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 …

C7rOvlhWkAAakq4

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.

Perfume by Patrick Suskind

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

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

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

This book is one of my all time favourites.

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

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

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

5 very tasty bites!!

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

At the Edge of the Orchard by Tracy Chevalier

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

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

Louise Penny
Louise Penny

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christodora by Tim Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

 

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

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Click to order from Waterstones

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

Charlotte by David Foenkinos

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Click here to order from Waterstones

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

The Bear and The Nightingale by Katherine Arden

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

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

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

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

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

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

Penguin Random House due to be published 12 Jan 2017

5 bites

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

A Tale For The Time Being by Ruth Ozeki

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites and I’m ready for seconds!

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

Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons

Click for Waterstone's
Click for Waterstone’s

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

So here’s the Criteria:-

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

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

12 books – one per month for a year

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

Mr Rosenblum’s List

(Or friendly guidance for the aspiring Englishman)

by Natasha Solomons

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 bites for this slice of magic

 

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

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

A Dictionary of Mutual Understanding by Jackie Copleton

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

 

 

 

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

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

Golden Hill by Francis Spufford

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

The Last Days of Leda Grey by Essie Fox

5 Bites

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

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

Writings on Men by Men for International Men’s Day

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

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

All That Man Is by David Szalay

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Click to buy on amazon

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

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

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

The Descent of Man by Grayson Perry

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

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

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

5 Bites!

Heaven’s Rage by Leslie Tate

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

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

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

4 Bites

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