The Night Brother by Rosie Garland

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

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

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

Can they learn to live together in harmony?

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

The Crow Garden by Alison Littlewood

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

The Silent Companions by Laura Purcell

IMG_2632We meet Elsie as her carriage approaches her new husband’s crumbling country estate. It is her first time here, but it is tainted with tragedy as her husband is laid out within and awaiting her so his funeral can begin.

Her new servants are resentful and the local villagers actively hostile, and pregnant Elsie is confined there with only her husband’s awkward cousin for company. But whilst exploring she finds a delightful nursery and a locked room containing the two-hundred-year-old diary of her husband’s ancestor and an unusual painted wooden figure – a Silent Companion – that bears a striking resemblance to Elsie herself. Her cousin is charmed by it and wishing to strengthen their friendship Elsie helps her re-instate it in the main house.

But whispers of a curse start to rise as the house suffers misfortunes and Elsie tries desperately to hang on to her sanity to deliver herself and her unborn baby to safety.

This is a gorgeously gothic ghost story which would be spectacular if filmed.

Four Bites!

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

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

A Pocketful of Crows by Joanne M. Harris

1cover116964-medium

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

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

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

It starts with ballad 295;

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

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

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

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

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

Five Bites

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

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

The Outcasts of Time by Ian Mortimer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Exit West by Mohsin Hamid

32622470Nadia and Saeed first meet at an evening class. They live in an unnamed city in an unnamed country “still mostly at peace, or at least not yet openly at war.” Their relationship is at once modern and yet conservative, and each is still learning about the other when the fighting intensifies. Militants wage war on the government and people are killed, or disappear. Whole neighbourhoods are razed to the ground. Saeed’s mother is amongst the dead, and this horrific event leads Nadia and Saeed to discuss the risks of staying in their home city and the possibility of finding safety elsewhere.

All over the world, doors have opened. Doors of darkness which lead to other cities, other countries. Swathes of people have begun moving west, and Nadia and Saeed decide to join them. Risking their lives to travel through the doors, they arrive first in Mykonos, then London, and join fellow refugees settling in abandoned houses in the capital. But building a life and a home proves to be much more difficult.

There is a dystopian, magical realism element to this book. The world it is set in is not completely our own: doors allow people to move from country to country in the blink of an eye; London is a city divided, where migrants shelter in houses abandoned by their owners whilst the refugees themselves are abandoned by humanity. Like all good fiction, it holds up a large mirror to our own world and the story it tells is one which is being played out across the globe right now. This is a book about what drives people to make the journey and what happens once the journey is done. It’s about trying to settle into a new country when the country itself is trying to reject you. It’s about the impact this has on a relationship. It’s about being forced to leave your home and giving up all you were just to stay alive.

It would be easy to read this review and imagine a heavy book, full of despair. But that couldn’t be further from the truth. The writing is beautiful. Elegant, yet simple. Vignettes of the lives of fellow travellers who have passed through the doors are dotted within the main story of Nadia and Saeed. They are never more than a few pages long and we never learn the names of these characters, but their stories are full of hope which is the lingering emotion left after the last page.

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.

The Bedlam Stacks by Natasha Pulley

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

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

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

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

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

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

Miranda and Caliban by Jacqueline Carey

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites.

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

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

A Thousand Paper Birds by Tor Udall

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How to Stop Time by Matt Haig

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

Nights At The Circus by Angela Carter

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

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

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

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

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

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

This one of Fevvers I doodled …

IMG_7308

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

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

Goblin by Ever Dundas

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

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

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

This is a book I’ll be re-reading!

5 Bites

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

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

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites!

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

Saint Death by Marcus Sedgwick

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

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

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.

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.

Chalk by Paul Cornell

It’s 1983 and Andrew Waggoner is used to being bullied but one day Drake and his gang take things far too far. The violence they perpetrate on him cuts his very soul in half. It can’t be forgiven but Andrew has never been the kind of boy who could take revenge before.

Andrew lives in the eyeline of an ancient chalk horse, standing vigil over a site of ancient power. There he finds in himself an anger that divides him and could easily destroy those responsible.

This might seem like a Young Adult book from the blurb, and indeed it would suit readers of around 13 and older, but it stands it’s ground as a read for adults too.

It is brutal. I won’t tell you what happens to Andrew or what happens as a consequence but I winced and looked away a fair few times. Underlying that though is tenderness of family life, and the normalcy of caring about chart music and Dr Who. There’s also the tension and confusion that comes with having a crush on someone as well as the temptation to bully and harrass those weaker than you. Andrew joins in with bullying the few friends he has and starts a campaign of sexual harrassment against a girl that tells him he’s not even on her list of people she’d send a Valentines Card too. All behaviour that many of us would have experienced at school.

I think one of the things that’s so un-nerving about it is that it seems so autobiographical, Paul Cornell has written for Dr Who in the past so his love of it is well known, and the way the chart hits are woven through it becoming and integral thread of the story reinforces that feeling of familiarity.

The story is great, it’s well paced and things unfold with a feeling of inevitability that echoes that feeling of everything being out of control that plauges teenagehood.Having said that there are twists and there was a few times I worried about the author’s mental health!

The characters aren’t the most richly developed or nuanced that I’ve ever read but their main motivations are apparent enough and in keeping with who they seem to be, and I did care enough about them to read the story through to the end, very quickly in fact, I read it in a day!

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 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.

Re-read, Re-think, Re-review…

Opinions change. I think that’s a given for most people, and I’ve certainly shown that with some of my TBT reviews- books I adored blindly as a younger reader, I now consider flawed although usually still enjoyable. (Restoree by Anne McCaffrey for example)

I frequently re-read books. Very frequently- It’s actually quite rare (and a sign of my feelings bout the quality of a book) if I don’t reread it and I find that my rereads change my view on the book.
This is understandalbe. I’m a bit of a speed reader so each re-reading I tend to pick up on something I missed, or reflect on the book in a different way. Quite often the mood I’m in may affect my reading of a book.
Sometimes I’ve read something else which impacts on my view of the book.

tht

It’s a bit of a mix of things that affected my opinion on The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch– I’ve read more of the comic series that adds a little detail to the world; I re-read the entire series including the comics in one go; I wasn’t in the full flush of pre-release excitement; and I wasn’t reading it as quickly to make a deadline for posting.

So how has my review changed? The link above will take you to my original review and is almost relentlessly positive. On reflection, it isn’t a very balanced review and is very much written with regard to excitement over a new installment and relief that it hadn’t been terrible.

That being said, I would still be fairly positive about the book.
The world that Aaronovitch has created does get more nuanced and richer and I enjoyed the plot points and story lines that came to fruition. I actually felt this point even more strongly having just completed a re-read of the entire series; the story lines were fresh in my head, the little signposts and flags throughout the series all pulled together and I really got a sense of the level of forward-thinking/planning that Aaronovitch had done. The comic series added little details that although weren’t essential, did add to the world and to the over-arching plots in a real way.

And there were moments where I laughed my socks off. I called Aaronovitch’s sense of humor ‘nonchalant’ in the review, and the re-read only makes my opinion on that stronger. The PC Grant series is funny. Aaronovitch can write comedy. He’s relaxed somewhat into the humour over the course of 6 books and 3 comic series, and his readers have relaxed too. In the whole of the re-read I actually found myself laughing more frequently- Aaronovitch references previous books quite a bit and it’s more obvious when you’ve done a recent re-read!

My main criticism in the first review was that the increase in the cast of characters meant many of our favourite characters were left out in the cold somewhat and that still holds true- we don’t spend time in The Folly or with Beverley. However. this didn’t bother me nearly so much. Partly this was because I’d had my fix of all the characters I had missed by doing a re-read but mainly it was the comic series- The three series so far (one only has one issue before it is complete) have expanded the role of the secondary characters quite a bit- they feature short stories with a focus on a different character each issue. Molly gets her chance to shine as does Toby, and Varvara and Nightingale etc. They also get expanded roles within the main narrative and I really recommend getting the series and reading them. They may be quick stories but they add so much to the world.

One of my new main concerns after re-reading was actually something I considered a positive…
“The plot cracks on at a very speedy pace and, as usual, twists and turns and doubles back until you end up at a place that you could never have predicted from the opening chapter but are very glad you’re there.”

The plot does crack on and there are lots of twists and turns but a re-read of this shows no longer makes me pleased about this and rather than being glad about the place we end up, I am just a bit confused and all too aware of the plot holes and dubious about what I’ve missed in Aaronovitch’s story telling. The main point of the ending seems to be to push on the over-arching plot which has been tied in with main investigative strand of the story. There are a lot of inconsistencies with how certain people get to places, why certain criminals would have access to certain places, and how the hell so many people can get to the same place at the same time!

I still agree that there was no need for sequel trepidation for The Hanging Tree however, I think each re-read of it will increase my trepidation for the next sequel- Has Aaronovitch overblown his story? Can he successfully navigate resolving the fairly convoluted plot points remaining? Can he do it in a way that we all believe?

This re-review would drop a bite for The Hanging Tree to 3 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.

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.

On the Other Side by Carrie Hope Fletcher

cover103046-mediumWhen Evie Snow finally passes away, surrounded by her loving family, it seems like her life of sacrifice has paid off and her own private heaven awaits. But when she gets there she finds the door won’t open.

Evie’s soul must be light enough to pass through so she needs to get rid of whatever is making her soul heavy. For Evie, this means unburdening herself of the three secrets that have weighed her down for over fifty years, so she must find a way to reveal them before it’s too late. As Evie begins the journey of a lifetime, she learns more about life and love than she ever thought possible, and somehow, some way, she may also find her way back to the only man she ever truly loved . . .

If you imagine ‘The Five People You Meet In Heaven’ but re-vamped by Jojo Moyes or Cecilia Ahern then this book is pretty much what you’d get. Pretty much, but not quite. Because Carrie Hope Fletcher has a somewhat more inventive mind so really you’d need to twist in a bit of Lewis Carroll or Erin Morgenstern too.

Now romances aren’t generally my thing, but I tore through this. It was easy to read with characters that were likeable but certainly weren’t too perfect. In fact Evie’s actions annoyed me a bit and I found myself asking why she would give in to her family’s wishes so easily. But then I realised that she had been conditioned to since birth and that sometimes, no matter how much drive a person has, it is impossible to break those chains.

The author is young and this is her debut novel, she has a huge fan base already though as she is a YouTuber, actor, singer and has been starring as Eponine in Les Miserables. She is known to an entire generation as a ‘big sister’ figure and she shares her love of reading with them. This popularity definitely helped make this a best-seller when it came out in hardback last year. It’s about to be released in paperback and I hope it reaches new audiences.  I’m looking forward to reading more of her work and I hope she continues to be brave and imaginative. Her writing is good but I think with time and determination it could be even better, I think she has more stories to share.

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.

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.

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.

Mr Rosenblum’s List by Natasha Solomons

Click for Waterstone's
Click for Waterstone’s

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

So here’s the Criteria:-

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

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

12 books – one per month for a year

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

Mr Rosenblum’s List

(Or friendly guidance for the aspiring Englishman)

by Natasha Solomons

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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