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.

A Court of Thorns and Roses by Sarah J. Maas

You would think that I would learn a lesson or two from reading terrible YA books wouldn’t you?

After the hugely disappointing Empire of Storms you would think that I would have cut my losses and not bothered with a Sarah J.Maas book again wouldn’t you?

Well, clearly I need extra lessons!
Despite my rage at how dreadful Empire of Storms was, I decided to read the first installment in her new series A Court of Thorns and Roses. I think my reasoning was sound- It was the book she was writing in the same year as Empire and I wondered if her energy was poured into this book instead; one of her strengths is world-building and so I was interested to see what she would do with a blank canvas; and it was billed as a retelling of Beauty and The Beast, one of my favourite stories! So yeah, I thought it was worth a chance!

Sadly, it was not.

On the surface, it had enough potential to be interesting. Take the synopsis for instance…

When nineteen-year-old huntress Feyre kills a wolf in the woods, a beast-like creature arrives to CTRdemand retribution for it. Dragged to a treacherous magical land she only knows about from legends, Feyre discovers that her captor is not an animal, but Tamlin—one of the lethal, immortal faeries who once ruled their world.

As she dwells on his estate, her feelings for Tamlin transform from icy hostility into a fiery passion that burns through every lie and warning she’s been told about the beautiful, dangerous world of the Fae. But an ancient, wicked shadow grows over the faerie lands, and Feyre must find a way to stop it . . . or doom Tamlin—and his world—forever.

Seems like it could have a lot to explore. Yes it gave away the romance ‘twist’ of Feyre falling for Tamlin but since it’s already billed as a Beauty and The Beast retelling, that’s kind of a given!

What it doesn’t indicate is that the ‘ancient, wicked shadow’ aspect of the plot doesn’t kick in until  three quarters of the way through and in the meantime we have to put up with the stupidest plot ever with truly unlikeable characters and some problematic moments.

Let’s start with Feyre- She’s built up to be a kickass female heroine, clearly modelled in part on Katniss Everdeen. She hunts to feed her family, has a realistic view of the future, is practical and strong for others. Except she isn’t really. She’s mopey and whingey and makes god-awful choices based on nothing of any intelligence. Yes, she has a pretty crappy life, and her father and sisters are useless, ungrateful wastes of space but she is such a martyr about it all that it’s difficult to have any sympathy for her whatsoever. And that’s even before Tamlin swoops in to claim her life for killing one of his Fae friends as laid down by the fae/Human treaty. After he whisks her away to her life of luxury (after promising to take care of her family), which by the way is the most inadequate punishment for killing someone and breaking an international treaty ever, her character becomes even more irritating.

Tamlin isn’t much better- despite his beastly appearance, there is nothing remotely beast like about him. In his normal form, he’s clearly an attractive man but with a mask on. Hardly the material for a Beauty and The Beast retelling. And yes, his personality needs a bit of refining but he’s pretty nice to Feyre so it’s not even like she needs to overcome that aspect of him to fall in love. As the icing on the cake, we had some very problematic scenes with Tamlin acting ‘beastlike’ while under the influence of Fae magic- but we were apparently supposed to find his abusive and violent behaviour sexy??

The other characters are in equal parts bland or textbook villain, no real depth to them and therefore not even serving as a distraction from the turgid plot. It is SO BORING. Honestly, we get that they are going to fall in instalove- it’s practically a requirement of the retelling- but why spend so much time on it? The last quarter of the book was more pacey and interesting but relied far too heavily on information dumps that retroactively explained large parts of the previous story lines. I did understand in some ways that the secrecy was necessary but it just all felt a little like she’d run out of time to plot the story properly.

Ah well, one day I’ll have learnt my lesson!!

1 bite. I did finish it I suppose…

 

 

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 Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

IMG_1612Thursday Next lives in an England very different from our own: The Crimean War has been raging for 131 years; Wales has seceded from the Union and has become the Socialist Republic of Wales; time travel is possible, and used by a specialist group called the ChronoGuards.

Thursday herself is a Crimean War vet whose father was a ChronoGuard before going rogue. Thursday works in The Special Operations Network (known as SpecOps), a series of policing departments who specialise in work too unusual to be handled by the regular force. Specifically, Thursday works in SpecOps-27, the literary division.

When the original copy of Martin Chuzzlewit is mysteriously stolen, Thursday is seconded to SpecOps-5 (a search and containment division) to assist. The suspect is Acheron Hades: notorious villain who can use the mere mention of his name to sense an enemy’s presence; who doesn’t appear on film or video; who can persuade people to do his bidding. Thursday knows him as her old English professor, which means she is one of the few people alive who know what he looks like. The only question is: what can he possibly want from the manuscript?

This is a world where words have power, where fictional characters can cross the borders and out of the book. This premise, plus the fact that the bulk of the story is set in my hometown of Swindon, meant this book seemed made for me!

There were parts I loved, such as the small little things which make this world different. I enjoyed how Thursday’s father would appear, freezing time around him so only Thursday could see him, and ask questions such as when and how the Duke of Wellington died (the answer is: shot by a French sniper during the opening exchanges of the Battle of Waterloo. This information makes Thursday’s father realise that the French revisionists have been involved.) I loved the passion people have for books. For example, the longstanding disagreements about who really wrote Shakespeare’s plays has created a group called the Baconians who aim to prove it was Sir Francis Bacon. It’s fun.

But there were things that frustrated me too. Firstly, the names. Amusing and silly to start with, I laughed at the name Paige Turner and Jack Schitt. But then it all got a little annoying, and Milton Keens and Landon Parke-Laine made me squirm.

I was also slightly put off by the character of Thursday. She’s strong and intelligent, which is great. But she feels a little cliched in places and definitely seems like a female character who was written by a man.

This is definitely a book with some enjoyable elements, but the annoyances built up which means I can only award it:
3 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.

BOOK BATTLE! The Cursed Child

Who would ever have thought it would come to this?

image
Two BFFS, Bookeater Kelly and Bookeater Rachel, at odds over The Cursed Child!
Kelly loved it, Rachel hated it- how will they ever reconcile their friendship?

With a BookEater Book Battle of course! The literary version of a corridor death match pistols at dawn duel!
Who will open up a can of literary whoopass and emerge victorious?!

(We made efforts to keep it spoiler free but failed miserably towards the end… you are duly warned!)

 

Rachel: So, I didn’t like it. To start with, I didn’t particularly like the format. The difference between the richness of the Harry Potter books and this bare bones play was stark

Kelly: I agree with that, but it was never trying to be a book. It was published as a screenplay so it was always going to be different.

Rachel: That’s true but I didn’t consider it a positive difference

Kelly: I think it depends what you wanted from it. I loved the idea of finding out what happened to the characters afterwards, the “living in your father’s shadow” theme and the impossibility of living up to being the son of the boy who lived. For me, the characters made up for any lack in description.

Rachel: That’s interesting because I thought the characters and the theme were pretty terrible

Rachel: The characters didn’t seem to be in line with how they were portrayed in the books and I found the theme of living in your father’s shadow to be depressingly mundane

Rachel: I wasn’t expecting them to have been the exact same as in the books but I felt the fundamentals of their characters were different

Kelly: But we grow up and change. We aren’t the same people we are at school. I mean- you and I are awesome still, but for different reasons!

Kelly: And a lot of the actual stories in the original series are mundane, just set in a magical environment- like this one was.

Kelly: Although if you delve into Harry’s personality more, he was always filled with doubt about his wizarding skills, it’s just that now he doubts his parenting skills.

Kelly: I loved Scorpius!

Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore
Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore

Rachel: We do grow up and change but we aren’t witches nor are we the focus of an entire franchise of books devoted to making magic out of the mundane. That is what made JK Rowling’s stories so wonderful and that isn’t what happens here. Here the magic is burdened, is dragged down and is overwhelmed by the ordinary, the boring, the mundane.

What does The Boy Who Lived grow up and do? Erm, well actually he has a pretty boring desk job, three kids and a severely middle class, suburban outlook on life.

Wow what an exciting sequel. #snooze #evaporatedmagic

Rachel: Scorpius wasn’t bad. What did you like so much about him?

Kelly: I can’t help but feel that the play is much different and pulls on the magic more. Again, because it’s a screenplay we lose some of the description and background that makes it more magical. We only have the dialogue, and that’s never going to be able to incorporate all the magic.

Kelly: I thought Scorpius was a wonderfully funny character. He’s so the opposite of what you expect a Malfoy to be. I kept waiting for him to do something evil!

Kelly: I found it quite nostalgic. I can’t expand on that because of spoilers. Did it give you that feel at all?

Rachel: Not really to be honest. I felt a bit betrayed (or something slightly less dramatic!). I felt a bit like I did when I found out Father Christmas doesn’t exist (is that a spoiler too?!)

Kelly: (What do you mean? Father Christmas is real- I’ve met him!!)

Rachel: I agree with you on Scorpius actually. He was pretty funny and loyal, and I could see him being in the original extended gang. He made up for my disappointment in the neutering of Draco Malfoy

Rachel: Which to be totally honest was a process begun by Rowling

Rachel: (Oh, yes, OF COURSE he is real…..)

Kelly: It was- it began in the last book. When you are on the losing side, you are going to be neutered. But there is still the distrust between him and Harry.

Kelly: (Thank goodness! You had me worried for a bit!)

Rachel: Which I didn’t find believable. But again, this is really Rowling’s fault. He didn’t seem to have suffered any consequence in her epilogue for having been essentially evil albeit in a flawed manner so why would he here?

I found the family aspect of his storyline to be a bit affecting (although think it clashed with stated facts from the epilogue)

Kelly: Affecting in what way?

Rachel: I felt sorry for Draco because of what happened to his family (close to spoiler territory!). And his reactions felt real

Rachel: Which unfortunately just contrasted with how unaffecting I found Harry

Kelly: I agree with your comments on Draco, but disagree about Harry. I thought his actions were realistic and he made me react emotionally throughout the screenplay. I felt angry with him, a bit disappointed in his reactions (which I think was the point) and sad for him. Can I say that the bit I was most disappointed with was how small a role Ginny had.

Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore
Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore

Rachel: Yes! It was as if she was totally erased as a proper character!

Rachel: And they had such a good opportunity to show how the two characters had grown together and complemented each other

Rachel: Wasted

Kelly: Exactly. She was purely there to give Harry and Albus a sounding board, and to give them advice that they ignored. Such a shame.

Rachel: She could have easily been a brand new character for all of the emotional attachment I had to her

Rachel: Wasn’t massively impressed with Ron or Hermione either. The Trio felt missing. I couldn’t find that amazing connection and camaraderie they had

Rachel: And don’t tell me that it’s because they’re grown up and friendships change because we’re living proof that friendships can be just as marvellous, if not better, decades on!HHR CC

Kelly: Ha ha! We are living proof of that! But not everyone is as lucky as us, and doesn’t Hermione admit that work has gotten in the way and they haven’t been as close as they once were? Or did I make that bit up? I’m sure it was part of the story.

Kelly: But less of the decades please. We’ll stick to “years on”. It ages us less!

Rachel: Maybe I am biased because even when work and life gets in the way of us, we still managed to get through the, erm, several years on (!) with our closeness still intact.

I just felt that these three saved the world together; they wouldn’t let work get in the way

Rachel: Particularly as their friendship was SUCH a core element of the original story

Kelly: I do get what you mean.

Rachel: So I think I could have forgiven or got past most of my concerns (not really to the extent of thinking it was a good book/play, but at least to the stage of not regretting I’d read it) if it hadn’t have been for the plot. Not so much the main plot as I thought that was fairly decent. It was the addition of that character and their origin… You know the one I mean

SPOILERS APPROACHING!

Kelly: I do. I understand what you mean, but again I feel it draws on the themes of the play. Without giving too much away, you have Scorpius who is forging a path away from his father and is a good guy, Albus who is struggling to make a life away from his father’s shadow, and then the other person who just embraces their father’s character. It provides contrast.

Rachel: It provide contrast but in a way that completely undermines the character of the father, and as such, undermines a central concept of the original series. It’s difficult to not spoil things but this new character’s very existence contradicts a central aspect of the father’s core belief and the actions they take on those beliefs.

If they were going to introduce this new character, they could have done it a different way. They didn’t actually need to be that character’s progeny

Kelly: I don’t know how to reply without spoiling the book. I would say that I disagree and think that we don’t know completely that this would be against the characters core beliefs. In fact, it’s in keeping with the characters actions.

AND HERE IS WHERE OUR ATTEMPT AT A SPOILER FREE BATTLE GOES COMPLETELY OUT OF THE WINDOW!! BE WARNED!!

Kelly: But wouldn’t Voldemort have created her as another horcrux? There was nothing to suggest love between them

Rachel: The idea that he would feel enough human emotion to actually have sex with Bellatrix is baffling to me, but more importantly, it’s a distraction from his main purpose

Rachel: And it’s totally unrealistic that no-one ever found out

Rachel: And why did she confund Amos except that otherwise the rest if that story makes no sense

Kelly: But we don’t know Voldemort as well before he tried to kill Harry, there may have been aspects of him we don’t know.

Kelly: Maybe it was a turkey baster?!

Rachel: Ewwwwwww!

Rachel: I think it was sensationalism. Delphi would have worked better had she been the child of Bellatrix and Rodolphus and was trying to live up to her mother’s legacy and restore Voldemort for her

Rachel: Still fits in with the theme

Kelly: I do get what you mean, that’s a good way around it and makes just as much sense

Kelly: (Is it ok that this isn’t a battle, more a polite discussion of views?)

Rachel: (Yep, we’re bffs, we aren’t going to let a book bring us to fisticuffs!)

Kelly: I still really enjoyed this book, as a screen play. It works as that, it’s not a novel and shouldn’t be treated as one. I completely got your beef with “that” character and feel your solution is much better. Maybe you should write to JK?!

Rachel: Kelly hasn’t swayed me although I do concede that I’m perhaps too harshly punishing the cursed child for being a play rather than a novel. However, it was billed so much as the continuation of the original series, the ‘what happens next’ and I think it just gets so many things wrong. And the new character tipped me over the edge! (Seriously, I have SO many beefs with it!)

all-cursed-child-cast

 

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 Djinn Falls in Love and Other Stories by Many Wonderful Writers!

TheDjinnFallsInLove
Click here to order from Waterstones

We all know of the Djinn, immortal beings can grant wishes but epitomise the moral of being careful what you wish for as your wish may have unforeseen consequences. This collection of tales bring us stories of Djinn in many parts of the world in the past, the present and the future. They are everywhere. Outside your back garden, on street corners, in the mosque, behind the wheel of a taxi, on mars, surrounding you on stage. Sometimes the divide between them and us is paper thin, their humanity more painful than our own, sometimes their omnipotence allows us to believe they are miles from us instead.

There are stories here from bestselling, award-winning and breakthrough international writers. Honestly when it comes to the quality of the writing you’ll be hard-pressed to know which is a breakthrough author and which has won awards. The standard is consistently high. The cultural diversity of the authors should be praised to with writers from a large variety of backgrounds, reading this is likely to lead you to discovering at least a couple of new favourite authors.

That being said there were of course stories I preferred. And part of the joy of a short story collection is that you can flick over stories that aren’t right for you at the moment without any guilt! You can’t really skip chapters in novels in the same way.

For me the ones that didn’t appeal were the futuristic ones. I think that’s a failing on my part though, or on my mood or expectations. When it comes to Djinn I want to read about magic, glamour not a grey cargo hold. I may revisit those stories in the future though when I’m feeling more open minded! If you’ve read them and think I’m an idiot for skipping them don’t hesitate to tell me!

My favourite stories were Kamila Shamsie’s “The Congregation”, the first story in the collection and a heart-achingly beautiful tale of a young boy finding his brother. Neil Gaiman’s “Somewhere in America”, a stand-alone extract from American Gods. Claire North’s contribution is the most reminiscent of 1001 nights so of course I loved it. But I was stopped in my tracks by Amal El-Mohtar’s prose-poem “A Tale of Ash in Seven Birds” which reminded me immensely of The Book of The Dead – one of my favourite books ever. Kirsty Logan’s “The Spite House” is really clever yet pulses with heart and anxiety. And Sophia Al-Maria’s “The Righteous Guide of Arabsat” is a vibrant, authentic and eventually scary look at a man’s fear of female sexuality.

Pick it up, rub it, and make a wish.

4 Bites

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

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

Carnivalesque by Neil Jordan

img_2365Andy is just at that stage of teenage hood when you drift away from your parents when the carnival comes to his small Irish town.

Though Andy has never been quite like other boys, and he ends up visiting the carnival with his parents. But then he slips into the Hall of Mirrors without them. He is fascinated by the many selves staring back at him. Sometime later, one of those selves walks out rejoins his parents, he knows they will be leaving without him. Leaving him trapped inside the glass.

Mona, an aerial artist who seems unbound by the laws of gravity, snatches him out of the mirror and introduces him to timeless world of the carnival.

And now the two boys are in the world meaning an ancient power has been released…

This book is so far up my cul-de-sac it’s ridiculous… if you’ve been reading this blog for a while you’ll know I’m powerfully attracted to books with carnivals or circuses in! I blame it on being part of that Cirque Du Soliel generation!

But did it deliver? Well. in most categories that is a resounding yes. But in one it’s a tragic no.

The concept and the story itself are both excellent. How the hall of mirrors came to have its power is brilliant and beautifully executed. The characters are honest and the portrayal of the feelings they all had around the normal separation of child and parent was stunningly good. It added a strong element of literary fiction that elevated the entire book.

The language in the book is beautiful, I learnt words I don’t recall hearing before but in such a way as they added to the narrative instead of interrupting it. And a few of my favourite little-used words were in there too.

So what was wrong with it?

Just one thing, I was three quarters of the way through it and I felt like I was still in the first quarter. That’s not a bad thing but it was a worry, I suddenly thought to myself ‘how on earth is this going to get to wherever it’s going with so few pages left?’ Well it got there by slipping too far into telling not showing. The climax of the story was definitely an anti-climax given that the loser of a fight to the death was announced at the start of the fight.

I’m not sure if the author lost confidence or his editors/publishers urged him to cut it short but I’d just like to say Neil Jordan, if you read this please know that you had me in the palm of your hands, you could have spun it out further, I would have happily gone along on that ride!

Still worth 4 Bites … but I know this author is capable of more!

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 Hit Book and The Sequel!

Rebel Of The SandsRebel of The Sands

This was a huge book last year. It’s cover taunted me from every book shop and it was all over our instagram feed too. It was a gorgeous cover too as you can see, chanelling Shaherazade’s magical stories and the mystic pull of the simmering desert nights.

The blurb was enticing too – but somehow never quite enough to pull me into buying the book there and then. It promised a “phenomenal novel packed with shooting contests, train robberies, festivals under the stars, powerful Djinni magic and an electrifying love story.

What more could I want? I’m not sure – if anything I maybe wanted a bit less! It sounded almost like a western crossed with a thousand and one nights and I wasn’t sure it would work.

But the next book is hitting the shelves tomorrow (with an equally lovely cover) and I got the chance to read them both via NetGalley – time to see what all the fuss is about!

So first off these are targetted at the teen / YA market. The first book starts with our hero Amani, desperate to escape the small town she’s been brought up in before her uncle can force her to become his next wife. Luckily she’s an amazing shot with a pistol so she dresses as a boy an attempts to hustle the prize money of a local shooting competition. But she has stiff competition in the form of a stranger to the town until they decide to join forces. What happens next leads to them racing out across the desert sands together – to start with at least. Amani wants to join her Aunt in the Sultan’s city but her new friend has other, even more dangerous plans.

I found I was turning the pages of this book really quickly and I was halfway through before I’d even realised that I’d started it properly! I’ll admit that I still wasn’t completely sold on the mix of Wild West and middle-eastern fantasy but there was so much action and drama that I got caught up anyway.

Slowly the characters started developing and by the end I was hooked. Then book two landed on my kindle…

IMG_2388Traitor to the Throne

It’s difficult to talk about this without giving too much away so suffice it to say that the adventures have led Amani to an exciting but perilous situation. Then she is kidnapped and sold to the Sultan and things get a whole lot more dangerous.

The second book is longer and to begin with I found it a little irksome. As with most sequels it spent a fair bit of time referring back to things in the previous book, useful if it’s been months since you read the first, but not for those of us that finished the first book only the previous day!

But after a hundred pages or so the story really got going. And the second book has a lot more moral meat in it than the first. Often second books can drift a bit or feel like they are full of filler material but not this one. This one is considerably more interesting than I’d expected.

4 Bites for each book … here’s hoping the last book lives up to them when it comes out!

 

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.

Ink and Bone (A Novel of The Great Library) by Rachel Caine

“You have ink in your blood, boy, and no help for it. Books will never be just a business to you.”

So my local library just launched an ebook service which is a) amazing, b) about blinkin’ time!
In the course of perusing the offerings of the library, I stumbled upon Ink and Bone by Rachel Caine. Now, I had heard of her as the author of the popular vampire series The Morganville Vampires, but I have never actually read any of them (still scarred by the travesty that is Twilight) but just look, LOOK, at the fabulous cover of this book.

LOOK at how beautiful this is!!
LOOK at how beautiful this is!!

 

It fascinated me.

It called to me.

It whispered in my ear promising that the words inside would match the elegant beauty of the pictures outside.

 

So I read the synopsis and that was it. I borrowed this book and the sequel and read them in one day. Both of them. I barely stopped to eat.
In the world of The Great Library, the 48AD fire that destroyed the library was stopped before much damage could be done. Instead of becoming a footnote in history, The Great Library of Alexandria grew in wealth and power and is now a separate country, a superpower that unquestionably holds sway over other countries in the world. Protected by its own standing army, The Library controls access to books and to knowledge. The Library and its daughter libraries around the world- the Serapeum- hold the original copies of books which are translated in the Archive by a form of alchemy only known to the Library and its Scholars. People who wish to read a book can request it from their Codex, a ‘blank’ book that will then translate (using the same alchemy) a copy of the book from the Archive. The Codexes and blanks reminded me very much of the concept of Ebooks but instead of electricity to power them and the internet to supply the books, we have alchemy.
As with all worlds where one institution holds the power over something, there is a thriving black market of book smugglers, a persistent Resistance in the Book Burners, and even an element of the perverse in the ink-lickers who take a very much socially unacceptable pleasure in literally eating the pages of the books they buy.
We are introduced to all this through Jess Brightwell. He is born into a family of successful book smugglers in London and spends his childhood ‘running’ books through the streets of London, avoiding the High Garda (armed forces of The Library), and delivering the original books to whoever has the moeny to pay for them.
He also loves books, and when his father, a man with little familial affection, recognises that is love for the books will interfere in his ability to run the family business he buys a place in the next class of Postulants- young people from around the world who travel t the Library in Alexandria and compete for a chance to be a library Scholar. The plan is for Jess to aid the family business from inside the Great Library machine.

What follows has been described as The Book Thief meets Harry Potter meets Farenheit 451 meets 1984 and although I feel  that does not accurately describe the book at all, I would be hard-pressed to come up with the words to do it justice.

What I can tell you is that the world-building is incredible. Just amazing. This world feels real, I can absolutely see this happening. Wales and England being at war? Plausible. France being conquered by the forces of the Library after a failed rebellion? Believeable. Automatons and Greek Fire used as weapons of war? Totally.
The care and attention that went not creating a plausible world has made this book into a something much more than a plain old alternative history. The subtle politics of the Library and their interactions with the rest of the world, the little changes in technology, the use of real historical locations- it all works.

As for the characters- it was refreshing that the main protagonist was male, this is so often not the case in YA books. Jess’s journey and character development is realistic and he isn’t irritating-not even when the love interest arrives.
The secondary characters are fairly well formed and fleshed out and actually there are at least three other characters who could have worked as primary protagonists- I suspect there may be a lot of fan fiction on the internet. The character most interesting to me is that Scholar Wolfe- his motivations are difficult to work out at first but as his back story is slowly revealed, he becomes more and more interesting (this continues into the sequel). I also liked a particular element of his story line, which I won’t spoil, that I wholeheartedly approved of in a YA novel.

I want to say a lot more about this book but I’m not supposed to write a dissertation for each review!
The central concept of this book, the world building and the insightful commentary on control of knowledge (which resonates more and more these days) make me recommend this book to everyone without reservation.

4 bites

 

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

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

Caraval by Stephanie Garber

img_2322
Click here to order from Waterstones

Scarlett Dragna is about to get married to a Count she has never met. That’s ok though, she’s hoping it will lead to safety for her and her sister away from her abusive father and the tiny isle of Trisda she has never once left.

But her sister Tella is determined to help her live a little and when an invitation arrives for them to visit the magical Caraval, a once-a-year, five-day performance where the audience participates in the show, she forces Scarlett’s hand so they have to go. But there’s a dark side to Caraval and although Scarlett has been told that everything that happens during Caraval is only an elaborate performance when Tella is kidnapped by the show’s mastermind organiser, she has to find her before the game is over, and her sister disappears forever.

This is billed as the perfect book for those that love The Night Circus, and honestly … it is!

It’s a little lighter and aimed more at Young Adults or at the fantasy market but the writing has some wonderful poetry to it. The world is absorbing and the characters are believable. If I wanted to be hypercritical I would say that the author could have dug deeper still into the motivations of the characters and fleshed them out even more.

That being said though I’d still thoroughly recommend it – it’ll bring a  flash of glorious colour to your winter nights!

4 Bites

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

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

The Lives She Left Behind by James Long

IMG_1583There are some books which grab you from the first sentence. This was one. I didn’t buy it straight away due to a distinct lack of funds, and absentmindedly forgot the name of it. And the author. Not wanting to be one of those annoying bookshop customers: “I can’t remember the name of the book, but it had a stag on the cover.” I was relieved to find it displayed on a counter when I went back into the shop after payday.

Joanna’s father Toby had wanted to call her Melissa, but he played no part in the final decision because he died more or less in childbirth.

Joanna, or Jo, is brought up by her mother, Fleur in Yorkshire. Fleur is distant and cold. Angry with her husband for dying, blaming her daughter who’s birth precipitated the accident. From the age of four, Jo knows she isn’t alone. She has a friend in her head called Gally. Gally tells her stories about the past, comforts her when her mother won’t, but Gally grieves and Jo doesn’t understand why. Concerned about her daughter, Fleur takes her to a psychiatrist who puts Jo on tablets. The tablets muffle the world around her, and Gally’s voice fades away.

After being forced out of her job as a developer, Fleur relocates them both to Exeter where Jo becomes friends with Ali an archeologists daughter, and Lucy. At sixteen, the trio join an archeological dig in the village of Montacute in Somerset. Jo feels drawn to the village from the moment she hears the name. Away from the constraints of her mother, she stops taking her tablets and feels a growing bond with the area, especially the nearby village of Pen Selwood.

Meanwhile, local teenager Luke stumbles across the dig. Placing his hand on the soil he feels it recoil, and forgotten memories start to rise to the surface. Schoolteacher Michael Martin is still grieving the loss of his wife and daughter twelve years ago. He blames the move to Pen Selwood for their deaths. His wife Gally was never the same after they arrived and met an eccentric old man called Ferney, who died shortly before their daughter was born. A chance encounter with Luke makes him realise the past cannot be put to rest.

This is a difficult to book to review without giving too much away. The Lives She Left Behind is a sequel to Ferney which has been out of print recently, and has now been republished by Quercus. The story moves through time, although this happens mainly through the reminiscences of the characters. The first third of this book was as good as that first sentence promised it would be. I was genuinely intrigued by the story and wanted to know what on earth was going on.

What bothered me as I read more, was the reactions of the characters. Some are expected to believe stories which would stretch anyone’s rational belief, and while there is a moment of incredulity this is often followed with a shrug of the shoulders and willingness to accept that I didn’t always buy. I also disliked the character of Luke at times, finding him selfish and narrowminded. Maybe this is intentional, but it meant I didn’t always want the outcome that the author obviously hoped I would.

However, it’s a good read and would appeal to fans of Kate Atkinson and Kate Mosse. I have not read Ferney, and probably won’t go back and read it as this book has covered most of the ground that the original did. I would be interested to hear what fans of the first book think of the sequel through. Does it offer anything more, or just retread a previous tale?

3 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 Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

the-watchmaker-of-filigree-street
Click here to order from Waterstones

Thaniel Steepleton is getting by rather than living. His job as a telegraphist at the Home Office earns him just enough to support his widowed sister but not enough for him to afford to pursue his love of music. Then one day he returns to his tiny flat to find a gold pocketwatch on his pillow. It isnt a birthday present from his sister but unfortunately he has no time to investigate further as a credible bomb threat has just come through.

When the watch saves Thaniel’s life in the threatened blast, he starts to investigate where it came from. His search leads him to its maker, Keita Mori – a gentle Japanese man whose seductive world of clockwork and music entrances him. Meanwhile, Grace Carrow will soon be making her entrance into his life but meanwhile she is sneaking into an Oxford library dressed as a man. A theoretical physicist, she is desperate to prove the existence of the luminiferous ether before her mother can force her to marry.

This blend of historical fiction and fantasy creates an enchanting steampunk-esque thriller. A character that can remember the future, one that can see sounds, the aforemantioned theoretical physicist, plus detectives from Scotland Yard, Japanese ambassadors, Irish nationalists and cameo appearances from Gilbert and Sullivan show what a talented writer Natasha Pulley is. Each character is utterly believable even if they barely grace the page.

The plot is intriguing but the author also adds in magical details like a clockwork Octopus with a penchant for stealing socks so there is never a dull moment. But these details are never just gratuitous. I can’t say any more than that or I’ll be guilty of spoilers!

One of the things that really sets this book aside though is the attention to sentence structure. That might sound like a very dry thing to say but when a book contains so many teeny tiny nibbles of pure bliss then the dish as a whole is definitely going to be tasty!

If you want some well-crafted escapism pick this up!

4 Bites

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

The Lost Hero by Rick Riordan

hooJason finds himself on a bus on the way to The Grand Canyon along with the rest of the ‘troubled’ kids of the Wilderness Camp- including his best friend Leo and his girlfriend Piper. The trouble is he has no recollection of them or of his life. He doesn’t have long to dwell on the matter though as almost immediately they are attacked by a storm spirit. Fending the storm spirit off results in Jason discovering he can fly… well, control the air currents… and gets them rescued by demi-god heroes from Camp Half-Blood. Shortly afterwards the three find themselves on a quest to rescue an imprisoned goddess, save the world and find out who they really are….

The first in a new series by award winning author Rick Riordan, this book is a spin off from the incredibly popular Percy Jackson books. Whilst it is not imperative to had read those before this, it would certainly help.

Riordan continues with his tried and tested formula of mingling the ancient Greek myths with the modern world creating an entertaining, if surreal, hidden world of cyclopes, satyrs, spirits of the air, and gods and goddesses, both minor and major, meddling in the lives of the children of the gods- the Heroes of Olympus.

As a piece of YA literature, The Lost Hero succeeds in its aims. It imparts life lessons and history lessons all wrapped up in a pacy and humorous tale. The jokes may not be flowing all the time but the melding of the old world and the new provides much to smile at. The ages of the demi-god protagonists provide teenaged angst to relate to in a clean and wholesome manner and the lines of good and evil are blurred just enough to make the characters well-rounded and interesting.

Although much older than the target audience, I have nonetheless enjoyed reading this and have actually read two of the four sequels in quick succession. I have enjoyed the pace of the story- it is episodic and yet still feels like the story flows naturally. The characters are distinctive and not too perfect despite the fact they are heroes!
I particularly enjoy the references to the Greek myths and legends and have actually been inspired to look up several of them to see what they originally were.

3 bites and a recommendation to teenagers everywhere to get a copy of these books.

 

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.

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.

The Academy by F.D Lee

img_1559There are some sequels that it’s impossible not to get excited about and for once I’m not talking about The Hanging Tree by Ben Arronovitch. This is The Academy, the next part of The Pathways Tree series. Last year we reviewed The Fairy’s Tale, about a young cabbage fairy called Bea who lives in Aenathlin, the home of the fae. Bea and the rest of the fae are dictated to by the Teller (who cares about us). Hanging over them is the threat of redaction, a process which strips the victim of their personality, leaving them a pliable, mindless slave. And somewhere out there is The Beast, a terrifying creature under the control of The Teller, although thankfully it appears to be keeping a low profile.

In this instalment, Bea has been accepted into The Academy to help her train to be a Fictional Management Executive (FME). FME’s run the plots in the human world, building up belief which power the mirrors and keep Aenathlin running. Bea is the first fairy to ever make it into The Academy. She is breaking down barriers and helping emancipate her fellow fairies who are treated like second class citizens. But not everyone is happy with this state of affairs.

There are many who feel fairies have no place in The Academy, like Carol, a fellow FME trainee, and Bea’s new Professor Master Dafi. Bea’s Plotter and mentor Mistasinon is acting strangely, although after the events of the last book, Bea isn’t sure that she wants to see him. Add to this nightmares from the events of the ball and the gossip that the Academy might be haunted, and Bea is left uncertain as to whether she’s made the right decision.

This book is every bit as good as it’s predecessor. It remains funny, in fact the humour is reminiscent of Terry Pratchett. In fact, like Pratchett, this book encapsulates all I love about Fantasy Fiction: It tackles difficult themes in a way that contemporary fiction isn’t always able to do.

Bea remains a strong character and is driven by a need to do what’s right, although she has an element of vulnerability in this book. We also get to find out more about the background of other characters such as Mistasinon and Melly.

Yes, ok there are a few typos which is the only thing that stops it getting the full five stars, but it is enjoyable nonetheless. I love this series, and I’m not the only one: it recently got outstanding feedback at The Writer’s Digest self published fiction awards. It’s time this series got published!

4 bites

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

Empire of Storms by Sarah J Maas

There’s a certain difficulty reading the latest in a book series that you’ve been invested in from book one. Yes, you’re already predisposed to enjoying it; yes, you can slip back into the world and the characters easily; yes, you get the satisfaction of knowing what happens next to these fictional people that you’ve been hearing about, sometimes for years.
But you also risk the disappointment of the characters’ lives treading down a path you would not have sent them. You risk the annoyance of their character development turning them into someone unrecognisable. Most importantly, you risk the rage of the author taking all that beautiful world building, all that potential of kick-ass female characters, all of that realistic character development and throwing it away on an over-blown, over romanced, over-done MESS.

And, ladies and gentlemen, when that rage comes, it is a bitter one indeed….

eos-coverSarah J. Maas has been the recipient of two very positive reviews from me for the previous two installments in her Throne of Glass series (Heir of Fire and Queen of Shadows) and would have for the first three if The Bookeaters had been up and running then. So it is with much rage that I say Empire of Storms is not that good.

Picking up almost immediately where Queen of Shadows left off, we follow Aelin and her court on their journey back to Terrasen, Dorian in his recovery, Elide in her escape and Manon in her continued evolution from bad-ass and evil to bad-ass and not evil. Things happen and because of ‘reasons’* all the major characters end up in the same location embarking on a quest to find a McGuffin that will end the fight against darkness, restore balance to the world etc etc blah blah. To be honest, I forgot what they were doing half the time…

(* not entirely believable)

I do want to pick out some good points before I launch into what sparked the rage-

Manon Blackbeak, for the majority of her scenes, continued to be an amazing character- she’s fierce and determined, loyal to her Thirteen and sparked all of the out loud ‘WTF’ moments of the book. Her story line, right up to where it converges with Aelin’s, was the absolute highlight of this book.

Oh, erm, that is about it on good points… oh dear.

Moving on then, to the aspects of this book that enraged me:

The over blown writing – oh my goodness, someone take away Maas’s thesaurus immediately. I’m not sure what has gotten into her but the descriptive elements of this were over the top and very repetitive. Very repetitive. Very repetitive. Sorry, I’ll stop now…. except to tell you that they were very repetitive. Annoying isn’t it?

The excessive amounts of drama llamadom – I get it. This is an epic fantasy story but every. single. aspect. was the biggest deal in the history of big deals in a land where big deals were super-sized. Every fight was super-duper life threatening, every hint of danger was an immediate ‘oh no, we’re about to die horribly, the stakes have never been higher’, every victory was the most dramatic show of raw power ever, every conversation was heart felt and emotional and just. stop.

The romance-  one of the things I loved about previous installments was the move away from typical YA love triangle type first-love-is-last-love. So the fact that almost every character found their one true love (and all B/G too) was nauseating. WHY??? Why do they all have to pair up? Why do they all have to do it when they should be concentrating on saving the world?

The change in genre AKA god-awful sex scenes- Closely linked with the romance aspects is the fact that this title is decidedly not YA- it’s New Adult. The difference?  Explicit sex scenes. I’m not really against sex scenes in a book if that’s what character and plot call for but I do not think they have a place in a book series that started life as a Young Adult series. Particularly when they are so ridiculously badly written and are shoe-horned into a plot at the most unrealistic moments. Seriously…. Lovely lightening? Palm trees on fire? Invisible hands? And nibbling… so much nibbling! Concentrate on saving the world you idiots!

I could go on. I could tell you about the confusing POV switches, the lack of distinct character voices, the heroine who is an ABSOLUTE idiot but I can’t really be bothered. There’s only so much angry ranting a girl can do.

2 bites- 1 for sentiment and 1 for Manon.

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.

Nevernight by Jay Kristoff

NevernightMia Covere is just ten when she watches her fathers execution.  For the next six years she is tutored in the arts of stealth, self-defence and murder but the day she takes her first life is the day she’s been waiting for.  Now she can become an apprentice in The Red Church, and, if she survives, earn the right to avenge all of those that killed her father.

But the apprenticeship at The Red Church is not her path alone and all those competing to complete it know they must face death many times over – even from each other’s hands. Luckily Mia has at least one friend, a not-quite cat made of shadow’s that drinks her fear.

This booked hooked me right from the start and I would totally recommend it to all lovers of fantasy. Jay Kristoff’s world-building skills are superb, I felt I knew where I was all the time I could so easily envisage all the settings.

This is the genre at it’s best, lots of action, menace and magic. It’s quite gory, there’s lot’s of death – it could probably give ‘Game of Thrones’ a run for it’s money! It has a strong female lead as well as a good gender balance throughout, the characters are interesting and well-developed too. The only thing I didn’t like about it was the fact I have to wait ages till the next book in the series comes out!

It’s not life-changing or overly thought-provoking but it will keep you thoroughly entertained!

4 Bites

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

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

Everfair by Nisi Shawl

imageIn Everfair Nisi Shawl has taken the real and horrific events of King Loepold’s colonisation of the Congo and spun them through the prism of ‘what if’.

She came up with an alternate history with overtones of steampunk. In this history the native population gained access to steam technology including Dirigibles by way of the Fabian Society. Their allies have also purchased land from Leopold and set up the state of  Everfair; a safe haven for native populations of the Congo as well as escaped slaves returning from America and other places where African natives were being mistreated. Together they fight back against Leopold’s disgusting murderous excesses to protect the land of Everfair.

That concept, that cover – I was sold. Then when I found out I’d be able to review this for Black History Month I was over the moon- I couldn’t wait to read it and share a glowing review stressing that black authors could write in any damn genre they wanted and do it well.

They can of course, but sadly this wasn’t the book to prove that. I just couldn’t get into it and I ended up putting it down twice and picking up other books before finally putting it down and giving up on it before I was half way through.

It’s hard to put my finger on exactly what was wrong with it, if indeed the fault was in the book not in me. I think in the end it came down to two things, the structure of the book wasn’t great – it should maybe have started later in the story and flashbacked more to establish characters motives etc. The other thing was that there were quite a lot of characters and I got confused between them – particularly the white characters so I was then unsure about motives and whether a particular character would do a certain thing only to eventually figure out I wasn’t reading about who I thought I was reading about!

Even though I didn’t finish this I don’t want to rate it too low. I have a feeling that if I pick it up again in another 6 months and have another bash at it I might finally get it and love it.

So for now – 3 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.

Pottermore Presents… by JK Rowling

ppThere is usually much excitement and slight hysteria when JK Rowling releases Harry Potter books- midnight fancy dress parties, bookshop activities and huge media attention.  So it was a bit surprising at how low-key yesterday’s release of the three Pottermore Presents collections was. In comparison to the firework extravaganza of The Cursed Child only a few weeks ago, these three short reads were a bit of a damp squib (pun intended!)

And there is a reason for that… in my opinion at least!

pp2The three collections of information, biographies and short reads are mainly compiled from the content already to be found on the Pottermore website but with the addition of new writing from Rowling herself and promise to give extra insight and a new dimension to the existing Potter series.

pp3Short Stories from Hogwarts of Power, Politics and Pesky Poltergeists, Hogwarts: An Incomplete and Unreliable Guide and Short Stories from Hogwarts of Heroism, Hardship and Dangerous Hobbies cover a range of topics including PolyJuice Potion, Professor McGonagall, the Ministers for Magic, the Hogwarts Express, and Remus Lupin.
All in all, it sounds like three books of delight for any average Harry Potter fan…

So why am I strongly implying that there is the distinct aroma of damp squib hanging around these mini tomes of knowledge….?

Simply put, these three books contain very little in the way of new information and the vast majority of the writings can be found on the Pottermore website itself or, for the more motivated fan, in numerous interviews, web chats and Twitter posts with Rowling.

Yes the information that was included, and yes it was a delight to dip back into the Wizarding World of Harry Potter (I expect that’s trademarked somewhere!) but it feels a bit like cashing in to have released these books when they contain so little that is new and undiscovered. Given that the marketing of these books included substantial mentions of the ‘exclusive new content’, I feel a more appropriate phrase to use would have been ‘elusive new content’.
I have actually dropped my bite rating by two because of this- had the marketing information been more clear about the proportion of Pottermore content to new content, I would have been happier.

The content itself is well written, is interesting and really does help to enhance your understanding of some of the characters (although never those that are central to the stories!) and their motivations. It also really shows just how much world building JK Rowling did when she was writing- lists of Ministers for Magic, recipes for potions complete with why each ingredient was chosen, origins for even minor characters.

1 bite from me today- be honest, marketing people. That’s all we ask. (3 bites for content )

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 Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe by Kij Johnson

cover87989-mediumThis novella was inspired by a classic H.P. Lovecraft tale, but one that women were completely invisible in. Kij Johnson wanted to honour the story but also provide a female counter-balance to it. This then is the story of Professor Vellitt Boe. A woman who was once a far-traveller of the dream world but who has taught at the prestigious Ulthar Women’s College for many years.

One night, one of her most gifted students elopes with a dreamer from the waking world, this could spell disaster for the Women’s college, after all, no matter how prestigious they are there are still plenty of men that think women should have no place in academia and this could be the excuse they need to close it down. Vellitt volunteers to retrieve her.

The journey turns out not to be as straightforward as she’d hoped, just missing her student she then has to try and gain access to the waking world, no easy thing so she ends up on a quest across the Dreamlands. Along the way she meets people from her past and faces the dangers of demons and ghasts.

This is a fairly short book but the quest doesn’t feel rushed at all, in fact there is plenty of description of Vellitt’s journey, masterfully portrayed so you feel as if you’re walking alongside her all the way.  Sadly for someone like me who is quite a character driven reader, much of her journey is alone. The lack of dialogue or interaction with others did make the story seem a little flat to me.

I’d read Kij Johnson again, but this wasn’t enough to make me a massive fan – 3 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 Sleeper and The Spindle by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

“There are choices. There are always choices”

TSS
As an example of how intricate the illustrations are… the writing and vines are actually the book jacket, and the girl is the cover of the book

It warms my soul when come across a book like this imaginative retelling/rebooting/retwisting of Sleeping Beauty/Snow White written by Neil Gaiman, and illustrated by Chris Ridell.

Gone is the idea of the passive princess waiting around for her knight in shining armour, her Prince Charming, her male saviour. In is the idea of being a master of your own fate, master of your own choices.

Although much lighter on substance than Gaiman’s stories usually are, the illustrations more than make up for this and are in fact the highlight of this book. Deft drawings add literary colour to the tale of a queen who goes off to rescue her kingdom from a rumoured plague of sleep. Fine line pictures of the environment and characters give an extra layer to the story.

I’ve seen some reviews bemoan the fact that this book is priced as if it were novel length instead of 72 pages. They are, in my opinion, completely undermining the addition that the illustrations make to the overall feel of the book.

The slightly gothic illustrations marry well with the descriptive slightly creepy nature of Gaiman’s tale with certain fairy tale tropes turned on their heads and characters you would expect to act in a particular way surprising you.

It’s a quick read, and a long look at the pictures but is a solid 3 bites today.

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 New Stage Play

imageTo read The Cursed Child, or not to read? That seems to be the main question being asked by Harry Potter fans after the release of the script of the new West End play came out on Sunday. On one hand- it’s a new Harry Potter! On the other hand, it’s published in a script format and written by playwright Jack Thorne who based the play on an original story he wrote alongside JK Rowling and John Tiffany. Add to this the fact that it is set 19 years after the events in The Deathly Hallows, and it’s easy to see why die hard fans are a bit nervous.

Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore
Harry, Ginny and Albus from Pottermore

Harry Potter is now a husband and father. Married to Ginny and with three children: James, Lily and Albus Severus, Harry works in the ministry of magic. However, the plot revolves around his relationship with his son Albus. This is Harry Potter and The Struggle To Understand His Son. Albus is not like his siblings. For a start he is in Slytherin (gasp!) and his best friend is Scorpius Malfoy, son of Draco (double gasp!) Albus is aware of the shadow his famous father casts over his life, and feels unable to match up to the expectations surrounding him. Harry wants to connect with his son, but is doing a superbly bad job of achieving it.

Let’s address the concerns of fans. First of all, the script style. It seems odd at first, it’s obviously not the same as the seven Harry Potter books that preceded it. The descriptions are written as stage notes, which mean they are not as detailed as though of a novel, but from a personal point of view, none of this bothered me. The dialogue and the plot are excellent and I read it in 3 hours. I quickly got used to the style and it didn’t hamper my enjoyment at all.

Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore
Draco and Scorpius from Pottermore

It still retains the excitement and the feel of a Harry Potter story, despite the mix of writers. Harry still feels like Harry, with all his flaws. He still feels the weight of being the boy who lived, a need to solve problems without putting his friends in danger. It is magical, emotional and funny. As readers, we have grown as Harry has. This gives it a tinge of nostalgia too.

Hermione, Ron and Rose from Pottermore
Hermione, Ron and Rose from Pottermore

The best part is the characters. Our favourites are all there: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Professor McGonagall.  But the new characters are wonderful, especially Albus and Scorpius. Who’d of thought I would ever like a Malfoy?! But their friendship drives the story and helps Harry come to terms with his past.

I really enjoyed this and am now desperate to see the play. My conclusions are: put your doubts to one side and read it. It might just surprise you.

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.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark, Book 1 by Dave Rudden

I had to laugh when I read the first line on the title page of the kindle edition

Dave Rudden enjoys cats, adventure and being cruel to fictional children

‘I’m in for a good one here’ I thought …. and I wasn’t wrong!  In my opinion adults and youngsters are going to love this.

Knights of the Borrowed Dark

Thirteen year old Denizen Hardwick has been raised in an Irish orphanage and knows nothing about his parents. He loves reading and is very good at frowning – in fact he has mastered a remarkable number of different frowns. He has no known relatives and no expectations so he is extremely surprised when he finds a note from Director Ackerby informing him that at 6pm he will be collected by his aunt. At 6pm a car does indeed arrive, a Jensen Interceptor, strangely though it arrives in the dark with no headlamps on and instead of a woman a tall and mysterious man gets out. Denizen is both curious and wary – after all even an orphanage can feel like home – but he willingly gets in the car  to be driven him to Dublin where he is told he will meet his aunt. A monstrous event occurs on the journey and fortunately Grey reveals himself to be rather more than just a chauffeur.  However the response  to everything that Denizen asks is merely that the aunt will explain. Bursting with frustrations and questions when Denizen finally meets his aunt he discovers that she is a Malleus, a warrior and a leader among the Knights of the Borrowed Dark who fights the tenebrous creatures that breach our world. Furthermore he discovers that he is not thirteen as he believed and that he too is possessed of unusual powers.

Clockwork creatures, monsters that shape themselves from objects, iron that runs through the body as well as the soul. Rudden has envisioned new magic and new enemies. This isn’t a Harry Potter rip-off; it is fresh, exciting and humorous.  The cost of wielding magic and the price of superpowers is skilfully portrayed and thought provoking. The writing is witty and sharp, and the action moves along swiftly but still allows for character development. The quality of the writing is excellent and the variety of imagery used for even simple events is delightful, these two particularly appealed to me.

“He ran gloved hands across the steering wheel the way you’d ruffle the head of a beloved dog” or

“A conversation with Simon had the soothing effect of a cool pillow”

This is Rudden’s first novel and the first of a series. Puffin Random House are publishing it and I fully believe that they have picked a winner because it is going to appeal to children and their parents, indeed I couldn’t put it down. I am so looking forward to book 2 for as Rudden wrote in his afterword “Onwards and downwards, to misery unending”.

5 bites and I want more!

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

 

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.

How whoopsey-splunkers!

I went to see The BFG last night. With my mum. I’m 34…

And it was wonderful. Not 1989 The BFG cartoon wonderful, but like I said, I’m 34 not 8!
One of the top contenders for best book in the categories of ‘Roald Dahl books’, ‘Children’s Books’, and ‘Best in Show’, the cartoon adaptation was also a favourite and this year’s Spielberg adaptation highly anticipated. Quite simply, there is something about The BFG that delights me.
Is it the heart warming story of two lonely souls finding each other, the triumph of good against evil, the story of a a downtrodden kindhearted giant finding the strength to fight back against his bullies, the hilarity of Her Majester the Queen’s household staff finding innovative ways to serve breakfast to a 25 foot house guest, the magical Dream Country and the idea of dreams being blown in through the window, or the satisfying conclusion?

Or is it the delightful, fantastical, tongue-twisting, squiff-squiddling language?!

I think we have a winner!! I adore the language used in The BFG, it delighted me as a child, a teenager, and now as an adult.

I thought I would share some of my favourite quotes/passages and spread the magic around a little…

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14697451671181469743775741In the words of the BFG himself… “The matter with human beans is that they is absolutely refusing to believe in anything unless they is actually seeing it right in front of their own schnozzles.”

But the language in the BFG makes a believer out of me…

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.

Outlander by Diana Gabaldon

imageIt’s 1945, and Claire Randall and her husband Frank are on their second honeymoon in the Highlands of Scotland. Separated by war, during which time Claire served as a nurse and Frank worked in MI6, this is their opportunity to rediscover each other and truly start their married life. Frank, history professor and genealogist, is also using the trip to learn more about his heritage. His six- times-great-grandfather, Jonathan “Black Jack” Randall was a captain of dragoons, stationed in the Highlands around the time of the Jacobite Rebellions.

During the festival of Beltane (Celtic May Day), Claire goes alone to the standing stones of Craigh na Dun to study some unusual plants she saw growing there. Claire touches the great stone at the centre of the circle, causing the stone to scream. Disorientated, she staggers towards it and when she wakes, she discovers she has been transported back to 1743.

Rescued from Frank’s less than chivalrous relative “Black Jack” by a clan of Highlanders, she is taken to Castle Leoch, where the chieftain Callum MacKenzie puts her to work as a healer, whilst trying to discover what a lone Englishwoman was doing in the Scottish countryside dressed only in her shift. Claire’s tale of a widow subjected to highway robbery while trying to get to France to see her family doesn’t wash, and Callum suspects her of being a spy.

And so, Claire must try to find a way home: to escape Castle Leoch and return to Craigh na Dun and therefore to the 20th Century and Frank. What she doesn’t count on is the growing feelings she has for Jamie Fraser, clansman to the MacKenzies, or the sadistic nature of Black Jack who also has questions about this unusual Englishwoman.

I have to admit that I got hooked on the TV version before I read this book (not something that happens very often), but this is one of the rare examples of a TV show that does its source material proud. If you are looking for perfect writing, it’s not for you. Fairly soon after Claire finds herself in 1743, she seems to have adjusted to it. There isn’t a lot of emotion in this part, certainly not much sense of panic or desperation. She mentions a need to get back to Frank a couple of times- it seems like lip service really. What really makes the book pop out is the characters. The relationship between Claire and Jamie develops wonderfully. Claire has just enough pig-headedness to stop her from being a complete Mary Jane, and Jamie is hot headed, brave and handsome. Black Jack has layers to his character which also keep him the correct side of stereotype.

This is a fun book. It’s not too serious. It’s long, but very easy to read. It’s twee in some places and predictable in others, but fun. I’ve already bought the next book in the series!

PS- You should totally watch the TV show!

4 bites

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

Smoke by Dan Vyleta

imageThe next huge YA crossover book! Those adults that loved Philip Pullman’s writing and JK Rowling’s world creation will love this.

It opens with a quote from Dickens’s Dombey and Son: “Those who study the physical sciences, and bring them to bear upon the health of man, tell us that if the noxious particles that rise from vitiated air, were palpable to the sight, we should see them lowering in a dense black cloud above such haunts, and rolling slowly on to corrupt the better portions of a town. But if the moral pestilence that rises with them could be made discernible too, how terrible the revelation!”

This book, set in an alternative Victorian England takes that premise seriously. Here sin appears as smoke on the body and soot on the clothes. Children smoke furiously from birth and the ruling elite are sent to boarding school to learn to control their desires and contain their sin. They are spotless.

Thomas and Charlie attend such a school in Oxfordshire but then on a trip to London, a forbidden city shrouded in smoke and darkness, they witness an event that makes them question everything they have been told. There is more to the world of smoke, soot and ash than meets the eye and it seems there are those who will stop at nothing to protect it.

There are a lot of great Young Adult stories and many older adults read them too (you’re only as old as the books you read? 😉). But few of them have writing as good as this.  For the first few chapters I found myself stopping and re-reading many sentences, smiling to myself at the simple joy of language used well. But then I became too engrossed in the story and then the damn book went and finished!

I utterly recommend this, it’s got it all, plot, characters, ideas, adventure, love, passion and a great villain!

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.