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.

Cleaning up in the Valkyrie Suite by Julia Ross

Click through for Amazon
Click through for Amazon

I nearly didn’t read this because of the title, it conjured up a Jackie Collins styled bonk buster in which a Cinderella styled chambermaid shoots from grubby sheets to diamonds. I was therefore unexpectedly pleased to find the main protagonist to be an intelligent fifty plus woman with a wry sense of humour and a real sense of job commitment.

Prudence Baxter spent thirty years of her working life being a Personal Assistant to a CEO until recession wiped out the hundred year old family firm she had dedicated so much time to. Living alone in the glorious whimsical and utterly decrepit Edwardian mansion that she grew up in Pru is desperate for work of any kind to keep the lights on and so, through a series of slight misunderstandings, she becomes a chambermaid in a brand new hotel in the east Midlands. Expected to dress in a pink sweatshirt and matching jogging bottoms emblazoned with the name of the hotel, Pru quickly discovers that modern day housekeeping bears little resemblance to Gosford Park and that far from being staffed by experienced people speaking clearly and demonstrating a proper sense of order the hotel is utterly disorganised and the receptionist can’t speak English. Her interest and curiosity are quickly sparked by peculiarities in the routines and behaviours of her fellow workers and she finds herself on the scent of some very dodgy dealings. A most unexpected meeting with Mark the hotel owner opens her eyes to more than one secret that’s been well hidden and she finds out that there is rather more to one of her old friends than she had realised. With danger lurking around every corner our unusual sleuth sets out to find who is refolding the triangles on the end of the toilet roll in the Valkyrie Suite.

 

Well-polished and neatly executed this was a thoroughly entertaining and humorous read that I really enjoyed. Delightfully up to date in its themes (cross dressing, immigration, unemployment) it totally avoided the excessive cosiness that comes with many novels about middle-aged female detectives. Witty and pithy her female characters are feisty and determined and I heartily recommend it.

A good 3 bites from me for this tasty snack

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.

Glass by Alex Christofi

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

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

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

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

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

Himself by Jess Kidd

Debut Novel
Debut Novel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holding by Graham Norton

Temporary cover
Temporary cover

Set in Duneen, a sleepy, timeless Irish village this novel would be ideal for an audio book. It perfectly encapsulates the humorous, gossipy voice of Graham Norton as it tells the tale of a fat village guard who bumbles his way through the first real crime investigation that Duneen has ever seen. Guard Patrick James Collins is known to everyone as PJ and in the 15 years as Sergeant his job has largely involved issuing licenses and checking tax discs until one day a builder turns up some human bones on an old farm and PJ finally feels like a winner.

Up on the old Byrne farm the remains of a young man have been unearthed and speculation runs like wildfire through the village that it must be the body of Tommy Burke who vanished some twenty years ago. Suddenly old romances are dragged back into the light of day for handsome Tommy had been engaged to one girl and soft on another before his mysterious disappearance.

Set apart from the village live the spinster Ross sisters, Abigail, Florence and Evelyn. Their lives have been blighted with tragedy and loss and their family home, Ard Carraig, seems to attract sadness. Sweet Evelyn’s heart was broken beyond repair when Tommy vanished without a word.

On the other side of town lives Brid. Never an attractive girl she had lacked suitors until her father’s sudden death meant she inherited his farm. Then suddenly a stream of unattached young men with farming in mind arrive to court to the young woman. Amongst them was handsome Tommy and Brid had thought herself the luckiest girl alive when he proposed. Notice of the engagement was posted and the village buzzed with joy, until Evelyn, seething with jealousy and disappointment, launched herself at Brid in the middle of the street and the young women fought for their man. Oddly that was the same day that Tommy left town, the gossips had it that he was seen boarding the bus with a small suitcase and nothing had been seen of him since.

So this is the tangled web that PJ has to unravel and his investigations affect him as much as they affect those he must question. Unwittingly, gentle PJ finds himself caught up in the lives of the two very different women and in doing so discovers a new side to his nature.

Entertaining, skilfully layered and gently revealing of the characters’ flaws and foibles this is an engaging and cosy read. The language is full of imagery and I was surprised at how well the private thoughts and emotions of the characters were conveyed in just a few words e.g. “She felt transparent without the dark cloud of the past trapped inside her”. Each character was sufficiently developed and individual for the reader to get inside their psyche and sense for just a moment what it might feel like to be a fat, sweaty Guard or a lonely, heartbroken woman. That said it isn’t high literature but I thoroughly enjoyed it and would heartily recommend it to those who like Agatha Raisin, Miss Marple, or Midsomer Murder

 

Like buttery toast and a hot cup of tea when you’re home feeling poorly on a winter’s day. It rates 4 bites from me.

I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think. The hardback will be released on 6th October

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 Smoke Hunter by Jacquelyn Benson

the-smoke-hunterCross Indiana Jones with Amelia Peabody and out come  Adam Bates and Eleanora Mallory. Fast-paced and exciting with romance and suspense in equal measure this debut novel is full of fun and wit.

It’s nearly the C20th and women young and old are clamouring for proper education, proper employment and most of all the right to vote. If Eleanora Mallory hadn’t been born a girl she’d have been out in the jungles excavating the ruins of an ancient civilisation, but a girl she is and the best job that a top quality university degree and a near perfect score in the civil service entrance exam can earn a young woman is the role of a low level archivist in the public Records Office. What is utterly maddening is that her supervising manager is a lazy, untidy, slapdash excuse for an historian, who is about to sack her because she got arrested for chaining herself to the gates of parliament. While waiting for him to arrive she knocks a stack of papers off his desk and discovers a psalter, hollowed out in the centre it houses a large stone medallion and beneath that a treasure map. Her frustrated spirit rebels and on a whim she decides to borrow the items and do her own investigation but it isn’t long before the absence of the psalter is discovered and Miss Mallory finds that she has stirred up quite a hornets nest. With the aid of an old school-friend she evades pursuit and finds herself on a steamer headed for British Honduras using an alias and dressed in borrowed clothes.

Smartly written with a slightly saucy, slightly tongue in cheek approach to Victorian values, Eleanora and Adam are the perfect role models for a pair of ‘modern’ adventurers. He has to throw his pre-conceived ideas of chivalry out of the window and she has to learn to admit when she is wrong. Chasing across the jungle they are beset by dangers and fall neatly into yet more trouble. Swinging on vines, outwitting scorpions and trying to prevent themselves from being shot by the competition, it reads as clearly as if it were already a film.

Full of adventure and more exciting than Rider Haggard ever was sadly I suspect this will suffer from being considered the literary version of Indiana Jones. The plot is hardly unique but it is fun and the characters are spikey and spicy and the sparks between them are delightful echoes of the relationship between Katherine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart in the African Queen.

3 Bites – An entertaining and skillfully written yarn that kept me engrossed.

NB I received an advance copy of this book through Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. Bookeaters always say what they think.

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.

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.

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…

IMG_20160728_225913_313

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_20160728_224325_068

 

 

 

 

 

1469745895244

1469745453355

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.

The Improbability of Love by Hannah Rothschild

imageAnnie McDee is trying to get over her ex-husband, she met someone nice at an art gallery and against her better judgement she is cooking him dinner so he doesn’t have to spend his birthday alone. Whilst looking for a present for him she see’s an old painting in a dingy antique shop – she’s buys it on a whim not realising it is a missing masterpiece.

Before she knows what’s happening she is being swirled into the greedy, deceptive world of high art. But will Art seduce her or imprison her?

Newspaper reviews have called this ‘clever, funny, beguiling’ ‘a masterpiece’ and ‘totally delicious’. It’s also been shortlisted for The Bailey’s Women’s Prize for Fiction. With all that you’d expect this book to be a cracker wouldn’t you? I did, hence me parting with my hard earned cash to get me a copy (okay so I used a book token in Waterstones and technically I only paid £6 for 4 books but that’s just nitpicking!)

So is it the worth my £1.50 and all those accolades? Honestly? No.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not bad, definitely worth £1.50 … But all those accolades? Shortlisted for the Bailey’s prize? Absolutely not. But what’s worse is that it could have been far better. It just needs a really good edit. For a start the prologue needs to be cut – that was so bad I almost didn’t bother reading on, if you get this book then do yourself a favour and skip those 19 pages. It could also do with losing around another hundred pages. This story is told by far too many perspectives, although Hannah Rothschild is a talented character writer. Personally I would cull the ‘voice’ of the painting for a start. It adds no information of value and is quite frankly annoying.

There are some very appealing characters in here though, and the story is entertaining even if it’s a little farcical. There’s a little bit of everything in it, love, pathos, greed, poverty, riches beyond your wildest imaginings and the power of art. It’s been compared to Wodehouse which is maybe a little over-generous but it is amusing.

Overall I’d have to award it 3 Bites, it’s good, just not brilliant.

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.

Written In Dead Wax (The Vinyl Detective 1) by Andrew Cartmel

I think any semi-regular reader of this website will be fully aware by now of my deep and abiding love for Ben Aaronovitch’s Rivers of London/PC Grant series. Whilst waiting for the sixth book in the series to come out (due August 25th… not that I’m counting the days or anything…), I have been getting my fix by reading the two comic books in the series, Body Work and Night Witch. Co-written by Aaronovitch and Andrew Cartmel, they are the reason I jumped at the chance to read the latter’s debut novel. I love finding new authors and who better than one so clearly endorsed by one of my favourites!

Vinyl DetectiveThe Vinyl Detective is a record collector.. but you know, a proper one, collecting actual vinyl records (we don’t call them vinyls…) and either adding them them to his extensive collection or flipping them to make enough money to keep his cats in biscuits.
When a mysterious but deeply attractive woman shows up on his doorstep with a commission from an even more mysterious but incredibly wealthy client to find a priceless and lost record, he can’t resist- the search or the woman.
What starts out as a fairly standard and likely to be protracted search turns sinister when one of the record shop owners who has been helping them turns up dead and it becomes clear that they aren’t the only ones searching for this elusive recording….

I thoroughly thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those of you who follow our Facebook feed will already know that I finished it in one sitting of only 3 hours… not bad for a book that is 474 pages long!

The plot takes a little time to get going, but the time spent at the beginning to establish the characters is well spent. There is quite a large cast of characters and I didn’t feel that any were superfluous to the story or shoehorned in for any reason.  The supporting characters were as deftly drawn as the main protagonists and I get the feeling that they are going to appear a lot in the sequels- Cartmel has already written two follow up novels whilst waiting for Written In Dead Wax to be published.

There is an attention to detail in the writing which enhances the story- Cartmel clearly knows his stuff on both jazz and vinyl records as well as the subtle complexities of being a collector of anything and hunting for that hard to find prize. He doesn’t shy away from the more mundane aspects of the search which balances the helter-skelter actions scenes but rather than being boring, as mundane scenes often can be, he injects light comedy into them or uses them as a way to develop the characters.

The story itself is slightly unrealistic but not entirely out of the realms of possibility and after all, we are reading fiction! It is engaging and absorbing, and full of little laugh-out-loud moments. It’s not going to change anyone’s life with its deeply philosophical ideas but its not meant to. It’s meant to give you a few hours of pleasure, a few hours of amusement and it succeeds 100%.

I really want to be able to tell you more about this book but I don’t want to take away from the joy of reading a new and exciting story with new and engaging characters! So really, you should just go and buy it- it was published yesterday!

A very rare 5 bites from me… yes, I enjoyed it that much!

 

NB- I did receive an ARC but all opinions are decidedly my own. And I’m going to be buying this as a present for pretty much all my friends anyway….!

 

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 Lubetkin Legacy by Marina Lewycka

imageMarina Lewycka is best known for writing A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian. This book, already shortlisted for the annual Bollinger Everyman Wodehouse prize (which the Short History won back in 2005) might beat it into the shadows!

It’s set in North London in modern day. Berthold Sidebottom (named for the architect Berthold Lubetkin who his mother hints might be his real father) invites an old Ukrainian lady to move into his mother’s flat with him, after his mother befriended her in the hospital as she lay dying.

This might sound like a mad thing to do but grief makes you mad – as does the chance you might lose your council flat!

His next door neighbour Violet is discovering that her new job in International Wealth Preservation is not as glamourous as it sounds, in fact she feels rather dirty helping ridiculously rich people profit from the poor and avoid paying taxes.  When their flats are threatened by a new development Violet galvanises the residents into action, even the greiving Berthold.

This book is so clever and so so funny. It is multi-layered with a host of multi-faceted characters. It is a love letter to a London that is fast vanishing and a persausive missive to everyone to commit to community spirit.  It’s a keleidoscope – with every twist and turn it shows a different pattern created by the colourful characters, and you’re never sure what pattern will be revealed next.

There are mysteries, drama’s,  romances, crimes, humour, pathos and victories in this book. I fell in love with Victoria and with Berthold’s mum pretty much as soon as I met them, and my creeping sympathy for Berthold grew stronger with every struggle he faced.

Put this review down and go grab yourself this book now!

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.

Jobsworth by Malcolm Phillips

JobsworthI can’t believe I fell for it again. Looking for a light read after a series of heavy tomes I came across Jobsworth (confessions of the man from the council).

The prologue read: After a delightful dinner where one too many bottles of wine were consumed, I was reminiscing with one of my old friends about the hilarious times I had enjoyed when working as a civil servant for the County Council. My friend said “You should write a book Malcolm”. Whoever that friend was, he should be taken out and shot. It’s one thing try to shut up a crushing bore but never, ever do so by suggesting that his stories are funny or that he should write a book, because he might just do it.
You may wonder why I read this tedious drivel right through to the end, there were three reasons for this.
First: For two weeks my phone line was out of action, I had no internet connection, no phone calls, no emails, no facebook. Nothing else to do but catch up with my reading.

Second: I assumed from the prologue that it was going to be similar to the plot lines of “Yes Minister”, which would be a rich vein to mine and could indeed have produced hilarious stories. Unfortunately in Malcolm Phillips’s case one or two of his stories were mildly amusing, the rest without exception were an infantile ode to tedium. To make matters worse the author has no writing talent whatsoever. I assume that comes from thirty years of writing inter departmental memos.

Third: I’m an optimist, I was convinced that there must be something funny somewhere in this dire piece of drivel, so I stuck it out to the bitter end, and no, not once did I laugh.

The reason I said “I can’t believe I fell for it again” is that over the last few years I’ve twice read similar prologues that ended with the words “Your stories are so funny you should write a book” in both cases they were dreadful dross.

Bookeaters beware, when you read a prologue such as this it is a warning that the writer is a humourless bore, with an inflated ego intent upon inflicting his pathetic aspirations upon the long suffering reader.

No 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.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith

Please note- In order to be honest in this review, I have had to include spoilers for both this book and the original Pride and Prejudice.

PPZI should have known better, I really should. I was swayed by slick marketing and the greatness that is Matt Smith.

Having previously read the first couple of chapters of P&P&Z in a book shop, I had safely pigeon-holed it in my head as probably a fairly amusing book but not really my cup of tea. I put it back on the shelf and toddled along on my merry way, a copy of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice tucked under my arm.

Several years later, the first trailers for the film version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hit the internet and they looked brilliant! Ridiculous and silly but entertaining- I was looking forward to seeing it in a strangely excited way.
To tide me over until release day, I bought the book .

It’s a fairly straight forward premise- Imagine that England has been struck by a zombie virus which gives the stricken a never-ending hunger for human brains. The Bennett sisters are trained by their father and Shaolin monks to be super duper zombie killing machines and are commissioned by the king to keep Hertfordshire as zombie free as possible. Mr Darcy is an accomplished zombie killer himself who accompanies Mr Bingley (who would prefer a more peaceful and scientific solution) to Netherfield. Then Pride and Prejudice happens

All the characters are there; all the Bennetts, the Bingley sisters, Lady Catherine (a famous and respected zombie hunter herself), Wickham, Mr Collins, Charlotte, Mr and Mrs Gardiner. The basic story is identical, the sub-plots are largely the same,and the dialogue is only slightly altered.

So what did I think?
Initially, as before, I was amused. The weaving in of the zombie story was pretty good, some of the changes were really very funny, and of course, there was Jane Austen’s brilliance to fall back on in moments of weakness. As I commented to BookEater Kelly “Most of the credit is still going to Jane Austen but I’m excessively diverted“.

But this didn’t last long. After a couple of chapters, the niggly annoyances set in. The throwaway comments that had my nose wrinkling in disgust, the changes in characterisaton that were just unnecessary, the casual references to self harm being a thing of honour, the gratuitous non-zombie related violence . I could actually go on but I want to keep this review to a readable length!

There were some elements obviously designed to inject more humour that just fell flat- Mr Bennett’s extra-marital affairs, Mrs Gardiner’s extra-marital affairs (whilst her husband was around with a Polish man named Sylak… what?), Mary’s emergence into society as a euphemism for getting it on with multiple men.

The gratuitous non-parody violence- Any affront to Elizabeth’s honour is met with threats of murder and the drinking of blood from the necks of those who have insulted her (ewww), she self- harms as a way of showing her shame at having prejudged Darcy, and she brutally murders several of Lady Catherine’s ninjas to make a point. It isn’t just Elizabeth’s violence- Wickham ends up completely paralysed and incapable of controlling his bowels at the hands of Darcy. It was all over the top and unnecessary. And yes, I get that it’s parody and I get that it’s supposed to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. It was stupid. It wasn’t serving the story.

And I’m sorry to include spoilers but I have to get something off my chest.
Mr Collins is not a likable character in Pride and Prejudice but he has a definite characterisation that fits his role within the book and he is consistent. In P&P&Z, his character is changed beyond all recognition! Charlotte has become one of the stricken and is choosing to hide this so she can marry Mr Collins and have some months of happiness. Mr Collins marries Charlotte for all the same reasons as Jane Austen had. When Charlotte is eventually discovered and beheaded by her husband, he writes to Mr Bennett that he is now off to hang himself from a tree. WHAT???!!
1. She is slowly becoming a zombie over several months and NOBODY notices (Except Elizabeth who has been sworn to secrecy)? The excuse that Lady Catherine was experimenting on her doesn’t hold up at all…
2. Mr Collins is so distraught that he hangs himself??? What? I’m sorry but that totally negates the idea of Charlotte and Mr Collins’ marriage being a marriage of convenience rather than love. And goes against every element of his character. He’s so self-involved that there is no way that this would be the outcome.

This review may have slightly gotten away from me (although there are many more things I could say!) but I think my views are clear. I wouldn’t even having finished reading if it hadn’t have been for the fact that so much of Jane Austen’s story was still present.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is unnecessary. Stay well away.

1 bite for the initial diversion.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

Real Tigers by Mick Herron

RTReleased only a few days ago, Real Tigers is the third novel about Slough House, a branch of MI5 where the agents who have screwed up too badly to be trusted- but not badly enough to sack- are dumped; forever doomed to push paper, plod through databases, and generally fulfill the destiny their ‘Slow Horses’ moniker suggests.

When one of their own agents is kidnapped and held to ransom, the rest of them must somehow overcome their malaise, their addictions, their arrogance and their reputation to steal from the rest of MI5, rescue their colleague and find out what the hell is going on!

I wasn’t aware when I started reading this that it was the third in the series and to be honest, it doesn’t matter too much. I was able to read and enjoy this perfectly well as a stand alone novel, although at times I think I would have understood some of the undercurrents of the political machinations and some of the motivations of the characters a little better if I’d read 1 and 2.

This is not your typical spy thriller- this is not Jason Bourne or James Bond free-running around London saving the world from dastardly villains, ricocheting from plot element to plot element whilst looking alternately buff and manly, and suave and sophisticated. This is the very character driven story of some seriously maladjusted people battling their demons, their lost ambitions and their character flaws to get the job done and save their colleague- who they may or may not give a crap about. There was one character in particular whose story and struggle, although it may have seemed very minor in comparison to the overall plot, was very emotive.

Being a character driven story doesn’t mean that there isn’t plenty of action. I don’t want to say too much for fear of spoiling the story, but there is enough action to satisfy anyone searching for a bit of an adventure. And well written action too. Often in character led novels, the action can seem a bit shoe horned in but Mick Herron is clearly an accomplished writer who drew me in to the action sequences as easily as he made me care about a bunch of sub-par MI5 agents.

4 bites for the story about James Bond as it really is. Probably…

 

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 Call of Gelduur by Jack Alriksson

One of the most important ways I choose which books to read is by using the blurb on the back. Nine times out of ten it gives me a really good idea of the tone of the book, the subject matter and often the writing style. Then there’ll either be the little nose wrinkle that accompanies a mental ‘meh’ and the book goes on the No pile, or a pursing of the lips accompanied by a ‘ooh’ and on the never-ending TBR pile it goes.

The blurb on the first book in The Norrland Saga led to the latter of these:

Call“Meet Ivar Skullcleaver. Lovely lad. He likes to read. Plunder. Slaughter. Shamelessly manipulate friends and foes. And he’s the hero of this lighthearted fantasy adventure.

Start your journey in the mysterious islands of Norrland, embark on an adorable pillaging cruise, sail bravely through a fierce storm and reach the island-kingdom of Ingorle… shipwrecked and defenseless. But don’t worry, it’s not that bad. Not yet. Not until the soldiers of Ingorle turn you into a slave and send you up north to defend their borders from a hidden threat that only reveals itself moments before killing the beholder in a very rude way. Now it’s truly bad. So, again, don’t worry. It should get better. Especially since the hidden threat strikes and…OK, that’s enough for spoilers. Read the book”

I was expecting a sarcastic, humorous, adventurous romp of a book that didn’t take itself too seriously just based on that, but helpfully the author continues with a bit of a laundry list. Having now read the book, I feel qualified, nay compelled, to comment (in blue)…

“SOUNDS INTERESTING, BUT WHAT DO I ACTUALLY GET?
– A delightful adventure in a fantasy world inspired by an Europe at the dawn of the Viking Age. Definitely a delightful fantasy world- there was good world-building and the  Norrlanders fit within the rules of the world whilst clearly showing their Viking inspired roots. The plot was certainly adventurous with lots going on and a fast pace set almost from the outset.
– A story of conquest (yep), vengeance (yep), friendship (yep), bravery (yep) and subtle manipulation (double yep)
– Battles. An obscene amount of battles. Land battles, sea battles, sieges, duels, slaughter, a bit of torture (not much, though. The author is not very fond of it), basically every act that can be performed by upstanding pirates, cutthroats and murderers. It was pretty violent which may put some people off but we’re not talking Game of Thrones or 300 levels of violence-it’s not that graphic.
– A war of wits. Because wars are not won simply by hurling soldiers at the enemy even if that’s a tactic frequently used by some….
– A big and happy smile on the cover, just to brighten your day 🙂 hmmm very cheery!
– Plenty of twists and unexpected turns of events that are overcome with the most powerful form of magic. The magic of the mind I would agree with the twists and turns of the plot but have to say they weren’t always unexpected 🙂
– Definitely not the “you must love the hero because I’ve made him so unbelievably perfect and you must hate the antagonists because they’re bad in such a cheap way” approach. Definitely not that. Feel free to love or hate the characters based on your own morality. Or lack of.  I’m not sure there is a way to love a hero so very much based on the brutality of the Vikings! But this was one of the things I liked about this book- the characters were not cardboard cutouts. It was very much a protagonist/antagonist book as opposed to a heroes/villains. It was difficult to relate to some of the characters because… you know… Vikings!
– A bit of humor and a lighthearted story. Just because the characters are busy slaughtering each other doesn’t mean the tone of the novel has to be dead serious. Absolutely agree- it’s light-hearted, it’s funny, it’s not even trying to be serious. This is a book that just wants you to enjoy reading it!”

And enjoy it I did! It’s a solid 3 biter with the proviso that if you don’t like gratuitous swearing, you may not want to read this…

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.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

P&PPride and Prejudice is a Classic (note the capital ‘c’), there is no doubt about that. It appears on countless ‘Must Read’ and ‘Top 10/50/100’ lists, has had numerous film and tv adaptations made, literary analysis coming out of its ears, and even a graphic novel!
There are parodies, homages, sequels, prequels, inspired bys, and fanfiction galore! I’m particularly looking forward to the upcoming Pride and Prejudice and Zombies….

None of these things, however, give an indication of whether Pride and Prejudice is actually any good. After all, there are TV adaptations of War and Peace, another ‘Classic’, and I found that book so dull it made me want to cry. In fact, I didn’t read Pride and Prejudice for many years because of its ‘Classic’ status (seriously, War and Peace was a total Classic downer). But one day, on one of my periodic ‘I will stop reading lame books’, I picked it up and didn’t look back.

Pride and Prejudice follows the fate of Miss Elizabeth Bennet, second eldest of the five Bennet sisters, as she navigates fulfilling societal and familial expectations of a marriage for money and following her own principles of a marriage for love. Her sisters’ fates are also explored and the themes of overcoming pride and prejudice, class structure, love and marriage, and manners and morality are addressed through their stories and the stories of the characters linked to them.

The Bennets live in a small village called Longbourn. They are gentry but not particularly wealthy or important in society. The estate is entailed upon a more distant male relative and so in order to secure the future of the family, the Bennet girls must marry well (i.e. into money). When Mr Bingley, a man of more consequence, moves into a nearby estate, Netherfield, he takes a fancy to the eldest Miss Benntt, Jane. His wealthy and grumpy friend Mr Darcy is staying with him but is not as disposed to think well of the Bennet girls.

The characters are richly drawn and each fulfills an important role in illustrating the points that Austen is making. There are no superfluous characters although some can be somewhat one dimensional. Elizabeth Bennet is perhaps my favourite character which is perhaps unsurprising- she does after all appear on my list of favourite literary heroines but I find something to like about almost every character that Austen writes (even if it is that they are unlikeable!)
The story is well paced and tightly plotted, dialogue and exposition perfectly balanced and geared towards driving the story forward. And, you know, it’s one of the world’s greatest love stories so I’m always keen to see it reach its conclusion!
There is so much in Pride and Prejudice that I would think it very difficult to get bored of reading it. The social commentary and literary analysis that I’ve looked at has increased my enjoyment of the book and each time I read it I find something new.

Pride and Prejudice is fabulous. I love it. It’s my favourite book. I know I say that quite a lot about many different books, but this one really is. I could, and do, read it over and over. I own three different copies (ebook, ‘clean hands’, and everyday) and will read at least a couple of chapters on every train journey. It’s my go to literary palate cleanser, it’s my emergency ‘I’ve gone off reading’ solution, it’s guaranteed to make me smile.

So it almost goes without saying that this is a 5 biter from me today!

P.S Click here… and you’re welcome!

 

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.

Shadowmagic by John Lenahan

John Lenahan was a magician who was kicked out of the Magic Circle, and he had a couple of BBC TV shows, and was the voice of the toaster in Red Dwarf…. clearly it is the last of these that most inspired me to read the first of his Shadowmagic Trilogy, also called Shadowmagic.

SMIt tells the story of Conor, a normal teenager from Scranton in America. Well, if you consider ‘normal’ to come with a single father who lost his hand in a ‘lawnmower accident’ and who speaks to you in ancient Celtic languages and teaches you sword fighting. It quickly becomes apparent to Conor, and to us, that his life is far from normal when his Aunt (whom Conor didn’t know existed) literally appears out of nowhere, on horseback, and accompanied by two guards… and throws a spear at his head. One of the guards is then shot off his horse by a mysterious rider in black and as soon as he touches the floor he vanishes into a cloud of dust which, you know, sucks for him. It also sucks for Conor as his Aunt then vanishes (in a non-dusty way), his father suddenly appears throwing a battle axe at the rider in black and they both end up transported to a dungeon in a castle owned and run by Conor’s Uncle Cialtie (whom Conor also didn’t know existed). Yes Conor, you’re completely normal.

Described by the blurb as

“A Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Only a lot shorter. And funnier. And completely different.”

this isn’t precisely an accurate description. Yes, it’s funnier than Lord of the Rings, and yes, it’s shorter, and yes it’s completely different but no, it’s not a Lord of the Rings for the 21st century. Admittedly it doesn’t actually try to be, and I doubt very much the author thinks that it is. It’s a book that doesn’t take itself seriously, and is unashamedly a romp.
Aimed at the young adult market, it actually has enough sophistication to appeal to older generations too. There is action, adventure, fantasy, a bit of history and some (clumsy) romance. A lot of the story is based on/inspired by ancient Celtic legends and I think this is where the Shadowmagic trilogy gets its ‘Percy Jackson but actually funny’ reputation. I actually found it a lot better than Percy Jackson, perhaps because John Lenahan wasn’t shoe horning in the legends into modern day life.

This isn’t high literature and this book isn’t going to change your life, but it will cheer you up on a rainy day!

3.5 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.

Mental Health Issues in Fiction.

Prior to the C20th poor mental health, as presented in fiction, was a condition seemingly suffered only by mad, ‘possessed’ men and hysterical women. In C19th literature there was a tremendous surge in depictions of women wrongly committed to asylums because their behaviours were contrary to the expected middle-class norm of domestic figurehead and obedient wife. As medical understanding of mental health issues increased through the late C19th and into the C20th depictions of mental health became less sensationalised and more honest, sometimes brutally, shockingly honest. Authors felt able to examine their own problems and use their individual experiences to develop characters who didn’t have life all worked out. Sylvia Plath’s ‘The Bell Jar’ is a largely autobiographical novel of a young woman’s sad and gruelling fight with severe mental illness. Sadly it did not exorcise Plath’s ‘demons’ and she killed herself shortly after writing it.

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon

The C20th and C21st have seen a widening of the type of characters portrayed with mental health issues or other conditions that would once have been labelled as ‘odd’ or ‘frightening’ such as autism or obsessive compulsive disorder. Men and children with such issues are much more common in literature than they used to be and many books are now written from the point of view of the character with the condition. One such book that became a bestseller is Mark Haddon’s ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.  The novel is narrated from the perspective of Christopher John Francis Boone, a 15-year-old boy who describes himself as “a mathematician with some behavioural difficulties”.

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon

Haddon wrote on his blog that “Curious Incident is not a book about Asperger’s….if anything it’s a novel about difference, about being an outsider, about seeing the world in a surprising and revealing way. It is only in the book blurb that the phrase ‘autistic spectrum’ is mentioned but nevertheless the novel did a huge amount to widen the general public’s understanding of the condition and the difficulties encountered by people with the condition and their carers.

Click through to Amazon
Click through to Amazon

Nathan Filer’s ‘The Shock of the Fall is a novel in the first person about 19 year old Matt Holmes. Matt is a schizophrenic burdened with a sense of a terrible guilt about his brother’s death and confined to the claustrophobic tedium of a secure mental health ward.

Filer, a registered mental health nurse, writes with a professional understanding about the process of treating schizophrenia and with an independent and critical eye about the many frustrations felt by patients trapped within the mental health system. However the book is not a study of schizophrenia but is instead a book about grief and coming to terms with loss and the effect of the experience on Matt, who has schizophrenia. The novel won the 2013 Costa first book award and was the subject of an intense publishing house bidding battle.

Patrick Gale’s ‘Notes from an Exhibition captivated me. Written from the varying perspectives of each family member the story encapsulates the highs and lows of living with a parent who is bi-polar and the difficulties of coming to terms with guilt and loss when a family member dies. The narrative moves around in time and place with the memories of the each character and the saddest most poignant memories are often those relating to birthdays.

Notes from an exhibitionRachel, the erratic mother with bi-polar is selfish, cruel and talented in equal measure. I felt frustration bordering on anger at her behaviour towards her children but this ebbed away to be replaced by a deep sadness when the events that damaged her are laid bare in the last few chapters. Frustration is an emotion often experienced by those who care for loved ones with mental health problems and there must be many readers who find this book touches them deeply.

Just yesterday I finished ‘The Earth Hums in B Flat’ another debut novel, this time by Mari Strachan. Told from the perspective of Gwenni a 12 year old lass, the story is set in a tiny poverty stricken Welsh town in the 1950s. Gwenni loves reading and has a curiosity for life which combined with a vivid imagination sets her apart and marks her as ‘different’ from the other youngsters. At first I wondered if Gwenni was meant to be on the autistic spectrum but as I read on I realised that it was her curiosity and wild imagination that worked to set her apart. In contrast it is Gwenni’s mother who suffers an unnamed mental health condition. The stigma of asylums and suicides fuel the mother’s fear of gossip about her daughter and she fails to recognise any potential in the girl.

The Earth Hums in B FlatFortunately Gwenni is quite independent and resilient and her Tada (dad) loves her very much. For me this novel contrasted creativity and free spiritedness with the tendencies of those with mental illness to focus in ever decreasing circles on themselves.

Last but not least on my list of modern novels that deal with mental health issues is The Mystery of Mercy Close by Marian Keyes. Keyes writes from personal experience about the weirdness of being depressed and I found her pithy descriptions of the illness expressed many of the random thoughts and feelings I experienced when clinically depressed. The heroine, Helen Walsh, is an Irish private investigator; good looking, curmudgeonly, tough talking, and about to experience her second episode of severe, delusional depression. The Mystery of Mercy CloseUnable to keep up with the mortgage payments she has lost her flat and had to move back home with her mum and dad, who seem to live on a diet of tea and biscuits. Never one to go under easily Helen believes that if she keeps going she will outrun her depression, and so takes on an urgent missing person case.

Now I don’t usually enjoy satire very much and initially felt quite uncomfortable, but a few dozen pages in and I started to get with the rhythm and tone. Helen’s twisted inner thoughts and her sombre irritated view of life gradually hooked me. The more I learned about Helen the more I appreciated her sardonic analysis of her own depressive thoughts. The family shortcode for referencing the worst parts of the previous suicidal episode epitomised the attitude of many families who find a way to accept the mental illness of a loved one and to move on. The book had me aching with the pain of depression and laughing at the same time. I don’t think I would recommend it as a must-read to anyone still experiencing clinical depression but as an after tonic I found it great.

 

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.

Superfluous Women by Carola Dunn

Superfluous WomenSuperfluous Women is the latest in the Daisy Dalrymple mystery series by Carola Dunn. This series is one of a number of what are known as ‘cosies’, i.e. murder mysteries that aren’t too distressing! Cosies usually involve a quaint English village, a very sympathetic and gentle protagonist who normally isn’t a member of law enforcement at all, and emphasise solving puzzling clues and knowledge of the local characters rather than suspense and thrilling police procedure.

The Daisy Dalrymple series is an excellent example of a cosy. The premise is that The Honourable Daisy Dalrymple has become a writer in the wake of her father’s death. This is most unusual for women in the 1920s and Daisy has to put up with a bit of flak for it. During the course of her writing she is frequently invited to the houses of the aristocracy (in order to write magazine articles on them) where she stumbles across murder on an alarmingly frequent basis. In the first book Death at Wentwater Court, she meets DCI Alec Fletcher who serves as her link to the police throughout the course of the series.

As Superfluous Women is the 22nd in the series, I don’t want to say too much about the actual plot for fear of spoilers for the rest of the series. It is however, a fairly decent example of the series. Daisy has left London to recover from an illness and she goes to visit a friend from school who has recently moved to an English village with two other unmarried women. These are the superfluous women of the title- women outnumbered men by 2 million after The Great War, and the media often referred to the unmarried ones this way. During the course of a Sunday lunch, the cellar door is opened for the first time… A dead body is found…

Daisy is her usual interfering self (in the nicest way possible of course!), we get to see some of the usual characters and the new characters are decently written. I felt a lot of sympathy for the titular women. The plot is sufficiently mysterious, although the identity of the murderer wasn’t exactly difficult to work out. It wasn’t completely obvious though so I didn’t get bored of all the red herrings, and indeed, wasn’t entirely sure that one of the red herrings may turn out to be true!

It did have some flaws; the appearances of some of the regular characters seemed a little shoe horned in, we didn’t see one character til quite late on despite their being a prime suspect, and the casual way in which one of the sub plots was dealt with annoyed me. I know that the attitudes expressed were accurate of the 1920s but even so… the book wasn’t written in the 1920s and Carola Dunn has managed to convey modern attitudes over controversial topics before very adequately.

Overall then, 3 bites for Superfluous Women. Decent read, enjoyable, not too taxing but not exceeding expectations.

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 Buried Man by Timothy Howard

TheBuriedMan
Click to buy from Amazon
The Buried Man isn’t resting in peace. In fact he’s just dug himself out of his own grave!

But he has a hole where his heart was  and no recollection of his life.  Luckily, a team of necromancer hunters calling themselves the Deadlanders are on hand to help him through this tricky time. Before he has time to catch his breath (not that he needs to breathe these days) he is infiltrating a dark cult whilst at the same time trying to piece his memory back together. Which will be more horrifying?

I’m happy to admit that I read this because I know the author. I didn’t get a free copy, I happily paid the 99p it cost out of my own pocket as I’ve had the pleasure of Tim’s company at the writing group I attend for quite a while now and I knew he had a great voice an an interesting view on life.

This book proved me right. It’s a great little story, with plenty of action, a splash of dark humour and fair characterisations. If you like Terry Pratchett this will be right up your alley. It is a quick read, more of a novella than a novel, but it is the first in the series so there will be more to enjoy.

The only problem with this book is the grammar. Somehow Tim has managed to use even more comma’s than I could. I’m hoping that before this review goes out I can persuade him to edit it again, but if not it is still perfectly readable so don’t let that put you off.

3 Bites for this tasty little morsel!

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 Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society By Mary Ann Shaffer & Annie Barrows

Click to buy from amazon or head to your local independent book shop for a copy.
Click to buy from amazon or head to your local independent book shop for a copy.
This book was published in 2008 and quickly became an international bestseller. Sadly Mary Ann Shaffer developed a terminal illness shortly before the final rewrite and so   it fell to her niece, Annie Barrows to undertake the changes requested by the publishers.

It is a love story, a character study and a history lesson told through letters written between a spirited author, her publisher and a group of slightly eccentric Guernsey islanders. Having  become a popular columnist during wartime Juliet is despatched by Sidney, her long-time friend and publisher, on a promotional tour  around England to publicise the now printed collection . While on tour she finds that each hotel room booked for her is overflowing with beautiful flowers from an anonymous admirer, catching the delivery boy as he is leaving the next bouquet she wrings the name of her suitor – one Markham Reynolds, a handsome wealthy American – from the hapless lad. Juliet and Mark become romantically involved but she refuses to be distracted from a story she is following up.

Touched and intrigued by a letter she had received from Dawsey Adams that made mention of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society she enters into correspondence with him and becomes fascinated by his description of events on the island during the war. Letters with other members of the society gradually follow and before long Juliet’s interest becomes such that she can see the beginnings of her next novel may lie in their stories. Travelling to Guernsey to research further she is enchanted by the island and by the warmth and kindness of the members of the literary society who befriend her. Poignant vignettes of life on the islands under German occupancy gradually meld together and a picture of Elizabeth, the founder member of the society emerges. Elizabeth is missing having being arrested by the Germans and sent to a concentration camp leaving her little girl, Kit, in the care of her friends, Dawsey, Isola and Amelia.

The tone of the book is gently humorous and quaintly dated, and in  stark juxtaposition to the misery inherent in some of the stories being told. The deprivations by way of hunger and cold that everyone on Guernsey endured, not just the Islanders and the slave workers but even the German occupiers  is  clearly conveyed in the letters, nevertheless the examples of ingenuity, bravery and humanity that counterbalance them shine through and the tone stays positive even when the melody is sad. Shaffer bestowed upon her characters the practices, formalities and etiquette of the time, giving the tale the period feel of a golden oldie movie. The delightful literary society members are revealed as a varied bunch, endearing, steadfast, candid and eccentric, all traits they needed to survive the occupation. Before long Juliet finds herself immersed in their world and forms a close bond with the Elizabeth’s child, Kit

Despite the light touch that the author uses the wartime relationships, dangers and sufferings are accurately portrayed. My father’s family were Guernsey farmers and they made the decision to leave immediately before the Germans took occupation. On returning post war they found their farm devastated and that many possessions had either vanished or been burned for firewood – the only item left undamaged was their grandfather clock!They were told that the German officer billeted at the farm had been very taken with it, polishing it daily and winding it weekly. It had been him who restrained others from either looting or destroying it as the German troops were evacuating. I rather think Mary Ann Shaffer would have liked that little picture.

I find this tale quite captivating and wholeheartedly give it a 5

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.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Sausages by Tom Holt

imageAs you can see this bills itself as a tale of “transdimensional tomfoolery”, in short think Terry Pratchett or Douglas Adams but set in suburbia instead of on discworld or in space.

It all starts when Polly, an utterly ordinary property lawyer, notices that someone keeps drinking her coffee. That would normally be the kind of annoyance that could start a passive-aggressive version of world war three in a British office, but whoever it is seems to also be talking to her clients. And doing her job. As if this isn’t weird enough she then goes to the dry cleaner’s to pick up her dress for the party, it’s not there. The dry cleaner’s that is, although by extension the dress is missing too.

Her brother, a jingle-writing musician with time on his hands is enlisted to help and ends up possessing a magic pencil sharpener. A disappearing housing estate is thrown into the mix and then there are the chickens who think they are people.

This was one of the many books I download from Audible, I see no reason why small details like having to drive a car or do housework should get in the way of my reading pleasure! However in this case listening to the audio book lessened my pleasure. For me, listening to an audio book will usually take longer than reading it, this book was 15 hours and 34 minutes long. Now that’s not a problem usually, in fact I’m tearing through a 12 hour book at the moment. But when a story is as convoluted and as nonsensical as this it makes it hard.

But that wasn’t the biggest problem, there were several others. First the main characters were not just ordinary, they were mundane, created purely for the author to send them up. That made it kind of hard to feel any real sympathy for them or to care about their unusual plight. The reader of the story excacerbated this by giving Polly’s brother a really nasally, sneery voice.

The story itself was mildly entertaining, but tried too hard to be clever and didn’t succeed. If you are a fan of Terry Pratchett and have a long summer holiday stretching ahead of you then it may be worth it for you. Though I’d suggest reading either Sir Terry himself or giving Ben Aaronovitch a try.

2 bites (and a bit of indigestion!)

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.

Emma by Alexander McCall Smith

image
This should be easy to find in your local independent book shop..
Over the last two weeks I have returned to The Austen project. In case you missed my post on “Northanger Abbey” the project is re-writing Austen for the modern age. So far “Sense and Sensibility”, and the afore mentioned “Northanger Abbey” have been published, with “Emma” having been placed in the capable hands of Alexander McCall Smith

Mr Woodhouse is a man who has come into a small fortune, through the invention of a new valve for use in the medical world. Widowed at a young age, leaving him to look after his daughters Emma and Isabella, Mr Woodhouse employs the help of a Scottish governess by the name of Miss Taylor. Isabella marries young and moves to London, whilst Emma grows into a young woman certain of her place in her world. After helping to set up Miss Taylor with their neighbour James Weston, Emma decides to turn her attentions on a new friend: Harriet Smith. After “saving” Harriet from the mediocrity of Robert Martin, Emma decides that the local vicar Phillip Elton would be the perfect partner for her friend. But is Emma as good a matchmaker as she thinks she is?

McCall Smith does well with this adaptation, and the story seems to suit the modern. Highbury is no longer in London. How could it be? The original village has been gobbled up by the ravenous city a long time ago, and village life is crucial to the story. Instead Highbury is a small village in Norfolk. The moving of James’ son, Frank Churchill to Australia as a child allows his father to miss him, and be excited about his homecoming in a way that wouldn’t make sense if he had stayed in England. As with a lot of Austen’s work, this book is very much about human nature. Emma feels she can help her friends become happier, and acts to make this happen. In this respect there is no difference between today and 200 years ago.

For the most part I enjoyed the writing. There are however a few things which took me out of the moment. ‘Norwich United’ football club?! As the wife of an Ipswich Town supporter, I know the name of the enemy is Norwich City. Emma drives a Mini Cooper. That fine, except it’s called a Mini Cooper every time it’s mentioned. And it’s mentioned quite a lot. Also, do you realise just how annoying Emma and Mr Woodhouse are? I never noticed it in the original. But Emma is a spoilt young woman with too much time on her hands, and Mr Woodhouse worries to a level which even the Olympic gold medalist for worrying would find extreme. One of my favourite parts of the original book is the developing love story between Emma and Mr Knightly. I felt it didn’t come across quite as well in this version. Definitely less goosebumps.

There is such an ease in McCall Smith’s prose though, and it is obvious that he enjoyed writing it: this jumps off the page. It seems to me that he would have had no problems in continuing the story, and I would be interested to see what he would make of Emma’s future.

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.

Sleeping With your Best Friend – Rosa Temple

rtwriter_cover2I’m not sure what to make of this novella, if I’m honest. It’s the kind of book that is pleasant enough to read but didn’t really make me think, and in all honesty – I think I could have predicted the ending by the start of chapter three.

The story is told from the point of view of Lori, whose best friend Julia has been by her side since they were both five years old. They have never once fallen out in all that time, despite going to the same university, living together and double dating two best friends. All very cosy.

Things start to unravel when Lori and Sam are about to get married. Julia is, of course, her bridesmaid, although things are a bit awkward as she’s just split up from Matt, the best man. Are you following? Anyway, it all gets too much for Julia who decides to leave the country a week before the wedding and start a new job, as you do, and can’t make it back for the wedding at all, let alone to be a bridesmaid. Lori is upset but the wedding goes ahead and then a shocking revelation made by Sam on the honeymoon sets in motion a chain of events that are, well, in all honesty entirely predictable.

Lori finds out why her best friend left the country, returns to get her own back and the resulting mess is comedic in places, well written, but just not that believable or engaging. Bed-hopping and revenge are written in the blurb so it’s fair to tell you that of course Lori ends up sleeping with someone she shouldn’t. But the way it happened just left me cold; I don’t know, it just felt odd to me.

The resolution to the story was just as I expected (perhaps Rosa should change the title?) and I had been expecting a plot twist to knock my expectations off balance a bit but there really wasn’t one.

I have to say that I did like Rosa’s writing style, it’s upbeat, humorous and above all for a self-published novel she’s taken great care to get it properly edited. The idea is good and with a bit of suspense, a plot twist or maybe a bit more character development it could have been really good. 

As it is, I’ll give it 2.5 bites.

Sarah Clark
I have been reading since the age of four and before I was 11 I’d managed to wangle an adult library membership so that I could take six books out at a time.
I love chick lit, thrillers, biographies and historical novels, and the books that have inspired me the most are The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Bridget Jones’ Diary and Me Before You….
I’ve even written a novel myself, called Viva Voluptuous, and joined the Book Eaters to give me a legitimate excuse for reading even more.