Rutledge

IMG_2673Three years ago Miles fell for Vivian, a talented and dazzling transgender girl. Eighteen months ago she tried to commit suicide, the attempt left Vivian on life support. Now Miles isn’t sure who he is without her, but his mother’s think it’s time for him to figure out how to say goodbye.

They book him a solo trip to Iceland. At first he has a hard time leaving the refuge of his hotel room, but after a push from Oskar, the hotel concierge who is strangely alluring, Miles decides to honor Vivian’s life by photographing her treasured Doc Martens standing empty against the surreal landscapes. He travels Iceland, meeting people and trying to learn to love again and accept that Vivian, still in a coma and in the charge of her unaccepting parents, will never recover.

Miles’ story is told through a series of instant messages to Vivian, some hopeful, some heartbroken, some grateful, some angry, some drunk. In another writers hands this premise could of been gimmicky, and the that would have been awful. There’s been a upsurge in LGBT literature over the last few years but less that looks at the specific issues that trans people face, and even less that treat trans people as people first and trans second. This book does that, Miles loves Vivian. He loves her mind, her spirit and her body through all her dysmorphia.

The book also looks at Miles’ own confusion about his sexuality. Again it deals with it sensitively but also with no holds barred. Writing letters that will never be seen allows a person to be utterly honest and the author takes full advantage of that.

Thoroughly recommended.

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 Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch

IMG_2677In the near future, world wars have transformed the earth into a battleground. The charismatic Jean De Men has led the survivors to a mysterious platform known as CIEL, hovering over their erstwhile home. But the survivors are not unchanged, evolution has been turned on its head: the survivors have become sexless, hairless, pale-white creatures floating in isolation, inscribing stories upon their skin.

Jean de Men is not just charismatic though, he is crazy. He turns CIEL into a quasi-corporate police state. A group of rebels unite to dismantle his iron rule – galvanised by the heroic song of Joan, a child-warrior who possesses a mysterious force that lives within her.

This is a hypnotic book whose characters live on the edge of desperation and are all the stronger for it. It encompasses great themes, what it means to be human, whether humanity can recreate the planet it is so busy destroying, the fluidity of sex and gender and how love is tied by neither, and the role of art.

This has been a hotly anticipated book, and now I’ve read it I think it will be I a hotly anticipated film. It is wonderful, not just for the fantastic images and epic struggles within, but for the love between Christine and Trincula (who instantly became one of my favourite characters ever written) and the love between Joan and Leone.

Five 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.

Chocky by John Wyndham

161849I had a deep love for the TV series of this book when it screened in the 80’s. I’ve always remembered it, though with that feeling that it might not live up to being revisited the way many things from our childhoods don’t.

But reading the book would be alright wouldn’t it? Books are always better after all!

This is all about Matthew, a normal 11-year-old boy living with his parents and little sister in Surrey in that golden age when the space race was powering up. Matthew is too old for an imaginary friend. Yet when his parents keep finding him talking and arguing with a strange presence whom Matthew calls Chocky, that’s what they believe it must be…at first.

But Chocky is oddly sinister, and keeps asking Matthew all sorts of complicated questions about the world and making him behave in unusual and erratic ways. Then Matthew suddenly does something heroic, well beyond his capabilities; the media become interested and the interest in Matthew widens. His parents refer him to a psychologist. Who is Chocky? And what could he or she want with their son?

Well I don’t know if the book is better than the series, a little part of me will always love my memories  of it. But Wyndham is a great writer. I loved the book. Chocky is a fascinating character and this story had many surreptitious feminist principles which, when this was published 50 years ago this year, were far from widely held. The thought of so many young boys reading this and absorbing the belief that women could be equal to men and that gender is a social construct is a joyous thing.

Apparently Spielberg bought the rights to this ten years ago – I hope he goes ahead with directing it. It’s more relevant than ever and I trust him with my memories.

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 Girl in The Tower by Katherine Arden

cover119981-mediumLast year BookEater Tam raved over Katherine Arden’s debut (and this books’ prequel) The Bear and the Nightingale. I added it to my ‘to be read’ pile straight away but I saved reading it until I knew that this book was within my grasp! As soon as I had my preview copy on my kindle I dug in. BookEater Tam’s review was right on the money and I loved the first book.

This second novel moves to Moscow, where Vasya’s older sister lives the life of a princess, gilded and luxurious but constrained by the walls of a tower which no maiden or woman of high birth must leave. Vasya’s brother, the monk known as Aleksandre Lightbringer is also there – a favourite at the court of the Grand Prince.

Moscow is plagued by power struggles and  bandits roam the countryside, burning the villages and kidnapping its daughters. The Prince, Aleksandre and a retinue of trusted companions set out to destroy the bandits but on route they meet a young man riding a magnificent horse who has rescued three of the stolen girls.

But this is no boy, it is Vasya. Her brother must protect her identity until he can get her to safety. But when Vasya proves herself in battle, riding with remarkable skill and inexplicable power, he realises he must keep her secret as she may be the only way to save the city from threats both human and fantastical…

This book was just as good as the last, Arden has created a magical world and the medieval Russian themes running through it add a wintery fairytale element. Lit by ice and spiced with smoke.

The characters are wonderful- the villains are evil but their motivations make sense. The heroes are flawed and Vasya makes some mistakes fuelled by pride and ignorance, but ultimately they are all trying to do the best they can in a society that holds them back.

I reall hope there’s a third book in this series but if the author veers off in a different direction I’ll be happy to read whatever she writes.

Five 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.

Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin

IMG_2681A woman named Amanda lies in a fever in a rural hospital clinic,  A young boy, David sits beside her. She’s not his mother. He’s not her child.

David is prompting Amanda to recount the events that led to her illness, constantly pushing her to fix on the ‘important moment’, the moment when the ‘worms’ got in. Yet for Amanda what is important is where her young daughter Nina is. She talks a lot about the ‘rescue distance’, something most parents are constantly measuring and recalibrating as their children grow. How far away from you are they? Are they close enough to rescue should danger befall them?

As David continues to push her, the horror of the thing that has befallen them is exposed, is there any way back through it? Can Amanda get back to being within rescue distance of Nina?

Samanta Schweblin is a fairly new voice on the Spanish literary scene, her short stories have won critical acclaim but this is her first novel. It was rightfully shortlisted for the Man Booker international prize as it is incredibly evocative. Reading it you feel like you are in a fever dream, nothing is quite where it should be and memories are more vivid than the world around you. This lends itself perfectly to the strange, creeping, psychological menace.

I can’t tell you more of the plot without ruining it for you, but I would definitely recommend you read it if you like books that are a bit weird and that don’t necessarily tie up every loose end for you. This is like that, it’s a melody in a minor key that will keep surfacing in your mind like a memory of illness and loss. It is a tale of maternal love and the power and desperation of family.

Some praise must also go to the translator Megan McDowell.

Five Bites

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

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

The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

161eyyYaAlWL__SL500_Sometimes reviewing classic books like this that everybody knows seems like a bit silly. But then often the myth of a book veers away from the story inside and I think this is the case with this story.

After meeting and losing Daisy during the war, Gatsby has made himself fabulously wealthy. Now, he believes that his only way to true happiness is to find his way back into Daisy’s life, he has bought a glamorous house just across the water from Daisy’s and has been throwing fabulous parties in the hope that one day she will wonder in and their affair can resume. But this has yet to happen and when her cousin Nick Carraway rents the small house next door he determines to use Nick to try to reach her.

I listened to the audiobook version of this, voiced by Oscar-nominated actor Jake Gyllenhaal. I was curious to see how well he’d do as I completely fell in love with his sister’s voice when I listened to The Bell Jar. Once again, I fell in love. Gyllenhaal’s performance is stunning. I know I’m going to listen to this version over and over again.

But of course it isn’t just Gyllenhaal’s performance that makes this so special. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s writing is as smooth as silk and twice as sensuous. That’s not news though is it? F. Scott has always been hailed as the master of style. But style without substance does not a classic make. Gatsby is an immense character. Complex but utterly relatable, if Gatsby can be great, we can all be great – if only we have a love strong enough to motivate us and a chance to grab.

The plot is full of the twists and conflicts that only human hearts can create. Unnecessary spite and jealousies are spat out and swallowed with humiliation that burns for redemption. This story is Shakespearean in scope. If you haven’t read it in a while or it’s one that passed you by previously, pick up a copy – or better still download this version from Audible.

Five 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.

Widow Basquiat by Jennifer Clement

IMG_2680Jean-Michel Basquiat became an idol of modern art. His transition from the subways to the chic gallery spaces of Manhattan brought him into the company of many of New York’s established and aspiring stars. He became friends with fellow artists Andy Warhol and Keith Haring, performed with Debbie Harry and Fab 5 Freddie and dated Madonna.

But through all of this he had a relationship with Suzanne. Mmuse, lover, co-conspirator, fellow artist.

But the demands that his new fame brought, coupled with the racism and injustice all around him, sickened Basquiat. He started using heroin far too often and in 1987, at the age of twenty-seven, the most successful black visual artist in history, died from a heroin overdose.

This book, written by a friend of both Basquiat and Suzanne, is an exploration of the artist and the time they lived through as seen through the eyes of his muse, Suzanne. Though they parted before he died, it is a love story still.

I was a teenager if the 80’s. I loved Basquiat’s work then and still love it now. It has an energy and an intelligence not found in much pop art. That energy is born of fury and injustice and the intelligence brings with it humour.

It was an honour to read such an intimate, understanding and compassionate portrait of the artist. But it also made me feel ashamed of the racism that still destroys so many people’s potential. We must do better. Art demands it.

Five 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 Night Brother by Rosie Garland

cover102770-mediumSiblings Edie and Gnome delight in the streets of late nineteenth-century Manchester. They fight and argue as all siblings, but Edie can never resist Gnome’s outrageous schemes and always ends up climbing out of the bedroom window with him at night for adventures.

But as they get older and Gnome continues to revel in the night-time,  Edie’s life is lived during the day. Gradually she forgets the brother she never sees as the demands of scraping a living become bigger. She wakes exhausted each morning with a sickening sense of unease and confusion.

But then she falls in love and Gnome reappears, jealous and wanting to destroy his sisters happiness.

Can they learn to live together in harmony?

This is an interesting novel and works on several different levels. The basics of it- writing, setting and character development Rosie Garland absolutely nails. To be honest I’ve never yet set foot in Manchester but I could feel the Edwardian version of the city around me all the way through.  The characters are believable and face some very interesting challenges which they respond to in a way that feels natural.

But where things get really interesting is the actual story – there is more to Edie and Gnome than at first meets the eye and the novel explores gender and sexuality in an unusual way. There are a couple of places where it could have taken wrong turns and ended up exploiting those topics rather than exploring them. But each time it pushes towards the limits  it pulls itself back, exposing naive opinions and then redressing them.

In the end it’s about more than girl versus boy and becomes a story about being honest with yourself. Every part of yourself. And of accepting the whole of others.

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 Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood

1cover120428-mediumMad-doctor Nathaniel is obsessed with the beautiful Mrs Harleston – but is she truly delusional? Or is she hiding secrets that should never be uncovered . . . ?

Overshadowed by his father’s suicide, Nathaniel Kerner finds it hard to find work in his chosen field of ailments of the mind. Reluctantly he takes up a position at Crakethorne Asylum, only to find the proprietor is more interested in his growing collection of skulls than helping his patients – fame seems unlikely to find Nathaniel here. His only interesting case is Mrs Victoria Adelina – Vita – Harleston: she is interesting because she doesn’t really seem mad at all – her husband accuses her of hysteria and delusions – but she accuses him of hiding secrets far more terrible.

Nathaniel becomes increasingly obsessed with Vita, and when an opportunity presents itself to have her mesmerised he leaps at it, imagining seeing papers in journals with his name attached.

But the session doesn’t go well and the next morning Vita has vanished and it seems Nathaniel may have been tricked into aiding her escape.

Increasingly besotted, Nathaniel finds himself caught up in a world of séances and stage mesmerism in his bid to find Vita and save her.

But constantly hanging over him is this warning: that doctors are apt to catch the diseases with which they are surrounded – whether of the body or the mind . . .

I really enjoyed Alison Littlewood’s The Hidden People last year so was thrilled to see another new release from her. Although set in the same era this is quite a different book, this is freezing fog in winter at 4pm as opposed to a hot lazy 4pm in August. Although both are mysterious, this is one where you can’t really see what’s going on four paces in front of you. And although both are a little creepy – this is skin shivering creepy whereas the other is beguilingly creepy. I’m starting to think that Alison Littlewood is the modern day successor to Wilkie Collins, The Hidden People feels similar to The Moonstone and this feels like the Woman in White – the stories are different, there’s no plagiarism, they are not re-writings in any way. But if you like Wilkie Collins my guess is you’ll like Alison Littlewood.

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.

In The Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende

IMG_2634It is the midst of winter 2016 and a huge storm is about to hit Brooklyn. 62 year old Lucia Maraz is alone in her cold apartment so she calls her landlord and colleague Richard Bowmaster to see if he wants to join her for soup, and because she’s scared. He brushes her off, terrrified of any potential intimacy. But in the middle of the night he calls her – a minor traffic accident he had earlier that day has led to a hysterical young Spanish speaker turning up on his doorstep and he needs her help.

The young woman is Evelyn Ortega—an undocumented immigrant from Guatemala. She took her bosses car to drive to the store without asking permission and the damage to it means he will know, he is a violent man.

While these three very different people are trying to work out what to do for the best a new intimacy allows us to hear their life stories from present-day Brooklyn to Guatemala in the recent past to 1970s Chile and Brazil. Along the waythe long overdue love story between Richard and Lucia sparks into life.

This book has been described by other critics as mesmerising, and to be honest I think that description fits it really well. There are quite shocking twists and turns but there is something else in the writing that keeps you reading. It’s not just that you want to know if they’ll get themselves out of the tricky situation they’re in, it’s also that the characters are so real and so easy to care about that you want to spend time with them.

All of them have suffered great tragedies in their pasts, and all have been changed by them and coped differently. There’s no element of magic realism as there is in some other of Allende’s, but the magic in this is real and it’s the magical redemption that giving and receiving love brings.

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.

Stay With Me by Ayobami Adebayo

IMG_2211Nigerian fiction has carved out a permanent place on British bookshelves and for good reason. I’ve read a fair few Nigerian authors of the last 25 years and I’ve yet to encounter a bad book.

This one definitely didn’t break that streak even though I wasnt sure about the subject matter. It explores the marriage of Yejide. A woman who married for love and is desperate to have a child. Her mother-in-law is probably even more desperate. She has tried everything – medical treatments, arduous pilgrimages, dances with prophets, appeals to God. But nothing. Then her in-laws insist upon a new wife.

As much as I love a good character driven novel I was worried that this could become either unremittingly maudlin or too peppy for its own good. But set against the social and political turbulence of 80s Nigeria, and infused with honesty and humour Stay With Me is a tour de force. It deserves it’s place on the shortlist of The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. Personally I prefer it to the winner this year (The Power by Naomi Alderman).

Ayobami Adebayo’s book is full of the life that Yejide is so desperate for. As her marriage and sanity is threatened she finds friends in unexpected places. But there are other plots afoot that she has no idea about, unexpected gifts and unmeasurable threats.

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 Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

1cover116964-medium

I love it when Joanne M Harris draws out beautifully human stories from myths, legends or folk tales and she’s done it again with this book!

It starts with a rhyme from the Child Ballads. If like me you’ve never heard of the Child Ballads let me share with you what I discovered about them, they are not what I first supposed – rhymes sung by children like Oranges and Lemons. They are 305 traditional ballads from England and Scotland, anthologized by Francis James Child during the second half of the 19th century. Many of them are difficult to date but it seems that most of them have been in existence since at least the 16th Century. And to be fair probably most have been sung by children down the ages just as much as adults!

Harris has picked ballads from this collection and drawn them together to tell a circular coming of age story full of love, loss and revenge around a nameless wild girl.

It starts with ballad 295;

“I am as brown as brown can be,
And my eyes as black as sloe;
I am as brisk as brisk can be,
And wild as forest doe.

Our brisk, brown hero is one of the ‘travellers’, able to slink into the skin of birds and mammals and travel with them through the surrounding countryside. On her travels she sees a charm tied in a yew tree beckoning the love of a prince and steals it, mocking the milk blonde country maid for her simple desires.

But then she meets the prince and they fall in love the way that only teenagers can. But to be with him she must become named and tamed.

The tale follows their love through the seasons of the year, full of the conflict between youth and wisdom, love and jealousy, freedom and belonging.

It is beautifully, poetically written and in the way of all good mythologies shows you a secret place in your own soul when freedom and belonging join to make you whole again.

Five 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 Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

34103858Brothers John and William are travelling through a plague ridden country in December 1348. John, finding a baby still alive next to orphan-making corpses, finds his heart too moved by pity and piety to leave the baby to die. Despite the risks that William reminds him of.

William’s words are terrifyingly prophetic and soon the brothers fear that they will die and go to Hell. But then a strange voice offers them a choice – die at home with their families (probably infecting them too) or to live another six days searching for salvation across the forthcoming centuries – living each one of their remaining days ninety-nine years after the last.

They choose the future and wake the next day in 1447. The day after that in 1546 and so on. Every day brings new shocks and and challenges as they are confronted with changing technology, landscapes and religious and social convictions.  With so much confusion can they redeem themselves before the six days are up?

This book couldn’t possibly be what it is if it hadn’t been written by the author described by The Times as ‘the most remarkable historian of our time’. This is  Ian Mortimer’s first work of historical fiction and his knowledge marries perfectly with a stunningly clever and well executed story.  Though John and William were born centuries ago and are very different from each other, they are both likeable, relatable characters.  Obviously the settings and descriptions of each time period are accurate but Mortimer infuses them with colour and life too.

I found myself talking about this book a lot while I was reading it – always a sign of a good read. This is definitely in my top five books of the year and deserves every one of it’s Five Bites! I’m hoping Ian Mortimer continues to explore fiction.

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 Be Human by Paula Cocozza

IMG_2575Mary gets home from work one day, not long after her husband has moved out, to find a magnificent fox on her lawn. His ears spiked in attention and every hair bristling with his power to surprise – she is entranced. Somehow his wild presence has bought magic back into her very controlled life and she longs to see him again. She begins to leave food out for him and he begins to leave her gifts too. Gradually he makes himself at home. Much to the consternation of her neighbours who start to plot getting rid of him.

Then one day it seems he has left a very unusual gift. A gift that changes everyone’s lives.

This is an unusual book – I wasn’t exactly sure by the end of it what had happened and what hadn’t. But in that lies it’s brilliance. it explores the nuances between sanity and madness, civilisation and savagery, right and wrong, love and abuse.

I was sucked into this from the first page and as soon as i’d finished it I put it straight into my re-readables pile -who knows? Maybe next time I’ll even figure out what actually happened!

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.

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

386282Because of my joint love of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, (I know right. Been keeping it pre-tty quiet over the last three years.) my Twitter feed is happily full of Tweets from Neil Gaiman and Rob Wilkins about the filming of the new TV adaptation of Good Omens *. This is exciting for many reasons:

A) It’s a TV adaptation of Good Omens
B) It features the most amazing casting ever known in any TV or film ever. Ever.**
C) See points A and B.

It is no surprise therefore, that I have picked up my battered copy to read again, read it in two days and am now wishing even more that no crazy world leader starts WW3 before 2018 which is when the show will hit our screens.

So, to recap…the end of the world is nigh (in the book that is). In fact the world will end “on a Saturday. Next Saturday in fact. Just after tea.” Crowley and Aziraphale know this, because they are a demon and angel respectively and are therefore aware of the ineffable plan. They have also been keeping an eye on the Antichrist for the last eleven years, after he was swapped with a child at a hospital run by satanic nuns. Unfortunately, baby switching is a complicated affair, and the child Crowley and Aziraphale have been keeping tabs on is not the Antichrist at all, just a normal human child. The real Antichrist is being brought up in the quintessentially english village of Lower Tadfield, where the weather is always correct for the time of year, and a gang of four children are having a pretty perfect childhood.

Anathema Device knows about the upcoming apocalypse. She is a witch and the descendent of Agnes Nutter (also a witch) who produced the only truly accurate book of prophecies. Anathema also knows that on the day of the apocalypse, Witchfinder Private Newton Pulsifer will crash his car outside her cottage.

And of course, the Four Horsemen know. And they are getting ready to ride.

This book contains the best of both authors. As you would expect, it’s laugh out loud funny with Pratchett’s characteristic foot notes, and a disagreement between Heaven and Hell about who created Milton Keynes with neither wanting to take responsibility. But, like their other works, there is a serious side too. The book explores free will and our relationship with religion; the Four Horsemen are Horsemen for the modern age, with Famine a businessman who has created a range of diet products and fast food with absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, which eventually cause the consumer to starve. I have been unable to eat at a fast food chain without remembering this for the last twenty years.

I love this book. I will love it always. It has stuck in my conscious since I first read it, to the point where overtime I’m on the M25 I think about it (If you haven’t read it, this will make sense when you do.) I can’t wait to see it on the small screen!

5 Bites (But you knew that, didn’t you?!)

Did you know that Radio 4 adapted it too? It was awesome!
** David Tennant AND Michael Sheen! Miranda Richardson! Jack Whitehall! Jon freakin’ Hamm! Good-Omens-Fi

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 Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

md22498117310Natasha Pulley’s steampunk mystery extravaganza The Watchmaker of Filigree Street became last years literary crossover. It seemed nobody could resist it and I admit I was more than a little swept away by it myself.

The blurb of The Bedlam Stacks seemed like a departure from her debut except for the time period it is set in (not exactly the same but only a few years earlier).

Here it is “Deep in uncharted Peru, the holy town of Bedlam stands at the edge of a forest. Here, statues move and anyone who crosses the border dies. But somewhere inside are cinchona trees, whose bark yields quinine: the only known treatment for malaria. By 1859, the hunt for a reliable source of quinine is critical and the India Office coerces injured expeditionary Merrick Tremayne into one final mission. Merrick is dispatched to Bedlam and tasked with bringing back cinchona cuttings. But as he travels into hostile territory, he discovers a legacy which will prove more dangerous than he could ever have imagined.”

I have to tell you that that blurb does not do this book justice! What I can’t tell you is how much I loved this book – there just aren’t the words! I wanted to live in the Bedlam Stacks forever, Natasha Pulley has created an incredible world and characters with breadth and depth. It isn’t steampunk this time so much as magic realism, but it still has a dusting of mechanical madness and another connection to her debut that I can’t tell you but does mean I’m chomping at the bit for her next book … according to Twitter she’s busy researching now…!

5Bites – so far this is my favourite book of the year!

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 Heart is Deceitful Above All Things by JT LeRoy

This book and its author caused one of the great literary scandals. JT Leroy was a recluse at the start of their literary career, then they became a Warhol-esque celebrity and then they were discovered to be a fraud.

But why am I telling you all this instead of telling you about the book? Because actually knowing this makes this book even more extraordinary.

This book, supposedly biographical, is structured as interconnected stories, showing vignettes of the chaotic life JT Leroy. It starts when his teenage mother Sarah reclaims him from his foster parents and takes him along with her and her new boyfriend. Life is suddenly a world of motels and learning to love his new stepfather leads him into abuse and trying hard to be as pretty and womanly as his mother. He’s plucked out of that situation only to be exposed to a different kind of abuse from Sarah’s ultra-religious parents. Scalding hot baths, skin scrubbed into tatters and learning to hate himself and his desire to be loved even more.

I’m not going to lie – it’s too horrible and shocking to look away from. There’s a part of all of us that wants to gawp at other’s suffering and have our minds boggled by it and this book definitely feeds into that. But I think that feeling can be a force for good in the world, by seeing other people’s problems we can become more open and sensitive to them. And although, or maybe because, this is in fact a work of fiction it has that power.

The writing is extraordinary. To capture the voice of a child this young going through so much is incredible. Particularly as all the way through the innocence of that youth comes through.

It’s not easy reading – for goodness sake don’t read it when you are feeling like the world is too dark a place to live in. But when you’re feeling powerful and strong and ready to try and change the world, please do read it.

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.

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.