The Run-Out Groove (The Vinyl Detective 2) by Andrew Cartmel

It was this time last year that I first read about The Vinyl Detective after having read Andrew Cartmel’s debut novel, and long time readers of this blog will know that I LOVED it! So I was beyond excited when the sequel dropped through my letter box a few weeks ago (in a super shiny gold envelope nonetheless!). It’s out on Tuesday so I had to keep schtum until today! I really wanted to tell you all about it though!

TROGHis first adventure consisted of the search for a rare record; his second the search for a lost child. Specifically the child of Valerian, lead singer of a great rock band of the 1960s, who hanged herself in mysterious circumstances after the boy’s abduction.

Along the way, the Vinyl Detective finds himself marked for death, at the wrong end of a shotgun, and unknowingly dosed with LSD as a prelude to being burned alive. And then there’s the grave robbing…

 

 

 

Similar in format to the first in the series, The Run-Out Groove follows our Vinyl Detective in searching for a lost child… not quite the same as a lost record but surprisingly, a similar amount of high-jinks ensues!

The favourite characters are back- Nevada, Tinkler, Clean Head- and continue to assist our protagonist throughout the dangerous and peculiar circumstances he finds himself in. The Vinyl Detective himself is still as unassuming, serious and as knowledgeable about music as ever, whilst managing to maintain that dry adult humour that made me laugh aloud so often in the first book.
I think Tinkler may be my favourite character- he is very well written, well-rounded, funny and three-dimensional. The newer characters are a tad weaker but that’s to be expected given we’ve spent more time with the regulars and says more about he strengths of the regulars than anything.

The plot is another twister, racing along at times with enough to keep me hooked. Again, I can’t give too much away because spoilers suck! But suffice to say that you won’t be bored! I didn’t quite read this in one sitting but to be fair to the book, it was absolute torture putting it down! I didn’t want to, I wanted to keep turning the pages and finding out more of their progress in discovering what happened to Valerian and her child.

It’s not quite full marks from me. It wasn’t quite the same joy of reading as the first, in large part because it felt similar to the first. This is probably a bit unfair of me as the similarities aren’t a criticism but it’s still a consideration. I also think that Cartmel occasionally seems a bit unsure as to whether he is writing a solely lighthearted series or whether he wants to dip his toe into the darker and murkier areas of mystery writing. I hope for one he keeps it lighthearted in the next book which is due next year. I’m still very much looking forward to reading it.

4 bites for a satisfying second course!

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 Nothing by Hanif Kureishi

cover107323-mediumHanif Kureishi was once reknowned for his coming of age tales. He wrote the film My Beautiful Laundrette and then one the Whitbread Prize for The Buddha of Surburbia. Now he has turned his pen towards dying.

The Nothing starts like this “One night, when I am old, sick, right out of semen, and don’t need things to get any worse, I hear the noises growing lonuder. I am sure they are making love in Zenab’s bedroom which is next to mine.”

It follows Waldo, a fêted filmmaker confined by old age and ill health to his London apartment. Luckily he met the love of his life before this and she has cared for him faithfully for the last ten years. But when Eddie starts hanging around too much – allegedly  collecting material for a retrospective on Waldo’s work – he suspects them of starting an affair. He is determined to prove his suspicions correct — and then to enact his revenge.

One thing that hasn’t changed is Kureishi’s refusal to sublimate. Every kink and nuance of Waldo’s is uncompromisingly displayed … actually some of those kinks could be considered compromising, but not by a writer like Kureishi or a character like Waldo. It’s told in first person and Waldo is one of those characters who is both charismatic and a little bit creepy. He’s fairly cynical so all of the characters bad sides are shown. I have to admit I took a moment to check Kureishi’s age, after all he’s been known to be a bit biographical in the past! (He’s only 62 so Waldo definitely isn’t based on him… your guesses as to who he is based on are more than welcome 😂)

But this isn’t just a character study, it’s a twisted tale of jealousy and revenge. And it rips along at a cracking pace.

Definitely recommended – 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 Trouble with Goats and Sheep by Joanna Cannon

img_23671976. The longest hottest summer in living memory and Mrs Creasy is missing.
The Avenue abounds with roumors and the shimmering heat is full of half heard whispers. Has she left of her own accord? If so where is she? Or could it be that she’s buried under the patio?
As the days and weeks drag on, ten year olds Grace and Tilly decide to investigate. Baffled and bewildered by the adult’s responses to the direct nature of their questioning, one statement constantly recurs “God knows”.
Coming to a dead end Grace and Tilly conclude that if God knows, all they have to do is find God and ask him.
The book is a joy and delight, Joanna Cannon’s insight into the minds of ten year old girls is both hilarious and touching. The search for Mrs Creasy and God, by such determined sleuths, stirs up the secrets and murky pasts of the Avenue’s residents, revealing the best and worst of human nature.
Joanna manages to capture both the innocence of 1970’s childhood and the ennui of that long hot summer. Joanna’s writing is breath taking in its originality. I frequently stopped to re-read a sentence just to savour the pleasure of her quirky prose.
This is Joanna’s first novel I can’t wait to read her next
Five bites from me.

Jeff Short
I was born into a Forces family so naturally enjoyed Biggles as a child alongside Enid Blyton.
I fell in love with the Librarian at RAF Akrotiri and read and read so that i could see her every day. The book that I read there that had the greatest impact on me was Joseph Heller’s Catch 22 – set on an American airbase on a small island in the Mediterranean, and filled with military incompetence with black humour. I could never take service life seriously again.
I usually has three books on the go at any one time. Kindle, Audio and a proper book. My favourite genres are military memoirs and thrillers but being compulsive I’ll read anything.

The Twelve Lives Of Samuel Hawley by Hannah Tinti

img_2364Samuel Hawley did not have the best start in life and by the time he’s a teenager he is involved in petty crime to keep body and soul together. Then he moves onto bigger jobs with higher stakes but much bigger pay-offs. But when he meets Lily he knows everything has to change.

Years later he moves back to Lily’s hometown with their teenage daughter Loo. It’s time to stop running, he becomes a fisherman, while Loo struggles to fit in at school. Meeting her grandmother makes her curious about her mother’s mysterious death and the twelve bullet scars Hawley carries on his body.

Soon Hawley’s past and Loo’s investigations collide. Can they survive?

Okay, first things first, on the official blurb for this book it says that it’s perfect for fans of The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It’s really not. Not that fans of that book can’t like this one (I enjoyed both) but they are nothing whatsoever alike so liking one will not predispose you to like the other.

This is an interesting work, it’s a combination of a literary thriller and a coming of age novel. There’s plenty of action and more than 12 bullets but it also explores what makes a family, living with grief, the value of a human life, first love, community tensions, ecological issues and the sacrifices and manipulations we commit to protect the people we love most. Most of all it’s a story about a father-daughter relationship and how when we do something for love rather than for money we become heroes.

Quite a lot packed into a regular sized novel! And overall it works, most of the characters are convincing and easy to feel at least a little sympathy for. The settings are easy to visualise and the language paints windows for the reader to see into their lives. The story is well constructed, in fact this is where Tinti’s talent excels. She uses the scars on Hawleys body to draw us back into different parts of his past, to show us what made him the man he is and even though I didn’t feel like I had any idea what the point of it was for the first half of it I was happy to trust the author that it wasn’t just going to be ‘killing time’ book. As you can see from the paragraph above I wasn’t disappointed!

My only criticism of it was that there were a few moments when it dragged a bit. But literally only 2 or 3 and it soon picked up again each time. Reading this is like eating steak, there’s a little gristle but there’s also sweetness and nourishment if you persevere. If you like gritty American dramas or books with complicated characters this book is for you.

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.

The Dark Circle by Linda Grant

dark-circleLenny and Miriam are British Jewish twins that grew up in the shadow of The Second World War. But now they’re at the end of their teens and a new decade is beginning. These East End kids have the world in front of them, even if they might need to live on the edge of the law to make a good life for themselve. But then Lenny goes to sign up and it’s discovered that he has tuberculosis. Miriam is examined and she has it too. The pair are sent away to a glamorous sanatorium in Kent at the expense of the brand new NHS.

Life inside the sanatorium is both fascinating and enervating as they make new friends and discover their pasts and personalities while simultaneously succumbing to the ‘cure’ and losing their own. But when Miriam seems in danger of dying a chain of events no one could have foreseen is set in motion.

Linda Grant’s characters are terrific. They’re not perfect but they are full of life. By the end of the first page I knew I wanted to follow them on their journey no matter where it lead. And for the majority of the book I was glad I had. It opened my eyes to the scourge that Tubercolosis was as recently as the 1950’s. It also showed be the birth of the NHS and reminded me just how amazing this national institution of ours is. Instead of dying slow and expensive deaths, Lenny and Miriam were given the chance at happy and successful lives.

The supporting characters were also diverse and well written, giving a microcosmical glimpse of the new worlds of televison, the politics of the day and the attitudes to sex and sexuality.

My only criticism of the book was the end. I know many people want to know what happened to the characters after a book ends but this book follows both of them right to the end of their lives. It really wasn’t necessary nor did it feel that the author had a message to deliver to us readers by sharing the rest of their lives. It’s not awful, just not necessary and takes some of the power out of the story.

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!

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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.

The Existence Of Pity by Jeannie Zokan

img_2362Sixteen-year-old Josie Wales is the daughter of Baptist missionaries growing up in Columbia in 1976. Although mostly isolated from the turbulence brewing in the outside world, nothing can protect her from the turbulent times ahead within her own family.

Josie finds herself drawn to the Catholicism of her adopted country, she starts to confide her secrets in their maid instead of in her parents. Just normal secrets, like her new boyfriend but she is to discover that her parents’ have secrets of their own, ones that have the power to destroy their life.

This is one of those deceptive books. It poses a whole bunch of serious moral questions but does so in a voice so young and fresh that a sweet summer breeze seems to be floating around them, whispering to you to relax and take it easy, making it a deceptively easy read.

Not to say there is no action, or conflict, far from it. Josie is battling her entire family in different ways, and she is battling the unnoticed arrogance of the missinary culture. Add to that the danger her brother is determined to court, bringing the violence of Columbia’s mafia to their very door. It is quite startling how the author manges to keep the summery atmosphere going throughout, all to often writers would be tempted to use dark, depressing similes for such events that would have shredded the important physical context of the story.

This book would be a good read for Young Adults and Adults alike. For me with my interest in religions and their affects on the world I found it had a lot to say but yet it never preached. It does have an autobiographical ring to it and I would be interested to see how the author will write other books, this is a strong debut and could be the start of solid career, but I’m a little worried it may be the one book she has in her. I hope not.

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.

An Intimate Obsession by Elizabeth McGregor

I had no idea what I was expecting when on a whim I requested this title from Netgalley. Something about the title made me think it would be chick-lit but I am delighted to admit that I was mistaken.an-intimate-obsession

Eve is a primary school teacher in her late thirties who has become trapped in the role of carer for her dominating, demented father. Bound by a childhood spent seeking to earn his love instead of his anger Eve is unable to break free – after a thirty year semi-truce of fencing and scoring points they are too weary to fight but there is no kindliness in their relationship.

Down the valley lives Hugh Scott who owns and farms the land all around Eve’s house, just as his father before him. Hugh gives her the creeps, but stolid, unimaginative, boring Hugh has become a lifebelt in her struggle to stay afloat with the responsibility of her father. Little by little Hugh has insinuated himself into her existence, calling in daily to check on Bill and taking on responsibilities without being asked. Eve is so grateful for his support that she does not question why he should be so generous with his time, but wary of offending him her behaviour towards Hugh gradually adopts the same placating nature as her behaviour towards her father. She is as trapped into accepting his presence in her life as she is trapped by the need to care for Bill.

Eve is blind to Hugh’s devotion and motivation, she cannot see that the man adores her and that every casual acceptance of his help encourages him to think that she will one day reciprocate his feelings. For over a decade he has fantasised about giving Eve the perfect life, he has even built a new farmhouse so she won’t have to live in the cob walled, thatched cottage his family had always live in. He will remove any obstacle he believes keeps them apart; including her caring responsibilities…..His desire for her has the unstoppable might of a speeding juggernaut and when finally the impact comes it is shocking, visceral and detailed.

The detail and imagery of McGregor’s writing was really satisfying. It is actually through Hugh’s eyes that we get to see much of the beauty of the landscape and I could feel his pride at his well-kept fields and healthy crops, even while the image of his land surrounding and enclosing Eve’s home raised the hairs on the back of my neck.

McGregor’s characterisation of Hugh makes it is possible to feel pity and sadness for this deluded man, despite his fantasies, and to sympathise with his endeavours to mould himself into the sort of man who might win Eve’s heart. But when we look from the outside we see a stalker, an obsessive, a man unable to relate to the subtleties of human relationships; in short a human timebomb.

 

Originally published in 1994 this novel is just as relevant in its themes as it was then. I look forward to reading McGregor’s back catalogue of works.

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

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

Christodora by Tim Murphy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

 

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

Men by Marie Darrieussecq

imageI’d just read Heart of Darkness when I saw this book about a white french actress (Solange) who falls for  charismatic black Hollywood actor, Kouhouesso. Kouhouesso wants to move into directing and has a very ambitious project – a movie of Heart of Darkness to be filmed actually in the Congo.

Solange follows him to Africa, saying no to other roles offered to her in the hope of playing the female lead in the film but mainly because she’s pretty obsessed with him.

This is billed as a “witty examination of romance, movie-making and clichés about race relations.” And it’s written by an award winning writer known for being an intellectual, supporting left-wing politicians and having a thing or two to say feminism (both that she is one and that she couldn’t be further from being one!) I felt like I should be onto a winner with this.

But alas and woe is me and all those sad damsel-in-distress expressions, I was let-down! Deserted! Callously abandoned! Much like the actress in this book.

To be honest this left me deeply uncomfortable and as if the stain of it’s liberal racism was all over me. Because this book is racist. I’m sure it doesn’t mean to be, but it is. To begin with I can’t imagine an intelligent, well-connected black actor wanting to remake Heart of Darkness – a book that really doesn’t have any black characters. The only one with any dialogue in it says about 3 servile sentences and ends up dead pretty quickly. Considering that black actors and directors are still hugely under-represented in Hollywood it’s no surprise that any that are there are getting busy making amazing films like 12 Years A Slave.

Then there’s the female character. Well to be honest I’m not entirely sure I can even call her a character. She has a backstory at least – a son left with her parents many years ago so she can pursue her hollywood dream. But even though this dream was strong enough for her to abandon her child it isn’t strong enough to stop her dropping it instantly to moon around after a man she’s pretty sure doesn’t love her …! Her attempts to manage her first ‘real’ interracial relationship show just how racist middle-class France still is, the things she worries about are about as bizarre and objectifying as you can get. Though to give credit where it is due the book does highlight a couple of micro-aggressions so strongly that almost anyone could see how appalling they are.

The plot isn’t awful, just not good enough.

1 Bite

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.

As I Descended by Robin Talley

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Click to Order from Waterstones

Power resides in all kinds of places these days so when Robin Talley decided to take Macbeth as inspiration the first thing she did was change the seat of power being vied for to an American High School.

Maria Lyon is one of her schools most popular students. But since she fell in love with her roommate Lily Boiten there are obstacles in her path that she never dreamed of. They can’t come out but if Maria can just win the Cawdor Kingsley Prize they’ll be assured the same college and four more years in a shared dorm room. But one thing stands in their way, Maria’s one-time friend and the most popular girl Delilah Dufrey. Lily and Maria are willing to do anything―absolutely anything―to unseat Delilah for the scholarship. They hold a seance together with Maria’s best friend Brandon but things get out of hand and before long feuds turn to fatalities, and madness begins to blur the distinction between what’s real and what’s imagined, the girls must attempt to put a stop to the chilling series of events they’ve accidentally set in motion.

I’ve read a fair few Shakespeare plots reimagined over the last couple of years and although most have been lit-fic – written by some of our greatest writers; don’t think that this one – written for the YA market by a fairly new (though already award winning) author can’t compete. It can and it does.

For a start, this isn’t a straight up re-write and some of the ways it honours the original are subtle and quite frankly a little twisty. There are no witches, instead she cast the three main characters in the fortune telling role through the seance, and there are plenty of other deviations too.

One of the other aspects I liked was the fact that there LGBT+ leading characters and that they weren’t some kind of freak show or tragedy device. Don’t get me wrong, awful things are done by and happen to these characters but awful things also happen to the straight characters. Not only that but the issues of being out or staying closeted are raised and stereotypes about LGBT+ people and drug-taking are circumvented. The characters are driven by deep and passionate loves but the fact that they are same gender in these cases is just a fact, it’s obvious that these characters could easily have been driven the same way if they were straight and there were obstacles to their happiness.

This is a great mix of psychological horror and waking drama with a big dollop of the supernatural stirred through it.

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.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden

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Click to order from Waterstones

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

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

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

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

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

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

5 Bites

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

Find Me by Laura van den Berg

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Click to Order from Waterstones

In a hospital in Kansas there are a select group of patients that all seem to be immune to the epidemic sweeping Amercia. A sickness that begins with silver blisters and memory loss and ends with death has devasted the United States but these patients and their unorthodox Doctor might hold the key to a cure.

One of the patients is Joy. Before she came to the hospital she had a disatisfying job and an addiction to cough syrup. She’d never had much of a life having been in care and foster homes throughout her childhood so she’d figured a few weeks in hospital would be an easy gig. But it isn’t long until their isolation leaves all the patients longing for the outside.

Joy is an interesting protagonist, her flaws and vulnerabilities take centre stage and really are what push her forward in this strange adventure.

This is very much a book of two halves though, I enjoyed the first half set in the hospital, Laura Van Den Berg’s odd, almost dream-like writing style works well set against the institutional structure and feels right expressing Dr Bek’s treatment. But the second half of the book where Joy is trying to travel across the country it seems to lose it’s way a bit. Particularly when she meets another healer with a similar methodology to Dr Bek. It feels a bit repetitious and as the book ended just as she was about to find (or not find) the person she was looking for , it also felt a bit pointless.

I can be a fan of the ambiguous ending when it’s done well, but in this case because there was so much meandering in the second half of the book I really felt it needed a solid ending.

3 Bites

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

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

Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak

IMG_1587God has always been a source of confusion for Peri. Growing up in a household with a religious mother and secular father, she has seen the best and worst of both sides, and the division it has caused between her own parents. She has also had her own religious sighting- a Jinn, the baby in the mist who comes to her during periods of high stress. To help her think through her confusion, Peri’s father buys her a ‘God Diary’ in which she writes down questions she has about God and religion.

When she gets a place at Oxford University, she moves from the family home in Istanbul to Britain. There she meets Shirin, British-Iranian and an atheist, and Mona, an Egyptian-American Muslim, who believes her religion doesn’t have to conflict with her feminism. It’s inevitable that Peri is drawn to the enigmatic Professor Azur who runs a series of seminars on God. Alongside Shirin and Mona, in the eyes of a professor Azur they are the sinner, the believer and the confused.

Many years later, and Peri is a mother and a wife back in Istanbul. On the way to a dinner party her bag is stolen from the backseat of her car. In a moment of madness she chases down the thieves, putting her life in danger. During the altercation, a photo falls from her bag of herself, Shirin, Mona and Professor Azur outside the Bodleian Library recalling actions and emotions she thought she had left behind a long time ago.

This is a rich book, in terms of descriptions, characters and themes. The writing is beautiful and quotes from poetry are dropped into a story which is poetic itself. The action moves between modern day Istanbul and Peri’s memories of her childhood and her time at Oxford. In my mind, Peri is immediately relatable. Uncertain, caught between parents, caught between friends. I love how she collects English words, plucking them from books and pinning them onto post- it notes like butterflies. But it is the interactions between the friends which makes this book so special. The conversations between Mona and Shirin are conversations that are being and the world over, between muslims and non-muslims, and Mona argues her point eloquently:
“You’ve no idea how horribly I’ve been treated! It’s just a piece of cloth, for God’s sake.”
“Then why do you wear it?”
“It’s my choice, my identity! I’m not bothered by your ways, why are you bothered my mine? Who is the liberal here, think!”

The one flaw I found with the book was in Professor Azur. I found him slightly cliched at times, and his back story came as a bit of an information dump. But there is an energy about the character, and it’s no surprise people are drawn to him.

If books are escapism, then they are always a way to experience the lives of people whose beliefs are different to your own. This empathy is needed today more than ever. To quote Professor Azur: “If I am Human, my heart should be vast enough to feel for people everywhere.”

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

 

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.

Miss Treadaway & The Field Of Stars by Miranda Emmerson

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Click here to order from Waterstones

Anna Treadway has made a life for herself in London, she lives in a little flat above a Turkish Cafe on Neal Street and has a job dressing the actresses at the Galaxy Theatre.

But 1965 is going to be a disruptive year for her. The American actress she’s dressing –  Iolanthe Green – leaves the theatre as usual one night but doesn’t turn up for the next performance. Soon the newspapers are wild with speculation about her fate. Then the news grows old and it seems to Anna that she is the only person left that cares.

As she searches she stumbles into a different world, a world of jazz clubs and illegal abortions, where the colour of your skin could get you beaten and left in a prison cell.

I have to admit the main reason I picked up this book is because I spent some of the happiest years of my life on Neal Street. So the chance to spend some time there, even in a different era, was too good to miss.

I was a bit worried that this might veer too hard into the romance hinted at on the original blurb and therefore turn into a feast of marshmallow gooiness. However, though there is sweetness in this book, there is also bitterness. Miranda Emmerson has created range of compelling characters from diverse backgrounds without either patronising them or exploiting them. In this she has recreated a honest tableau of London life both in the 60’s and since.

This book has a theme, and a message but it is one that takes a while to emerge. That’s not a problem though as the mystery of Iolanthe’s disappearance and the way that Emmerson’s description’s of London’s wintery nights are seductive and it’s easy to keep reading whilst the message reveals itself slowly.

This is a book I’d definitely recommend – in fact there’s a few people I can think of that would definitely like it so a few copies may well end up wrapped in birthday wrapping paper in the next couple of months!

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.

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.

Hag-Seed: The Tempest Retold by Margaret Atwood

29245653-_uy2250_ss2250_Felix Phillips is the renowned Artistic Director of the Makeshiweg Theatre Festival. Daring and progressive, his plays are visceral and often not for the faint hearted. This year he is staging The Tempest, an obvious choice following the recent death of his three year old daughter Miranda: a chance to bring her back to life. But before he can really begin, he is fired. Kicked out in a coup led by his assistant, Tony Price and supported by Heritage Minister, Sal O’Nally. Dazed and alone, he drives until he finds a cabin in the woods as broken as he is, and makes his home there as Mr F. Duke.

In this house, he plots his revenge. For company he has the ghost of Miranda, who grows as she would have done if she had survived the meningitis that took her. He also gets a job as teacher in the Literacy Through Literature programme in nearby Fletcher County Correctional Institute (a little nod to Porridge?), where inmates read, dissect and perform Shakespeare.

Twelve years after he was fired, in the forth year of the Fletcher Correctional Players, Felix is informed that the newly appointed Minister of Justice, Sal O’Nally, and Minister of Heritage, Tony Price will be attending the production of this years play. Felix knows exactly what he must do, he has been planning this for twelve years after all. The play will be The Tempest and he will be Prospero, wreaking his revenge on those who have wronged him.

This book is the latest in the series by Hogarth Shakespeare which gives The Bard’s work a modern twist, following on from The Gap of Time by Jeanette Winterson, Shylock Is My Name by Howard Jacobson and Vinegar Girl by Anne Tyler. In this book, Atwood has woven the story and the language beautifully. Phrases from the original Tempest fit in perfectly with the modern text, and some original lines seem shakespearean themselves:

He follows them through the vibrations of the web, playing spider to their butterflies; he ransacks the ether for their images.”

Disappointingly, the scenes set in the Correctional Institute seemed to slow the momentum of the piece too much. It was an interesting approach: the inmates (or actors as Felix prefers them to be called) learn about the play and the characters, delve into the themes of the play and even imagine what might happen to the main characters after the play. Although interesting, it seemed a bit too much like a text book at these points. However, I did like the idea of the actors being punished through the denial of contraband if they use foul language. Their first activity is to go through the text and pick out Shakespearean insults and obscenities which they then use in everyday speech for the rest of the book. I get the feeling Margaret Atwood enjoyed that part!

As Felix himself points out, the reason Shakespeare has survived through the centuries is because he focuses on actions and emotions which are synonymous with being human. The Fletcher Correctional Players understand the themes of revenge within The Tempest, and Margaret Atwood has created a novel which brings it perfectly into the modern day.

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 Girl With A Clock For A Heart by Peter Swanson

There were several things about this book that drew me in. The title- obvious comparisons with the Steig Larsson books, the cover- bold and a bit film noir-ish, and the description- promising intrigue and excitement:

tgwcfahGeorge Foss never thought he’d see her again, but on a late-August night in Boston, there she is, in his local bar, Jack’s Tavern.

When George first met her, she was an eighteen-year-old college freshman from Sweetgum, Florida. She and George became inseparable in their first fall semester, so George was devastated when he got the news that she had committed suicide over Christmas break. But, as he stood in the living room of the girl’s grieving parents, he realized the girl in the photo on their mantelpiece – the one who had committed suicide – was not his girlfriend. Later, he discovered the true identity of the girl he had loved – and of the things she may have done to escape her past.

Now, twenty years later, she’s back, and she’s telling George that he’s the only one who can help her…

So I was expecting great things. I was expecting to finish it in one go; I was expecting a twisty, exciting plot; I was expecting characters with flawed yet fascinating personalities and I was expecting a thrilling denouement…

I did not receive great things. I didn’t finish in one go; it took several reading sessions. It wasn’t especially exciting although was quite twisty. The characters were flat with no development and an annoying tendency to make unrealistic and outright stupid decisions. The denouement was either a last minute attempt to lay the groundwork for a series, or an example of an author getting totally bored with the story and ‘phoning in’ the ending.

The story plays out in two different times- when George and Liana/Audrey/Jane are at college and 20 years later when they meet again. Aside from the fact they are set in different locations, it is difficult to distinguish them- the voice of the character doesn’t change. There is no hint of development in the way they act or view the world- this is a huge problem considering the experiences the characters, especially George, go through in the intervening time.

The secondary characters are lifeless or unrealistic. The police characters do not act like the police and although they need to make the decisions they do in order make the story work, the fact that the police would never act like they do just makes it all messy and not a great read.

George in particular is not a good character- he is boring and he makes stupid unrealistic choices. Characters making stupid choices I can live with if the author has given them the right motivation for them. George’s motives and his choices do not align, and if I cannot believe in a character’s motivations for his choices, the character is not well written. There is no way that George would make the ridiculous decisions he does simply for the sake of the chance of being with a woman he last saw 20 years ago whom he KNOWS is wanted for criminal activities. He only went out with her for a couple of months. And she certainly isn’t written as an addictive femme fatale so it’s not that she’s just so marvellous he HAS to be with her. It just doesn’t make sense. And this, above all other flaws, is what makes this book so disappointing.

So… yeah. Not great things. Not even good things. Perhaps mediocre things…?

1 bite. Not recommended.

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.

Today Will Be Different by Maria Semple

imageToday Eleanor Flood really is going to be nicer to people, she’s going to be organised and efiicient and really listen to people when they talk to her. And she is absolutely not going to be bitchy or believe herself hard done by when she knows she’s very lucky really.

Then her young son applies make-up before going to school, she gets called by his teacher not long after he’s got to school to come and get him because he has a tummy ache (again) spoiling her poetry lesson. But this day those normal little tugs on the wool of life lead to a complete unravelling.

Before she quite knows what’s hit her she’s trying to track down her missing husband and trying to hide the sister she never speaks to from her son.

Written in first person and going through the worst day of Eleanore Floods life almost minute by minute this is addictive reading. I’m not going to lie, I did find Eleanor a little annoying to begin with, really her problems are very much first world problems although at least she does acknowledge that.

There are plenty of flashbacks set into the day and a whole host of interesting characters – Eleanor is a typical New York, artistic yummy mummy type but as the insecurities under the surface start to come out it is easy to warm to her.  The fact that she is funny and self-deprecating helps no end.

What seems to start as a spotlight on the pressures of modern womanhood soon morphs into a more indepth analysis of modern relationships, at least amongst artistic, middle-class New Yorkers!

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 Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

imageToru Okada’s cat, oddly named after his wife’s brother who they don’t like, has disappeared. His wife is upset about this and as she is working and he isn’t she begs him to look for it.

This sets him on a journey where he will meet a succession of characters who all have their own stories. He is also being bothered by a woman who is phoning him claiming they know each other and making increasingly lewd suggestions.

As the story continues, normality gets snipped away at until it seems the pleasantly bland Okada has a much bigger purpose than anyone could have imagined.

I read this book first back in 1999 when I was pregnant and I was so taken with it I almost named my child after one of the characters! It’s a long book and kept me company many a night through a stressful time. Revisiting it has been strange to say the least, I saw it on audible and the idea of spending 26 hours in its company was more than I could resist.

The book is still good, Haruki Murakami has such an intimate and conversational tone to his writing and shares his characters idiosynchrocities in such an affectionate and humble manner that it is impossible not to care for them. Which is just as well as otherewise it really would be hard to spend 26 hours in the company of a man who is ostensibly looking for his cat!

Of course the plot does go further than that (no spoilers here though so you’ll have to read it if you want to know how!) and the stories of those he meets on his journey are fascinating and varied too.

I have to say that I wouldn’t recommend listening to this on audiobook. The reader was talented but several of the characters voices really grated on me, one of which was quite a prominant character so I spent far too long listening to her voice!

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 Sudden Appearance of Hope by Claire North

img_2276Hope Ardern has a very unusual problem, she can’t stay in anyone’s memory. If they turn away from her for just a few minutes it is like they’ve never seen her before and everything about their interactions have vanished from their minds.

It started when she was sixteen, schoolteachers not remembering she’d attended class, her friends forgetting to call her, her dad forgetting to drive her to school until her mother doesn’t remember her at all one morning when she comes down to breakfast and she has to pretend to be a friend staying over. That’s when she knows she has to leave and make her own way in the world, but it’s not so easy to get a job if people don’t remember you interviewing for it so she turns to crime. Stealing is easy when people forget to report you after all.

Stealing is how Hope gets caught up with the quest for “Perfection” – a new app that helps us mere mortals become as perfect as all those photo-shopped images we see everyday.  She’s hired to steal “Perfection” by someone that wants to destroy it, but “Perfection” could make her memorable.

Claire North’s The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August was the first book I reviewed for this site and I really enjoyed it, so when I saw this I knew I had to grab a copy! Like that I listened to the audio version of the book, a little longer than the last one at just over 16 hours but the premise sounded really intriguing.

Not a single minute of those 16+ hours was wasted! There’s so much in this book, so much that makes you think. From meditating on memory and the sadness of losing someone to Alzheimers to pondering the cult of perfection that seems to be taking over the world, this book will get you thinking. But it’s all wrapped up in such an intriguing story, and ironically Hope Ardern is a character you’ll never forget.

Claire North is one heck of a clever person and I think I’d like her as my new best friend. Anyone that can weave together the poetry of Byron and Wordsworth with the lyrics of The Macarena this skillfully deserves ALL the awards. And no, I’m not telling you what that’s about – read the book – you won’t regret it!

5 Bites

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

The Hidden People by Alison Littlewood

img_2254Albert Mirrells is a young city man striding into the future when he meets his young cousin from the Yorkshire at the Great Exhibition. Though at first inconvenienced by meeting the simple country girl he is soon beguiled by her teasing intelligence and her sweet song voice.

So years later when he hears that Pretty Lizzie Higgs is gone, burned to death on her own hearth and charged as a changeling by her own husband, he leaves his young wife in London and travels to Halfoak to look into her death. But superstitions are yet to be swept away by progress in this old nook of the world and he soon finds himself caught up in tales of the ‘Hidden People’ and struggling to find any rational explanations. Could the old folk tales be true?

There’s a quote that says easy reading is difficult writing and this book is totally true of that. I read it in one sitting, in about four or five hours, and then felt a little guilty as the author has clearly worked damn hard on this and it probably took a couple of years to write and rewrite. I have put it straight in my ‘re-readable’ pile though so hopefully that’ll give it more of the time it deserves in future.

Although it’s set in a summer that won’t end, this gothic grown up fairy-tale is ideal reading for autumn or winter nights too. There’s a blood-curdling mystery, an unreliable narrator, sullen villagers, folk songs, dandelion clocks, fabulous Yorkshire dialect counterpointing with formal Victorian speech, trains and fairies – I don’t really know what more you can ask for!

The author has skillfully woven traitorous threads and true together so you’re brain will be thinking ‘hang on a sec…’ several times throughout the narrative but unless you’re cleverer than me (which is possible I know!) you will still be surprised by the ending.

4 very satisfied 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.

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.

The Hanging Tree by Ben Aaronovitch

Before continuing with this review, you might want to read the following disclaimers:
Firstly, this is the sixth book in Aaronovitch’s PC Grant series and although there are no spoilers for this book, there are for previous books (mild ones but even so). If you do not want to be spoiled, stop reading.
Secondly, I received an advance copy of this book for free in return for an honest review. And it is all entirely my own opinion.
Thirdly, you should probably be aware of my deep and abiding love for this series. It is far reaching and all-encompassing*. This review is inevitably coloured by this love and by the many months of anticipation leading up to it. Some people prefer reviews to be entirely objective. I have unashamedly written this review in the context of being an established fan. #justsaying

*Not that much of an exaggeration.

 

tht

There was much hyperventilating and excited squealing in my house last week. All from me…
My advanced copy of Ben Aaronovitch’s The Hanging Tree had arrived and the excitement levels had reached Def Con 1.

Fans of the Peter Grant series have been waiting many months for the sixth instalment- not helped by the repeated postponement of the release date- and inevitably some sequel anxiety had set in.
What is it wasn’t as good? What if Aaronovitch had run out of ideas? What if he’d written himself into a corner he couldn’t get out of? What if… what if… what if…

So it was with no small amount of trepidation that I began.

The Hanging Tree sees Peter enter the world of the super-rich after a party in one of the most expensive buildings in London, attended by Lady Ty’s daughter, ends in tragedy. Peter owes Lady Ty a favour and she’s calling it in.
Using his usual mix of proper police work, annoying his colleagues with his ‘weird Falcon stuff’, and asking the right questions at the right time he follows the investigation to a black market of arcane items, many of which interest the Folly greatly. Unfortunately for Peter, there are others who are also interested in the items… others who are not quite as keen on upholding the Queen’s Peace as he is…

I’ve read this book three times now. And fully intend on reading it again at the weekend.

To sum it up in a word- HOORAY!!!

There was no need for the sequel anxiety, no call for the trepidation- Ben Aaronovitch hasn’t lost his touch!
That’s not to say this book was perfect but I really enjoyed it and felt it was an excellent example of his writing skills.

The world that Aaronovitch has built over the series gets richer and more nuanced with every instalment- and I include the comic books in this- and some sub plots that have been weaved into the previous stories come to fruition without feeling rushed or shoe-horned in. Aaronovitch isn’t afraid to play the long game on this series and as a result there are many ‘no way!’, ‘blimey’ and ‘WTF?!!’ moments in this book as storylines and characters that have been waiting their turn suddenly get a chance to shine.

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.

There were moments of high tension, moments of light relief and moments where I laughed my socks off. There are the usual geeky references, science/magic mashups, and the slightly dark, somewhat nonchalant humour that seeps into the prose, imbuing it with a perfect blend of comedy and drama. As a fan, there was an awful lot to keep me on side and happy.

The cast of characters is becoming more extensive every time and the additions here are worthy ones, be they brand spanking new or previously mentioned characters who now have an expanded role in the series.

Inevitably, this does mean there is less room for some of the other characters and I must admit that I did miss some of my favourites- the lack of much going on in the Folly itself was disappointing and I also wished that there had been more of Beverley. But you can’t have everything and what we did get was top notch!

 

4 bites for this excellent addition to the PC Grant canon! Read the whole series right now…

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.

Midwinter by Fiona Melrose

MidwinterOne harsh winter night Vale finally argues with his father about the horrible death of his beloved mother years earlier in another land. His father Landyn blackens his eye before he even realises what he’s done setting off a catastrophic chain of events.

As winter keeps the skies dark over this pair of Suffolk farmers they struggle to keep going both financially and emotionally. Each of them running from pain – one into the solace of the land and his dog, the other into anger, stupid decisions and recriminations.

Full disclosure – I know the author of this book personally, she kindly did some dog training with my family and she led a writer’s workshop for a while that my child attended, so I was both very eager and very nervous to review this. As you know if you’ve been reading our reviews for a while we also write honest reviews even when we get free copies (like this time) and even when we know the author. Gulp!

But thankfully I need not worry about offending her with a bad review and having to leave the county she paints so beautifully. This is a heart-tearingly good novel.

It falls completely into the ‘literary fiction’ genre so if action / adventure or scandi crime is your thing this won’t fit the bill, but with it’s bleakness and insight into the male psyche it might be something you want to try anyway. There is a feeling of tension that builds within the story so you won’t miss too much nail-nibbling!

The characterisations are haunting, these are men like men you know. And their problems are ones you will recognise, maybe you’ve even shared some of them.  As it’s told in 1st person from both the father’s and the son’s side it’s impossible not to care about them. Interestingly, when you are looking at each of them from the other’s perspective they still remain true in their mannerisms and language, so although they are at odds the narrative never is. That takes talent and attention to detail.

Personally I was charmed by the dialogue which was true to Suffolk in both language and speech patterns. It showed real respect for the characters and the place which is rare when the characters are farmers and less than rich. The settings are beautifully written too  with flashbacks to the family’s time in Zambia providing a colouful counterpoint to the muted tones of an English winter.

It’s not a long book, but it’s not rushed either. Perfect for a Sunday afternoon in front of a winters fire.

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.